Buses, planes, Bulgarians, Romanians & The Mail

Jon Danzig |

The Daily Mail: Buses and Planes – full or not?

On 31 December 2013 the UK’s Daily Mail published a story claiming that buses and planes to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania were sold-out, fully-booked, and single plane tickets were selling for up to £3,000 each. The story carried the bold headline:

Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK

And The Mail made these bullet points to drum the message home of a huge, new influx of job-seekers to our island shores:

● One airline has even doubled number of flights to meet demand

● Some one-way tickets are selling for up to £3,000 each

● Buses leaving Bulgarian capital of Sofia until January 9 are fully booked

The implication of the article was, of course, that the buses and flights were booked up because of more Bulgarians and Romanians coming to the UK following the lifting of  ‘work restrictions’ from 1 January 2014.

I checked into the veracity of the Daily Mail’s claims and found that, instead of being fully booked and unavailable, tickets for buses and planes from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK were still available, and at reasonable prices even for last-minute bookings.

I further discovered that the prices and level of bookings were  no different  this January than for the same time last year. Most Romanians and Bulgarians were flying or busing back to their jobs and homes here in Britain following the Christmas break – and this had nothing to do with the lifting of ‘work restrictions’ from 1 January 2014.

My EU ROPE blog challenged The Mail

I posted a blog article here called,

‘Romania and Bulgaria: Flights of fancy’

What was the Daily Mail playing at, and why did they publish such an inaccurate story?

I decided to email a letter of complaint to the Managing Editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre:

Dear Sir

Re  Complaint – Mail story:

‘Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK’  

Your story about buses and flights from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK being sold-out and full appears to have no basis in fact. I have this week published a blog in response to your story:

 Romania and Bulgaria: Flights of fancy

I wish to give the Mail an opportunity to explain why it ran a story that is full of so many inaccuracies, and to publish your response on my blog.  Once you have had an opportunity to check into this, and confirmed that your story is indeed inaccurate and misleading, will you be prepared to publish a correction and an apology in your newspaper? 

If you agree that your story is inaccurate, do you not consider that such stories are simply an incitement to racial hatred and xenophobia? 

I look forward to your reply. 

With regards

Jon Danzig

The next day, on Friday 3 January 2014, I received a prompt reply from the Daily Mail’s ‘corrections department’.  The Daily Mail’s Corrections Editor and legal adviser, Hilary Kingsley,  provided a robust and comprehensive response, claiming no incorrect reporting.  She concluded,

‘We hope this deals with your concerns over what you claim are inaccuracies’.

Today I wrote back:

Dear Ms Kingsley

Thank you for your email of Friday last week in response to my complaint. I remain dissatisfied for the reasons provided below (my comments in blue).  I shall be grateful if you can look into this matter further, as I believe the Daily Mail article was inaccurate and misleading, and a correction should be prominently published by your newspaper without further delay.

Please note that I am publishing your reply, and my response, on my blog at EU-ROPE.COM and will openly publish any further correspondence regarding this matter.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Jon Danzig

I had advised the Daily Mail in advance that I would publish their response here on my blog, although the reply from their legal department stated that the information they provided, ‘may be confidential and legally privileged and also protected by copyright.‘   I am quite sure that such a disclaimer would not stop the Daily Mail from publishing  responses from their interviewees, and neither will it stop me.

Below is the full reply from the Daily Mail (in brown text)  in answer to my complaint to them, with my comments in response highlighted in blue text:

Dear Mr Danzig 

Thank you for your letter about the Daily Mail article of 31 December headed ‘Sold Out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK’ which has been passed to the Corrections department.

We have summarized the main points you make with our responses to your claims.

     1.     Wizz Air has publicly denied doubling the number of flights

The press office of Wizz Air is being somewhat misleading. With the help of a respected Romanian political journalist, we found that Wizz Air has doubled the number of flights from several cities in Romania over the past year and has introduced new routes from Romanian cities from which they previously did not operate flights. Wizz Air can only have done this because it estimated that more Romanians would be travelling to the UK this year and it has increased the number of flights accordingly. (We are currently compiling a list of all the places where Wizz Air has increased its number of flights and brought in new routes.)

My Response:

According to Wizz Air, they have not ‘doubled the number of flights from several cities in Romania in the past year’.  Would you clarify who is your ‘respected Romanian political journalist’ and how he obtained this incorrect information?  Your newspaper’s assertion that ‘because of demand’ Wizz Air flights were being sold ‘at around £300 each’ is also misleading, as is your assertion that Wizz Air has introduced new routes from Romanian cities. 

I have received this following statement from Wizz Air: 

‘Claims that Wizz Air has doubled flights from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK are wrong.   Bulgarian and Romanian flights to the UK grew from 49 per week in summer 2013 to 65 per week in summer 2014.  One new route has been announced from Romania to UK in 2013 and no new UK routes have been announced in Bulgaria in the past year.  Wizz Air offers very low fares on these routes and low fares from Bucharest to London were available for booking on 31 December for travel on 1 January for Eur 190, which is clearly below the price point of GBP 300 indicated in inaccurate media reports on 31 December.’ 

