Vueling: My Bad Luck Or Just A Terrible Airline?

I’ve written recently about how I believe Norwegian is the best low cost carrier in Europe, and how even Ryanair is tolerable. Most airlines I fly in Europe on one or two hour hops, whether they are full service, or low cost, are fine, but forgettable.

Except one.

Vueling is a low cost subsidiary of Iberia, with its main hubs at Barcelona and Rome Airports. I’ve flown them twice in the past and have another flight coming up in a few months time with them.

And I seem to have terrible luck with them, or perhaps they are just a terrible airline?

You decide…

Flight 1 – Go hungry or go home

My very first flight on Vueling was from Athens to Barcelona. This flight was about three hours in length. This was before I had a Priority Pass membership, and I had a tight connection in Athens, so planned to buy something on board.

We were seated about half-way down the plane. We watched as the cabin crew brought a buy on board cart up to the top of the cabin and then spent forever slowly going through the cabin selling food and drinks.

We had perused the menu and decided what we wanted to purchase and waited patiently.

About an hour into the flight they finally got to the row before us, served us and then promptly wheeled the trolley away and disappeared for the rest of the flight. Everyone seated around and behind us looked at each other, confused.

Call bells went unanswered and there was no service, food and drinks for the rest of the flight.

There was no turbulence, seat-belt sign or instructions from the pilot for crew to take their seats.

We were starving by the time we arrived in Barcelona.

Flight 2 – Hostile check in

For my next Vueling flight, I flew from Barcelona to Ibiza. For some reason I had booked a 3:30pm flight and had to check out of my hotel at 10am. Having been in Barcelona for a week I had nothing else to do but go to the airport.

I arrived at Vueling check-in around 11am (I had to check a bag), and saw on the flight screens that there were several earlier flights to Barcelona, including one leaving in about one hour.

As I checked in my bag, I explained I was extremely early for the flight and asked if I could move to an earlier flight. Recognising that this was a low cost carrier I also said I was happy to pay a reasonable change fee. Without even checking any other flights and without giving a reason the check in agent simply replied

No.

As I was checking in my bag other Vueling check in agents at adjacent desks were instructing passengers to fit their hand luggage into the metal measuring stand. One older lady was trying to do so but was having difficulty squeezing her bag into the space, despite trying her hardest.

The check-in agents were openly laughing loudly at her attempts, and alerted my check-in agent (who was checking my bag) and she joined in at laughing at the passenger and mocking her in Spanish.

Flight 3 – Your booking has changed

In September I’m heading to Sardinia, Italy for five days. I needed to work a normal day on the Friday and then be in Olbia as early as possible Saturday morning. While there are direct, convenient flights to just about everywhere in Europe from London, Sardinia is actually one of the more difficult places to get to.

By far the most affordable option when I booked the flight a month ago was Vueling from London Luton to Olbia, via Barcelona. This involved overnighting in Barcelona for a less than ideal 7.5 hours, but even factoring in the cost of an airport hotel, it was still by far the cheapest and best option.

Yes it won’t be a full nights sleep, and Luton is my least favourite London airport to fly out of, but I’ll live.

So, despite both of my previous Vueling flights being terrible experiences, I went ahead and booked it.

Within just two weeks of booking I receive an email from Vueling with the title:

IMPORTANT: Your booking has changed

Oh well, I thought.

These things happen.

Perhaps the flight is leaving London slightly earlier, or departing Barcelona the next morning slightly later, which would actually be a positive, because it would allow me a bit more sleep.

Would I be that lucky with Vueling?

By the time I ‘enter’ the country, get to an airport hotel, check in and get to bed, and then wake up and be at the gate by, say 5am that will give me a grand total of about 3 hours sleep max. I’m not sure if it is even worth getting a hotel for that short space of time.

But it gets even better.

One week later, another email from Vueling:

IMPORTANT: Your flight is not going to operate

Wonderful.

Vueling is offering me a full refund but has not proposed any alternative flights.

Looking myself at the alternatives (I still need to get to Olbia that day), the cheapest options (although more expensive than my original booking), are on… Vueling again!

It appears they have cancelled their Friday night Luton flight but retained their Friday night flights from Heathrow and Gatwick. I wonder why they didn’t offer to move me to one of those flights instead?

