Before going into the details of a long battle for compensation using AirHelp, let me be clear this is not an open criticism to the airline all Azoreans depend on a daily basis (especially those living in the smaller islands).
Let me assure you I’ve been flying with SATA Air Açores (known as Azores Airlines for those taking international flights) since I was born. Literally. I’m from Flores but because there isn’t a properly equipped hospital on the island, I was born in São Miguel and later returned to my home island.
Let me also assure you this is a reality for most people who live on the smaller islands: using interconnecting flights like a bus service.
First and foremost, SATA Air Açores serves locals. I have nothing against SATA when flying between islands. On the contrary. The crew is always welcoming and professional and not once have I been mistreated by any employee.
At the Lisbon airport, though, they have room for improvement. Lots of room. Starting with understanding the reality of the islands and not give false claims to complaining customers (and, yes, I have tested them).
Why I Decided to Use AirHelp for Compensation
Now, I don’t typically go after an airline just for the sake of publicity, especially one I’ve known and used for so long. I will always recommend Azores Airlines over any other airline flying to the Azores islands because Azoreans need a profitable, working airline to continue to serve them.
But I’ve noticed since that first disrupted flight in 2017 that they’ve hit a rough patch. That has even divided even locals between diehard supporters who defend the airline at all costs and those who’ve had enough and demand better service. Those demanding are usually islanders who don’t have another option to travel between the islands.
On 9th April 2017, our flight from Lisbon to Faial was delayed for almost two hours due to technical problems. Of course, this is bound to happen with any airline not just Azores Airlines. But the people at the boarding gate made one mistake (which reveal their lack of knowledge or diligence to provide good customer service): when I asked if my connecting flight from Faial to Flores was going to be affected, they bluntly said “no, of course not”.
Let me give you context on this. I asked the same question twice because I knew the interconnecting flight couldn’t afford to wait on just five passengers (me, my husband, my son, and two other people) and jeopardize the rest of the route. Believe me, had they explained this to me, I would’ve understood. What pissed me off was their lack of courage to do so and push that problem to their colleagues on the islands.
We lost our connecting flight from Faial to Flores, of course. We were offered a meal voucher to eat at the airport in Horta and SATA managed to put us on another flight to Flores that same day a few hours later (with a layover in Terceira). Not too bad. It was low season and the on-ground crew in Horta handled everything perfectly. Kudos to them and their experience in dealing with these situations.
That said, a meal voucher and arranging for a new flight is not considered compensation according to the EU law. And I was done letting things go just because I have an emotional connection to the local airline.
After reading dozens of AirHelp reviews online and listening to the similar stories of friends and family members, I downloaded the AirHelp app while killing time at the Horta airport. Apart from their fee, that they would only charge if they won the case on my behalf, AirHelp was a pretty straightforward service to use. I also like the idea of letting other people go through the trouble of pursuing legal stuff and I’m okay with paying for it (as long as it’s a black-and-white fee and no one tries to overcharge me for this and that).
AirHelp App or Website?
The reason why I downloaded the app immediately was to make sure we had the right to claim for compensation. Both the app and the website are very user-friendly and intuitive. The app allows you to scan the boarding pass, so you have even less hassle.
You can always cross-reference the information AirHelp provides you with the official source for air passenger rights on the European Union website. See for yourself on the widget below if your disturbed flight is eligible for compensation (by clicking the button “check compensation”, you will open a new tab in your browser):
The app is great to get the process started quickly. However, once it starts, you may be asked for some documents (like personal ID, a power of attorney, and the tickets or boarding passes). Uploading them to your claim area on the website is easier and quicker than sending them over email (which you can also do).
I know some people are uncomfortable providing personal documents like that over a website but it’s necessary to keep things moving forward. They need as much evidence of the disruption as possible. The personal ID and power of attorney are for the lawyer to be allowed to handle the claim on your behalf.
Would I Use AirHelp Again?
According to AirHelp, SATA typically rejected claims like ours so they decided to move ahead with a lawyer. We agreed, signed the needed documents, and filed the claim.
Once it was done and filed… we waited. A long time. When I saw my case wouldn’t be solved until 200+ days later, my heart sank. Yes, it would take me almost a year to get my flight disruption compensation. They call this the “average processing time for cases like yours”. I had to be very patient and, well, at that point I had nothing to lose.
I would check the website weekly at first to see if the numbers moved at all. Then I started checking the website every two weeks. Finally, I would only log in to the website when they sent me the automatic follow up email. And then, after a while, I kind of forgot about it until I had a disrupted flight again.
Since that flight in 2017, I had one more issue with a flight in 2018 (and, yes, I’ve filed a claim for compensation again). And I will use AirHelp as many times as needed, as long as they keep up the success rate.
