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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Zoe Wood

‘It feels like a scandal’: Wizz Air passengers claim website bug cost them extra

A Wizz Air aircraft at Ferenc Liszt international airport in Budapest, Hungary, in 2022.
Wizz Air says: ‘There has been no technical issue affecting online check-in but we are sorry that these customers have found it difficult to check in online.’ Photograph: Bernadett Szabó/Reuters

It was recently named “the UK’s worst airline” by the consumer body Which?, and has been hauled over the coals by the industry regulator. Now Wizz Air is facing criticism over yet another issue. Passengers have contacted Guardian Money after being forced to cough up substantial sums at the airport or face being turned away from their flight after apparently encountering technical problems with the airline’s website that prevented them checking in online as planned.

In December, Grace Connolly says she had to hand over £170 at Prague airport for her party of four after they were unable to check in online for their return flight to Luton.

“I had no issue checking in online on the way out but when returning, there was a technical glitch that wouldn’t allow me to,” she says. “I think the majority of people on our flight had the same problem. I had to pay £170 for myself and the three others I was travelling with otherwise we wouldn’t be permitted to fly home.

“There were no Wizz Air representatives at the airport and the customer service hotline didn’t even ring when I tried it. I just got immediately cut off, which I’m actually relieved about because, at £1.45 a minute, the charge is astronomical.”

Guardian Money first reported on this problem last summer and since then we have received a steady stream of similar complaints, with more than 20 since November.

Andrey Lenkov says that he, along with at least 20 others, could not check in online for a flight from Warsaw to Paris in October.

“On our way back from Poland, where we visited our family that escaped from Ukraine, we tried to check in online,” he says. “Unfortunately, I kept getting a message that the type of aircraft had changed and our seats were no longer available.”

In an attempt to overcome the problem, Lenkov resorted to buying new seats on the flight for himself and his wife, Daria, but could not check in for those either. He had to pay the £76 fee or they “wouldn’t be allowed on the plane”.

He says: “We had no choice but to pay. There were at least 20 more people with the same problem.”

When he sought a refund, Wizz Air rejected it. The carrier claimed that after “thoroughly investigating” his case, no compensation was due because the flight had been “delayed/cancelled due to unexpected circumstances”, leading him to suspect it was an automated reply.

In January, London-based Ryan Shoesmith and his partner, Lily Wilkinson, were charged 1,020 Norwegian kroner (£84.81) to board their flight home from Tromsø to Luton despite their best efforts to check in via the Wizz Air website.

Wizz Air seats on a plane
Guardian Money has been contacted by passengers encountering problems checking in online with Wizz Air. Photograph: Salarko/Alamy

“We made multiple attempts to check in the day before our flight but there was a technical issue with the website,” Shoesmith says. On the site he was met with a warning that “seat selection is not currently available” and “you can finalise your booking now and come back to select a seat before check-in”. However, the only link that worked was “check in later”, which aborted the process.

“I expected that Wizz Air would fix the bug but it never got repaired,” he says. “We went to Tromsø airport with plenty of time to sort out the issue; however, no Wizz Air representatives were present. Airport staff advised us to try checking in on the machines but they returned an error message.

“This meant our only option was to check in at the airport desk. Airport staff then advised us that we couldn’t check in and board our flight unless we paid an upfront airport check in fee of 1,020 kroner. There were several people in our queue experiencing the same issue. It was daylight robbery.”

After he got back, Shoesmith contacted Wizz Air but his refund claim was turned down, with the carrier stating that its IT department had “not noticed anomalies on our website or mobile application at the time of your flight as well as before it”.

After Shoesmith pursued the matter again, the airline said he could take the matter up with an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service.

“The level of customer service I have received so far from Wizz Air has been the worst of my entire life,” he claims. “The whole thing feels like a total scandal.”

After Connolly got home, she contacted Wizz Air and provided screenshots of its website showing the error message “seat selection not available”, and on 2 January she received an email confirming the airline would refund the check-in fee and asking for her bank details. However, two months later, the money still had not arrived.

They have admitted fault and said that I am entitled to a refund, asked for my bank details, and … nothing,” she says. “They’re now completely ignoring my emails.”

Rory Boland, the editor of Which? Travel, believes it is unacceptable for Wizz Air passengers to be left out of pocket as a result of problems outside their control. “Any customers unable to use the airline’s free online check-in service due to technical errors must be permitted to check in at the airport without a fee,” he says.

“Travellers affected should take screenshots of any error message they receive when attempting to check in online, and if they are charged at the airport, this can be used as supporting evidence to claim the money back from the airline at a later date,” he says. “Any passengers dissatisfied with the airline’s response to their claim should escalate their complaint to the alternative dispute resolution scheme.”

But even if passengers complain, they may face a long wait for their cash. A recent Which? investigation found that Wizz Air owes millions of pounds to passengers from unpaid refunds and expenses.

At the end of last year, the Civil Aviation Authority said it had “significant concerns” about Wizz Air’s “unacceptable” behaviour, as its passengers were far more likely to make escalated complaints than those of other carriers. The regulator also found that the airline was delaying paying money owed to passengers.

The regulator’s data for the third quarter of 2022, published in December, revealed Wizz Air had the highest number of complaints escalated to either ADR schemes or its in-house complaints team.

The figures showed Wizz Air had 811 complaints per million passengers. Other airlines had less than half as many complaints, and many significantly less. There were also a large number of unpaid county court judgments made against it (passengers can seek redress from an airline via a small claim).

Complaints about shoddy service from Wizz Air were a common theme in Which?’s recent annual passenger survey, in which it was named the “worst short-haul airline”.

“Its poor record on customer care means travellers are at risk of being left high and dry when things go wrong,” Boland says.

Wizz Air says that hundreds of thousands of passengers across the UK and Europe use its online check-in each month, adding that “as an ultra-low-cost airline, online check-in is vital to minimise costs and enable smooth travel”.

It says: “There has been no technical issue affecting online check-in but we are sorry that these individual customers have found it difficult to check in online.”

The carrier suggests that if a passenger is having difficulty checking in online, they should try using a different browser, clearing caches and cookies from their phone or tablet, or switch to a different device.

“If screenshot evidence proving that online check-in was impossible can be provided, Wizz is able to refund in-person check-in costs, though this may take some time to process,” it says. “Refund requests should be submitted online at”

After Guardian Money asked Wizz Air to look into the cases highlighted here, the passengers were all issued with refunds.

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