Overnighting in Copenhagen will be very expensive, so I want to avoid that if possible.

Bottom line

I get it, no airline is perfect.

Flight cancellations, rude check-in agents, and rescheduling happens. But I’m currently 3/3 for bad experiences with Vueling.

I think this is the first time I’ve ever had a cancelled flight in Europe, and I fly every few weeks. I’ve taken probably 20 flights with Ryanair and the worst thing that has happened is an hour delay.

What should I do about the Olbia flight? There is a cheap direct flight on Air Italy the next day, but it arrives mid afternoon meaning I lose half a day of a five day trip.

Have you flown Vueling? Are they a bad airline, or do I have bad luck?

Comments

  1. My only data point would indicate bad luck. Did a Bordeaux & Barcelona 8-day itinerary. Vueling has the only direct flight from Bordeaux to Barcelona so we took it. Was booked in business class but there were no issues at all. A very normal and pleasant flight.

  2. I think it could be a combination of both. I have always had pleasant experiences with Vueling (perhaps it helps that I speak Spanish). With the example of BCN check in, I had exactly the same issue as you, but the flight was with Brussels Airlines which is my regular home base airline (and who I also have status with). I think in this case it is the contracted check-in staff in BCN are just generally rude, regardless of the airline.

    I did have an EU261 case with Vueling, and they were very quick to provide the compensation for a delay of just over 3hrs from LIS-BRU. Their service was pretty good in that case.

    I also had a FF card issue (I had to cancel my Vueling account in order to get an Aer Lingus one unlocked when they moved to Avios), and again they were very quick and good at their service centre. Much better than, for example, Brussels Airlines or even Swiss in one case.

    Having said all that, your experiences were not great examples of service that should be provided, but I think 3 trips is not really enough to get a full overview. I have also sworn to myself never to fly Aegean because of a bad experience with service there, but that’s probably unfair on my part as I’ve only flown them once. I’ve taken around 50 Brussels Airlines flights in the last year, and I would say around 5 of those have been poor service, so it can happen on most airlines I guess, and you were unlucky to get 3 in a row on the same airline.

  3. I’ve only had one Vueling flight before, BCN-LGW, and this was a rebooking after BA cancelled my flight. The flight itself was fine, but the cabin crew were not polite and simply looked like they didn’t want to be there. The onboard food/drink service didn’t go well either. I’ll avoid them in the future unless I really have to.

  4. In North America, there is an ice cream store called Baskin-Robbins. For decades, in each location, a framed motto was displayed:

    “There is hardly anything in this world that some man cannot make cheaper and sell at a lower price and the consumer who considers price alone is this man’s lawful prey.”

    In James’ situation, I’d conduct myself as if Vueling didn’t exist, their offers didn’t exist, their routes didn’t exist. The “best” available itinerary is the best non-Vueling one. The “best” fare is the best non-Vueling one.

    I maintain a list of things that are too risky to contemplate. Vueling is now on it, along with Sunwing (Canada) and others. Life is too short for unpleasant travel. More connections? No problem. Early departure? Bring it on. Miss half a day at my destination? Sad but endurable. Rage-inducing trash behaviour from people paid to do the opposite? My pride isn’t up to it.

  5. You fly low cost, you get low quality. I don’t know why people expect anything different. That’s why they’re low cost. Schedule changes at will. No frills. No service.

  6. Take the Air Italy non-stop. You lose half a day, but it’s for a 5-day trip so that’s not so bad. Avoiding an overnight in an airport hotel and connecting with a bad ultra low cost carrier is something to avoid.

  7. These dont sound that awful, honestly. Do some searches on the web regading their summer of 2016. They suffered HORRENDOUS operational issues and were routinely disparaged in the press for their awful operational reliability. I booked what should have been an easy 45 minute flight from Barcelona to Menorca on them in early July 2016, just when the worst of their operational issues were happening. WE were delayed over 3 hours, just as about every other single flight out of Barcelona that day. Pure chaos, and nobody knew what was going on. I’ve since flown them twice more. Once from Barcelona to Porto last year, and I sprang for the “Excellence” fare as it wasnt much more than coach. That was fine. I recently flew them from Bilbao to Barcelona and that too was fine, nothing to report. I’d just be wary about them, and bone up on their 2016 operational catastrophe. It made headlines.

