We reported last week about Wizz Air’s Madeira scandal here and here. The Hungarian low-cost airline’s plane could not land in Madeira due to strong winds. Thus, the passengers were taken to the nearby island of Tenerife. As a result, a group of passengers was stuck in Tenerife, while another group was stuck in Madeira – those who would have taken the return flight. Among all this ordeal was our reader, Anna. Now, Anna sent us an analysis of Wizz Air’s lies and the truth behind the miscommunication. Read her letter below.
On Tuesday last week, Wizz Air was unable to land on Madeira due to strong winds, and instead landed on the nearby island of Tenerife. Contrary to its promise, Wizz Air did not transfer passengers to Madeira the next day; instead, it took some of them back to Budapest, leaving those who chose to stay on Tenerife instead.
Meanwhile, passengers waiting to return home in Madeira were told that the earliest they could get home was on the next scheduled flight on Saturday (which, by the way, was already almost full of other passengers at the time of the announcement), and were finally sent on a relief flight on Friday, 3 days later than originally planned. The total number of passengers affected by these two groups is about 450. I am one of the passengers who never made it to Madeira.
RTL was the most detailed in its coverage of the incident, but even their report on Monday’s (yesterday’s) newscast revealed only partial bits of the truth, far from the whole truth, and the other news portals’ reports revealed even less, as they basically only relayed the MTI’s statement, which was a Wizz Air statement…
Wizz Air specifically lied about a number of things and, in addition to that, it also treated passengers in a blatantly unfair manner in a number of other respects. It is unacceptable to me and to the other passengers who have been harmed that this has not even been made public and that they will be allowed to do the same to thousands more passengers in the future without any consequences. My motivation in writing this message to you is to reveal the whole truth.
Below is a bullet-point summary of Wizz Air’s lies and unfairness, backed up by evidence.
This is the statement made by Sándor Radó, Wizz Air’s Head of Communications, on Thursday last week and supplemented on Monday this week: “We have offered passengers two options, one is to stay in Tenerife and rebook for a later flight, or to fly home to Budapest.” “Passengers who bought their tickets through a travel agent or intermediary may not have been informed at all or may have been informed late.”
I booked my flight directly with Wizz Air myself, but I did not receive any information from them either by email or SMS. We have formed a Facebook group with the victims, which currently has 180+ members, with new members joining all the time (name: W62397-Funchal victims), where several other passengers have confirmed that they have not received any email or text message either, even though they booked their tickets directly with Wizz Air. No member of the group confirmed that they had received any information about this.
In addition, the ground staff at Tenerife airport specifically told us verbally when announcing the return to Budapest that those who choose to stay in Tenerife will pay all their own costs from now on, including their accommodation and return ticket. At the time of the announcement the ticket price for Wizz Air’s Saturday and Monday Tenerife – Budapest flights cost around HUF 40,000 (EUR 106), but the sudden surge in demand caused the price to first soar, then quickly sell out and some of those who opted to stay in Tenerife were left with no tickets at all, as confirmed by the Facebook group members concerned.
Sándor Radó also said on Wednesday last week and Monday this week that the plane could not wait any longer for the wind to calm down because of the schedule: “The Wizz Air flight from Tenerife returned to Budapest on Wednesday afternoon in order to keep the schedule.”
“If the plane had continued to wait in Tenerife for the weather to become more favourable, more flights scheduled with this plane would have had to be cancelled from Budapest.”
According to the Flightradar24 website, the aircraft’s identification (9H-WBK) shows that the aircraft departed from Tenerife back to Budapest at 16:10 local time, landed in Budapest at 22:35 Budapest time and departed for Athens at 6:50 the next day. I have attached the evidence downloaded from here.
The Madeira airport website shows the arrivals for the day and the previous day, which I downloaded in time and attached as proof.
It shows that between 9:00 and 19:00, there were 9 planes that landed successfully among the cancelled or diverted flights, and after 19:00, all the planes of the day landed successfully, without exception, for a total of 10 in a row, so from then on, there were no more cancelled or diverted flights for the rest of the day.
After waiting at the airport for 8 hours, starting at 6:00, we were finally told at 14:10 by the airport staff that the flight would be turned back to Budapest with a 15:00 departure (which was delayed by over 1 hour for unexplained reasons). At the time the decision to turn back was made, the weather forecast had already clearly indicated that the winds would calm down in a few hours, allowing a safe landing in Madeira. If our plane had landed in Madeira after 19:00 and picked up the passengers waiting for their return flight, it would still have arrived in Budapest in time to allow several hours (at least 4 hours) before the 6:50 flight to Athens.
The fact that we were unable to land in Madeira on Tuesday last week due to strong winds was a force majeure, i.e. an extraordinary circumstance beyond Wizz Air’s control. However, the fact that they did not take us to Madeira the following day, Wednesday evening, was NOT due to force majeure, but was their individual decision, which they could have taken instead, handling the situation differently!
