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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29 Comments on "When British Airways Customer Service Says Two Different Things (Tales From the Field)"

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DC
Guest

They made her go through passport control even though she wasn’t entering the UK and instead flying on to Schengen? Seems pointless.

Oliver
Guest

Good point. That does not happen at LHR if I arrive on United and continue on LH to Germany, as far as I know.

kt74
Guest
BA is awful at IRROPS, just abysmal, but this is well known, and it is the gamble you take for booking a 60 minute connection at LHR (schoolboy error!) If your client was prevented from going directly to her next flight, then she must have arrived at the boarding pass check less than 35 minutes before her flight. Like it or not, the widely-publicised 35 minute rule (often flexed down for connecting passengers) has massively improved on-time performance at LHR. Yes, it does irritate some customers (including me) who know where to go, aren’t waylaid by duty free, and know… Read more »
Brian
Guest
You still have to go through transit passport control to continue on in the UK. I believe this is true in almost every country except Schengen areas because if you are airside you could theoretically just exit the terminal and be landside without crossing any passport control (there is no passport control “split” in the middle of the airport like a Schengen airport). I had a mediocre experience on BA F award ticket last year, and just sent them an email about it, expecting maybe 10k miles back. The flight out my girlfriend’s original seat was broken so we couldn’t… Read more »
DC
Guest

“You still have to go through transit passport control to continue on in the UK. I believe this is true in almost every country except Schengen areas….”

This is simply not the case, as Mr. Snowden understands of SVO. Narita, HGK, EZE, and many, many others; and even little San Jose, Costa Rica airport have international transit areas which enable travelers to make connections to third countries without passport controls by local border authorities.

Bravenav
Guest

I’ve had to fight the British pessimism at the BA transit desk at Gatwick (back when the US airlines flew there), being told there was no way I was going to make my connecting flight in less than an hour. After some pleading and cajoling, I finally got a boarding pass and easily made my flight.

I’ve also connected through Heathrow at the Lufthansa transit desk with less than an hour. As DC pointed out, there was no passport control, and I had no problems getting to my connecting flight.

David SF eastbay
Member
I’ve said for awhile now that the people who know the least about an airline are the employees of the airline. You could get five friends and you all call an airline at the same time and ask the same question or related the same problem and get six different answers. Which more then likely is what the airlines want, that way the ‘correct’ answer (wink wink) will always be one that benefits them. Wow, does BA really think that once a ticket is used, a travel agent can give a refund. Being that the transatlantic was in the higher… Read more »
JAXBA agent 0R
Guest

Sometimes yes. If the ticket was issued by the travel agent they might have a contract that allows it.

Austin
Guest
I believe in this case there was no passport control (in the UKBA sense), but rather Heathrow and BA’s infamous “conformance check” in Terminal 5 that was implemented after T5 opened and BA was experiencing massive passenger delays. There are plenty of Flyertalk threads on this–but in a nutshell originating passengers need to have their boarding pass scanned at the conformance check, which is before security, at least 35 minutes before departure or they won’t let you through no matter what (for connections, depending on the arrival and departure gates, the conformance time is variable depending on the arrival concourse… Read more »
ghpup
Guest
Personally, I try to avoid LHR as I’ve never, repeat never (6 attempts originating from either the US or somewhere in Europe like Amsterdam), transited through without my baggage (read golf clubs) being delayed by at least 12 hours. In one instance with a my travels originating at LHR to Dublin, Ireland, my luggage was 14 hours delayed even though they had nearly hourly flights. The worst occassion was when I saw my bags being removed from the plane after being releived to see loaded on. I tried to call it to the attention of the flight attendant, but was… Read more »
Consumer Mike
Guest
BA does give great service in the air. However, a good trip is more than the time in the air. 1) BA is normally not competitively priced – ESPECIALLY if they try and shuttle you through LHR. 2) If you go through LHR be prepared to pay a hefty airport tax added to your fare and be prepared for at least a 90 minute connection, with the possibility of security, weather or other delays at this high traffic airport. 3) The cold British attitude of NOT accepting ownership of any problem or complaint has only gotten worse with the added… Read more »
jhansen16
Member

I have had nothing but great service from the call center located in FLA. On Sunday, I spent an hour with a rep by the name of Alicia who could not have been better at solving my self imposed problem. I was Gold for 10 years with them and never had an issue with a claim for missed flights or lost luggage. However I sincerley hope that BA will not/does not move this function to ndia.

