I was always under the impression that once you have official confirmation and a booking reference, a flight reservation is binding on an airline. So did quite a few other people in the queue to check in for Monarch flight ZB677 at Alicante airport on April 21.
April 21 was, of course, the day Europe took to the skies again after the volcanic ash fiasco. And while the likes of Ryanair continued to cancel flights left, right and centre, Monarch were among the first to announce a resumption of their normal schedule.
I was delighted. Despite booking my single flight way back in January, the Icelandic eruptions had exploded my hopes of getting to Manchester in time for my daughter's birthday celebrations on April 24. A very special party it was too, because I paid for it!
So, even though I knew the 20.50 flight was unlikely to leave on time, imagine my joy when I received an email on the morning of the 21st to confirm: ''Please be aware your Monarch flight will be operating subject to UK airspace remaining open and maybe subject to delays. Please make your way to the airport and check-in as normal at your original flight time.''
I was a little curious rather than concerned when I checked the Manchester departures online during the afternoon and noticed that TWO Monarch flights seemed to be on their way, labelled ZB676 and ZB9676. And when I arrived at the airport well over two hours before scheduled departure, it didn't dawn on me that the six lines of passengers in the Monarch queue might all have reservations for the same plane.
I stood patiently for more than an hour, moving slowly towards the check-in desks as the queue behind me stretched ever further back. My first inkling that Monarch were not playing things by the book was the sight of eight or more people being ushered together to the desk I was heading for. People who had not until then even been in our queue.
Still I was not worried, even though I've since heard whispers that maybe, just maybe, people who had booked at the last minute at astronomic prices had been given priority over 'cheapskates' like me who paid less than 50 euros single fare because we booked so early.
After all, I did have a printed reservation clutched in my hand - even if I had been unable to check in online because it was after all, the aerial equivalent of Ash Wednesday.
Then, disaster. A young Spanish woman claiming to be a Monarch representative suddenly started to herd the queuing passengers away from the check-in desk. ''The flight has been overbooked due to a computer fault and all the seats have been taken,'' she barked. ''Nobody else will get on the plane so there is no point queueing any more.''
Cue uproar from furious would-be passengers, not least myself. ''But that's not possible. We have reservations,'' we chorused, brandishing our booking confirmations.
And that was it. No seats, no further explanation. I was unable to get another flight until the following Tuesday, so missed the party I had paid for. And three weeks after my Monarch snub, I am still waiting for an apology and a refund of my fare, or to discover if I will receive any compensation. Not that any amount of money could make up for missing my daughter's birthday celebrations.
Sadly Monarch, the airline that was until this episode my favourite is now persona non grata with the Gee family.
The fact is they messed up big-time. Amid all the chaos, there was no one at the airport to explain the situation properly, and the three officials in the check-in area wearing yellow 'British Embassy' jackets seemed to have less idea what was happening than did the stranded passengers.
Snubbed passengers continue to wait for a proper explanation, but as a journalist I have managed to obtain a statement about the fiasco from a Monarch PR executive. Rather than make my own biased observations on its contents as one of those who suffered, I leave readers to judge for themselves.
The statement reads: ''Once we received confirmation that airspace over the UK had opened, which occurred late on the evening of Tuesday 20 April, Monarch initiated its repatriation plan through which we were endeavouring to return as many of our stranded passengers back to the UK as quickly as possible.
''The intention was to operate as near a normal schedule as possible, with '9' prefixed flights replacing the regular flights. Passengers booked to travel on the regular flight were to be transferred across to the '9' flight, with the remainder of the seats available to be booked for repatriation of other Monarch passengers. It was necessary to do it this way in order to ensure that the booking change would be free of charge to Monarch passengers rebooking onto repatriation flights, otherwise change fees would have been applied which were not appropriate in the circumstances.
''Unfortunately a computer system error initially prevented this from happening, but it is worth pointing out that the problems experienced with flights on Wednesday 21st did not reoccur at any stage of the repatriation programme and all of our flights have been booked full since. Clearly there were some inaccuracies with the information provided to passengers and which we will certainly address also.
''I have been able to obtain some statistics in terms of the inbound communications we have seen since the disruption took place - currently we have received over 400,000 phone calls and in excess of 50,000 e-mails, which are being worked through as quickly as possible. When you consider that a normal call load into our Customer Contact Centre is in the region of 2,000 - 3,000 calls per day, this gives you an idea of the unprecedented volume we were faced with. I would imagine the same applies to most other airlines also.''