Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Travel Topics > Air Travel
Reload this Page >

Miserable Customer Service Experience with BA

Miserable Customer Service Experience with BA

Feb 23rd, 2004, 12:10 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 2
Miserable Customer Service Experience with BA

I wanted to write about a pretty awful experience my husband and I had recently with BA and provide a warning to anyone planning on flying with them. I think this will provide proof that the airline industry is in a serious downward spiral as far as customer service goes.

Over the Christmas holidays we were flying Virgin from Dulles to Heathrow and then taking a connecting British Airways flight from there to Paris. Our Virgin flight was delayed for an hour on the ground, maddeningly because they had overbooked and were looking for people to volunteer to get off the plane. This delay caused us to be half an hour late to Heathrow, where we waited in line for 45 min for customs, waited for our luggage, and then were amazed to find that we had to take a train from terminal 3 to 4 which only came every 15 minutes. Not surprisingly we missed our BA flight by minutes. I assumed that since the situation was beyond our control, they would allow us to go stand-by on the next flight. Boy was I wrong.

Instead we were told that we would have to rebook our tickets and pay the highest fare for them since it was last-minute and they had no obligation to us since it was a Virgin flight (I guess being paying customers of BA wasn't good enough.) I could literally not believe what I was hearing. I was especially enraged since I had called BA and had spoken to a rep about how much time I should allow to make the flight, explaining that it was international. She assured me that the flight I was booking would leave ample time.

I have written to both BA and Virgin and received very different responses. Virgin, although absolving themselves of any blame, still gave us $250 worth of credit on a future flight with them. BA, on the other hand, completely denied that they had done anything wrong and offered no apology or comp.

In the future I would strongly suggest taking a discount carrier when flying within Europe. At least then you won't be surprised when you get shafted by your airline.
alex123 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2004, 01:09 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,437
BA is far from my favorite airline, but I'd have to say in their defense that they're not the only aitrline that would act this way. If you connect between two different airlines, the second one isn't responsible if something goes wrong on the other airline. That's not just recent practice either. It would be a nice customer relations gesture if BA would help out, but unfortunately for you, they really aren't obliged to. From their point of view, neither of you is at fault, but you (not they) made the choice to book on two lines.

On the other hand, if the hour-long delay was because Virgin was waiting for volunteers to be bumped, they did do something wrong. If they can't get volunteers, they have to make (and pay for) an involuntary bunp, not just sit there.
KT is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2004, 01:24 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 47
Did you book two separate nested itineraries or one itiinerary with connecting flights? (In the old days of paper tickets, was it two ticket books or just one?)

Ordinarily, if it is one itinerary, the airline whom you booked it with has to get you to your final destination on the fare already paid. For two itineraries, no.

If you feel that Virgin caused an excessive delay in its volunteer process, you might try a second request to Virgin's higher ups and see if they would ante up enough additional vouchers to equal the entire amount of extra fare money you had to shell out.

Travel tips:
ajaynejr is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2004, 01:46 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 12,846
I had quite the opposite experience in a similar situation this past November. I flew Virgin from LAX to LHR and had to connect with BA to Vienna, two separate tickets. We knew prior to arriving at LAX that our flight to LHR would be delayed. At check-in the Virgin agent looked at our BA tickets, rebooked us on a later BA flight (I didn't even know they could do this), and tagged our luggage for the new flight. At LHR we picked up the BA boarding passes for our new flight with no problems whatsoever.

