Stranded? What To Do When Your Airline Collapses

Question: “How do you create a small airline?” Answer: “Buy a big one and wait for a couple of years.” Boom boom!

The airline industry is very volatile, as many thousands find out every year. I have flown 125 airlines since 1968. Of those, 41 do not exist anymore. Names such as Air Berlin, Alitalia, Ansett, Malev, and Pan Am no longer grace the skies.

a white airplane on the runway

This year:

  • Lynx of Canada failed in February.
  • LIAT (Antigua and Barbuda) failed – for the second time
  • Humo Air started flying failed in March after less than four months of operations
  • In April in Australia, Bonza collapsed, leaving 57,933 customers out of pocket.
  • Air Vanuatu declared it was in trouble and suspended all flights while the government sourced auditors
  • Spirit Airlines in the USA faces a tough financial road now that the company’s $3.8 billion merger with JetBlue has been scrapped.
a yellow airplane at an airport

Last year, we saw the demise of Aeromar, Air Moldova, Flybe, Flyr, Go First, MYAirways, Niceair, and Viva (full list and background information at link).

If you or a friend or family member are ever affected by the collapse of an airline, here’s what you need to do:

1. Find All Documentation: Keep a record of all your communications, booking details, and any expenses incurred. This is crucial for insurance claims and other legal actions.

2. Check for Official Announcements: Visit the airline’s website or social media platforms for information on the collapse. Don’t call; it’s usually a waste of time.

3. If your trip has been disrupted due to an airline collapse, consider whether you need to get home or if you’re planning a vacation. These require different solutions.

3a. If You Need to Get Home: Start by finding alternative travel arrangements. Look for other airlines or modes of transportation to get you back. Plan to be stuck at your destination for longer than planned and try to enjoy yourself. Don’t sleep on the airport floor; it’s uncomfortable and stressful.

3b If Your Vacation Plans Are Disrupted: Consider being flexible with timing or destination. Explore other travel options like Fiji, New Caledonia, or Queensland. Understand that flights to your original destination might be limited and potentially more expensive until other airlines adjust.

You’ll have to pay for a new ticket. Sometimes, other airlines will honour the original ticket (rarely), or offer a reduced fare (more likely). Don’t expect compensation.

4. Contact Your Booking Agent: They might have information about refunds, rebooking, or other support. Don’t yell at the agent if your ticket is non-refundable—they can’t change it. This is where you see how bad cheap online travel agents can be, with long response times and little help.

5. Look at Your Travel Insurance (hopefully you have some). Many policies exclude bankruptcy, so be aware. Some policies will pay for a new flight and may help you book it. Others may cover additional hotel nights, meals, and medical expenses. If your policy excludes bankruptcy, they won’t do anything.

6. If You Paid With a Credit Card (not debit, not bank transfer), contact your credit card company/bank about chargebacks or refunds. This step may help you recover the cost of unused tickets.

7. Be Self-Reliant: Governments, embassies, and other airlines rarely organize rescue flights in these situations. Check for official announcements if you’re stuck abroad, but be prepared to manage on your own.

8. Organise Funds: You will need extra cash quickly. Make sure you can access it.

9. Don’t Be Stressed. Don’t Panic: You will get home. You won’t be stuck overseas forever. You have a great travel story, and bosses are usually forgiving in this situation. Acknowledge the stress and anxiety that can come with travel disruptions, and look after yourself and your travel companions.

10. Stay Informed About Legal Actions: Follow news and legal developments related to the airline’s collapse. There may be class-action lawsuits or other avenues for compensation.

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