Agents are fuming after P&O Cruises contacted customers direct to tell them it was using a little-known charter operation for some of its Caribbean fly-cruise holidays this winter.
The cruise line has signed a partnership deal with Malta-based Maleth Aero, which is not offering a premium cabin or inflight entertainment on its long-haul flights.
P&O Cruises has chartered Maleth, in addition to its TUI charters, to carry Antigua and Barbados-bound passengers from both London Gatwick and Manchester from 3 November 2023 to 23 March 2024.
But agents were unaware P&O Cruises was using a Maleth until unhappy clients called to let them know they’d received an email from P&O Cruises with their flight information.
In a press release, Ford Aviation, which sourced the charters on P&O Cruises’ behalf, said Maleth will operate the flights with two A330-220s, offering ‘an enhanced in-flight meal service including bonded baggage”, meaning their luggage will be transferred from the airport to their cruise ship cabin.
However, agents said they had received calls from disgruntled customers who had wanted to fly premium and now can no longer do so. Others said they were concerned about the reaction from clients who they know will only travel premium and now face a nine-hour flight in economy.
Posting on P&O Cruises’ Facebook page, some clients said they would cancel their holiday as a result of the switch. One wrote: “Lack of IFE (inflight entertainment) and a premium cabin maybe a first world problem but is a deal breaker for us, particularly after having been moved from our original cabin to one we don’t want because of ‘operational reasons’.
Another wrote: “Are you going to offer full refunds for customers unhappy about this? The flight is part of the holiday and those of us who are nervous flyers might have preferred the assurance and confidence of flying with a renowned a recognised airline, rather than one with a handful of planes that we’d never heard of until your email this morning. But we’ve not been given the choice.”
Travel Gossip understands that P&O Cruises has refunded passengers the cost of the upgrade to premium and offered £75 per person onboard credit as compensation.
Responding to customer complaints on its Facebook page, P&O Cruises insisted Maleth offered an ‘equivalent experience’ to its other airline partners BA, TUI and Virgin, but when one customer pointed out there was no inflight entertainment it replied: “There is no in-flight entertainment on Maleth Aero so we recommend you bring our own entertainment. An activity pack will be provided for children on board. We’re sorry for any inconvenience that this may cause.”
One user alleged that Maleth Aero had transported a ‘cargo of monkeys’ to Jakarta to be used in scientific testing last September. In response, P&O Cruises said the charter company was ‘no longer involved in this work’.
Why has P&O Cruises switched to Maleth Aero?
Ford Aviation said: “There are many factors involved in sourcing sustainable aviation solutions that are often complex and multi-layered.
“Timings, availability and size of aircraft as well as other factors play a significant part in the solution. Maleth Aero are the best solution for these particular requirements.”
A P&O Cruises spokesperson said: “Both TUI and Maleth will offer an equivalent luggage allowance, bonded bags and inflight entertainment. Maleth aircraft though have no inflight entertainment or premium cabin.”
The spokesperson confirmed guests who had booked premium seats will get a full refund and £75 onboard credit and said cancellations would be ‘per our bookings terms and conditions’.
“We were pleased to have secured Maleth as our airline partner for this Caribbean season, especially given the global aircraft and pilot scarcity,” the spokesperson added.
Who is Maleth Aero?
Ford Aviation said Maleth is a ‘well-established airline’ which is the preferred provider for the UK Ministry of Defence and other Government offices in the UK and Europe.
It is registered in the EU with an Air Operator’s Certificate issued by Malta. Additionally, it is IOSA certified, which means it has passed rigorous operational and safety audits by the international airline body IATA, said Ford Aviation.
Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Director Aoife Judge-Storey added: “Maleth Aero serves customers around the world and has flown thousands of flights, including providing aircraft to transport vital COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic to the UK. They have flown international aid workers, individuals and families embarking on religious pilgrimages, tour operator packages and programs, sports fans, musicians and consumer goods of all kinds.”
P&O Cruises said Maleth will make up around 25-30% of sourcing for Arvia bookings, using two aircraft on turnarounds, one from Gatwick and one from Manchester for Antigua and Barbados. For Britannia, one Maleth aircraft will be used, from Manchester to Barbados, on a Friday only.
The cruise line has released details of the flights that will operate on Maleth airlines. They are:
*Image taken from Maleth Aero’s Instagram