juliamhammond

Flights

Review of Thomas Cook Airlines

I’m no stranger to low cost flying, but it’s been a long time since I’ve flown with an airline which made its name catering for package tourists. So what’s it like to fly Thomas Cook Airlines?

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Timing

I chose to fly to Cape Verde, and at the time of booking, I was flexible about which of its nine inhabited islands I would fly to.  The only direct flights from London were with Tui (formerly Thomson) and Thomas Cook Airlines.  I could have flown with scheduled airlines but it would have meant an indirect flight, such as with TAP via Lisbon.  The flight times were convenient too, with an 8.05am outbound option and a 2.45pm inbound flight.  Flying on a Wednesday worked for me, though to get a daily flight option I’d have needed to fly indirect.  From LGW Thomas Cook Airlines fly in winter; in summer the only flights offered depart from Manchester.  But with November temperatures in the late twenties, the islands are a good choice for a winter break, if a little windy.

Additional costs

Though the base fare was reasonable – and even more so now November is almost over – the airline’s pricing model worked on getting its passengers to pay for add-ons.  Some of these prices were pretty steep.  £10 for each sector secured you a hot meal, a suitcase was £25 each way and allocated seating cost from £13 per leg.  I opted just to take a suitcase, given that the carry-on dimensions (55cm x 40cm x 20cm) and, especially, weight limits (6kg) weren’t sufficiently generous for a week-long holiday.  This would be higher on the all-inclusive Economy Plus tariff but the price difference was significant, making it poor value for money.  I didn’t choose the seat allocation and was randomly allocated a middle seat in each direction.  A polite request with the check-in staff got this changed to an aisle seat both ways, but of course this can’t be guaranteed.

On-board service and comfort

The Sal flight operated on an Airbus 321.  Legroom was 28″, 2″ less than on a Ryanair short haul flight.  On this six-hour mid-haul flight, that’s cramped, and I was glad of the aisle seat to be able to get up and stretch my legs frequently without disturbing other passengers.  Service on board was excellent, the cabin crew without exception polite and professional.  Ground staff also conducted themselves well.  Many travellers were on package holidays and thus met by a member of the Thomas Cook team, but as I had booked a flight-only option I had no interaction in this respect.

Other information

There’s an entry visa requirement for UK travellers headed to Cape Verde and this currently can be purchased for €25 on arrival.  So long as Advanced Passenger Information (API) is completed via the Thomas Cook website 7 days or more in advance, this is paid for by the airline even if you are on a flight-only booking.  There’s no need to queue at the visa desk on arrival, saving you time when you get there.

The verdict

Would I travel with Thomas Cook Airlines again?  I was impressed by their punctuality and professionalism.  However, the lack of flexibility in their schedule and the steep cost of extras means this wouldn’t be an airline I’d consider travelling with again, unless like this route, all the scheduled options were indirect flights.

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Why you should do your homework before booking a flight

I had an interesting conversation with a lady the other night about the financial situation of airlines.  A number of airlines have made the news recently for the wrong reasons, including Monarch and its demise.  Her take on things was that it would have been perfectly reasonable to book with them because they’d been around for so long and if you’d travelled with them before, it would be unnecessary to check them out because you would know they were OK.

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Monarch Airlines plane by Andy Mitchell CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

I had a different opinion.  Monarch’s financial woes over the preceding few years had been well-documented in the press.  Anyone doing even the most rudimentary of Google searches would have thrown up a number of articles filling out a picture of money troubles and the importance of the end of September deadline to renew its ATOL certificate.  But given that hundreds of thousands of travellers were caught out, I’m guessing my expectation that people wouldn’t shell out hundreds of pounds without checking out the robustness of the company was inaccurate.

