How the mighty had fallen: One night I was stretching out across a super-king bed 12 stories up the Intercontinental Ljubljana and the next I was being instructed to wander around the central city in a snowstorm at midnight and take shelter wherever a host would have me – hotel, hostel, under a bridge.
All it took was a little bit of harsh weather back in London to set off a disruptive chain of events to ruin a weekend - totally beyond the airline's control of course, it said ... But it was the elements within the airline's control: a glitchy airline app, an understaffed call centre and an over-reliance on agency staff which really riled our fellow passengers.
"Your attention please, the Easyjet flight 8-2-4-4 to London Gatwick has been cancelled, please make your way back to the check-in desks for further assistance," muttered the algorithm.
We were primed for this confirmation as some aviation geeks had been tracking our inbound flight from the UK to Slovenia and noticed that it was still parked up in London about 10 minutes before it was due to arrive in the former Yugoslav state.
Back through security and border control we trudged, goodbye to any hope of returning home to our beds that night. I immediately got on the phone to the airline call centre, while also queuing up to speak to some agency staff. The Easyjet app remained largely useless and had yet to tell us the flight status was cancelled. I grew tired of the call centre wait music (Imagine Dragons, Whatever It Takes – ironic given the airline was pretty keen to shirk its duty of care).
We made it to the front of the queue only to be handed an A4 sheet outlining our rights under EU law (which are fairly generous) yet the agency staff were powerless to actually help us achieve them.
"Can you book us onto new flights," I asked.
"No, sir. Use the app," I was told.
"Can you give us the hotel voucher?"
The response: "No, sir. Use the app".
I said through gritted teeth: "The app isn't working."
I asked why everybody was queuing for customer service staff who offered no customer service.
A shrug. "I don't really know, sir".
I get it. Bad weather sucks. Many companies use websites, apps and outsourcing to save money – these cost-cuts give us lower airfares. But I can't help but think they missed a trick in not empowering agency staff to do more with stranded customers than hand out paper.
In stressful travel situations it helps to have staff guide you through a process. Instead I had a bright orange app now offering replacement flights three days later and still no hotel voucher.
Easyjet, for what it's worth, this week told me third-party agency staff "absolutely can and do help passengers to rebook although I'm sorry if that doesn't tally with your experience".
As was my right under EU law, I took matters into my own hands and booked new flights from nearby Trieste airport, transfers to get there and a crummy hotel room where we could grab a grand total of three hours sleep and a lukewarm breakfast.
More than seven weeks later I await Easyjet to reimburse me as promised although its scripted reply reiterates that it "understands how delays and cancellations can be frustrating".
The airline said: "Should customers incur any reasonable expenses Easyjet will reimburse them fully ... We have a team of 150 people managing customer claims and Typically we process claims within between five and 15 days. We also have plans to further improve this payment processing time."
Plans that can't come soon enough.
Have you ever used an airline app?
Written by Josh Martin. Republished with permission of Stuff.co.nz.