The Flight Fiasco That Reduced Monarch From Kings To Clowns

Published on 5/17/2010 in Holidays in Spain

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.

Monarch airlinesApril 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.''


Written by: Donna Gee

About the author:

I am a semi-retired former Daily Express, Daily Star and Daily Mirror staff sub-editor and writer who now lives most of the time in Guardamar  on the Costa Blanca. If you would like professional content written for you by me then email me on

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Dave Roberts said:
Sunday, March 3, 2013 @ 9:52 AM

Don't know if Donna Gee is still involved in this site however the previous disgraceful attitude of Monarch now extends to their treatment of delayed passengers where Monarch are refusing to recognise current EU law.

Donna Gee said:
Thursday, December 2, 2010 @ 8:55 PM

This story had a happy(ish) ending in October, when I received a cheque for £200 from Monarch. Around £150 of it was a refund of my original fare plus the £100 Thomson charged me to get home - plus £50 goodwill payment. However, I still missed my daughter's birthday party through Monarch's bungling and that is something I can never forget.

Bernie said:
Friday, May 28, 2010 @ 11:32 PM

Donna, I wasn't questioning your travel plans but the ridiculousness of the Monarch plane being half empty on the first full day of Air travel after the ash cloud. Especially as my daughter, son-in-law and niece had to return overland on the 25th on a 48hr journey due to being told there were no flights available! However after reading your reply again my answer to your question is yes I would have probably gone back to them, as the situation we were in was an unprecedented one and we have to allow for human error. I too have travelled with Monarch many times (enough to have a gold card) for the last 4 years and have found them to one of the best.

Donna Gee said:
Monday, May 24, 2010 @ 1:18 AM

Bernie, I could possibly have travelled with Monarch earlier than the 27th but would you have gone back to an airline which had given your original seat to someone else and showed no remorse whatsoever? They were the one airline I was NOT going to use! In any case, the main purpose of my trip was to get back to Manchester before the 24th for a major family celebration and I completely lost my trust in Monarch the night they decided not to honour my reservation.
To Dave, I agree the volcanic ash was an Act of God - but Monarch depriving customers of their seats was an Act of Disgrace. I am moving on with my life...but it's unlikely that Monarch will be a part of it!

Dave said:
Sunday, May 23, 2010 @ 7:10 PM

Monarch are great we fly with them all the time never had a problem it was an act of god the volcano just accept it and move on with your life

Bernie said:
Saturday, May 22, 2010 @ 10:59 PM

I travelled back with Monarch from Alicante to Manchester on the 24th April and the plane was half empty! So I'm not sure why they wouldn't give you a flight until the following Tuesday and obviously they made many mistakes.

Bob said:
Friday, May 21, 2010 @ 6:57 PM

Due out of Almeria on 15th April, then Alicante on 18th, both Monarch Airlines flights to Birmingham were cancelled. When airspace was finally reopened I was unable to rebook on their (Monarch Airlines) website which was to all intents and purposes frozen. Despite that and several spells expensively and fruitlessly trying to contact them on the phone, I eventually gave up and finally booked a return flight with BMIBaby. BMIBaby had pleasingly not increased their prices substantially even if we did have to return to East Midlands Airport rather than Birmingham after a 13 day delay.

I have contacted Monarch Airlines both for a refund of expenses and also for the unused return tickets and am still waiting for some sort of acknowledgement that something is going to happen. It's already cost the Airline profits from the sale of two return tickets to Spain that we would have taken at the end of May but which I've decided not to proceed with. Presumably the recent appearance of Tim Jeans on TV is suggests that they are not selling as many seats as they would have hoped.

I have travelled with Monarch three times a year since 2006. I haver been pleased to be one of their customers and they have generally been faultless in their carriage of myself and family, However as a result of their apparently inadequate infrastructure they will be receiving no more bookings from me until I know where I stand.

So it's up to them to hurry through those compensation claims and and give me reason to have my shattered confidence in Monarch Airlines to be restored. I will be pleased to add any eventual success to this thread!

vikki said:
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 @ 12:35 PM

Monarch have lost there way big time, Jet2 seem to have the edge when flying from manchester, just read any of the blogs on the Airlines they are slated on long haul for lack of legroom poor customer service, staff who don't care, and of course on short haul, more interested in selling there credit cards, rather than their core job of flying people safely to holiday destinations, not the great airline, they once were, only a matter of time before they hit the buffers.

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