When British Airways Customer Service Says Two Different Things (Tales From the Field)

British Airways is kind of a funny airline. I really like flying the airline, and I think the crews do a great job onboard. But from a travel agent perspective, BA can be a pretty tough airline to deal with. We found this out once again with a frequent client of ours who is also an elite member in BA’s Executive Club.

This client, we’ll call her Bella, was flying back from the US home to Italy via Dallas/Ft Worth and London. Her first flight on British Airways Tales From the FieldAmerican went fine, and then she got to Dallas and her connection on British Airways seemed fine as well. She departed on time and it should have been smooth sailing through London as well.

But of course, this is London we’re talking about, so after some circling, she landed about 15 minutes late. That gave her only 45 minutes to connect. As a passenger traveling in Club World, this should have been fine, though admittedly tight.

Tangent: BA’s Wildly Optimistic Minimum Connection Times
This might be a good time to split off on a tangent here. BA will tell you that you can connect from the US to points beyond London with only 1 hour if you are connecting within Terminal 5. This is technically true, but if you are in coach, you are probably more likely to miss your connection than not. In premium classes, it’s still tight.

This particular client, even though flying in premium cabins, almost always wants a longer layover in London. We failed to catch that this was so short when the trip was booked. It was a perfectly legal connection but that doesn’t mean it’s the best plan. If you’re flying through London, it’s best to give yourself more time. (Or just don’t fly through London.)

Back to our story. You can guess what happened next, right? She got off the airplane and raced across the airport to make her flight. It wasn’t going to happen. She was held up at passport control because they said she wouldn’t make it. That was a lie, and she would have made it, but the result was that she was stuck.

The next flight a couple hours later was completely full but they put her on standby. They confirmed her on a flight much later in the day. So she sat, and waited, and was eventually given the very last coach seat on that next flight.

Naturally, she wasn’t happy about any of this (and I don’t blame her), so we vowed to get in touch with BA to try to get her some compensation. After all, she’s an elite member in their program who pays for premium cabin tickets. You would think they’d want to keep her happy.

Technically, BA may not have owed her anything. She still received her business class seat over the water, and a short haul downgrade may not have changed the fare, but that wasn’t going to stop us from trying. So we called the British Airways preferred travel agent account desk and tried to figure out what we could do.

Tangent: BA’s Sub Par Call Center Agents
For those have had to call BA lately, you know the pain involved. It used to be that BA routed their calls to a call center in Florida. While the agents were never particularly flexible (per BA policy, I can only assume), they were certainly competent and usually friendly. In the name of cost savings, BA ditched that and now sends calls to, I believe, India. I have never really received a good answer when I’ve had to call BA since they made the switch. The agents are trained to know basic information. Otherwise, they put you on hold to try to get answers, and if they do find an answer, you might as well be reading a website. They generally just parrot the rules and don’t think for themselves. That’s not a good thing when you’re working on a preferred travel agency desk.

When I called this time, the agent was certainly friendly. She informed me that we could not do any sort of downgrade compensation on our own. The client would have to contact BA directly through customer relations. She even gave me the link to the website. Ok, fine.

One month later to the day, Bella gets a response back from BA. They did offer her bonus miles for her inconvenience, but then they threw us under the bus.

For the refund of the difference in fares, I would request you to contact your travel agent, as you purchased your ticket from them. They are better placed than us to help you.

Seriously? BA has long had a reputation as being somewhat unfriendly to travel agents, so this isn’t surprising. You can’t have your travel agent support staff tell us that the request has to be run through BA only to have the BA agent tell the customer that it’s the agent’s problem. It not only makes the travel agent look unprofessional and stupid, but it just pisses off the traveler even more. It would have been far better if BA had simply said no further compensation was possible and we could have ended it there.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the end of our story. The ticket was fully used and we don’t have the ability to do anything else with it at this point. But even if we did, it was not likely to result in a lower fare. Arriving a couple of hours late in a lower class of service may not be the end of the world, but the way it was handled left a bad taste in just about everyone’s mouths.

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