Here’s a Big Reason You Should Be Careful When Booking Flights Through Third Parties
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French airline La Compagnie has made a name for itself with extremely low business-class fares between the East Coast and France. And with the airline’s brand-new lie-flat Airbus A321LR now in service, there’s never been a better time to fly the with them. However, as TPG reader Rick O. recently experienced, it isn’t all smooth sailing.
Rick booked a flight from Paris – Orly (ORY) to Newark (EWR) on La Compagnie’s Boeing 757. While that plane sports the carrier’s dated angle-flat seats, they’re business-class seats nonetheless.
But instead of an all-business-class plane, Rick was met with an all-economy Titan Airways 757. These weren’t some super-posh coach seats like what you’d find on Emirates’ A380 either. Each seat had 31 inches of pitch and no seat-back entertainment screen or power outlets. Understandably, Rick was quite frustrated and had a lot of questions.
With just three planes currently in its fleet, La Compagnie doesn’t have any “spare” aircraft sitting around in case of unexpected maintenance issues. So, to avoid further disruption, the airline occasionally has no option but to swap in an aircraft from a wet-lease operator. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of an airline making an aircraft swap on one of its transatlantic routes either. For instance, Norwegian has relied on wet-leasing aircraft to operate long-haul flights when it was forced to ground many of its Dreamliners.
These wet-leased aircraft often represent a downgrade for passengers, so airlines typically notify passengers of the swaps in advance. La Compagnie is no different and did notify passengers on Rick’s flight. The airline also proactively initiated 75% refunds, which it was obligated to pay under EU Regulation 261. This rule promises passengers certain rights, including 25% to 75% refunds in the case of downgrades and up to 600 euros in compensation when a flight out of the EU is delayed more than four hours. Still, Rick was bewildered when he boarded his flight.
In order to be able to notify passengers about changes like these, airlines need your contact information. If you book through a third party, then that information isn’t always passed on. Unfortunately for Rick, because he booked through a travel agent, he hadn’t received any of the emails from the airline.
A heads-up could have allowed Rick to explore alternatives before boarding his flight — though, as TPG’s Zach Honig found out, La Compagnie is extremely inflexible when it comes to rebooking passengers because of an aircraft swap. On the bright side, despite booking through a third party, Rick is still entitled compensation under EC 261. He’ll just need to go through a few extra steps to manually request it.
There are many reasons to book your flights directly with airlines. Aside from ensuring that you’ll be notified of any changes to your trip, booking direct typically ensures you’re getting the lowest price available and have more leverage in case you need to be rebooked. Plus, some credit cards that offer bonuses on airfare spending only award the extra points when you book directly from the airline. For instance, the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card offers 3 Avios per £1 spent directly with BA or BA Holidays, and the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card offers 3 Flying Club miles per £1 spent with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays.
If you don’t book direct, you’ll want to reach out to the airline and provide them with your contact information. In case something goes wrong and the airline doesn’t notify you, familiarize yourself with your rights as you’ll still be eligible for compensation. Some airlines, such as Norwegian, allow passengers booked on flights with aircraft swaps to switch their flights to another day or destination in the same cabin free of charge.
Featured image by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.