  8. U2 is the European Jetblue
    FR is the European Southwest
    VY (Vueling) is the European Spirit
    V7 (Volotea) is the European Air Allegiant

    I’d fly U2 and FR as an alternative to legacy carriers if the whole package (price, flight times, airport location, etc.) is great. I’d fly Vueling reluctantly if there’s no other viable option. If V7 is the only option, then I’m looking at land/water based alternatives. I’d take a train, coach, car or ferry before boarding a V7 flight.

    PS: Personal opinion. YMMV

  9. Flew them once in 2016 during their operational issues. Flight was fine but literally everbody in Granada who got wind we were flying them had nothing good to say about them. My luck must have held up for once.

  10. I was once scheduled to fly BCN-MUC on LH, but unfortunately it was during one of their multiple strikes. I got moved to Vueling and I found both the legroom and width of the seat to be horrible! And from personal experience, yes, at least the vueling staff at BCN were pretty rude. It truly is a shame as many years ago (~2008-09) I would frequently fly with them from MAD-TFN to visit my family, the legroom was pretty good and seat width was significantly better. Additionally their staff in Madrid was ok (not too helpful, but certainly not rude).

  11. Why don’t you just take the 6:20am Easyjet direct from LGW to OLB on Sat, Sept 8th? Google flights says 158 GBP and you get in at 9:50am.

  12. I only ever had one flight with Vueling but even that was quite bad, long story short: we got to the airport late because of bad weather, missed our LY flight (I was very naive at the time and assumed we would be helped as promised by the agent we spoke to), so after getting no help from LY, we had to somehow get to TLV, our group consisted of 12 people, that included 4 small children, so we booked Vueling for way too much money (mainly because of checked bags), the flight was supposed to leave at 23:30, we ended up only boarding at 00:30, we boarded an extremely dirty aircraft but all we wanted was to sleep.
    Even though they saved us a night in BCN, I will never fly them again unless necessary.

  13. @ Ben — that’s what I will probably be stuck with doing (the Air Italy option has risen in price in the last few hours), but that is an insane amount of money for an easyJet flight!

  14. @ James – I agree, but cheaper than an overnight and you get another night in your own bed!

  15. On the subject of Intra Europe flights, I need to get from Venice – Bastia (Corsica) on the 19th August. Preferably leaving mid morning (I’m driving from the Dolomites) arriving by 5pm. Can’t find anything for under £300, can anyone recommend something (preferably using points?)? Much appreciated!

  16. No issues with my 2 VY flights. The only time when I wasn’t able to BOB was with U2 from LCA to MXP, lunchtime flight. No real food available, only crisps, as apparently they double-cater in MXP for both the outbound and the inbound flight. I think these things may happen on board any airline. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly VY or U2 again.

  17. @James – EasyJet gets very expensive close in and on routes where they know they can get high fares. I’ve never really gotten a great deal on them.

  18. I live in Asia but over the last decade have flown to Spain as many times and over this period, have flown Vueling about as many times as well.. so I’ve flown Vueling about 10 times.. or, safely, between 8-10 times.. I’ve never had an issue.. always been pleasant.. maybe you’ve had bad luck with them while I’ve so far always had it good..? In comparison, I’ve only flown with two other LCCs, both in Asia, Jetstar (QX) and Tiger (SQ).. I don’t think I could say any bring better than other..

  19. No you are right they are atrocious! The service stinks, frequent cancellations, actively rude staff and crew and a sadistic customer service department!

    This actually reminds me as my partner is Italian and he says the worry in Italy wasn’t that if Alitalia go bust Ryanair would become the dominant player, but the real fear was Vueling take over!!! This is how bad this airline is – once people have enough experience of them!

  20. I’ve had two flights on them with no issues, the crew was pleasant enough, the plane was clean, and the flights departed and arrived on time. For a low cost airline, that’s all I expect and they delivered. My opinion is that you probably had some bad luck, I’ve flown enough to have had some type of issue on multiple airlines, full service and low cost, and think that sometimes you draw a poor crew, bad circumstances, etc.

