By Christopher Elliott Travel columnist
Tribune Media Services
updated 6/5/2007 7:11:10 PM ET 2007-06-05T23:11:10

Q: My partner and I were recently denied boarding on an Iberia flight from Madrid to Chicago because the plane was overbooked. We were at the gate two hours ahead of flight time and had confirmed reservations that were purchased months before.

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My partner was offered 600 euros for being bumped, but I was denied compensation because I was told I was “not on the list.” No one from the airline could ever explain why I wasn’t on the list. Eventually, we were rerouted from Madrid to New York and then to Chicago.

When I got home, I began the process of requesting my reimbursement from Iberia. I tried faxing, e-mailing their customer service address, calling the 800 number, and even phoning Madrid. No one responded.

Finally, a customer service representative called me to say that I had been offered boarding on the original Chicago flight and had refused it because my partner wasn’t included. This was not true. I was never offered a seat.

Six months after my flight, Iberia sent me an e-mail asking me to forward boarding passes and a description of what happened. I mailed the airline all of the documentation I had kept, and except for a form response thanking me for my letter, I have not heard anything from Iberia since then. Can you help me? — Nancy Kreinberg, Berkeley, Calif.

A: If Iberia denied you boarding, it owes you compensation under new European Union regulations. On a flight of more than 3,500 kilometers, it must pay you 600 euros.

Airlines are understandably reluctant to write big checks to their passengers. They’d much rather offer you vouchers that are difficult to redeem or better yet, nothing at all.

But the EU regulations are clear, and airlines clearly don’t like them. They fought the rules in Europe before their introduction, and they’re fighting similar regulatory efforts in the United States now. (You’re lucky — if this had happened on a flight within the United States, your could have been owed a lot less.)

Anytime an airline promises you something, get it in writing. Being on a “list” isn’t good enough. When a ticket agent promised you a 600 euro check, you shouldn’t have moved until you had the check, or at least a note promising you a check, in your hands.

Once you returned home, Iberia had the upper hand. It had a language difference, time difference, a call center and a vast bureaucracy working in its favor to deny you the compensation you were owed.

The documentation you provided to Iberia is clear. Your new itinerary states that you were rerouted because you were involuntarily denied boarding. I brought your case to Iberia’s attention. The airline contacted you and said its data regarding your case had been lost. Iberia apologized, sent you a check for 600 euros, and credited your frequent flier account with 680 loyalty points.

Christopher Elliot is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at, or troubleshoot your trip through his Web site,

© 2007 Christopher Elliott ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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