Farce or Fiction – Part 3 of the British Airways Downgrade Saga

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In the third (and presumably final) chapter of the British Airways Downgrade Saga (see part one and part two), I was contacted “out of the blue” by British Airways, last week. Since I was not able to take the call, the customer service representative sent me a follow-up email. To my great consternation, the response was not only unsatisfactory, it also had two errors. When I complained via the direct contact on their website, I was called the same day for a ‘clarification.’ This is how it unfolded. You be the judge!

british airways downgrade

Error #1:

The email I was addressed last week, wrote:

“As discussed with Amy on 30 April 2015, she advised you of the percentage refund you were entitled to.”

In fact, Amy did not inform me of the percentage. She merely told me that I would receive a percentage refund (as you can see in my write-up). When I was called for the follow-up clarification, she tried to tell me that I had misunderstood. I was told that what they meant was that I would be refunded a percentage.

In other words, she intended to say that Amy could only give me an indefinite and vague answer. I think, however, the word “the” is classified as a definite article. The new mail fails to make the difference. Further to those who like spot-on grammar (although, please note I am definitely not perfect either), I believe it is still considered rather clumsy to end a sentence with a preposition.

Error #2: About my Silver loyalty status

The BA mail signed off with a platitudinous appreciation for my “loyalty:”

We really appreciate your support as a Bronze Executive Club member, and we look forward to seeing you on board your [upcoming] flight with us to …”

British Airways loyalty schemeThe problem is that, as I had explicitly told Amy in my call back in April, I was officially a Silver Member. Not that I particularly care about my level of membership at BA, since that will surely slide into oblivion in short order; but, it is rather galling to see that they had failed to hear me in April. Two months on, they still have me in their files as a lowly Bronze member, about which they must surely care less than higher ranked members.

Having tried to clarify and excuse herself, the BA representative could only listen and say the usual procedural words, “we will take your concerns and report them on to the necessary parties.” Blah-blah-blah.

British Airways Downgrade – Finale

So, after over three months of wrangling, BA have finally indicated that I am due to get back 78% of the original ticket. In order to get even this much, it has only happened because I had to kick and scream. How irregular. I don’t have the money in the bank yet either, as I have to go through some more hoops with my online travel agency. I suspect I will be lucky to get that money deposited before the summer is out. For a downgrade that happened mid-March, with such a system and service, you have to wonder how BA plans to “win” the war for customers, faced with competition that takes the customer experience seriously.

I don’t see how these types of interaction are supposed to win me back? What do you think? Am I too harsh or is there something really wrong here?


Comments 12

  1. My father is taking BA to the small claims court all on his own while fighting cancer. A bit of a David and Goliath story. He is convinced there is a difference in law between refund, (given to him by His travel agent) and compensation that he is entitled to according to European law. He is looking for help as he is all on his own in this fight. It’s not the money, but the principle. He is unlikely to fly again (due to his cancer) but he hates this poor treatment of customers so he is fighting this to change things for other passengers. Interestingly, BA has employed some rather expensive London lawyers and are not using their own lawyers to fight this. Are they running scared? Has my father found something that might shake up the industry? Here’s hoping.

    1. Dear Sue,
      That is really appalling. I completely understand the principle of it. I must say that, at one point, a BBC journalist contacted me, but she never called back. Without doubt, your story really merits BBC coverage! Wishing you lots of luck. Have you written this up at all in a blog?

      1. No, not yet. To add salt into the wound, my father was down graded when coming back from SA from his Golden Wedding Anniversay holiday. My parents are in their late 70s and this was a once in a life time holiday. Like you, he couldn’t check in on line and was selected prior to arriving at the airport. I’ll try contacting a journalist, maybe write a blog and see what social media can do. Thanks for your best wishes!

        1. As you say, salt in the wound. Was your mother traveling with him? It really is a miserable story. The fact that downgrades happen, one can imagine. But it’s how British Airways handles it (so systematically poorly it seems) that really is unfathomable.

  2. So much anguish. Just look at this as a business transaction. You got downgraded and that sucks. EU261 says your are entitled to a refund of 75% of the ticket price. This means you get £3000 back if you paid £4000. I think the law is vague, so maybe you will only get 75% of half the trip. £1500 for 10 hours of Premium Economy instead of Business on a daytime flight is pretty good. Move on. You should have known the law and asked for this upfront rather than all of the back and forth with BA

    1. Thanks for the precisions, @tomg63:disqus . To use a literary term, I have indeed turned the leaf. Certainly, knowing the law helps. Hopefully, for the others who go through this for the first time, they can learn from my experience and, as you say, just demand upfront the legal amount instead of being traipsed around with an innumerable number of BA staff who, themselves, don’t seem to know the law as well as you. Having read the wikipedia entry for EU261 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_Delay_Compensation_Regulation) it does seem quite murky. I suppose airlines can play on the murkiness and lack of legal knowledge.

      1. Sorry if that comment sounded harsher than it was intended to. I was just surprised that none of the posts mentioned EU261 at all. Were you aware of this law when you were seeking compensation and communicating with BA? I was hoping you could communicate it to your readers so that they know they have rights if they are in a similar situation and are not just subject to BA’s whims regarding compensation.

        I’m also curious how much you 78% refund ended up being. Was it 78% of the original £4000 fare, or did they calculate a partial fare for just the outbound leg?

        1. The subject of EU261 was never brought up. BA did mention that EU law said they were only obliged to offer a 200GBP ‘compensation’… but never gave me any reference to check that up against, hoping I suppose that I would not bother. I am most happy to broadcast the existence of EU261… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flight_Delay_Compensation_Regulation As for the compensation, that 78% was against half of the fare. Which corresponds with the EU261’s 75% for a flight over 3500KM. The irksome part of this story was that BA really stonewalled on giving more than 200GBP, putting up all sorts of poor excuses. Anyway, the bottom line is that, being armed with the law, will certainly help next time!!

  3. Not that this necessarily would have resolved your problem, given that you were hoping to travel with a potential client, but did BA even offer to rebook you on another transatlantic flight the same day in Business with a transfer on to Austin?

    1. That was not suggested. The BA flight to Austin is once daily and since this was the period of SXSW, all the flights are fully booked… i.e. overbooked! They could have suggested flying business via another route, but there was no such talk. Since the downgrade was only officialized at the time of boarding, it was all rather last minute, and maybe there were hoping for a no show. I read about another person, flying 1st on AA, who had been threatened with a downgrade; but there was a last minute no-show and he was able to fly in First. The gate person had the gall to say to that person: “see I told you so, there was no need to worry.” That’s what you want to say, but should not because it just as easily might not have been the case!

      1. Sorry if I am being dense, but I did not see in this discussion
        whether BA ever sent a check. Did you ever get that 78%?

        I was downgraded two days ago on a flight from LHR to San Jose.
        They gave me the card for 200 pounds, but so far no contact from
        BA on fare refund.

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