Airlines: keeping us informed isn't a 'frill'

Published by Rev George Pitcher on 09 January 2013.
Last updated on 09 January 2013

Plane and red sky

It was when we were told, after a seven-hour wait, that the plane wasn't leaving that night, but not told how long it would take to arrange hotels for us all, that we finally lost it. I took my party of four back to our hotel and re-checked-in, ordering a bottle of the local Cypriot red.

Monarch Airlines styles itself as a 'scheduled leisure airline'. This is meant to differentiate it from nasty 'no-frills' airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet. But if anything, it was worse than those two airlines flying a combined service to the inner ring of Hades, on that night a couple of months ago at Paphos airport.

It wasn't the delay. Planes get delayed. I told my son as much at the time - that he'd have to get used to it if he wants to be the traveller he says he wants to be.

No, it wasn't that. Monarch eventually got us to Gatwick a day late (incidentally, that's not a 'delay', as you put it, Monarch, it's more of a cancellation, isn't it?). It was the total, absolute, bumper-family-size lack of information during the entire escapade. I kept in touch with developments by checking the Gatwick arrivals site on my smartphone.

Communication with your customers, Monarch, is not a 'frill'. Customer courtesy is not an 'extra'. Group chairman Fabio Mantegazza says customers "only care about price".

Even if that were true - and I don't believe it is - your customers have not forfeited their right to be treated as human beings in exchange for competitively priced tickets. Yet the idea has snuck in now that travellers can be treated as air-freight.

So, what is the poor Monarch passenger meant to do, apart from get a job on a magazine and write rude articles about the airline? Well, the first thing is to get compensation forms from its office.

Since late October 2012 (the week before our flight, as it happens), the European Union Court of Justice has ruled that airlines must pay travellers compensation for delays, as well as for cancellations. We can, I gather, claim up to about £488 (€600) for the inconvenience of delays, unless it's due to circumstances beyond the airline's control.

Game on. But, of course, you have to get the damned company to send you the forms. And I'm not sure that's entirely good enough anyway. We were on a half-board package with a fancy hotel. If your operator fails to take you home on time,

I reckon it's obliged to put you up in a hotel of the same standard, not some grotty apartment with chipboard walls and no mini-bar. And offering us (eventually) a €7 voucher for food, Monarch, is laughable. When did you last have supper for €7, Mr Mantegazza?

I rather fancy that's what you'd tip the loo attendant afterwards.

The 'social media PR' (all airlines have them now) has referred these points to Monarch's 'customer relations department'. At the time of writing (some three weeks on), I've yet to hear back. For all I know, they might be as imaginary as Monarch's ground staff at Paphos airport.

I'm pretty sure the only thing that got anything moving that night was a mutiny among the wheelchair-bound passengers. My good lady is temporarily one of those. If this is how Monarch treats them, God help the able-bodied.

On behalf of all on flight ZB787, and all passengers who are fed up with being treated like payload - and because I can - I'll get to the bottom of this with Monarch. I'll keep you posted.

Reverend George Pitcher is a former industrial editor of the Observer and religion editor of the Daily Telegraph. He is an Anglican priest at St Bride's, Fleet Street. Email him at

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