Finally got burned on one of my low cost carrier deals with Wizz Airlines. Wizz and Ryanair both have boarding pass policies that charge to print out your boarding pass if you do arrive at the airport without a boarding pass in hand.
To reduce costs and keep our fares cheap, we offer free online check-in options. Online check-in is available from 30 days up to 3 hours before the scheduled departure time if you have purchased a seat during your booking.
In case you have not purchased any seats with your booking, check-in will become available only 48 hours before departure.
Since I had not paid for a seat, I could not check-in until 48 hours before the flight.
Wizz Air mobile app did not pull up my reservation at all when I typed in my confirmation number and name.
On the morning of my 10:55am flight I stopped by the Hampton Cluj-Napoca Business Center around 7am before eating breakfast. I get on wizzair.com, enter my Flight Confirmation Number and Last Name. When I tried to check-in for my Cluj-Napoca to London Luton flight, a message came up saying online check-in not available.
Since neither the mobile app or the WizzAir.com website would let me check-in and get a boarding pass, I thought no reason to be alarmed. I have encountered several instances where an airline requires airport check-in for an international flight. Romania is not part of the Schengen visa agreement covering European travel. My two trips to Bulgaria last year involved some extra hoops to jump through when flying from a non-Schengen country to a Schengen country like Sofia, Bulgaria to Athens, Greece. I figured my flight from Romania to the UK required an airport check-in.
At 9:00am I am at the ticket counter for Wizz Air and the agent says I must pay 35 EUR before he can give me a boarding pass. When I explain that the website would not let me check-in online, he says,
“I believe you. Still, you must pay 35 EUR before I can issue you a boarding pass.”
He directs me to a booth on the other side of the airport to make payment and then return with my receipt.
I pay out 35 EUR on my credit card, collect my receipt and return to the Wizz counter agent.
He then says,
“You are on standby and you must wait at the gate to see if you will have a seat on this flight. If you are not boarded, then you will receive 400 EUR.”
In most circumstances I would be wishing to be denied boarding and take the money. However, this was near the end of my trip. My travel plan was to take a National Express bus from London Luton to London Heathrow, then catch another bus to Windsor for a one night at the Clarion Collection Harte & Garter Hotel. Then fly Icelandair to Iceland for one night before flying back to San Francisco.
I added up the costs:
National Express bus ticket £27.50 = $35.23 usd to buy new ticket.
Lost hotel reservation at Clarion Windsor = 16,000 points = $120 points replacement cost.
Prepaid hotel room in Iceland = $58 lost if I could not get to Iceland.
If I had to wait 24 hours to get to London on Wizz the following day, I’d miss my flight to Iceland. If I miss London to Iceland flight the next day, I need a new last-minute ticket to Iceland and if I miss Iceland to San Francisco flight, I need a new last-minute ticket from Europe to California.
€400 = $454.73.
The potential to come out ahead with €400 credit did not look promising. Plus, my experience with LOT Polish from a June 2018 EC 261 claim compensation is we did not receive our checks for two months after a canceled flight.
What I did not know at the time is Wizz Air has a Thursday morning 6:00am flight to London Luton and if I had been rebooked on that flight the next day, I would have still had time to get to Heathrow for my 1:05pm Icelandair flight. But 6:00am would be a miserable flight time departure and mean a very restless night in Cluj-Napoca at whatever hotel Wizz Air puts people in for flight compensation.
Anyway, at best $290 gained from another day in Cluj with a restless sleep night before an early morning flight and a lost day to visit Windsor. At worst, hundreds of extra dollars in expenses to get another airplane ticket to San Francisco.
One bright spot of the morning at Cluj Airport
A Tuborg beer to calm down my morning coffee buzz and adrenaline surge seemed a small consolation.
The boarding process for the Wizz flight was chaotic with long lines and loads of people gathered around the gate counter. I waited for the crowd to thin out before I even bothered to approach the counter.
There was no way the flight was going to have an on time departure. My other concern is one gate agent was meticulously examining everyone’s carry-on bags for size and weight. My standby boarding card made no reference to my Wizz Priority Boarding ticket payment, the only way you can bring two bags on board as free carry on. Plus, I had added a set of heavy lace curtains I purchased in Cluj at the Humana Second Hand store to my roll aboard bag and it probably was one or two kilograms over the 10kg weight limit.
I was wondering if they would try and charge me for my carry on bag. In my head I made a list of what I figured I would toss if I had an overweight bag. Throw out my shoes that gave me a blister the one day I walked 10 miles across Cluj? I have another pair of the exact same style at home. Throw out the two t-shirts I purchased for €8 in Bratislava, Slovakia the summer before last. Throw out all my dirty underwear and socks that could use replacement anyway? I had a running tally of replacement cost to compare to the price of a bag fee.
I really like the lace curtains and stuffed panda I purchased in Cluj. Those were keepers. Well, the panda would be orphaned again if need be.
Finally with about 20 people left to board the flight, I got up to the counter and overheard a couple of Brit guys who were are also placed on standby. They told me they were checked in for the flight online, but still placed on standby at the airport counter.
One passenger by the baggage sizer is having an extended argument in Romanian with one of the gate agents. One of the Brits says to the other, “He should be the one denied boarding.”
Then there were three
The plane is now 20 minutes past its departure time and I am standing with the two Brits waiting for some word. Then the gate agent says, “Richard…Richard”.
It took me a couple seconds with her accent to realize she was saying my name. I was handed a boarding pass with a handwritten 29C on the card. Great I thought, I even got a free aisle seat.
I boarded a small van. Other passengers has been transported in large buses.
Then one of the other Brits comes out to the van and says his associate was denied boarding.
I had been pissed off over the €35 airport check-in fee, but considering the real possibility that I could have been the one passenger denied boarding and left behind in Cluj-Napoca, I let the anger quickly go.
Later that day when I arrived in Windsor, England, life was beautiful.