A mother has told how her children were forced to sleep on an airport bench when their family trip to South Africa turned into a 72 hour delay. She instructed Bott and Co to seek flight delay compensation under EU Regulation 261/2004.
Val Van Der Hoven from Hampshire was travelling from London Heathrow to South Africa with her husband and two children. The family were due to fly to Frankfurt then get a connecting flight to Johannesburg, arriving early on 23 July.
The family eventually arrived in South Africa after being diverted, delayed, cancelled, denied boarding and rerouted on various flight bookings under Lufthansa’s control.
Problems from the beginning
Detailing the ordeal, Val said: “Sat in the airport terminal 40 minutes after our scheduled take off time was enough for me to be concerned that we might not make our connection. Although the pilot assured us that he would make up time once airborne, reaching South Africa in time for a long-awaited family reunion seemed impossible.
“Once in the air, we were informed that we would not be landing at Frankfurt but had been diverted to Koln. Naming storms in the Frankfurt area as the reason, we were surprised Lufthansa didn’t know before departure, given the current weather prediction technology available.
“Once landed we were told that getting steps to the aircraft would be a while as there were very few staff available as Koln Airport was not expecting us. We remained on the plane for a while before going into the airport terminal.”
Sleeping on an airport bench
Passengers were tasked with finding their own way back to Frankfurt the following day and given water but no food was made available.
We spent the night on an airport bench as no arrangements had been made for alternative accommodation. My husband and I stayed awake to keep an eye on our luggage at all times.
“Very early in the morning I tried to call the Lufthansa offices in London and Frankfurt, without success. After looking round, we found a Lufthansa representative who was putting passengers into taxis to travel back to Frankfurt…”
Chaos in Frankfurt
The family had still not been offered any food vouchers or guidance. The departures board showed that their original flight LH572 had been rescheduled to 4pm.
After queuing for hours, the family were checked in for their original flight and back on track. At 3.30pm, there still wasn’t a plane on the stand for the 4pm take-off.
“We were informed there was a technical problem with the aircraft and that there would be a 30 minute delay. We were then told there would be a further delay until 6pm.”
At 6pm the flight was cancelled as the crew had run out of duty time.
“This news was announced without any additional information and inevitably many passengers were extremely annoyed.
“We were instructed to leave our contact details at the Lufthansa booking desk and overnight accommodation would be arranged. We were to be texted overnight with details of our flights for the following day, and collect our luggage before leaving the airport.”
Two of our bags did not come off the baggage claim and we were told they may be lost or on another flight.
Whilst at the baggage claim, we found we were booked on a flight to Luanda the following evening with a connecting flight 9 hours later to Johannesburg. We had not received a text informing us of this.
Val stayed at the airport, trying to change the onward flights from Luanda to Johannesburg while her husband and their children went to the hotel.
It was unacceptable to ask us to wait for a connecting flight for 9 hours at an airport with two children.
At the hotel, they were given two double rooms on separate floors, making it difficult for one parent to ensure child safety.
During this time, the family’s two lost suitcases turned up at the hotel.
“Whilst queuing to try to change the flights, there was a lot of confusion amongst staff, as well as passengers who were not sure which desks they should be at to rebook their flights.
“I was told that the only way to get to Johannesburg was via Angola, but there were just three seats on an earlier flight out of Luanda with only a three hour stopover. I accepted this for my husband and the children, leaving me with the 9 hour stopover.”
At this stage, they were not offered the option of a refund, return to their original destination, or going via any other routes. Travelling via Angola was the only option.
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No yellow fever vaccine
Just before boarding their flight to Angola, the family were told that they were being denied boarding as they didn’t have yellow fever vaccinations which are imperative to travel from Angola into South Africa.
The family had not been informed by the airline or airport staff that travellers can only go into South Africa from yellow fever risk countries if they have had the vaccinations.
This wasted another day of our holiday, waiting for a flight that we could never board.
“We queued at the desk and were eventually rebooked for the following day via Istanbul with Lufthansa, and Turkish Airways onwards to Johannesburg, and given another hotel voucher for yet another night’s stay in Frankfurt.”
Missed family reunion
On 25th July, the family finally flew to South Africa via Turkey, arriving Tuesday 26th July and missing their family reunion.
“We queued for over 13 hours during our three day delay”
Describing the impact this had on her children, Val said: “This was their first trip to South Africa since they were babies and our ‘trip of a lifetime’ to show them their father’s country and meet relatives whom they had not seen since they were babies.
Because of the delays and cancellations, we missed a family reunion in Johannesburg, held in our honour – that can never be replaced.
“Not only was our arrival three days later than scheduled, but the treatment we received from the Lufthansa booking clerks, cabin crew and other staff on the whole was rude, surly and not of the standard we were expecting from an airline with a reputation such as Lufthansa.
“This experience was made worse because of the lack of information available AND the lack of staff with appropriate knowledge.”
Claiming flight compensation
Lufthansa told the family they weren’t entitled to a refund because the first leg of the journey was disrupted by bad weather but Val insisted that they should be compensated for the airline failing to reroute them.
After writing numerous letters and emails to the airline and being ignored, Lufthansa eventually offered to pay compensation after the family sought help from Bott and Co.
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*Based on 10,211 court proceedings issued between May 2013 and February 2016.