Also, as I was able to show in my blog article, as at 1st January 2014, and contrary to the claims in  your article, there were flight seats available every day from Sofia and Bucharest to London.   British Airways also made the point that, ‘This time of year is always busy on most inbound routes given the time of year’.  The Daily Mail has failed to provide any substance or evidence to back up your story’s impression that there was more demand this year for seats from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK as a direct result of ‘work restrictions’ being lifted. 

Subsequently, the following statements by the Daily Mail are untrue or misleading in the context of your article: 

● Bulgarians and Romanians were last night preparing to travel to Britain as restrictions on working here are lifted tomorrow.

● Almost all flights from Romania to England are full

● Wizz Air, the low cost airline that serves Eastern Europe, has doubled the number of flights it is offering.

● However, because of the demand, even these no-frills flights are being sold at around £300 each.

●Almost all flights from Romania to England are full – even though one airline doubled the number to meet demand – with one-way tickets selling for up to £3,000 each

●Wizz Air has introduced new routes from Romanian cities from which they previously did not operate flights 

Will the Daily Mail now publish a correction and apologise accordingly? 

 2.    Easyjet had flights available at reasonable prices throughout the period from 1 January onwards

In the article, we stated: ‘even these no-frills flights are being sold at around £300 each’.  This was the case with Wizz Air and EasyJet. The screen grab on the  blog shows flights at prices approaching £300. When we contacted our London–based travel agency on Thursday 2 January, we were told there was only one space on that day’s EasyJet flights from Bucharest available and no others until Monday 6 January. We reserved this seat at a cost of 310 euros (almost £300). A reporter managed to get one of the last seats on a BA flight today (3 January), at a cost of £374. This is considerably more than the usual price. 

My Response:

EasyJet has already provided a statement that:

‘We haven’t seen any evidence of an increase to our passenger numbers for January 2014 on these routes compared to previous years.’    

You wrote that the prices quoted were ‘considerably more than the usual price’.  But this simply wasn’t the case.  The prices quoted were normal for this time of year compared to the same routes in previous years.  The prices for January 2014 were not different to the ‘usual prices’ for January 2013.  Also, it’s normal for all airlines to substantially increase the prices of tickets the closer to the date of flight. 

Your report gave the strong impression that prices had gone up because more Romanians and Bulgarians were coming to the UK as a direct result of the ‘lifting of working restrictions’.  This was misleading.  Will the Daily Mail now publish a correction and apologise accordingly?

      3.   Easyjet has said that there has been no increase in traffic on previous years

 The article did not suggest that the EasyJet traffic had increased its traffic – only that airlines were almost booked out, which EasyJet is.

My Response:

Your article indicated that flights were fuller as a direct result of more Romanians and Bulgarians flying to England because of the lifting of ‘work restrictions’.  The Daily Mail has provided no evidence to substantiate this assertion.  Will the Daily Mail now publish a correction?

     4.   Buses are not sold out until 9 January. You were able to book one on 3 January through Balkan Horn

A reporter visited Sofia Central Bus Station twice on Monday 30 December. There are several agencies there which sell tickets for all the four operators who run weekly three-day bus journeys. None was able to sell him a bus ticket for travel before January 10. Another reporter repeated the visit and was told there was no seat available on a bus operated by Balkan Horn until after 9 January. We cannot explain how you received different information.

My Response:

The Daily Mail report claimed that your reporter spoke to a manager at the Bulgarian bus company, Balkan Horn, who was reported as saying: 

‘It is very busy, many people want to travel to England, especially with the change in EU rules. But everything is booked up, it’s hard to get there.’ 

Balkan Horn deny any knowledge of your reporter ever talking to them.  Furthermore, Balkan Horn claim that they would not have given your newspaper statements that ‘everything is booked up’ or that there had been increased demand as a result of ‘the change in EU rules’ or that ‘it’s hard to get there’ (to the UK).   These statements would not have been true, state Balkan Horn, so they wouldn’t have made them.  Can you please confirm the name of your reporter and specifically who he claims to have spoken to at Balkan Horn and when and how? 

You claim that your reporter tried to buy a bus ticket from Sofia to the UK on 30 December but that none of the agencies were able to sell him a bus ticket before travel on 10 January.  However, just because an agent does not have a ticket available, doesn’t necessarily mean that the bus was full, and it appears that the Daily Mail was wrong to come to that conclusion. 

Valentina Georgieva, Manager of Balkanhorn Travel Ltd in Varna, Bulgaria,  has provided the following statement to me: 

‘This is the head office of the company and the only legitimate and true information about the amount of people and buses can come from here, not from any other agencies representing us all over the country or in London.  The wrong information from any other reps can be because of a few reasons: they don’t have full access to our system, and they don’t have the possibility to check the free seats at any time.  Also very important thing is that we are keeping some seats on the bus free and these seats can be sold only from the head office in Varna.’ 