I've seen a couple of other posts on the transfer situation to/from T4. Do all bags have to be claimed and rechecked when connecting to/from T4 because there's no airside transfer from the other terminals? Sounds like a nightmare.
Patty is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2004, 02:42 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 253
Sorry to hear of your bad experience with British Airways. A freind of mine travelled on the Concorde last year, she was very disappointed with the service she received. (She paid about $10,000 for her ticket). When she returned home she contacted British Airways to complain, all that she got from British Airways was a letter saying how sorry they were of her experience. Unfortunately, customer service is no longer a priority for the airlines.
germanblonde is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2004, 03:03 PM
Posts: n/a
I agree with all the laments about customer no-service, attitudes, etc. but I have to say: at least BA apologized - instead of writing a letter telling germanblonde she was wrong, mistaken, out of line in expecting X Y or Z, etc. etc., or else not answering at all. Most American carriers would never, ever use the "s" word ("sorry") let alone the "a" word ("apologize") for fear of somehow compromising some (usually imaginary) lawsuit finding just in case you decide to sue. It's tempting to sue just to get an apology.
Feb 23rd, 2004, 03:40 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 8,825
alex, as others have noted, if you were on two different sets of tickets you are pretty much SOL. If you had purchased two separate itineraries, from the BA perpsective their commitment to you started with their flight out of LHR. How you got there - whether you flew from elsewhere or drove from the next town over - is not part of the equation. I guess the lesson (hard learned, I am sure) is to book everything through on a single itinerary for such a trip. If one chooses to save money by going this way, it is similar to the risk in buying a nonrefundable ticket - if something comes up that makes you unable to fly as originally booked, you pay penalties. Sorry you had to learn this the hard way!
Seamus is offline  
Feb 24th, 2004, 12:05 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 1
In my wife's and my limited travel with BA, we have had nothing but wonderful experiences. Maybe you could try contacting the Ombudsman at Travel + Leisure magazine. They could help you get recourse from the airlines.
mtc is offline  
Feb 24th, 2004, 02:38 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 2
The reason we were flying on separate tickets was because we used FF points for the Virgin flight and Virgin does not have flights from LHR to CDG. I agree that BA had no obligation to accommodate us, but it seems extremely short-sighted of them to alienate us to a degree that I will go out of my way to never fly them again. Plus, what is the cost of letting us go stand-by on a flight that is not full?

Also, the fact that I specifically called to ask a BA rep whether I was allowing enough time I think absolves me somewhat for not allowing enough time for navigating LHR. In fact the later flight was cheaper and I would have been happy to take it. Even had the Virgin flight been on time it would have been extremely iffy for us to have made the BA flight. You would think that a BA employee could have warned me about the terminal switch and the general state of chaos at their hub of operations.

Unfortunately, recalibrating expectations of airlines seems to be in order these days as they almost go out of their way to make life more difficult. At least I have learned several valuable lessons for the future. I do give Virgin credit for trying to make amends for the situation and thus will be more likely to fly them again.
alex123 is offline  
Feb 25th, 2004, 01:52 AM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 103
I think your dislike for BA is unfounded. I have missed numerous flights and very few airlines have let me get on a later flight as a stand-by, particularly on the outward flight (return legs are much easier to get on). BA has once or twice let me on but only since I became a frequent flyer. Also, LanChile did once. Northwestern, Continental, BMI, Virgin, BA and Lufthansa have all denied me to board due to being late for the outward flight. Whilst it may be poor customer service in your view, what is the point in an airline like BA putting you on a later flight when you are a low margin customer who seldom flies BA?
wealthy_backpacker is offline  
Feb 25th, 2004, 10:08 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 300
I don't get it at all. You booked two separate tickets and had problems with Virgin overbooking and yet you hold BA accountable. It's not BA's fault. You stated that you missed the flight by minutes which means that BA did give you correct advice on connections. If all that happened on Virgin had not taken place you would have been in time for your flight. I don't know what type of ticket you held on BA, but a lot of ticekts are use it or lose it. Was your ticket in this category.

I'm sorry for what happened and like you I would be ticked off. But, BA really doesn't owe you a thing.

Frequent flyer tickets are great, but in life nothing is ever free and you have to be prepared for everything when you use them. That way when nothing happens you will be one happy camper.
kkj is offline  
Feb 25th, 2004, 10:25 AM
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 91
I have to agree with backpacker. While BA's policy was strict, it doesn't seem unreasonable nor out of line with the policies of other airlines. I also think that it's unwarranted to accuse a company of poor customer service when they simply won't give you what you want, when you want it when they did nothing wrong in the first place. It sounds like you only allowed about 2-3 hours for your connection. While that may be enough time if everything goes smoothly, that gives you very little cushion if things go awry like they did. This is especially true when you consider that it was an international flight and you had to retrieve checked baggage. Making matters worse was the terminal change (which BA provides information for on their website). If the flights had all been on one ticket, it probably would have been fine. However, since you chose to risk taking two different carriers, a good move probably would have been to take the extra precaution of a long connection time no matter what someone else told you. The BA agent had no way of knowing that the Virgin flight would be delayed and probably was trying to tell you you could make that connection if everything went as scheduled. Besides, by flying two tickets you fully took on the responsibility for allowing enough time and showing up on time for the second flight, just like someone driving to the airport from their house. It's not BA's responsibility to make sure your trip goes smoothly when you are trying to save money by flying the bulk of your journey with another airline. I also suspect (and I could be wrong) that you were probably trying to save money by travelling on a restricted ticket that limited your recourses further. These are the chances we take in search of a bargain. In this case, better planning and/or travel insurance would have been helpful. If you weren't willing to do the research necessary to head off potential problems like this, then working with a good travel agent may be you best course of action in the future.
cynic is offline  
Feb 27th, 2004, 05:53 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 2,420
This miserable experience is your fault.

