Q: I bought seven tickets to fly from Chicago to Dublin on Aer Lingus. I also purchased an extra seat for me, since I have hip and spinal issues.

While we were seated on the plane to return to Chicago, a flight attendant told my son he had to get out of his seat because it belonged to someone else. I showed the crew member the e-mail confirmation from Aer Lingus.

I told the supervisor I needed the seat for the hip and spine issues. She told me they could take me off the plane if I was not medically capable of flying. She asked me how I felt. I told her “angry.” The attendant said that Aer Lingus had an equipment change and had moved to a smaller aircraft. As a result, they had to bump four people from the flight.

When I returned to the States, I got a refund for the extra seat, an apology, plus an e-card worth $400 that expires next year. God willing, I’d like to return to Ireland in two years for a family event. I will be 85 in December and sure hope I live a few more years and my body cooperates.

I asked Aer Lingus if it would extend the expiration date for the e-card until June 2020. The airline said no. Wow. Because of its error, I was in pain. My kids were upset because their mother was in pain and they couldn’t do anything about it. Is there anything else I could do to get Aer Lingus to extend that e-card?

A: Aer Lingus shouldn’t have taken your seat. Fortunately, it apologized, refunded the money and offered a credit for a future flight. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a credit you could use.

Airlines sometimes swap planes just before a flight, which is called an “equipment change” in airline parlance. Airlines use an algorithm to determine the seating assignments for the new plane. Sometimes, they come up a few seats short. That’s what happened with your flight.

It appears as if the flight crew believed that removing your extra seat wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience. After all, three other passengers had to stay in Dublin until the next flight. But they were wrong.

Airline credits normally last only a year. But you also could have tried a different approach. At one point, your anger boiled over, and according to my staff, you said you wanted to “smack” the airline employees. That probably wouldn’t have been the most effective path to a resolution.

I’m glad cooler heads prevailed and that you took this up with the company when you returned. A brief, calm, polite e-mail to one of the Aer Lingus customer-service executives was your best approach.

Aer Lingus wasn’t required to extend your ticket. But I think you had a strong case. So I asked. Aer Lingus agreed to either extend the credit by another year or offer you a $400 cash refund. You took the cash. I hope you enjoy your visit to Ireland in 2020.


Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.