British Airways Customer Service Isn’t Good, But When Partners Are Involved, It Gets Even Worse (Tales From the Field)

This is not the first time that I’ve ranted about British Airways’ customer service skills (or lack thereof), and it certainly won’t be the last. For an airline that I think does a good job in the air, it’s amazing that it does such a terrible job on the ground. This time, we look at a schedule change gone wrong, and how British Airways did everything in its power to NOT fix the problem.

A woman who we’ll call Sara came to us at Cranky Concierge a couple weeks ago sounding defeated. Sara’s original plan was to fly Paris to Newark on BA’s Open Skies subsidiary and then on to Louisville via Philly on US Airways. This was all on a ticket issued by BA, and she chose the routing specifically because she would be in Prem Plus on Open Skies to Newark. Unfortunately, US Airways had a schedule change so the connection via Philly no longer existed. BA gave her two options.

The Client Tries to Solve It First
First, BA offered her an option on US Airways from Paris via Philly to Louisville but she declined. Prem Plus is a great premium economy product, and the option via Philly would put her back in regular coach. That’s a terrible option. Next, BA said that her only option that would keep the Prem Plus seat was to stay overnight in Newark and fly out the next morning. She initially accepted that because there was no other option. Then she realized there was.

US Airways actually had a connection through Charlotte that had more than 2 hours in Newark and would have been perfectly legal. She called BA and they said she couldn’t do that. Despite multiple attempts, she gave up and decided to seek our help.

We Take the Case and Fail Immediately
Our first reaction? Complete dread. British Airways is tough to work with when we’ve booked the ticket, but the airline is nearly impossible to deal with on tickets we didn’t book. Still, with some trepidation, we decided to take the case. Our Travel Architect John was going to learn how much fun it is to deal with BA.

The first problem is that UK privacy laws are extremely strict. British Airways won’t talk to us about a booking unless we’ve been added as a third party on the booking by the traveler. That’s all fine except that BA is incredibly inept at actually following this procedure. So, to make things easy, we started out with a conference call. The client called BA and conferenced in John so that we could all be on the same page.

This call started with BA saying that if she wanted to change again, then it would cost her. The airline had already reissued once and wouldn’t do it again. Great. But John insisted that the agent look for the space at least, and this ended the same as the previous calls. According to BA, those flights we had suggested (US Airways 423 connecting to 5566) didn’t exist. John assured BA that they did, in fact, exist but the agent refused to believe us. At this point, John figured this was just a bad agent, so he went with what is always a good option – hang up, call again (HUCA). But before he did, Sara had John added as a third party so he wouldn’t have to keep involving her.

At this point, John tried to call BA again. They said he wasn’t a third party on the record so they wouldn’t talk to him. *sigh* So once again, it was time for a conference call, and once again BA said the flights didn’t exist, but even if they did, she’d have to pay for the change. This wasn’t good. At this point, we decided it was time to strategize.

We Try Every Tactic We Know (and Still Fail)
John called back again (on a conference call, because once again they said he hadn’t been added as a third party despite having Sara do it again), and he tried to see if they would “long sell” the flights. Maybe BA didn’t think these flights existed, but we knew they did. There’s an entry that you can use to try to sell that flight into the reservation even without knowing it exists. We even spoon-fed the Amadeus entry (BA’s reservation system). The agent refused to do that. John then asked if we could get on a four-way call with US Airways. The agent said ok. Progress!

Incredibly, the US Airways agent confirmed the flights existed but BA still said they couldn’t see it, so there was nothing they could do. Well then why the heck did we even do this four-way call in the first place? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

Clearly there’s a problem with BA’s system here. US Airways is a joint venture partner and was the original airline on the booking. This shouldn’t be a problem in any way. I reached out to a contact at US Airways and had her add these segments into the US Airways reservation directly. Then she sent a message to BA letting them know. This had to fix it, right? No. BA still said that they couldn’t see the flights.

@British_Airways to the Rescue
At this point, we were just about defeated when someone else suggested Twitter. BA is slow to respond on Twitter, but one of our other Travel Architects has had good luck with getting results. It couldn’t hurt to try. I’ll just let you read the conversation here.

BA Twitter Conversation

Even that conversation didn’t go as well as it should have. First they couldn’t help without talking to the passenger, then they could. Then they said that none of their partners had any flights that would work. Then magically, they found them. We weren’t about to argue with the fact that these flights are US Airways flights that have an American codeshare on them. The point was that they found them. We were ecstatic.

