1. Our tickets were cancelled and re-booked without our knowledge or permission.
2. As a result, we were refused entry to our flight, despite presenting to the gate while boarding was open. This resulted in our arriving home the day after we had arranged, adding 12 hours to our travel time. We had paid over $1000 extra to arrive on 30th December instead of 31st December, and Etihad REFUSED TO REFUND THE DIFFERENCE.
3. Despite two lengthy, uncomfortable delays on the ground at two locations, we were not provided with food vouchers, lounge access, use of a phone, or any other services.
4. Our luggage was delayed by 36 hours, despite repeated assurance from Eithad staff that it was travelling with us.
5. Throughout the experience, Etihad staff provided inconsistent information, were overwhelmed, unavailable, and, on more than one occasion, startlingly rude.
The full story:
On 29th December 2017, we were booked to travel with Etihad Airways from Brussels to Sydney, with a stop-over in Abu Dhabi. We had carefully booked our flights in order to arrive in Sydney on the evening of 30th December, as we had various work and personal commitments on 31st December. Ticket prices for our arrival on 30th December were over $1000 more expensive than arrival the following day.
Our flight from Brussels to Abu Dhabi was delayed by approximately 90 minutes, however we arrived in time to make our connecting flight to Sydney. We proceeded through security and arrived at the departure gate before the close of boarding, and even had our boarding passes stamped by gate staff. Therefore, we were shocked to find that, at the last minute, we were refused to board, told by gate staff that our tickets had been cancelled and changed to a flight 24 hours later, which would have us arriving in Sydney at around 7pm on New Year’s Eve. We pleaded with gate staff to try to re-book our original tickets, since boarding was still open and we were at the gate. However, they refused to make any attempt to change our tickets, stating that this would take 15 minutes and delay the flight. Subsequently, the plane sat at the gate for another 50 minutes before finally taking off, while gate staff just stood there making no effort whatsoever to help us. During this time we repeatedly begged gate staff to find a staff member or manager who could assist us before we were left behind. They not only did nothing, one of them (a man named Mazin) appeared to find our distress very amusing and openly laughed at us.
We were eventually instructed to join a lengthy queue to speak to a staff member at the nearby transfer desk. We stood in that queue for nearly two hours, because there were only two staff members allocated to assist about 50 displaced passengers. Upon reaching the front of the queue, we spoke to a staff member and stated that we were not in a position to wait 24 hours for another flight, and wished to be booked on another connection. This staff member sent an email on our behalf (investigating a possible connection via Manila) then simply told us to stand aside and wait. So we waited for another 45 minutes, during which time we had a choice between standing, or sitting on the floor, as no chairs were available in the crowded transit area. We asked for updates on several occasions, but the staff member impatiently told us that he had no information. Eventually, he just moved us on and told us to go upstairs to a different transfer desk.
At the next transfer desk, we discovered another lengthy queue and a single, overwhelmed staff member at the desk. As time to make the Manila flight was running low, we approached another Etihad staff member in the vicinity, who informed us that we had actually been sent to the wrong place, and directed us to yet another transfer desk on a different floor.
Unfortunately, the next person we spoke to at the Level 3 transfer desk (his nametag read El Mahdi) was incredibly rude, abrasive and unprofessional. We had not even finished explaining our situation before he interjected, blaming the weather (even though we had landed in time to make our connection) and stating that there was nothing he could do to help us. At one point, when I pointed out that he had not even allowed us to explain the situation, he stated that he would do so, but then repeatedly interrupted me, rolled his eyes at me and spoke to me extremely rudely. Shortly afterwards, he decided to ignore me altogether and speak only to my husband, with every appearance of contempt towards women in general. Quite literally, I’d ask him a question, he’d turn to my husband and speak to him as though I wasn’t there. The one benefit of our interaction with El Mahdi was that he inadvertently admitted the truth – our tickets had been reallocated to other passengers delayed on a previous flight. We had been bumped because the flight was overbooked, and it wouldn’t have mattered what time we got to the gate, since our seats were gone.
Despite his initial protestations, it turns out that El Mahdi quite easily booked us onto a connecting flight to Manila at 3am. (By this point, we had been standing in queues and waiting around for 3.5 hours. Even at this stage, we were not provided with meal vouchers, lounge access, or any courtesy that you might expect to see as a passenger forced to wait for long periods in an international airport, in the middle of the night, with no access to our luggage.) Despite the extreme inconvenience of this roundabout route, we accepted it as returning home at 7pm on New Year’s Eve was unworkable for us. El Mahdi assured us that our luggage would loaded onto our new flight and told us we could also check this at the gate. When we arrived at the gate, another staff member also confirmed that our luggage was on the plane.
Of course, it wasn’t. We discovered this some 10 hours later upon arrival in Manila, exhausted and frustrated, and at this stage having taken two long-haul flights and been awake for over 24 hours. Though we finally (after about an hour) did speak with an Etihad staff member at Manila, he was of little assistance. As we were facing another 3 hour wait before another 8-hour flight to Sydney, we asked if he could arrange access to a lounge or somewhere that we could take a shower. We were told that we would need to pay if we wanted access to a lounge, so we ended up having to wait in the transit area again. We were still not offered even a meal voucher.
So, after yet another uncomfortable wait, and another long flight, we arrived in Sydney at around 7am on 31st December. We were utterly exhausted, but we still had to queue to find out what happened to our bags – which were not delivered to us until 36 hours later, during which time we had few clothes.
Since that time, we have contacted Etihad via their customer service channels and received absolutely no assistance beyond a hollow apology and an offer of... air miles. Even though we are over $1000 out of pocket for the difference between the tickets we booked and the flights we ended up taking, they have utterly refused to consider cash reimbursement of any kind. Worse the number of air miles offered is insufficient for even one leg of an economy flight for one person out of Australia. So their idea of "compensation" is that we pay them MORE money to take MORE flights on their TERRIBLE carrier, for some slight discount.
Worst of all, we made a formal complaint through our state Department of Fair Trading, and Etihad have decided to ignore it ENTIRELY. I was apologetically informed by DFT staff that they can take no further action and that our sole recourse is legal action.
Well, sucks for Etihad that three of my immediate family members are lawyers... this isn't over.