  21. I experienced a recent AF cancellation flying CDG to GVA (short haul, Euro) due to the AF “strike”. No advance notification fm AF. FR Trains and ride-share companies (by driving together on the road into CDG @less than 5mph) were also striking/protesting. Nightmare waste of a day.

  22. I know it’s pricey for easyjet, but tbh you are quite spoiled if you think that’s expensive to fly a direct flight to a small destination. Just for kicks take a look at what it costs in the US to fly from somewhere on the coasts to a small airport in the middle. I have flown DC-HK for less than DC-EVV.

  23. James, on Skyscanner i’m seeing the same Friday night flights with Vueling much cheaper than what you have above. LGW €129 at 21:40- 7:15am, and from LHR €131 at 20:45-7:15 am.
    Since you’re insisting on the lowest price available, it doesn’t get cheaper than that.

    That said, if i were you i’d stay away from Vueling after those 3 bad experiences. 1 bad experience is ok but 3 are way too many.

  24. Athens-Barcelona…Aegean flies that route and it’s worth paying €20 more for it.
    It’s not just Vueling; the whole Iberia group has questionable service/customer support ( in stark contrast, it must be said, with TAP; quite delightful in a homespun kind of way)

  25. You do the same thing multiple times and get bad service. You keep doing it. That’s my definition of stupid.

  26. I lived in London for 3 years and also flew every couple weeks. Only flight I ever had cancelled was an EasyJet STN-TLL. But that’s just luck of the draw and they were still my favorite LCC while I was there. (Norwegian wasn’t flying from London yet then.)

    I’ve only flown Vueling once, BCN-MAD, and it was fine. Honestly, none of your experiences sound that terrible for an LCC, except for the check-in agents laughing at the elderly woman.

  27. The easyjet flight is “an insane amount to pay?”

    I see a round trip London OLB flight at $300 (US)

    Hardly seems insane to me!
    Especially since there’s no hotel needed

    Are Eurozone flights really that cheap that $300 bucks for a round trip ticket (>1000 miles each way) is considered “insane”?

  28. sounds like the last time I flew with Tiger from Melbourne to Sydney… the seats were rock hard (even though it’s a short flight, for those with bad back such as myself, an hour and a half on an exceptionally poorly padded seat can be a bit of an ordeal), but the worse thing were the lifeless look on the staff’s faces. It does not look like a good place to work, and makes it downright sad to observe as a passenger.

  29. I booked Alitalia flights for my summer vacation in Italy. I booked those flights early this year and planned my entire vacation around them. My plan is to get from Florence to Milan by train and go to the airport to fly from Milan to Brindisi. I booked train tickets giving enough time for me to get to Milan, catch a taxi and be at the airport in a reasonable time to check in. Problem is that in the last 3 months Alitalia has changed the departure time of my flight 3 times and the last change makes my window of time between the train arriving in Milan and me checking in for my flight very short. Now, I have to pay to change my train tickets and have no other flight option later that day. It is amazing how disorganized these airlines are.

  30. HORRIBLE. Flown once but never again. We checked bags between Barcelona and San Sebastian and while my bag made it, my boyfriend’s did not. Absurdity followed:

    -Their customer service # is tolled, meaning that my 20 euro sim card was drained within 10 mins of waiting on hold, after which an automated agent told me there was no one to take my call and to try again.
    -Trying to get reimbursement of 50 eur/day for replacement clothes/supplies was the peak of the absurdity. You’ll send email after email (and tweet at them aggressively), with zero human response. They will continue to send the same canned response which says that you need to provide your bank account info + mail your HARD COPY RECEIPTS via FIRST CLASS MAIL to MADRID.

    I ended up guessing the CEO’s email address based on some internet sleuthing and sent him a few emails -is this crazy? yes. but on principle I needed to win. While it may be coincidence, the only time I ever got any response (first a phone call, then ultimately my reimbursement 2 months after I got home) was when I did that. If you have the option (train, other airline), AVOID AVOID AVOID Vueling at all costs.

  31. I really wouldn’t advise doing Vueling again – this is the toxic service culture that Fatty Cruz built here then started applying to BA to make a mediocre airline vastly worse!

    Also Iberia was always the poor relation in the IAG group and that is saying a lot to be worse than BA – so no surprise Vueling has active contempt for its customers. I would say Spanish service culture in my experience is quite bad anyway but these two airlines are particularly awful.