Then it made us realize that these flights had been sitting there under the American code in their system the entire time, and none of the many previous agents ever suggested them as an option. What a terrible customer service experience.

It’s also a very strange technical problem that BA has here. The airline can see the US Airways flight numbers the next morning but somehow it can’t see the ones that evening? There’s something very weird going on over there.

As you can imagine, our client was thrilled to have this done, but we wouldn’t be satisifed until the ticket was actually reissued. We followed up a few days later to ask if that had been done. The final insult? Twitter tells us “Hi. The tickets are in a queue to be reissued. Please allow 12 days from the 26th October.” Are you kidding me? It takes 12 days to reissue a ticket? Just imagine if this was in any way time sensitive.

People are used to it being difficult to work with airlines, but British Airways is in a league of its own, and we see issues with the airline regularly. (We’re currently fighting another issue now with an award reservation that BA somehow forget to ticket and the client had to buy a walk-up fare.) I just don’t understand why the airline can’t get this right.

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38 Comments on "British Airways Customer Service Isn’t Good, But When Partners Are Involved, It Gets Even Worse (Tales From the Field)"

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I am EXPLAT on AA. Booking a flight to MAD. I could have booked part of the trip on BA but 2 months ago they changed their policy and said you cannot reserve seats before the day of departure….unless you paid extra. In my case $291 for each segment. When I called BA to conform the rep had an attitude of not caring. Never again will I even consider this airline. Cranky: what good is a Oneworld alliance if there aren’t any real benefits?


totally with you. The customer experience on alliance flights is terrible, and only marginal better if it’s a codeshare. I know each has fancy co-located operations centers and call centers in hubs, but the plain truth remains that airlines are happy to sell you a ticket on a partner from/to any cities in the world, but unwilling to help you with basic things like seat changes, and complex things like IROPS or routings. The IT is waaaaaay behind the business, and it shows.

Gary Leff

BA takes a long time to re-issue, often doesn’t reissue until days before a flight. Usually not a problem, on close-in bookings they’ll prioritize in the queue. BUT THEY DO SCREW THIS UP, I’ve seen changes 48 hours out where ticket didn’t get properly re-issued. And as a consumer, those telephone hold times…

J Bird

I understand a small delay in the days of paper tickets to reissue: print, package, mail. But in the days of e-tickets, why is there any delay to reissue? Is BA basically saying that it will take 12 days to get final manager approval?

David SF eastbay

12 days? What are they doing, issuing a paper ticket in the U.K. and putting it on a boat to send to the traveler?

Nick Barnard

No, they have to give the ticket its own ticket to get to the traveler, and the ticket’s ticket doesn’t have a legal connection because they can’t see any of AA’s or US’s flights.

I think you need to first understand the British mentality. It only took a couple months in London to understand that the customer is always wrong and the first response to a customer request is always no. You could go to a coffee shop and ask for sugar or cream and they would tell you they don’t have any until you point to the sugar and cream sitting on the counter behind them. The point is as a customer you have to tell the retailer what they are selling because they could really care less about your business.

That is a horrible generalisation about a whole nation which I find insulting.

I could just respond with “typical ignorant American – too lazy to do their own research”


no Sarah, it is not a generalization. Customer service sucks in the UK (and I am from a third world country)—–the default position is that the customer is wrong. You are one who is insulting with your British arrogance (you can complaint but when others do, you turn around and accuse them of insulting you)—double standards. Routine wait times on British airways exceed 45 min which is absurd and laughable.


I booked a one way domestic Avios ticket on US Airways and was charged $13.60 in TSA fees. (2 segments) I couldn’t book online so, I was connected to the BA Delhi office. What a treat. When I did not receive the confirmation email, I called back and was told it would take up to 48 hours as it has to be put in queue. I have no idea how they arrived at $13.60. The connection is under 4 hours. BA is a nightmare and their twitter team is unresponsive as well.


Agreed…have had the problem of BA repeatedly not recognizing OW status from AA because the BA system does not allow hyphenated names (strange that, as a British company!). Through repeated email I usually get fee-waived seat assignments straightened out but still no status recognition without toting along and producing AA elite cards at every stage on day of travel.

