Europe

Flying With British Airways – Why I Will Never Trust Them Again

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

If you talked to me in the month or so before I caught my flight over to Denmark to begin my two year study abroad session I was probably very complimentary of British Airways.  I’d recently signed up for a British Airways associated Credit Card, received 100,000 miles as the signing bonus and been able to book my international flight with the miles without significant lead time.  Further, I’d talked to the agent with whom I booked the ticket and he had made several suggestions which seemed like they solved the problems I was looking at in getting my luggage (including a desktop) over to Copenhagen for an affordable rate.

Unfortunately, British Airways managed to burn every ounce of that good will and then some in the 36 hours before my flight.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a good old fashioned bait and switch.  When you sell me on a product, sell me the product as delivered or straight to hell with you.

The Pitch: In talking with the agent and explaining what I was doing and inquiring what my options were for getting additional luggage to Denmark he suggested that I book the ticket (30,000+$239 in taxes/fees) and then upgrade for an additional 15,000 miles (a 50% increase in “cost”) to decrease the cost of additional bags.  The way it typically works is that a standard ticket with BA gets 1 free checked bag, 1 carry on, and 1 personal item.  From there the first additional bag would cost me $51 w/ a discounted price if I booked it ahead of time and online. The third bag would then cost $119 (online) or $140 (at the counter).  BUT, if I upgraded to World Traveller Plus for the additional 15,000 AirMiles I’d receive a second bag free and then be able to pay $51 for my third bag, and $119 for my fourth if I needed it.

With a weight limit of ~50 pounds and the need to transport two LCD monitors and a desktop I knew I’d need three bags, in addition to my carry on (backpack) and personal item (laptop). So, the 15,000 miles and additional ~$50 I’d end up paying for the 3rd bag seemed like a great option.  I did some research, thought it over, and then went to book online using their e-portal.  Only to have it error out every time I tried over a 6 hour period.  Frustrated and having been told there were only a few tickets left I called in and manually booked it over the phone repeating my previous conversation to the new agent.  I told him to book the ticket with the upgrade, and he reminded me that there was a baggage discount if paid online ahead of time/during online check-in.

Fast forward to a day or two before my departure.  I was about to enter the 24-hour window for check in. I logged in and went to pay for my additional luggage.  You can imagine my surprise when I added my third bag only to be notified it was going to cost $119. Assuming a mistake with the website I exchanged tweets with @BritishAirways and then began the process of trying to call the executive club member number on my card. I also had noticed that I was never prompted to purchase traveller’s insurance either on-line or in the follow up e-mail.  Wondering if it was included through the insurance on the Signature Credit Card or had been auto-included in fees I paid I was eager to speak to a rep and ask them about it.

After two calls at different points in time (both of which projected 13+ minute wait times) which is absurd for a “premium” member service I tried calling a third time only to learn that the executive office closes at 8PM EST (Good luck westcoasters!). With less than 24 hours left before my flight I called the standard booking number and spent more than 30 minutes on hold before finally giving up.  Keep in mind this is the phone number to BOOK with British Airways.

In doing  some online research I found an additional number for the 3rd party vendor they use and called their 24 hour number only to learn that not only was there not a policy # for my flight, but because I hadn’t purchased insurance from them within a 7 day window after purchasing my ticket from BA, I wasn’t going to be able to buy a policy.    Frustrated I went to bed and woke up early to try calling once again.

Finally after a few short hours of sleep I found myself awake, called and after a relatively short hold time I reached a BA sales agent who I told about the issues with web pricing.  With an incredibly rude tone, she directed me to the website and said that regardless of what I’d be told previously the $119 fee for the 3rd bag was correct.  Throughout the conversation she was rude, unfriendly, and combative.  This led me to escalate to a supervisor who while apologetic and far more friendly was unwilling/unable to do anything to fix the fee amount despite the source of the misinformation being one of their booking agents.

At this point I’d been forced to book by phone because their web portal wasn’t working, been sold an upgrade at 15,000 miles on the premise of discounted luggage fees which were non-existent, faced ridiculous  hold times and BA had no intention of doing a damn thing about it. Not to mention never having been offered the opportunity or informed of the need to purchase third party travel insurance (which only had a 7 day window to begin with).