What’s also interesting is that following the whole Ryanair mismanagement debacle, many people assume that Ryanair is in a difficult position financially.  According to industry business analysts, however, it’s not.  The graphic on this link reveals that they think it’s in the best position of any European airline when it comes to the risk of going bankrupt:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/money/news/planning-a-europe-trip-the-airlines-that-are-in-financial-trouble-%E2%80%94-in-one-chart/ar-AAtYGw4

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If the Dow Jones researchers are to be believed, then it might be an idea to be think carefully before about booking a flight with Turkish Airlines or Pegasus at the moment.  I’ve flown with both and had excellent experiences but last year business was difficult for both of them. The former posted a 2016 loss of $77 million, the latter $36.1 million.  You can read more at:

http://atwonline.com/airline-financials/turkish-airlines-posts-77-million-net-loss-2016

http://atwonline.com/airline-financials/pegasus-airlines-posts-361-million-loss-2016

But then in the case of Finnair, they seem to be doing significantly better than their position on the chart would suggest.  Though Dow Jones suggest they fall into the “In Trouble” category, this article appears to refute that speculation:

https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/finnair_announces_best-ever_quarterly_results/9899848

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Norwegian Dreamliner by Juraj Patekar CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Personally, I’m being cautious over booking with Norwegian at the moment.  Their rapid long-haul expansion is, in my book, cause for concern, given the history of low-cost airlines and trans-Atlantic flights in particular.  I also wonder whether it’s a coincidence that after they announce the commencement of a London to Singapore route, Qantas cans their Dubai layover on their London to Sydney route and goes back to making Singapore their stopover destination.

Whatever your own take on the situation (and I’m not advising you to follow my lead), Norwegian Air currently have a lot of new planes to pay for and face plenty of competition.  Norwegian Air’s CEO has been quick to counter that the airline is in good financial health, but this Reuters article also references the potential impact of their CFO quitting in the summer:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-norwegian-air-strategy-insight/norwegian-air-under-pressure-to-boost-finances-idUSKBN1AA1MR

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I’ll stick to my earlier assertion: if you’re planning on booking a flight, do a little research on your chosen airline first.  Take the sensible precautions: make sure they’re ATOL protected where that applies (charters and packages in general terms), pay using a credit card as your outlay will be protected if the flight is over £100 and consider taking out scheduled airline failure insurance in situations where you wouldn’t be covered if you didn’t.


Monarch’s collapse: your rights

Sadly, this morning’s headlines that Monarch has collapsed wasn’t shock news. The company had been in trouble for years, with several bailouts brinking it back from the brink of collapse on more than one occasion. Once, it cleaned up on routes to Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt, but had been badly hit by the slump in tourist numbers to those destinations in the face of terrorist attacks. Its Greek business was hit by the economic crisis and in response, it turned to the saturated markets of Spain to try to balance the budget.

It’s the largest UK airline ever to fail.  That’s no consolation for the estimated 110,000 people stranded or left with their holiday plans in tatters.  This collapse affects at least a  further 300,000 people who are due to fly, perhaps more.

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What to do if you’re on holiday with Monarch right now

Sit tight.  For those booked with Monarch Holidays, the CAA are negotiating with hotels so that you can stay.  If you are asked to pay a bill, keep receipts.  The CAA are saying they will reimburse you, though the end date for this is uncertain as yet.  If you are due to fly home, the CAA are putting on flights to get you home.

A webpage has been set up by the CAA to provide information to travellers.  Find it here:

https://monarch.caa.co.uk/

On this website there are details of flight rebookings.  Click on the airport you are travelling back from and it will open up the flight number and timing of your new flight.  At present, just today’s flights are up, so if you’re due to travel in the next few days, you’ll have to check back later.

If you’re in the UK but have a future Monarch flight or package holiday booked

The CAA’s advice is repeated here:

Flights booked directly with Monarch Airlines from 15 December 2016 onward

Customers with these bookings are not ATOL protected and are not entitled to make a claim to the CAA. You are advised to contact your card issuer, insurer or PayPal for advice on how to claim a refund.

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I add: if you have booked using a credit card and the cost of your flight is £100 or more, you are covered.  (If you book a return flight, the cost of the total must be over £100, i.e. each leg can be under £100 so long as when combined they’re over.)  The credit card company will reimburse you.  If you have booked with a debit card, you might be able to get your money back via something called Chargeback; contact your issuing bank for details.  If you have specific cover for airline failure in your travel insurance policy, this is also a route for recovering your money.  Note that this isn’t a standard clause on many insurance policies.