jaybru
Member
Just wondering, but if your traveler were making the same trip using another major carrier, would the experience have been materially different? Minimum connecting times…no problem, sure! Issues affecting the international arrival airport, Full connecting flights, Assstance, or no assistance from call centers, Ease of, or the hopelessness of getting compensation for a disadvantaged client/traveler, Company attitude toward travel agents and, if that is really any different from the company attitude toward the basic traveler. What you describe, to me, pretty much describes the norm in this industry. By no means have I had the experience you’ve had in observing/participating… Read more »
mharris127
Guest
I haven’t ever flown through the London airports but I guess the moral of the story is that you never take a connection unless you have at least two hours to make your connecting flight. That way if your first flight is delayed you have a snowballs chance in you know where of making your connection. Actually that is a good rule to follow for any airport, especially one that you are not familiar with. This also gives you a chance to get a meal at one of the airport restaurants behind security (assuming your connecting flight uses a terminal… Read more »
tsbs
Member

My experience with BA is that in-flight is fantastic, everything else is awful.

I do not have the time to go into the MYRIAD of issues I have had with BA over the years–some really disastrous and one that had be file a small claims suit (they settled).

Suffice to say that on the ground–it is unchallenged as the World’s Worst Airline.

Donal
Guest

I find that if you make a connection when there is little time availbale your bags donĀ“t.

One of the Downsized Florida Reps
Guest
One of the Downsized Florida Reps
Good day all. I was one of the Florida BA agents terminated/furloughed/shown the door/given the opportunity to explore new horizons/however you’d like to categorize it when the US contact center closed down in late December. (I think they chose December because the first two letters in “bah-humbug” is of course, BA) I was on the agency desk for years and was on the preferred agency desk for 3 years. (Preferred agency defined as those who did 3 million dollars worth of bookings or over year-on-year). As someone who enjoyed their job and the agencies I dealt with, I can tell… Read more »
Consumer Mike
Guest
Dear BA Rep., Unfortunately the past actions of BA only confirm your comments about the thinking of that airline. Management is blindly driven by the “Bottom Line”. We can only hope that they learn their lesson of “Penney Wise, Pound foolish” sooner rather than later. As an example, when BA purchased IB they immediately cut about 25% of the employees. They also cut routes or changed service from IB to BA. Their actions were merciless and IB customer service went from bad to worse. It has become almost useless to resolve any issues with IB in a reasonable manner. As… Read more »
One of the Downsized Florida Reps
Guest
One of the Downsized Florida Reps

Had they not purchased that resource-sucking, revenue-draining shell of an airline we would still be employed today.

If they were to re-open here in the States, I’d work for them again in a second. But only if they let me run the contact center.

Former BA Too
Guest
I too was from the JAX center and saw many changes. And yes, most of them were money driven by the airlines. But this is what ALL companies do, sell much and prosper. it is either that or fail and fall. So to say that all they care about is money, again, that is what business’ do to stay afloat. Now on the flip side of that coin, what about the number of reps on site that wanted to make the same kinds of money as you Bulova counterparts? All they ever did was gripe about how they didn’t make… Read more »
Boo
Guest

Hi
Is it OK if I PM you? – I have a question about a connecting flight that I don’t want to be public. Thanks, Boo.

Muscater
Guest

Have spent the last few months trying to change a name on a ticket. Excasperating process. Speaking to someone india who didn’t fully understand. Why does the Worlds favorite airline not employee people whose 1st Lamguage is English. Next time I will choose Air Lingus

JAXBA agent 0R
Guest

The other thing that killed JAXBA was the internal theft. How many times can HQ overlook such things? Let’s not even get started on the FMLA abuse.

trvsetsmefreetobemealoha
Guest
trvsetsmefreetobemealoha
Sounds like there are alot of different opinions on the closing of Florida call center. Sadly that was not the issue of this vine. Does seem FORMER BA TOO though might have been some type of management that was in charge of denying compensation, as those points were stressed in few letters I received regarding my past issues with BA, just saying.. As was pointed out , in the air they are great, if your on an updated plane, on ground and over the phone , they definitely need more training , basic common sense and compassion at times. Remember… Read more »
California former BA staff
Guest
California former BA staff
The bottom line is BA did not want to pay US wages with US benefits and US taxes. They benefited from the Corporate Tax breaks and subsidies that they receive and then the decided to move all to India. Bad move…. As Americans we as taught critical thinking and problem solving. We learn to go over or around obstacles– bend the rules…don’t break them. Our Indian replacements are taught culturally to follow the rules. No deviations. And they cost a WHOLE LOT less than American workers. What BA failed to calculate in this decision is the fallout from the public.… Read more »
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