  32. Probably bad luck. I personally didn’t have a good experience with Vueling in the past and thus would avoid it when I can but it is what it is. They’re still in business for a reason.

  33. My first Vueling flight Barcelona to Granada went fine. My second flight on that same route was delayed, then our plane was replaced by an old 737-200 in Privilege Style livery. Legroom was comparable to Spirit and it was quite uncomfortable, though for a 1hr flight it was cool to see a new airline

  34. I agree , I am spanish and Vueling is one of the worst airlines in Europe. No recommendable at all. I try to choose other options. Your were lucky, Vueling flights are delayed often. You never know with them…

  35. Easyjet flies to OLB direct from Gatwick. That’s a much better option. I don’t think I’d ever risk the pain of flying Vueling!

    (I didn’t think Vueling flew from Heathrow. That flight must be BA or Iberia metal).

  36. There are a lot of ferries to Sardinia, you could fly to somewhere like Rome or Barcelona that does have a lot of cheap flights, then overnight on the ferry. That frequently prices out cheaper than what you’re seeing.

  37. This is just proof that some people will only book based on price. After multiple bad experiences you went back again, proving that price is all that matters.

  38. James, can you comment on the EasyJet flight?

    I’m not sure why you’d rather fly an overnight connecting flight with hotel instead of pay $300 for a round trip direct flight

    Are your prices different than what I’m seeing?

  39. @ JRMW — I guess I’m just conditioned to cheap flights from London. Next weekend I’m flying Swiss to Zurich return, leaving at a similar time on a Friday evening and it was GBP85 return.
    I rarely spend more than GBP150 on a return flight to Europe, whether its low cost or full service. So GBP158 for a one way flight on a low cost carrier seems very expensive.
    Given I was recently questioning whether 10 hours in Qatar Business Class for GBP90 per hour was worth it, that price for EasyJet seems crazy!

  40. I’ve only ever booked once with Vueling, for a BCN-NCL flight. I too received an innocent looking “Your booking has been changed” email which required me to log onto their website to see what the change was. Turns out they had cancelled my flight and rebooked me on another flight, a few hours later. This would have been slightly annoying by itself but the flight they had rebooked me on was BCN-EDI. For those that are not familiar with the UK, those airports are more than 100 miles apart, with no solution offered for the last part of the journey, given that the flight arrived late at night after public transport had stopped. Am I the only one who thinks a change of that magnitude should not require the customer to log into a web portal to check? My only choice was to cancel the flight and rebook with another carrier for about four times the price. Never again!

  41. Yeah these fares dont seem bad. Even 158GBP one way, while not cheap, doesnt seem particularly egregious. I live in Washington, DC, and to fly to Louisville, KY where I’m from roundtrip tickets are normally in the $400 range. To go from Boston to Nantucket, a 45 minute flight on cape air is routinely $300 one way/ $600 roundtrip, on a 9 passenger plane. Going from DC to Nantucket is usually around $400-$500 roundtrip all in. I guess I’m use to seeing rather expensive fares on short hop flights very often, so the notion of roughly $200 or so one way for a flight clear across Europe does not sound awful.

  42. Why are you saying that Sardinia is one of the most difficult places to get to? It’s an outright lie, especially in summer.

  43. Its run by Willie Walsh and Alex Cruz (he of currently trashing BA fame) so you expected any better?

  44. Yes, a pretty bad airline. I was booked on an Iberia flight from Morocco to Amsterdam via Barcelona and got bumped to a Vueling codeshare fight out of Morocco. Poor checkin experience in Morocco, delays in Barcelona departure of 1 hour, and couldn’t care less ground staff. To date haven’t received the One World points (nor more importantly Status credits) to my QF account, was refused use of Iberia lounge even though I’m Sapphire One World (QF Gold). A total cock up and awful flying experience. Also, I was seated in row 3D (Aisle) at near the front of the cabin which was empty apart from me, and just as we were taking off, a rude bitch Spanish flight attendant told me my seat was wrong and handed me a new ticket and told me to move back one row to row 4D. Rows 1, 2 and 3 weren’t busy – it wouldn’t have hurt to stay there in 3D. I’d rather be tied to the back of a LandRover and dragged to my next destination than fly with Vueling again.