Back to the CAA:

Flights booked on or before 14 December 2016 directly with First Aviation Ltd trading as Monarch Airlines

If your flight was booked with Monarch Airlines on or before 14 December 2016 and you received an ATOL Certificate stating that your flight is protected with First Aviation, you are ATOL protected. We are making arrangements for refunds to be made as soon as possible to these UK customers.

We will be providing more information on how you should claim shortly. You will be able to submit a claim when we make the Monarch claim form available. Please do not submit a claim until advised to do so.

Bookings made directly with Monarch Airlines from 15 December 2016 onward are not protected by ATOL.

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I add: ATOL protection refers to the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence.  Basically it ensures you don’t lose your money or get stranded abroad if the company responsible for getting you home goes bust.  You receive an ATOL certificate with your holiday paperwork.  What happens is that companies lodge money with the CAA in case the CAA has to step in and get their passengers home.  Monarch’s ATOL licence ran out on September 30th and as they couldn’t afford to renew it, they were forced to call in the liquidators.

If the ATOL-bonded company goes bust, you apply directly to ATOL for your refund.  The CAA website explains what to do, as reproduced here:

Holidays booked directly with Monarch Holidays

Customers booked directly with Monarch Holidays are ATOL protected and will have received an ATOL Certificate when they made their booking. We are making arrangements for refunds to be made on these bookings as soon as possible, and we aim to complete this by the end of 2017 at the latest. We will be providing more information on how you should claim shortly. You will be able to submit a claim when we make the Monarch claim form available. Please do not submit a claim until you are advised to do so.

Monarch flights and Monarch Holidays booked through another travel company or travel agent

If you booked a flight or holiday with another travel company or travel agent you should contact them directly about your arrangements.


What to do if you’re impacted by Ryanair’s cancellations

If you’re affected by Ryanair’s announcement that they are cancelling many hundreds of flights over the next six weeks, you’re going to need to know your rights.  This is how the news broke:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/16/ryanair-cancels-up-to-50-flights-a-day-to-improve-punctuality

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If your outbound flight has been cancelled at short notice:

First, see if you can rebook. According to Ryanair’s website, this should be possible online. People are reporting on social media that the Ryanair helplines are overwhelmed and they’re not able to complete a rebooking over the phone.  Obviously with so many people chasing so few seats at short notice, many are going to be disappointed.  So what then?

If you cannot find a satisfactory rebooking (e.g. your flight is being rebooked but so late into your holiday to make it as good as useless) then you’ll need to apply for a refund.  You may also be entitled to compensation. These are your rights under EU law if the destination is within the EU or if it’s an EU carrier like Ryanair:

Flight cancellation
Flights under 1500km – 250 euros compensation
Flights over 1500km – 400 euros compensation

Note: this only covers you if your cancellation occurs 14 days or less before your flight.  If you are due to travel in more than 14 days’ time and your flight is cancelled, this will be treated by the airline as a rebooking or rerouting.  You still have the right to cancel with a full refund of what you paid for the flights, but will not be eligible for additional compensation.

Delayed arrival whether with Ryanair or alternative carrier
Flights under 1500km – 2 hours
Flights over 1500km – 3 hours

If you are delayed, you are also entitled to food and accommodation vouchers.  Full details here:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:l24173

Note that it can take many months to secure this compensation, despite EU regulations stating refunds must be paid within a week.  Remember you will need to keep all receipts and boarding passes. It’s also a good idea to send letters recorded delivery if you are getting nowhere by email.

If you decide not to travel, have a look at what expenses you’ll incur, such as accommodation that cannot be cancelled at short notice.  The airline is not liable for this.  It will need to be claimed back from your travel insurance company.  Making a claim such as this doesn’t affect your right to EU compensation if applicable.

