Public Mediation

S.T. vs. Tap Air Portugal

TAP Air Portugal's emergency landing because of security error led to an awful chain of events

S. T. vs. Tap Air Portugal
Edifício 25 do Aeroporto de Lisboa, Lisbon, 1700-008 , Portugal
Amount Involved: $164.99
Complaint(s): Bad business practices
    • Status: In Negotiation
      This claim has posted for public comment and negotiation. It will remain posted until resolved to the claimant's satisfaction. Suggest a resolution to help these parties reach a settlement.
      (seeking public comment)
    • Claimant Seeks: 3 non-monetary items.
    • Claim #: 2566154
    • Amount Involved: 164.99
    • Filed On: Dec 06, 2021
    • Posted On: Dec 17, 2021
    • Complaint(s):
      • Bad business practices
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Statement of Claim
Claimant says:
"Short version:
1) TAP Air Portugal failed to comply with international regulations and took off with baggage belonging to a passenger who had checked in but did not board the plane on November 7 2021. It therefore had to make an emergency landing and jettison almost a full load of fuel (an emergency landing that sent a terrible jolt through my broken shoulder). This resulted in an unscheduled and highly inconvenient overnight at Dulles while our $150 hotel room in Charlotte sat empty.

2) TAP Air Portugal failed to take reasonable care of a disabled passenger needing wheelchair assistance and essentially abandoned them. It should have been, again, elementary to communicate schedule changes with wheelchair assistance. Instead injured passenger endured pain, distress and hours of needlessly trying to sort out changes.

3) TAP Air Portugal has either completely siloed its customer assistance agents or failed to train them in how to properly assist passengers (disabled or otherwise) in such a situation and escalate help. The agent we spoke to wasn't even able to see that the flight had already been rebooked, let alone check hotel assistance.

Full story:

I tripped over an odd water feature near Lisbon's Oceanarium during a blinding nighttime rainstorm and badly fractured my shoulder/arm. Two days after undergoing surgery, on November 7 2021, I headed back to the US in a business class seat on TAP Air Portugal, my travelling companion sitting an expensive full-price one-way seat back in economy. As I was in a great deal of pain and taking pain pills, my wide seat had been booked with wheelchair / disabled assistance for the entire route, including the connecting flight to Charlotte NC.

A while into the flight, TAP Air Portugal started calling for a certain passenger to make himself known, which he didn't. Then they told us that "corporate" had made the decision that we had to make an emergency landing in the Azores. The reason quickly became clear—security had sent a passenger back to get a Covid test shortly before take-off. As our tests (mandatory for entry into the US) had been checked twice by that point, it was a mystery to me as to how he'd got that far.

What isn't a mystery is that no-one had ensured that the passenger had made it back to the plane before take-off—and it would have been a miracle if he had. No-one bothered that his baggage was on the plane without him, either.

Belatedly realizing the security risk to passengers, crew, and the plane itself, not to mention the violation of international regulations, the order was then given that we must jettison fuel and turn back to make an emergency landing in the Azores.

So during COP26, an airline whose CEO had recently given an interview about the importance of the environment jettisoned almost an entire load of fuel due to sheer incompetence. Sure, most of the fuel likely evaporated if we were high enough (unknown) but that vapor still goes into the environment.

The passengers, even those with terribly hungry young children, took the 3 hour delay and the prospect of missed connections with remarkably good grace, as did we—even though we were unable, at that late hour and with no phone service, to cancel our $150 room at the Sheraton at Charlotte airport. Arriving at Dulles at midnight local time (4 a.m. to us) hazy with fatigue and pain, we were pleased to see the wheelchair waiting. The wheelchair person, hearing that we'd missed our connection, checked our details into her handheld device and whisked us through passport control and customs at great speed.

All of a sudden we were in Arrivals with absolutely no idea of what to do next as it dawned on us that she didn't have any idea what she was doing. All she could say was that everyone had gone home, including TAP Air Portugal and the connecting carrier, United. We sent her off because obviously she had no clue what to do and we couldn't get back into security. She was very nice but clearly hadn't been properly trained and TAP Air Portugal hadn't given her sufficient instructions. If I had been more severely disabled, I have absolutely no idea what would have happened to me.

We sat and called TAP Air Portugal. After more than 45 minutes on hold, we reached someone who could only say that there were no more United flights until two days later and we were on our own. He said there should have been someone at baggage claim/customs (neither I nor my vision-impaired travelling companion had seen them) but he was unable to call anyone at the airport. He could not communicate with anyone else at all, refer us to a hotel or supervisor, or give us another number to call—all he could do was rebook us on a flight 2 days away. There was no-one at the TAP Portugal desk upstairs, just a large crowd of people waiting for Avianca.

At around 2 AM we gave up and headed for the exit to find a taxi. By sheer coincidence we ran into someone from passport control who recognized us. He said they had been calling us in customs but since we weren't there, of course we had heard nothing. He then told us to go to the office behind TAP Portugal's desk to get our new bookings, and called up to alert any remaining personnel. We then obtained our hotel vouchers but we could not even contemplate waiting for a shuttle and struggling with baggage (which we would not have had to do in Charlotte) so paid for a taxi to the distant hotel, where the clerk didn't understand the vouchers and took what seemed like hours to figure out how to check us in. We then (at 2:30 am) rebooked the 8 a.m. flight TAP Air Portugal had booked for us for a more reasonable 12:30 pm flight.

All in all, TAP air Portugal caused us, but especially me, a huge amount of pain, frustration, and worry. It was all completely unnecessary. None of it would have happened if staff had been properly trained and empowered.
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What Claimant Wants Hide
What By When How Much
1. 2 round trip tickets from the US to Portugal Dec 21, 2021 N/A
2. Insist that wheelchair staff are trained in how to deal with flights that are late and connections that are missed. These should be flagged up. Dec 21, 2021 N/A
3. Empower telephone staff to deal with situations like ours. It's crazy not to be able to talk to airport staff! Dec 21, 2021 N/A
1. Payment due: Sheraton Hotel at Charlotte airport - we were unable to cancel at such a late hour Dec 21, 2021 $150.00
2. Pay for claim posting cost Dec 21, 2021 $14.99
Just make me happy!
Claimant invites TAP Air Portugal to make a fair offer to resolve this complaint.
Cash total : $164.99
Non-cash: 3 items
  • 0
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Respondent's Counteroffer

There has been no response to this claim from TAP Air Portugal. This claim will remain posted until resolved
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Is this a fair resolution?
  • 1
  • Contributed Solution: by George Maxwell On 01-19-2022
    Proposed settlement of plane tickets should be for direct routes during the off-season only, OR you pay half. More...
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