John W

This story does not surprise me. BA has an adequate product in the air though I would argue most other carriers have caught up to them. The problem is they are still arrogant. They are by far the most difficult airline to work with and their ONLY answer is no. We have quit asking them for anything because of the fact that they will simply say no. We book them as little as possible and I wish others would do the same. They should only be used as a last resort.

Jared Hanner
I booked a flight with AA to Europe. On the way home, I was AMS-LHR on BA with a 5 hour layover and then LHR-LAX on AA metal. My bag did not show up when I arrived to LA, and I was surprised because I was in London for a long while. Long story short, I went to the AA desk and they were very nice but said that since I checked in the bag with BA, it was in their system and AA never had a record of receiving it. Called BA and they said it was not their… Read more »

Cranky, there must be a few airlines you judge as having excellent good customer service. Could you name a few? What makes them good and why do you think they are able to be good?

IMPORTANT BTW: You may have been told before. For some reason, in the “Leave a Reply” section, the name and email address of the previous commenter is being left visable. This has been going on for the last few days. Not sure this is coming up for others, but you may want to take a look at this.


They are not international, but Alaska has amazing customer service. I have even tweeted with their reps DURING A FLIGHT (thanked the pilot for pointing out the Northern Lights visible from the right side of the plane, really enjoyed them, and Alaska rep tweeted back her jealousy). :-)

For international, nothing beats EVA to Taiwan. Customer service was stellar in every sense even though I was not a frequent flyer with them (at first).

One of the reasons I DO NOT fly ba. As you said on the ground customer service is a joke. Can’t even get their social media customer support to come even close to KLM’s. Heck even Air France’s is so far ahead of BA it’s not even funny anymore. Classic this last weekend. A colleague of mine returning from Houston was informed that as BA was unable to reconcile the different weekends daylight savings time was between the UK and the U.S. he was informed on the plane that ba had booked him on the next available flight. As he… Read more »
Mark R

Cranky – Unless you’ve already done so, you need to do a post with a “Top 10” best customer service airlines. It would give us that may not fly as often more insight on who to fly with (although this may be counter-intuitive to your business…lol). It also would be good to know who the best non-US carriers since we may not be as familiar with those.

Nick Barnard

CF, if you’re a guessing man do you see the new AA kicking BA a bit on some of these things to get them in shape?

Perhaps reworking the JV so all US customer service is handled by AA employees or something like that?

Erik B

Wow, you didn’t even mention the hold times which I can only imagine averaged about 30-45 minutes for each call. Either that or you were using Skype and calling the Australian number (my favorite BA workaround).

@JayB, I would suggest that Southwest, Alaska and Virgin America all have great customer service from my experience. It’s not impossible.

matt weber
My experiences with BA on award tickets have often been bad, but I suspect this time the real culprit is UA Airways. I’ve been in situations where many flights I know exist are not visible to other airlines. In fact I had a very long discussion with OAG years ago over differences between the listings in their own products! I know it costs money to list flights in the OAG, so I suspect it may cost money to list flights elswhere as well. If US Airways thinks it is unlikely they can sell tickets this way for a flight, they… Read more »
I was travel agent many moons ago (in the days of hand written tickets). BA was arrogant then and it sees not to have changed. Of course, great news for my favourite airline (in the air): Virgin Atlantic, but their systems seem to be even more antiquated. But what is the point of e-tickets when, under the old system, an exchange ticket could have been written/printed in moments? 12 days is bonkers – yet I have heard the same with Virgin! It does make you realise that all these technological changes have been totally to aid the convenience of airlines… Read more »

Sorry to disagree with the vast number of negative BA experiences but as an AA PLAT I recently gave BA a shot after avoiding it for 10 years while being a WN domestic/free-for-all international or *A flyer.

I have found BA’s twitter team to be highly responsive and ground staff at both LHR and outstations to be extremely pleasant. Perhaps there is some hope for them yet.

On the other hand, I have found US Airways to be absolutely awful.

Bobby Paluga
Hmmmm Delta is good where they hub, but have a problem at a facility where they have just a handful of flights and look out. Example: I am about to hit 200,000 miles with Delta, so instead of just flying from Phoenix on a half a hundred non-stop O’Hare flights, I connect in SLC. The PHX-SLC portion was excellent in a brand spanking new 737-800 that entered service that day. Onto the tired, wore out 320s that make up the mainline SLC hubbers, (Thanks NW and unhappy mechanics). When I picked up my spiffy new fabric/leather Hartman matched Big Ass… Read more »