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If you’re abroad and your inbound flight has been cancelled:

The above applies but you’ll also have to factor in whether you need to be back home as a matter of urgency or can afford the time and money (up front at least) to extend your trip.  You might find it easier to  deal with staff face to face at the airport though this can add to your stress as there will be a lot of other angry passengers there which isn’t going to make you feel better.

You can try to persuade the airline that rebooking you with an alternative carrier e.g. a seat on a rival airline is a better idea.  You’ll have more bargaining power if the airline itself is very tight for space and is struggling to get you somewhere, especially if you’re stranded and they’re having to pay for your overnight accommodation.  Remember if you pay for your own alternative flights, you’re out of pocket.

It can be very hard to get them to pay, as I found out with CityJet a few years ago.  CityJet refunded their own flight (that they cancelled fifteen minutes before departure) but because I didn’t want to wait for an alternative with CityJet or spend another night in Paris even at their expense, I paid for the Eurostar alternative.  I eventually funded it out of the compensation I received eight months later.  Read the full story here:

https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/finally-a-win-against-cityjet/

If you can get through on a helpline, that is often better, but you will need to be patient.  Be as calm, polite and flexible as you can, particularly if you need to get back home in a hurry.  Remember the person on the phone isn’t directly to blame and venting your frustration isn’t going to get you anywhere.

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If you’ve a flight coming up which is currently unaffected:

This currently is where most Ryanair passengers are, fortunately, and the social media furore should calm down for the most part now that people know where they stand.  Nevertheless:

Have a Plan B.  Research alternative airlines or other means of transport on the inbound leg.  Check your email on a regular basis so that if your flight is next to be affected, you’re amongst the first to know – and fight for the seats that might be available on alternative flights.

Print out or save to your phone a copy of the EU regulations (see link above) so that there can be no dispute with airline staff about your rights – it will be in black and white.

Double check your travel insurance, especially the limits and excesses for flight delays and flight cancellations.  Again, keep all receipts and boarding passes as you’ll need them to make a claim.  Keep proof of the cancellation.

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What now?

Ryanair’s lack of consideration for their customers, though not a surprise, is still a concern.  They won’t be the first and last airline to do this.  I’ve had similar late in the day cancellations from American Airlines (weather related issues leading to a 48 hour delay in New York when I should have been in Nicaragua) and as mentioned, with CityJet (who didn’t even inform us the flight was cancelled, just checked us in as normal and quietly removed our flight from the departures board).  But for the record, Ryanair, you need to remember who keeps your staff in a job and your planes in the air.

Update 17 September from the excellent Simon Calder at The Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/ryanair-rights-400000-passengers-cancelled-flights-compensation-hotels-meals-caa-a7949916.html

Update 18 September of full list of cancellations on the Ryanair website:

https://www.ryanair.com/ie/en/useful-info/help-centre/travel-updates/flight-cancellations7


Ryanair’s baggage changes penalise those already booked

Today Ryanair have announced that from 1st November, their policy on cabin baggage will change.  Currently, up to two bags can be taken on board, one of standard dimensions (55cm x 40cm x 20cm) and one smaller item (35cm x 20cm x 20cm).  Currently, a small wheelie fits and can be stowed in the overhead bins, while the smaller bag, perhaps a day sack, can be placed under the seat in front.  On busy routes, some passengers are asked to place their larger bag in the hold free of charge.

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Today Ryanair have announced changes to their policy.  Basically, customers opting not to pay for Priority Boarding will lose the right to take some of their carry on with them as they board the plane, instead handing it to staff to put it in the hold.

I have two Ryanair flights coming up, one in October to Venice and one in December to Salzburg.  My Salzburg flight will be affected by the changes.  I was planning to take a bag that was smaller than their maximum dimensions but slightly larger than those of a smaller item.  Now, I have to either rethink the size of that bag or pay a £6 priority boarding fee for each leg to be able to take the luggage I planned.  The Ryanair website states that the policy will be introduced on 1st November for all travellers, regardless of when they’ve booked.

