When lightning strikes happen to other people, they often make exciting, intriguing, sometimes sad news. When it happens to you, or causes a major delay in your travel plans, it then becomes an ‘adventure’ a bit too close to home. No, I wasn’t struck by lightning, I am very happy to say, but my Monarch flight was struck as it approached Menorca airport with its contingent of British passengers.
Now, lightning strikes on planes are fairly commonplace these days, and it is heartening to know that all commercial aircraft are designed to withstand even the most aggressive strikes, but they can cause a severe jolt to the plane, and can even throw some of the electrics out, but generally speaking, beyond the shock factor, they do little damage. However, what is obligatory after every such strike, is a complete safety check before the aircraft takes off again. And this was the big rub……
Menorca airport is a small place and, in winter time, works on minimal staffing. The 200 passengers waiting to board were sent emails every half hour informing them of the revised departure time. After three hours, the captain felt obliged to address the restless mob, explaining that they had detected some damage to the electrics, and were awaiting instructions from Airbus about the safety of resuming their journey. He also added that he and his crew were rapidly running out of legal shift time, after which they would have to take compulsory rest……..which would mean having a stop-over in Menorca.
Now Monarch, like most budget airlines, do not have the financial capacity for keeping aircraft on stand-by in the case of such events, so no substitute plane was going to be sent out. We simply had to sit it out and hope for the best. After nearly 8 hours, they allowed us to board where we sat for another 40 minutes waiting for the engineers to sign off the safety check, and I am happy to report that the flight home was uneventful. The ‘huge concession’ made by Monarch was to award each of the passenger with a 6 euro snack….
So, instead of arriving in Gatwick at 14.20, we arrived at 22.00, missing my National Express connection by over 6 hours, meaning I had to buy an expensive train ticket to get home, eventually arriving home at 01.30am. I, like probably most of my fellow passengers, began searching for the small print concerning delays and added expense, and discovered a clause in the company’s T&Cs that Monarch airlines will not be liable if the delay is caused by ‘extraordinary circumstances’. The big question now is: were the complications caused by a lightning strike ‘extraordinary circumstances’? I began to investigate……..and this is what I found.
In January 2016, a judge at Luton County Court, deliberating on a similar case against Monarch, decided that lightning strikes do not constitute ‘extraordinary circumstances’, presumably because they are so commonplace that airline companies should have in place the resources to respond to them. In other words, the simple solution would have been for Monarch to either send out another plane to pick us up, or contract the loan of another aircraft from a nearby airport (like Mallorca or Barcelona, for instance). But they didn’t do that. They made us wait 8 hours, instead, to avoid this major expense to the company, making it clear to us that company profits are of greater importance than the convenience and wellbeing of 200 passengers. If Monarch have to proceed to pay-outs, they could be liable to 600 euros per passenger.
So, I have filed my claim (principally for the cost of a train ticket), and now await a response. Stay tuned……….