It appears you gave yourself 1 hour to connect when flying overseas. I am pretty sure BA and Virgin are owned by different companies and you had to book this as two tickets. I have booked the same type of deal and have given myself SEVEN hours.

As for the delay by Virgin... since you were on FF tickets you should probably just be grateful they did not start involuntary bumps. You would have been early on the list!

While I would love to believe you will NEVER fly BA again, the truth is that most of us vote with our pocketbooks.

CarolA is offline  
Feb 29th, 2004, 06:34 AM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 776
Unfortunately, almost all carriers have the same policy. BA had no obligation to you since it was Virgin's delay. Changing non-partner airlines internationally involves a lot and takes A LOT of time, between retrieving luggage, going through customs, immigration, security, often different terminals, and another line to check in. To be safe, a minimum time of 4 hours in between would have been better. But you'll know that for the future.
If you are planning on taking a discount airline in the future, be aware that the European discount carriers can be even harsher. On one (can't remember which), if you miss your flight, you are completely out of luck. You will have to buy a new ticket and no credit for the unused ticket. No stand-bys. And the discounters are often flying out of out-of-the way airports. So transfers may involve leaving the original airport for another outlying one which can involve a traffic delay. In that case, you should allow at least 6 hrs for transfers.
What you can do is see if BA will allow you to credit the money you paid from your unused tickets toward a future flight. Sometimes they will do this without a change fee.
nibblette is offline  
Feb 29th, 2004, 06:41 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 2,032
>I am pretty sure BA and Virgin are owned by different companies and you had to book this as two tickets.

Just a note that you can combine almost all world airlines on one ticket. BA and VS certainly can and it is done all the time just to provide the protections that a single itinerary gives you.
NoFlyZone is offline  
Mar 3rd, 2004, 04:29 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 2,420
Yes, but in this case it was two tickets.
One free and one paid.

CarolA is offline  
Mar 6th, 2004, 05:31 PM
Posts: n/a
The BA agent told you that you would have enough time for your connection based on the assumption that the Virgin flight would arrive on time. Looks like the miserable customer service was received from Virgin, not BA. Why would they hold the flight an hour past departure time looking for volunteers to give up their seats? They should have secured the volunteers (or in absence of any, bumped the necessary number of the latest checked-in passengers) and had it all complete BEFORE the scheduled departure time. I've never flown Virgin, is this par for the course for them?
Mar 7th, 2004, 02:08 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 2,420
Having an overbooked plane delayed is par for the course on just about any airline. They normally start working on it early, but.... it takes a while sometimes to figure out who gets bumped. Plus if it is overbooked due to a mechancial or weather problem on the flight before there is a snowball effect.

CarolA is offline  
Mar 13th, 2004, 04:20 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 80
Exactly opposite to my experience. Have arrived both early and late in LHR and BA allowed us to go standby (I think standby because if the booking clerk changed the ticket the would have been an disadvantageous price issue). We are pleased with BA and use them regularily for trans Atlantic flights.
johnian is offline  
Mar 14th, 2004, 11:08 AM
Posts: n/a
I don't know a lot about what the rights and wrongs are in this situation.

The one question I can answer is that BA and Virgin are most definitely owned by different people.

There has, historically, been absolutely no love lost between the companies in the past. They are rivals in every respect.

Famously in the early 90s there were the allegations of BA having a dirty tricks campaign against Virgin.

A future BA - Virgin alliance or code share agreement I would think is unlikely.

Incidently, BA is moving a number of its flights from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1 (A v short walk from 3), to make connections easier.

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 05:48 AM.