Swiss Air — denied access to flight
Sequence of Events
I booked a trip for my wife and children to visit my in-laws in Canada through Expedia.fr on the 31st August 2012.
My wife and children turned up at Barcelona Airport at 7.10am and proceeded to check in. When they arrived at the check-in desk they were informed by Swiss International Air Lines ground staff that they could not board the flight because my wife travels on a Canadian passport under her maiden name (Rochette) and our children travel under my surname (Bethell) on Australian passports despite the fact that my wife was carrying a photocopy of my British passport with a hand-written, signed letter from me confirming that they were traveling with my permission.
After the Swiss International Air Lines check-in staff made a call to Zurich Swiss International Air Lines head office it was confirmed that they were not to be issued boarding passes and were sent away with a scrap of paper with the phone number of the Canadian and Australian consulates in Barcelona with a non-specific suggestion that if my wife could get some sort of permission from either consulate she “may” be allowed on a subsequent plane.
At this point I had already left Barcelona en route to France by car and my wife was not able to reach me by phone until 10.30am when she had returned to the airport hotel where we had spent the previous night (Swiss International Air Lines staff refused to help her make a phone call).
I returned to Barcelona arriving about 1pm to meet my family. We returned to the airport and attended the Swiss International Air Lines ticket desk to try to find a solution.
I identified myself as the father of the children, the husband of my wife presenting my Australian passport as proof and offered to sign a letter in front of a Swiss International Air Lines representative confirming that I gave my wife permission to travel with our children. The lady behind the desk made a call to a superior to establish if this would suffice and we were again informed that we should attend the consulate of Canada or Australia to seek permission for the children to travel.
I asked for clarification about what requirements were in place for travellers in our position re one parent traveling with children. No-one seemed able to give advice nor were we given any recommendation of a website or document where such information could be found.
A further suggestion was made by the Swiss International Air Lines ground staff to ask the Spanish police in the airport to seek some form of official approval. We attended the police station and were informed that given that we were not Spanish citizens we could not be helped.
Neither the Canadian nor the Australian consulate phone numbers given worked on my phone from Barcelona airport (a number of other Spanish phone numbers worked fine).
At this point is was close to 2.30pm and it was quite clear that we were not able to make it onto the later Swiss International Air Lines flight to Geneva that day let alone making any connecting flights to Canada.
We returned to the ticketing desk to talk to the same lady. We suggested that we could either change our flight to the next day and I would accompany my family or we could hold the ticket over to Christmas once we had established exactly what level of proof was required to allow my wife to travel with her children with Swiss International Air Lines.
These suggestions were rejected and we were then asked to leave because another flight was delayed and they had a “more important priority” to deal with. We were given a number for reservations and told to call that number (the number did not work).
On our return journey to France we contacted Swiss International Air Lines in Switzerland to seek clarification from head office. We were informed that we were considered a “no show” because we did not get on the plane and that the ticket was “void”. The person on the phone also stated that because we did not get on the plane our ticket remained under the authority of Expedia.fr as the booking agent.
I called Expedia.fr this morning (27th October 2012) and they confirm that I am not entitled to any refund except for airport taxes. I am coping this letter to their complaints department.
I understand that there is an issue with one parent absconding overseas with children from broken marriages. For this reason I provided a signed letter and copy of my passport confirming my permission. My family has travelled without me around the world on several occasions like this with other airlines without incident.
Swiss International Air Lines staff on site and on the phone stated that the burden of proof rests with the traveller to prove that the appropriate authority and paperwork is in place for passengers to travel.
I asked on all occasions for specific references to the exact type of proof required and no-one that I have spoken to from Expedia.fr or Swiss International Air Lines has been able to provide any online or written reference to such requirements nor have they verbally indicated to me exactly what I needed. Even if such information exists I have searched extensively online and not found nothing – even on the respective home pages of Swiss International Air Lines and Expedia.
I do not believe that any reasonable person could be expected to know what internal policy Swiss International Air Lines has to address a situation such as ours and therefore would expect the terms of business quoted could be challenged.
When I showed my Australian passport bearing the same name as my children declaring in person at the ticket desk that I gave my full permission for my wife and children to fly we were still refused and directed back to the consulates. What additional proof could carry more weight than the second parent’s direct permission?
I object profoundly to our family crisis, caused by Swiss International Air Lines, being deemed a lower priority than someone else’s delayed flight. As long as you retain my money I consider myself a customer of yours and therefore deserving of respect and consideration of any other customer. Instead, we were fobbed off to any other authority your Swiss International Air Lines ground staff could think of, seemingly at random, to get rid of us.
The suggestion that the consulate of the Australian or the Canadian government in Barcelona would be in any way able to provide evidence at short notice to help us with our situation is either naïve or deceitful as anyone who has ever tried to get a rapid response from a government agency would know. My suspicion that this was just a way to deflect the problem was heightened by the last suggestion to ask the Spanish police if they could help - an option we explored because they were close by. They confirmed that they could not assist a non-Spanish resident – further evidence that Swiss International Air Lines was sending us on a wild goose chase in the hope that we would just go away and forget their unfair treatment of us.
I cannot comprehend the audacity of Swiss International Air Lines to imply that our flight is “void” because of a “no-show” (we definitely showed up) and therefore subject to no refund. Your staff made a judgment call to refuse my wife and children onto a flight and they were wrong in their assumption. Swiss International Air Lines then did not accept overwhelming proof that you were wrong and dismissed us, intending to keep the entire fee on a legal technicality.
Furthermore Swiss International Air Lines seem very keen to cease discussions and deflect responsibility to Expedia.fr, the Spanish police, the governments of Australia and Canada and ultimately to us. I find this defensive stance insulting and cowardly.
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