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Iberia Airlines - No Customer Service, Public Health Violation

Iberia Airlines - No Customer Service, Public Health Violation

Old Aug 10th, 2012, 07:31 PM
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Also, just as general info to anyone who might be interest, many airlines publish a "Contract of Service." Iberia doesn't.
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Old Aug 10th, 2012, 09:25 PM
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Also in case anyone is facing a similar situation, in looking at web sites and contracts of carriage of both U.S. and European Airlines, I have found that many have a clause stating that they will grant total or partial refunds or credits on nonrefundable fares, for passengers' inability to travel due to "force majeure." This is defined as "unusual and unforeseeable circumstances beyond your control, the consequences of which could not have been avoided even if all due care had been exercised." [Such as contracting contagious disease while traveling and being forbidden to fly by local medical authority, I'd say]. Haven't been able to find anything like that on Iberia.
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Old Aug 10th, 2012, 11:25 PM
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If you allow a good deal of generalization, force majeure is a general principle that is part of many jurisdictions' trade or civil laws. I don't know the Spanish law, but given that trade, commerce and consumer laws have been harmonized in the European Union one can assume that it could have also applied here. It does not have to stated in the individual contracts to be applicable.
It can also not be waived and is not superseded by contractual agreements, e.g. by agreeing on a non-refundable fare.

Nevertheless, force majeure does not work the way you may think it does.
When one party of a contract claims justifiable force majeure, the contract gets nullified at that point.

In your case, that would have been that day your doctor in Spain gave you a "no fly order" for the day you planned to depart.
Let's say you paid $1000 for the return ticket, and for the sake of the discussion, each leg of travel was worth $500.
Force majeure would free the airline to deliver its service, and you would be reimbursed the costs for that leg, i.e. $500.

In the very same moment, the airline would be off the hook to offer you anything, from assistance to re-book, as your contractual relationship had ended that day.
You would have needed to get a one-way ticket back home on your own, from whatever airline you chose.

Force majeure does not mean that the other party has an obligation to modify the contract according to your (new) needs, i.e. make the return leg flexible.

It is a pretty strong tool to get out of a contract (when justifiable conditions exist), but you have to claim it at that moment you wish to nullify the contract, and you cannot claim it once goods/services had been delivered/used.

And, as it is such a strong tool and also voids any compensation (e.g. for airline as they cannot sell your empty seat at short notice), you can expect the other party to dispute it and demand proof, e.g. that your illness had not been a pre-existing condition etc.

Instead of going down that path (which, technically, you can not anymore), I would focus on that fax you sent to the medical service of Iberia before the weekend.
While you cannot claim anything from talking to someone on the phone (a real pet peeve of myself.. the obsession of people to handle important matters thru the only communications channel that cannot be proven), let's assume that a free re-booking is part of the terms/contract once you sent proof to the medical service.
There is no obligation to handle business matters outside working days and business hours. OTOH, if your information reached the medical service before scheduled departure (which was the case in your example), it does not matter how quickly or slow the medical service processed your fax.
Hopefully, you kept a the confirmation page that your fax had actually been sent.

What I would do (keep in mind that only your lawyer can give you legal advice that you should listen to!!:

Dispute the $433 rebooking fee.
The costs relating to your efforts to call the airline and sent the fax do not look re-imbursable to me.
Send copy of that fax to medical services to Iberia and claim that you informed them in due time.

Send same documentation to the Consumer Protection Authority in Catalunya as at least your rebooking fee should be seen as a transaction governed by the laws of Catalunya.
The Consumer Protection Authority not just an equivalent to your BBB but has much stronger powers and each complaint sent to them thru the official (paper or e-) forms becomes a case.


The respective form -- which is the electronic equivalent of the famous "reclamation book" each establishment doing business with consumers must have -- is only in Catalan, though.
But any native or intermediate speaker of Castilian can understand it enough to fill it out. Which you should do in English (or Castilian if you have someone who can do it). The procedure itself is explained in "Spanish" on that website.
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Old Aug 11th, 2012, 07:17 AM
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Thank you, Cowboy 1968, for your kind and sound advice, which I am definitely following.

I started with U.S. agencies (not the BBB--useless--but the New York Dept. of Consumer Affairs, and the DOT). My stated sought resolution with the DCO is reimbursement of the $433 (since burning at the stake seemed an unreasonable request).

My friends in Spain did suggest the Agència Catalana del Consum, and I'm moving on to it. I had problems with their web site the first time I accessed it, but am going back. I'm bilingual in English and Spanish, and have good knowledge of Catalan, so can manage the form.

I also found on another travel forum a fairly similar case that someone experienced about three years ago. This person eventually got a refund by bypassing Iberia's online claims process (which forum participants highly berated) and writing directly to Corporate Headquarters, so I've gotten those addresses as well.

I do have the fax documentation and will include it in any communications, thanks for the pointer.

I'd never previously heard the term "force majeure" in relation to airlines, except as they apply it to limit their own liability toward stranded passengers. So I was indeed surprised to find it in so many contracts of carriage, as possibly benefiting the customer in overriding certain nonrefundable fare provisions. Different companies had varying policies, but mainly it's (as you say) cash refunds for applicable unused tickets, OR credit toward future travel. The latter would have been helpful to me, as when I first called them was I couldn't give a specific date by which I could be CERTAIN to have medical clearance. But I would have been happier with a refund I could apply to travel on another airline. By delaying the Medical Service's response until my flight had left, they forced me to rebook with *them* at their new conditions, or lose the entire cost of the ticket.

I wrote the European Commission Air Transport division for clarification of applicable European law, because I take it if that clause (in such uniform language) appears in so many contracts of carriage it must be because there is SOME regulation analogous to that of the DOT in the U.S. (but searches on Spanish legal databases have not so far yielded it). I also asked Iberia for their Contract, which I'm sure they will provide to me in the slowest possible way. They don't publish it in full on their web site, just as online links to conditions from an already booked reservation are inoperable--consumer information is fiercely guarded!

Thank you again.
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