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That’s not playing fair.  We took out the contract and now the details are unilaterally being changed.  If I take the bag I planned, and the policy is implemented as per the rules, I’ll either have to check it at the gate free of charge and incur a delay when I arrive waiting for luggage, or risk being denied boarding.  So effectively, my flight has gone up by £12 if I wish to take the luggage I planned.  Had I paid for Priority Boarding at the time of booking, it would have cost £5 each way; to do so retrospectively it will be £6 each way.

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I understand why Ryanair have taken this step.  The amount of luggage being dragged on board is reaching ridiculous levels and boarding is a much slower process because of it.  But it does seem underhand to introduce a change to existing bookings without notice. Will this be the end of my love affair with Ryanair?  Probably not.  Do I feel like I’ve been cheated out of £12?  Yes.  The Ryanair haters are going to have a field day with this, and for once, rightly so.

Are you affected?  Full details from Ryanair’s website here:

http://corporate.ryanair.com/news/ryanair-to-lower-checked-bag-fees/


Border control queues in Europe – and how to beat them

Today’s news has been full of horror stories of British travellers caught up in excessive queues at some of Europe’s busiest airports.  If you haven’t seen it, try this article from the BBC:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40824027

Sadly, though changes in legislation have worsened the situation, it’s nothing new. Miss your flight, and you’ll find the airline and the airport pass the blame back and forth, leaving you frustrated and potentially out of pocket. So what can you do?

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Take out a decent insurance policy

Many travel insurance policies will cover you for missed departures, but check the small print in case there are any exclusions. Also check the amount covered – and work out whether this is going to be sufficient to cover a night in a hotel and the cost of a replacement flight.

Get to the airport early – and don’t wait for your gate number to be displayed

Queues for security are going to be lengthy in peak summer season, so you should be aiming to get to the airport in plenty of the time regardless. But once you’re through security, you need to go through passport control too. In some airports, this can be tucked away in a quiet wing of the airport serving just a few gates.

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If your gate isn’t displayed early, by the time you start to line up, you may have cut it too fine. I almost missed a flight from Malaga to London a couple of years ago for this very reason – so don’t risk having to be very un-British and queue jump like I did. And if I pushed in front of you and you’re reading this, I’m very sorry – and hope you made your flight too!

My advice is to go through passport control even if your gate isn’t displayed on the boards – if there are multiple passport controls, in my experience the border control officials will redirect you. Just look suitably apologetic as I did and make sure you head off in the right direction.

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Consider booking a package

If you book a package holiday with an operator with has its own fleet of planes, such as Thomson (other operators are available!), then the same company is responsible for getting you from the hotel to the airport and from the airport to Britain. At the very least this is going to reduce the buck-passing.

Have you any tales to tell? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Everything you need to know about flying

The title’s a bit of an exaggeration – at the very least a work in progress – but I’m in the process of creating an index for my blog posts. Here’s the first instalment. With years of independent travel under my belt there’s a lot of advice I can share about airlines and air travel. From finding business class flights at fares lower than economy to what to do if your flight is cancelled, there’s a blog to help.
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Tips for saving money on flights
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2014/10/15/nine-tips-to-save-money-on-flights-and-one-to-avoid/
Cabin baggage charges
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2017/07/22/the-increasingly-thorny-issue-of-cabin-baggage/
What to do if you miss your flight
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/07/27/what-to-do-if-you-miss-your-flight/
How to travel business class for the price of economy
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/how-to-fly-business-class-for-the-price-of-economy/
Are business class flights really worth the extra?
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/are-business-class-flights-really-worth-the-extra/
How to survive a long haul flight
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/how-to-survive-a-long-haul-flight/
What’s it like to travel long haul on a budget airline?
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2017/01/19/whats-it-like-to-travel-long-haul-on-a-budget-airline/
Thoughts on airports
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2016/05/24/its-almost-time-to-go-to-the-airport/
Transport options from Heathrow to London
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2015/12/07/how-to-get-the-best-out-of-a-heathrow-layover/
How to get the best from a Heathrow layover
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/how-to-get-the-best-out-of-a-heathrow-layover-part-2/
Getting your money back if your flight is cancelled
https://juliamhammond.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/finally-a-win-against-cityjet/