An airBaltic flight from Tallinn to Vienna was due to leave at 18:45 on Thursday evening, but according to passenger Levente Polyak from Hungary, it was cancelled and a large group including school parties were left to fend for themselves.
"Passengers learned about the cancellation around 19.30, then we had to queue up at the check-in area. There was no information about the procedure but two officers of the airport to serve over 60 passengers, including school groups and elderly. Those who were at the end of the line had to wait almost 4 hours to be offered a solution," Polyak told LSM.
A small group of the travellers insisted on their rights under EU law, which include the provision of refreshments during lengthy enforced waits and an overnight stay in the case of a cancellation with no replacement flight.
"As the airport only has hot water in the toilets, we repeatedly asked for water and food, referring to our passenger rights to be offered meals and refreshments. The airport staff repeatedly told us that they can only give us vouchers but all restaurants were closed - the only one open has no contract with the airport voucher system. After mounting pressure, they installed a water disposal machine, so at least we could drink," according to Polyak.
The travellers were reduced to breaking into bread and sweets they had been taking as gifts to eat something, he said.
"Tallinn Airport officers told us that they have no more hotel rooms available, despite their legal obligation to provide accommodation to all the passengers whose flights were cancelled. We were told that airBaltic only gave them the possibility of booking 15 rooms - less than a quarter of the passengers involved. Around 22:00, were told to look for accommodation ourselves, with the perspective of being reimbursed for up to €70.
airBaltic did eventually book people onto flights the next day but only after another lengthy process, and the flights booked were often under less advantageous terms than the original booking - giving the impression the airline "was clearly trying to avoid booking costly flights for passengers."
"We repeatedly asked to speak with airBaltic, but the airport could not provide the free calls we had the right to according to regulations. We called airBaltic ourselves several times and received the answer that they cannot do anything, we have to organize our own accommodation at the middle of the night.
"After hours of discussion, around 23:00, we were told by the Tallinn Airport staff that there are 7 rooms available in a suburban low-cost hotel. They wanted to group us in 3-bed rooms. We insisted to have private rooms and managed to increase the number of rooms and accommodate all the remaining passengers, including 9 adults and about 15 teenagers who were part of a school trip. When asking why this solution was not possible earlier, we were told by the airport staff that last minute cancellations at the hotel made it possible to receive us. According to the hotel staff, they had no cancellations that day."
"To summarise, both airBaltic and Tallinn Airport failed to provide us the necessary services. The airport repeatedly referred the responsibility to airBaltic, while airBaltic was unreachable and had no representatives in the airport. In addition, the airport staff, in coordination with the airlines, were repeatedly giving us false information and did everything to avoid costs related to rebooking, accommodating and feeding us," Polyak said.
LSM asked airBaltic and Tallinn Airport if they were aware of what happened and what their response was.
airBaltic head of Corporate Communications Alise Briede said: "airBaltic sincerely apologizes to all passengers for any inconvenience caused. In such situations airBaltic and contracted airport’s representatives make every effort to notify customers immediately after the flight cancellation has been made and to offer alternative traveling options for all passengers so they could reach their planned destination as soon as possible.
"According to standard procedures in such cases the airline has to provide an accommodation, transportation and meal voucher to all passengers. As Tallinn airport representatives informed the airline on June 8, 2017, passengers were offered to receive meal vouchers, but unfortunately after 9 p.m. most of the cafeterias at the airport were closed. For refreshments, a water vending machine was provided at the airport. The given-out meal vouchers that were not used on the cancellation day were pre-longed to be used on the next day.
"Because of the summer season and fully booked hotels our airport representatives faced difficulties to accommodate some passengers. All passengers who made a hotel reservation on their own expenses are advised to contact airBaltic customer service directly.
"airBaltic kindly asks all passengers to contact the airline customer service for any questions regarding cancelled flight and its handling. airBaltic once again apologizes to passengers for such experience and will take action to investigate this situation further to exclude the possibility for it occurring again."
A spokesman for Tallinn Airport told LSM they were "interviewing the staff on duty last night."
Later customer services manager Hasan Steinberg told LSM: "Flight BT207 (June 08th) from Tallinn to Vienna was cancelled due to the technical reasons. In this case we are dealing as instructed for irregularity situations. All the departments of Tallinn Airport GH were dealing in the situation as per regulations and instructions that are set by the carrier."