The incident took place last month at Manchester airport. In 2012, an 11-year-old boy was allowed to fly to Rome from the same terminal with neither a passport nor a boarding pass.
Argyro Aretaki, who speaks no English and has mobility issues, was booked to fly from Manchester to Athens with easyJet on 18 May. Her son, Dimitri Aretakis, took her to the airport’s Terminal 1, where he had arranged for special assistance.
Mr Aretakis said: “She was left in a wheelchair by the gate. When she realised no-one was going to take her to her plane she decided to get up and follow the crowd.”
Two easyJet flights, to Malta and Athens, were due to depart within 10 minutes from adjacent gates. They had almost identical flight numbers: 1997 and 1947 respectively. Mrs Aretaki mistakenly joined the queue for the Malta flight. Ground staff allowed her aboard the Airbus jet even though her boarding pass showed a different destination.
Aboard the plane, she found her assigned seat occupied. “She showed her boarding pass to the cabin crew and was simply shown to another seat,” said her son.
Argyro Aretaki speaks no English and has mobility issues
On the aircraft bound for Athens, Mrs Aretaki’s non-appearance went unnoticed. In contravention of security rules, the plane took off with her case in the hold. Mrs Aretaki landed on a Mediterranean island more than 500 miles from her intended destination.
“My mother was not aware that she was in Malta rather than Athens,” said Mr Aretakis. “But when no-one was at the airport to collect her she realised that something was wrong. She became very distressed until another airport user took her to the information centre.”
Airport staff found her son’s number and contacted him. Mr Aretakis immediately called easyJet customer service.
“Despite my request to be given a number to contact someone in their organisation who could assist directly, I was told that I would have to wait for them to contact me when they had some news. I found this completely unacceptable.”
Mr Aretakis then contacted his sister, who was waiting at Athens airport, and asked her to try to track down her mother’s baggage.
“She was repeatedly told that there was no way the flight left with unattended luggage on board,” he said. “Later they admitted it had been taken to Athens.”
There was a direct flight that night from Malta to Athens, but Mrs Aretaki was instead sent back to Manchester. She finally flew to Athens two days after her first attempt.
A spokesperson for easyJet said: “The procedures in place for boarding passengers with reduced mobility were not followed. This resulted in Mrs Aretaki inadvertently joining the wrong queue after the gate and boarding the incorrect flight to Malta even though her boarding pass was scanned at the correct gate.
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“Although this was an isolated incident, we have put in place corrective measures to prevent any reoccurrences of this issue. We have refunded the cost of the flight and awarded compensation towards the distress caused.”
A spokesperson for Manchester airport said: “The member of staff took the passenger to a nearby gate, an error which as an airport we are taking very seriously.
“As part of our investigation we plan to introduce additional procedures to such as additional signage and wayfinding for assistance staff.”
The airport is also urging airlines to beef up on-board checks to identify discrepancies before departure.
The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating the mix-up.
Error messages: How did it happen?
A new member of staff from Manchester airport’s assistance partner delivered Argyro Aretaki to the wrong gate.
At the departure gate
Mrs Aretaki had a boarding pass for Athens, but was allowed to board the Malta flight.
Aboard the Malta flight
Mrs Aretaki’s assigned seat on the Athens flight, 4A, was occupied on the Malta plane. Cabin crew should have investigated and identified the mix-up.
Aboard the Athens flight
Security rules introduced after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing insist bag should be offloaded if a passenger is a “no show”; easyJet did not spot Mrs Aretaki was missing.