Some articles hurt to write. This is one of them. It goes without saying that it’s been a trying year for British Airways, and just as things seemed to be turning around, an IT meltdown crippled their systems, stranding over 100,000 passengers this past weekend. The outage made it virtually impossible for many to get in touch with British Airways, and those that were lucky enough to get through found difficulty getting rebooked onto another carrier, with constant systems failures. Well, if true, it apparently gets worse…

British Airways Is Refusing To Refund Alternate Flight Purchases?

EC261, the governance of the European Union states that an airline must rebook passengers on other airlines if no timely alternate flights can be arranged from the airline at issue. Due to all systems being down, British Airways was unable to accomplish this for a large majority of their passengers, leaving those with immediate needs absolutely no choice but to book alternative transportation on their own. Though the airline is traditionally the one to book the travel on the alternate airline, systems being down made this impossible, and people needed to buy their own tickets, with the logical assumption that British Airways would cut them a check for the new ticket, so long as it remained in the same cabin. British Airways is reportedly refusing these claims, essentially saying, if we didn’t rebook for you, you’re on your own and should try your luck with an insurance claim. For anyone wondering, this may not likely hold up in court…

Here’s an example of the issue…

1) Passenger makes BA booking for $600 in economy.

2) Passenger arrives to find that all flights are cancelled for days, they can’t wait days.

3) Passenger must pay a walk up fare with competing airline, likely $1400.

4) British Airways says it will refund unused ticket, but that doesn’t cover the $800 lost out of pocket the passenger will face. 

5) Unbeknownst to traveler who hoped to use his return portion of ticket, by no showing for first part (or not using it) the rest of itinerary is cancelled. NIGHTMARE!

Update: A statement from British Airways…

“Our priority right now is to help as many customers as we can to get to their destinations. We have been providing customers with letters and information on how to apply for EU compensation and to claim for reasonable expenses. We will fully honour our obligations.” They continue on to say that they are reviewing each case individually and asking customers to send receipts for reasonable expenses. Better than nothing…but They do not however go as far as to directly address coverage of the entire ticket cost, for a ticket purchased alternatively by a passenger. Simply refund of their ticket and EU regulations, which could present battles for passengers. This creates a bit more uncertainty on the matter than I’d prefer. Worse, I’m hearing that they are attempting to deny EC261 claims based on a “lightning strike”. Yeah RIGHT.

To be clear, we’re talking about people who rebooked alternate flights on their own. This does not pertain to hotel vouchers, or taxis to and from the airport, up to ÂŖ200 per day which are owed to people. 

A Huge Insult And Missed Opportunity…

Morale internally and outwardly amongst the public is at an all time low for the airline. A proactive mea culpa, accepting responsibility for the problems and creating a customer first work flow-for expeditiously processing refund, cancellation, and expense claims would’ve been an all too perfect and logical way forward. The airline appears determined to venture headfirst into the other direction, and is now playing hardball over their cash. According to sources at the airline, passengers had no opportunity for timely rebooking through the airline during the crisis, forcing them to make these outside purchases, yet that’s fallen on deaf ears with those in decision making roles. To give customers a hard time, over what many would deem their only shot at getting where they need to be, at total fault to the airline, is truly, truly terrible. Is the collective future business of 100,000+ passengers worth saving a couple million today on claims? The airline seems to think so.

Is This Even Legal? No Doubt The Courts Will Let Us Know…

Thus far, it’s the opinion of the Civil Aviation Authority and the EU governance that this does not comply with standards set forth. If British Airways proceeds on this course, denying claims for a compensation for the newly issued ticket, there is absolutely no doubt that the courts will hear the matter. Why not just accept all reasonable claims-which maintained the same cabin for the same final destination? Does British Airways really want these cases to make headlines for months when they could curry favor with the public for the prompt recovery of their travel funds? There must be a way forward here that doesn’t make them look like utter cheapskates…

What Can The Airline Do To Revive The Situation?

I think this is incredibly simple. As mentioned, make the refund, compensation, expenses claims as quick and painless as possible, accepting all reasonable requests without red tape and hiring as many outside agents, parties as necessary to avoid long queues and hassles. Next, as the airline continues to labor the idea of low fares being the reason for their passenger moves, they need to get aggressive, offering their best fares to date. Furthermore, they need to let their highest revenue customers, those who are Executive Club Bronze, Silver or Gold know that their business is actually meaningful, offering elite benefits on short haul routes, such as free checked bag (perhaps even for BA Amex cardholders too) and a meal for Gold members. 

This dirty tactic when passengers had no other choice but to wait for days, which many truly could not, seems very underhanded. Your thoughts? Will they roll this back?