  45. Overnight at CPH with IHG 35,000 points for a hotel that’s on the train line from airport

  46. @James — and others — I think customer service in Spain is just awful full stop, from a UK point of view (and I am a Spanish speaker). Do you agree? I think Iberia is just as bad. However, I think the check in staff at BCN are not necessarily Vueling’s own staff.

    All that said, generally lacklustre, or even uncaring customer service notwithstanding, all my Vueling flights have run on time bar one (about 20 over the years?). I eat in a lounge and avoid buy on board! easyJet is another matter: every single one of the c. 15 flights I have taken with them was delayed. Same with 4 Ryanair flights.

    Sometimes I think you just get bad luck and it colours your judgement of the airline: I’m not superstitious but I would still avoid easyJet except if there were genuinely no alternative!

  47. @ringingup — it is definitely difficult to get there for a weekend from London without missing time from the 9-5!

  48. Last July needed a flight from Madrid to Florence, and they offered the most reasonable flight that worked with our outbound trans-Atlantic connecting flight.

    Booked the first row fare, which seemed pretty reasonable for the 3 of us. Was a bit wary of low-cost carrier challenges, but overall an easy flight, landed on time, and the snacks were pretty tasty. We had 6 seats to ourselves (whole row) which also helped.

    That said, after your experience, they would be on my no-fly list.

  49. This airline has all the signs of British Airways new culture- clients count for nothing – we charge very low fares, so we are entitled to have zero customer service.
    After being dumped in BCN overnight en route to NCE- I swore never again but trying to get from AGP to NCE in June – the only way is Vueling via BCN.
    When I checked the flights morning of the flight- sure enough- BCN-NCE was cancelled due to French ATC. ( I checked later only Veuling cancelled due to this partial strike) Never received any notice of this from airline and when I contacted them – they told me I was wrong even though I sent them a screen shot of their own web page!
    No alternative offered until following Monday with a seven hour layover in BCN
    I declined and hopefully will get a refund on my AMEX
    Avoid this airline like the plague that it is
    A disgrace that only Willy Walsh – IAG boss and the destroyer of BA could love
    It’s no coincidence that the present CEO of BA comes from Veuling

  50. Flew them a few years ago nonstop CPH -BCN RT: no problems.
    They were on time and no other recollection of anything negative.
    However when things go wrong on a LCC, they can really get bad.

  51. I am someone who can’t understand the criticism leveled against Ryanair as I’ve always had pleasant flights with them . Same goes for most European low cost carries , except Vueling , by far Europe’s most unpleasant flying experience.

  52. @Mark – me neither, I used to not fly Ryanair on principal but came around when they relaxed some of their rules (although the random seating of people on the same ticket is putting me off again) – all but one of my flights have been on time and without much fuss. Sure it is not a good or the most actively enjoyable experience flying with them with the terrible hard seats a sea of garish yellow and blue and the constant flogging of scratch-cards but most of the time it is fine. for A-B on short flights. Vueling however, now that is an actively bitter experience – the absolute contempt this company has for its customers is unebeleivable! When things go wrong with LCC’s its not great, although I would say at least with Ryanair they will at least hear you out – with Vueling there is no reasoning with them, they are simply horrid and unreasonable and will just ignore your issues and have no regard how they come across cos they are so haughty and arrogant they think people will still fly with them.

  53. Vueling cancelled my flight with my wife last year from CDG to VIE with no notification. This required me to book a much more expensive flight at the last minute.

    I managed to get 250 Euros in compensation for each ticket but only after several months and many attempts.

    I will never book with them again unless absolutely necessary.

  54. You should demand to be rebooked onto the Heathrow or Gatwick flights and if they refuse contact the national enforcement body. Isn’t what they’re doing against the law?

  55. Let’s be honest – you’re just being tight about the EZ flight cost. It’s September – it’s the Med. September in the Med is seen as high season these days.

  56. The one time I flew Vueling they were on time and I don’t recall the service other than cheapskate airlines Meh. They have a motley collection of A320s (both engine types) which look grimy and sometimes can’t even be bothered to fit matching coloured engine covers. That says ‘we don’t care’ as much as anything. Cheap is as cheap does.

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