Wizz Air’s communication (via email and text messages) was unqualified throughout the process, both for those who did not get to Madeira and for those who were stranded there. The plane circled over Madeira for 1 hour, attempting a total of 2 landings, and then flew on to Tenerife, half an hour away, landing just after 19:00. At 17:45 and 22:45 local time (which is 1 hour earlier than the Budapest time) we received 2 emails and text messages with the same text: “We regret to inform you that flight W6 2397 has been changed. Please follow the information provided by our ground handling staff or flight attendants.”
We stood at the airport, clueless, not knowing what to do. Out of the 220+ passengers, I waited with what looked like a group of about 50. We didn’t know where the other passengers were, and we were getting information sporadically thanks to the proactive enquiries of the passengers from the airport ground staff, who shared their scraps of information with us. In this way, we learned that we were being bussed to hotels (a legal obligation for airlines, even if the planned landing was cancelled due to force majeure).
They were able to transport so many passengers in several rounds, the last round after a 2 hour wait after 21:00, they arrived at the hotel in Santa Cruz at 22:00 after a 50 minute bus ride. We were verbally informed by the hotel staff that the bus would be leaving back to the airport with us at 5:00. In an email and text message received at 20:25, Wizz Air informed us of an 8:00 take-off to Madeira, and in a text message received at 23:25, an 8:50 take-off to Madeira.
I then called the hotel reception to ask if Wizz Air had also delayed the 5:00 departure by 1 hour, hoping that I would have the chance to sleep for 6 hours instead of 5, after a long and exhausting day. The answer was no. So, between arrival and departure, I only had time to eat a hasty dinner, shower, sleep for 5 hours, and then again in the morning, hurry to get ready and eat some breakfast before boarding the bus.
We waited at the airport for 8 hours from 6:00 am onwards, without any information from Wizz Air either by email or SMS. The ground staff at the airport told us every hour or so that the departure was delayed and that they would be able to give us more information 1 hour later.
Finally, at 14:10, they announced that the flight would not be going to Madeira at all, but would be returning to Budapest at 15:00, and that everyone would have half an hour (!) until boarding to decide whether to go home or stay in Tenerife, with all costs from then on being paid by the passengers themselves, including accommodation and the purchase of a ticket home, all this during the peak tourist season at Easter, when there are plenty of tourists! After deciding to go home, I literally rushed to get to the bathroom and buy a sandwich for my travel lunch on the meal ticket I had been given, to avoid having to buy food on board at a sky-high price.
At 14:45 local time, I received the following email from Wizz Air, which is completely incomprehensible: “Please accept our sincere apologies for the diversion of your flight 2397 originally departing on 05.04.2023 from TFS to FNC. The local ground handling agents will assist you upon arrival on how you can be transported to the original destination.”
The boarding gate was opened at 14:50 and after boarding, the public waited for 1 hour sitting on the plane for take-off, which did not take place until 16:10. The pilot spoke to the passengers before take-off and specifically said that they (the pilots and cabin crew) could not understand why Wizz Air management had taken this decision, and that it was not the first time in his years with the airline that this had happened, and that he suggested that we should complain when we returned home.
Long after we got home, on Thursday (13:10), we received a third email with the same text as on Tuesday, which sounded like a bad joke: “We regret to inform you that flight W6 2397 has been changed. Please follow the information provided by our ground handling crew members or flight attendants.”
I have attached all Wizz Air emails as evidence (stitched together in a PDF file).
Passengers stranded on Madeira were treated similarly badly by Wizz Air in view of their disastrous communication. This is the account of one affected person in the Facebook group last Friday:
“It’s not the only thing the articles lied about. People who wanted to go home were also told that we could rebook for free, but hardly anyone managed to do so because the link didn’t work. I might add that you could also read that everyone would get home on Saturday, but that’s not true either, a lot of people only got a seat somewhere for Sunday and later, and most of them at their own expense, by buying new tickets!
And those who bought tickets for another flight can only hope to get their money back. Today, 99 of us came home on the relief flight, but getting on it was an orbital calamity for some of us… Some were only allowed on by having to buy a ticket for hundreds of euros… Because the system showed that they had asked for a refund (which was not true).
We were not informed of anything in time, almost everyone booked and paid for another accommodation (which turned out to be a waste of money), because they almost constantly communicated to us that they would only provide us with 1-1 day accommodation. All we were told was “we can stay today, we have to leave tomorrow”… (Well, the last time we were told it was ok until Saturday, but then we got a text message from the relief service a few hours later.)
So all in all, of course it was ok, we were given accommodation and food and eventually brought home, but for 3 days we were kept waiting for 7-8 hours, went to the airport 3 times, checked in and out of the hotel 3 times… The best way I can sum up the “experience” is that what we applauded today was the take-off. The only way we would have come out of this well would have been if no one had done anything after the cancellation (no booking, no flight, no accommodation, nothing), but since everything was announced at the last minute, everyone obviously did what they could…”
Those in favour of staying in Tenerife had a paper signed requesting the removal of their luggage from the plane. Despite this, several of them had their luggage left on the plane and were transported to Budapest, as confirmed by the people concerned in the Facebook group. This was a further blow to them after not even reaching Madeira, and caused them further hassle and expense in re-purchasing essential items.