Unwilling to make the situation right about the mileage upgrade and added fees for the luggage the supervisor did at least take the time to call the insurance provider and to line up a last minute insurance plan which I was able to purchase over the phone.

I am both incredibly annoyed and disgusted by the way British Airways handled the entire thing.  Their lack of interest in making the situation right was only compounded by the terrible performance of their phone and web services. For a major airline and allegedly one of the more reputable ones, their level of professionalism was absolutely lacking.

It’s a pretty sad statement when a customer has to not only work to spend money on an airline, but also has to work with that airline on a buyer-be-ware basis. If this is the type of service and treatment I can expect from them, I’ll be looking forward to the moment when I can dump my miles and cancel my card. It is also worth noting that in sharing this story with friends and fellow travelers, I’ve heard similar story after story that indicates BA has systematic customer service and quality issues.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

10 Comments

  • Elizabeth DeHoff
    August 1, 2011

    Holy crap, what a horrible experience. I will pass the word along. You might want to post to FlyerTalk as well and see if people there can recommend a resolution. Ugh!

    Reply
  • Camels & Chocolate
    August 1, 2011

    I’ve never flown BA but sadly I’ve had similar experiences with just about every single major U.S. carrier that travels internationally–United, Delta and American–and, as a result, have switched my allegiances so many times. With all the airlines sucking these days, what’s a traveler to do? I only wish Southwest or Virgin America didn’t just fly domestic.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 2, 2011

      That’s the killer, as much as the airline likes to play the woe is me/persecution game they really are abusing their customers on a systematic level. Things happen, flights get delayed, luggage gets lost, you name it – but their general approach to service and treatment of their customers tends to be dreadful. It really is sad that the only carriers that seem to give a damn tend to be Asian and newer Domestic American airlines. Like you, I’ve never had a bad experience with Southwest. Not really something I can say for most of the other major big boys.

      Reply
  • Jonathan
    August 2, 2011

    I tend to think that the quality and service of the credit card issuer is more important than the rewards program, but that’s just me. Fortunately I have had good experience with First National Bank of Omaha, which handles the cards for All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. By the way, if you’re thinking of using another card, remember that when it comes to your credit history, there’s a crucial difference between closing your British Airways credit card and simply not using the card. One of the most annoying facts of life if you ask me.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 3, 2011

      Jonathan, definitely – but in this case there is a $94/year fee after the 1st year. So, that’s the thing. The miles aren’t just free and the service is something I’m literally paying for. I’ve got great credit, and we’ll see how long it takes me to burn through these points. If i keep the card or not – we’ll see, but ultimately BA is now an extremely damaged brand in my book.

      Reply
  • Steve Whale
    August 3, 2011

    Being British I used to fly BA quite regularly, and the service diminished over a period of years in both economy and club classes. The last time I flew with them was a trip back from Rome where they served “Traditional Pizza” to a plane full of Italians. The pizza was a sponge biscuit smeared with tomato puree and some cream cheese, delicately sprinkled with parsley.
    FWIW: The Executive Club points can be used on any OneWorld airline, not just BA.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 3, 2011

      Ouch, someone definitely didn’t think that Pizza idea through. Also, the OneWorld point cross over is definitely one of the redeeming aspects of the miles.

      Reply
  • Emily in Chile
    August 4, 2011

    I know bad things happen on all airlines, but my personal worst customer service experiences have also been on BA. The last time I flew them, my flight out of Rome to London was delayed 8 hours, the booking agent refused to reroute me in order to get me to Manchester that night (insisting I didn’t have time despite there being 45 minutes before take-off and only having carry-on luggage), and when I finally arrived at LHR at midnight, no one had told them to expect me or find me a hotel, and I spent 30 minutes sitting on the floor of a completely empty departures hall waiting to be told what to do! And of course, everyone I interacted with looked at me like I was SUCH an inconvenience.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      August 4, 2011

      Ouch, that really sucks. It seems like it’s 50/50 on if they’re happy to apologize or treat you like a moron, but even the 50% that will happily apologize and be sympathetic have no power or intention of doing anything to help/fix the situation. Total lack of responsibility and professionalism within the company.

      Reply

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