You have claimed that as at 30 December, no bus seats were available from Sofia to the UK until 10 January.  However, Ms Georgieva at BalkanHorn has provided this statement in response: 

‘On 3rd January the coach (for London) left with 5 free seats. The service is scheduled with stops in Brno, Prague, Plzen, Luxembourg and Lille and around 20 or 30% of the passengers on that date were going to these other cities. Once again I would like to confirm that there is no evidences of any increase in the amount of passengers traveling to London.’ 

Ms Georgieva added that, on the contrary, the evidence was that there was a ‘decreased amount’ of bus seats sold compared the same period last year.   She said, We actually have less bookings than this time last year.’ 

In addition, as I reported in my blog article, and contrary to the claims made in your report, I was able to book a bus seat  on the bus from Sofia to London on 3 January, and a bus seat from Bucharest to London on 7 January. 

Ms Georgieva also explained that the bus leaving on 7th January for the UK was ‘fully booked’ only because of a booking by 40 Romanians who travel to England to work on a farm there every year.  Contrary to the impressions given in your article, these were mostly not Romanians coming to England for the first time because of the lifting of ‘work restrictions’, but those coming to England every year or returning to England after the Christmas break.  

Furthermore, Ms Georgieva confirmed that, as of 4th January: 

‘The coach (to England) on 10th January has 20 free seats and the one on 17th January has more than 30 seats left. Once again some 90% of the passengers are our old clients, and not going to London because of the new rules since the beginning of 2014.’ 

The following statements in the Daily Mail article were subsequently untrue: 

● Buses leaving Bulgarian capital of Sofia until January 9 are fully booked

● All tickets for seats on buses leaving the Bulgarian capital of Sofia until January 9 have been snapped up 

Will the Daily Mail now publish a correction and apology for these incorrect statements?

As for the suggestion that the £3000 flight mentioned in the article was via Dubai, this was not the flight to which we referred. That was an Alitalia flight (via Italy) priced at 3707 euros (£3080).

My Response:

I have not made any statement about the £3000 flight mentioned in your article going via Dubai. However, the Alitalia flight from Bucharest to London was routed via Italy and was surely a red herring: there are always flights with strange routes costing exorbitant amounts, but why even mention it when low-cost flights were still available?  Why would anyone buy a ticket costing £3,000 when tickets were available for less than £160?  It was totally misleading for the Daily Mail to suggest that flights were having to be sold for £3,000 for a single ticket as a result of increased demand for seats following the lifting of ‘work restrictions’. 

Will the Daily Mail now apologise for presenting such a false impression?

Finally, we would endorse the comments of Louis Walker, posting on your blog, that the references to almost all flights being full represents only a small part of the article. 

My Response:

The fact that the Daily Mail’s reference to ‘almost all flights being full’ represents just a ‘small part’ of your article is surely no excuse for incorrectly reporting that ‘small part’ of the article.  

The poor journalism and inaccurate reporting in the Daily Mail article, however, also cast doubts about other parts of your story.  For example, your article made the following statements: 

●  One user of a popular website wrote: ‘My husband and I want to have a child in the UK. We want to know what kind of benefits we can apply for. We are interested in receiving a council house.’  

Why not give a source for that ‘popular website’?  Can you provide me with details of the website so that I can independently check it? 

●  Aleksandra Dzhongova, who runs a legitimate employment agency in Sofia, said other firms had been set up with the specific intention of helping immigrants understand Britain’s welfare system, rather than filling job vacancies.  

Why not report details and names of the other firms referred to by Ms Dzhongova, rather than  just reporting her anecdotal ‘evidence’?  Can you provide me with the names of these other firms so that I can independently check the claims of Ms Dzhongova?

●  One firm offered to help its Romanian clients avoid paying fines issued by HM Revenue & Customs.  

What is the name of this firm offering potentially illegal advice?  Can the Daily Mail confirm that you have now reported these matters to the appropriate authorities in Romania, Bulgaria and the UK?

We hope this deals with your concerns over what you claim are inaccuracies.

Yours sincerely


Hilary Kingsley

Corrections Editor
Legal Adviser
Associated Newspapers Limited 

My Response:

Unfortunately, your reply has not satisfactorily dealt with my concerns.  Your newspaper could have published a similar report on 31 December 2012 – instead of 31 December 2013 – to claim high demand for buses and flights from Romania and Bulgaria to England following the Christmas break.  There was not an increased demand so far this year as a direct result of the lifting of ‘work restrictions’ on 1 January 2014. Subsequently, your report was misleading and seemed aimed only to raise false alarm and fear among British citizens about the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians coming to this country.  

I look forward to your further response.  

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Click to read my guest blog on the British Influence website:

13 reasons why I am taking the Daily Mail to the Press Complaints Commission




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