Wizz Air has done absolutely nothing to address the clearly unusable Madeira – Budapest ticket for passengers who did not even get to Madeira. In fact, it was making things difficult until Monday and impossible from Tuesday for passengers who are proactively trying to take action. It was down to sheer luck until Monday that they managed to getcancellation and refund on their future return ticket Madeira – Budapest. By Monday evening, only two of us in the Facebook group had indicated to the others that this had been achieved with some difficulty
I was able to get a full refund on Monday for my return ticket for the next day (Tuesday, 11 April) by making a second phone call. I first called the basic customer service number (+36 1 755 5240), which is only available for existing bookings. Here the operator told me that no refund would be given for the return trip, as the outward trip was not cancelled due to Wizz Air’s fault, and that only the normal cancellation procedure would be applicable, with a cancellation fee of EUR 85 (approx. HUF 32 000), after which the remaining amount would be refunded. I said no to this.
I then called the other customer service number (+36 90 900 555), which can be called for any matter (not just existing bookings) and has a premium rate of HUF 250/minute. The 6 minute call cost me HUF 1500 (EUR 4), but at least this time I managed to claim a full refund on the return ticket, which this operator confirmed I was entitled to.
It is particularly outrageous to me that Wizz Air is even profiting from the fact that passengers who have been unfortunate because of Wizz Air’s mistake are forced to go to the premium rate customer service, because they cannot expect help at the one with the basic rate, and even with the premium rate, some people have only managed to get it after repeated calls.
The other passengers I mentioned who managed to do this, one only managed to do it on the third phone call. Other passengers who spoke on the issue in the Facebook group had not managed to do so by Monday evening. Until this day some were told by the call centre that they could only cancel their return journey through the normal cancellation procedure at a cost of EUR 85. Others were told that they could not cancel their return journey at all (even for a cancellation fee) because it could not be treated separately from the outward journey, and some had their written requests rejected for the same reasons. They were also not allowed to rebook for a later date.
The lucky few could be granted a refund through the call centre latest on Monday, then from Tuesday all passengers who called were told that they must send this demand in written from to Wizz Air. Then all of these written demands are rejected claiming that there has not been any diversion on the Madeira – Budapest flight, therefore there is no basis for a refund, independently from the fact that the passengers had no chance at all to get to Madeira! When the passengers who called mentioned that the call centre granted a refund for their future return ticket for a few passengers until Monday, the customer service replied that the management ordered them not to grant it anyone anymore! Total chaos!
This case has caused 450+ people serious financial loss and huge disappointment, which was ultimately NOT due to force majeure weather conditions, but due to the way Wizz Air handled the situation based on its own decision. Whilst it could have chosen to minimise this damage by taking us from Tenerife to Madeira on Wednesday evening after a day’s wait, bringing those waiting there home and still landing in Budapest in ample time for the next scheduled departure.
But it has chosen not to do so, because its selfish, profit-driven considerations are paramount to it, and it refuses to give its own customers even the minimum respect they deserve. And it can do this again and again with impunity to many more passengers who will be victims, if the media do not even report the truth!
It has deprived passengers who never reached Madeira of the holiday experience they had been waiting for, and has caused them financial losses averaging in the hundreds of thousands of forints, and even millions of forints for several families in non-refundable bookings (hotel, car rental, programmes, cruises, etc.). It has turned the holidays of passengers stranded in Madeira into a nightmare by keeping them in limbo for 3 days, during which many, not knowing whether they could expect any help from Wizz Air, bought a new connecting ticket for a return trip home from other airlines at very high cost.
The legitimacy of our grievances was confirmed to our fellow passengers by several different lawyers, independently of each other. One of them replied to us:
“1.) Right to compensation:
The airline must prove that the cancellation of the flight was caused by extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided despite all reasonable measures. If they can prove this, they will not have to pay compensation. It is only possible to take a position on this when the details are known, but of course an unmanageable weather situation could justify such a claim.
2) The right to reimbursement and reassignment:
– Reimbursement of the cost of the flight ticket (for the leg not taken, but also for the leg taken if it no longer serves any purpose in relation to the passenger’s original travel plan, e.g. in the present case, if he/she cannot go to Madeira anyway, since the period of accommodation and leave has expired, the leg already taken has lost its purpose, so a refund is also due) or
– re-booking (in this case, re-booking for a later date, if you so choose)
3) There may also be the cost of accommodation booked but not used, which can be claimed as compensation under the Civil Code rather than the EEC Regulation.”
Again, and one can say as usual, Wizzair lied and mistreated it’s customers, showing criminal behavior and lawbreaking.
It’s incomprehensible how such an enterprise still exists and it’s owners are not in court or even prison already.
Cheese and rice, what a mess. Poor people. Imagine looking forward to a little break from all the B.S. going on in the world and you wind up having to deal with all this. Wizz Air really can’t buy a break it seems: Just about every single day there’s a story like this. The root cause is ultimately lack of empathy. So, so many problems in the world could be solved or avoided to begin with if those in positions of power and authority would be willing and able to put themselves in the shoes of the people they make decisions for/about.
Typical Hungarian service.