The Second Disrupted Flight (2018) and Second AirHelp Claim
In the hopes of improving the average processing time, on my second claim I was a lot more thorough with the description of what happened. Granted that the second disrupted flight in August 2018 (tourism peak season) was a much more complex situation:
- We found out the flight was delayed when we went to check the boarding gate
- There was no attempt from SATA Azores Airlines at the Lisbon airport to warn us the flight would be delayed
- When asked, the employee at the airport said she had instructions for not warning passengers since it wouldn’t disrupt connecting flights
- I asked (three times to different people) if my connection from Ponta Delgada to Flores was guaranteed and three times they said yes (I knew for a fact this would not be possible)
- We were the only two passengers from Lisbon with a connecting flight and I knew SATA would not risk complaints from other passengers on the islands because of just two people, so they wouldn’t wait for us (and, believe me, I understand this)
- Upon arrival in Ponta Delgada, we were greeted with local employees advising us to file a complaint for compensation and a voucher for meals and a hotel in… Angra do Heroísmo (Terceira, a different island)
- There were no flights available from Ponta Delgada to Flores in the next days, so they flew us to Terceira where we stayed for one night and flew to Flores the next day at 5 p.m.
- A flight that I meticulously planned to take three and a half hours from Lisbon to Flores, took over 24 hours with unwanted layovers
What happened was, again, a knowledge gap between the SATA Azores Airlines employees in Lisbon and those who work daily on the ground in the Azores islands, who know that reality extremely well. I suggest the airline gets its sh*t together when it comes to customer service. There were so many complaints in 2018 that for a moment I contemplated if I should continue to recommend SATA.
Thinking that surely this case was reason enough to make this second claim go faster, even if I hadn’t received compensation yet for the first one (it took one year and four months to win the case, and we got our money on October 2018), I provided a detailed account of the situation.
And the average processing time is… 299 days.
This time around, we’re also earning less (if we win) considering AirHelp will deduct the service fee and the legal fee from the compensation. Is it still worth it? Yes, for us it is. In our case, we’re getting back the price of the tickets. The only thing we don’t get back is the time and the energy we lost by taking an unplanned (and undesired) detour.
Tips on Using AirHelp Effectively
If you’re considering using their service, please take my review as my personal experience. If I do receive compensation for the second claim, I intend to update the post with what happened and when we received compensation*.
If you have a close connection with your airline, like a loyalty program or you’ve used their customer service before and it was flawless, I suggest you try reaching out to them first and filing your complaint with them.
AirHelp provides a service, not a charity, so think about if you want to let go of a fee to get someone to do it for you or not. In our case, after jumping through countless hoops, we were left without much choice. I’m typically lazy to deal with all sorts of paperwork, so this type of service suits me.
Be as detailed and as thorough as possible when describing your account of the events that led to the flight disruption. It might not make your case go faster (as you’ve seen from my example) but at least you have all the evidence of what went wrong.
This page on the AirHelp website has all the FAQs about submitting a claim with them. I also strongly advise that you read their “know your rights” section so that you are fully aware if your disrupted flight is eligible for compensation or not.
*Update: we got an email in October 2019 saying we won the case and we would be compensated within a month (November 2019). It’s now December 2019 and SATA hasn’t paid, yet.
Does AirHelp Have Room for Improvement?
Well, yes of course it has. Like all companies dealing with customers. I confess I was taken aback when their solution for my claim was to immediately use one of their local lawyers to pursue my compensation because, allegedly, they have a track record of problems with dialoguing with SATA.
To be fair, I did try to file a complaint with SATA first but the website is a headache! And, well, they have to work on that too. A company shouldn’t be afraid of dealing with a customer who files a complaint. That means they still care enough to discuss it. When clients go silent and disappear, that’s when they’re gone for good.
I trusted AirHelp enough to let go of the fee as listed on their website. For the sake of transparency, they do a great job of explaining all service fees. They also don’t start any work unless you decide to open a claim after you’ve confirmed on the app or the website that you are entitled to one. In a nutshell, you hire their service once you’ve decided it’s a good option for you. If they can’t win it, they won’t charge you.
What I did expect from them was a more human connection. I understand it’s an online service and that a lawyer in some other part of the country, whom I’ve never met or talked to, took care of everything for me successfully. I get that “online stuff” cut out the human factor so that things move faster and seamlessly. However, not responding to my requests for an update or sending an automatic email on a regular basis is not my idea of good customer service. Especially when you’re dealing with complaints like these and compensation.
In my previous working life, I was the voice on the other side of the phone for almost three years speaking to enraged customers. After that, for almost four years I was the leader of a team that handled nothing but complaints every day. Do you know what pissed the clients the most? Feeling they were being neglected and listening to the “it’s being taken care of” excuses.
Clients don’t know your internal processes (nor they have to) and most of them read reviews with a grain of salt (like you’re probably reading this one right now). Building trust is something that takes time. I, personally, would have appreciated a more human approach on the other end, but at least both times they were very efficient.