Apologist, traitor, sell out – let the chants begin…

This week British Airways cancelled “mistake fares” they probably shouldn’t have, but they did – and it’s hardly news. Virgin Australia, Air New Zealand, Swiss, the list of airlines which have done the same exact thing, and avoided having a fraction of the headlines could go on and on. Love em’ or hate em’, there’s a clear media bias against British Airways, and it’s gone too far. An airline cancelling a mistake fare is hardly news, apparently – unless it’s British Airways.

What Is A Mistake Fare?

A “mistake” fare is very hard to define these days, but in theory, it’s a price put into the booking system incorrectly, sometimes even missing a zero. As airlines look to sell last minute seats, or promote new routes, many airlines have taken to launching flash sales which last mere hours, with truly extraordinary pricing. We’ve seen £560 business class round trip flights from Europe to Japan, $176 round trip economy flights between the U.S. and Europe and these fares have not been mistakes, but merely promotional tools. They last just a couple hours, people get excited and we move on. We mention this, because the notion that people are looking to get one over on an airline is ridiculous. People are just looking to get great prices and there’s nothing sinister about that whatsoever. But, some airlines claim they never intended to offer the price, or have remorse when too many people get in on the deal and they sometimes choose to cancel. It’s not fun, it’s not good PR, but you move on. There’s always an inherent risk in booking a ticket you perceive to be too low, and sage travelers wait a few days to see what the airline has to say. Promotion, or mistake?

British Airways Cancels Fares

British Airways cancelled tickets just under £200 to Tel Aviv and Dubai, and took almost a week to make their decision. This was undeniably dumb, no doubt, but it’s hardly news to anyone who deals with airfare deals on a semi regular basis – and that’s the point. Airlines cancel fares every day and no one hears about it. But since it’s British Airways, it’s like “ooh, let’s get them, people love a BA bash”. In this instance, competing airlines regularly offer lower prices for the same flights and people would’ve easily been excused for having absolutely no clue it was an “error” at all. For this reason alone: British Airways should’ve just taken the hit. Cancelling the tickets was highly unnecessary. But with just 2,000 tickets sold, all the people combined represent a mere 1.3 percent of British Airways 145,000 daily passengers flown. That’s just a single day. Plenty more passengers get stranded at Heathrow with other airline issues on a daily basis. Make no mistake, British Airways should’ve eaten these fares, honored them and won goodwill with the public who loves to hate them, but they didn’t. Someone made a grave error in judgement in cancelling them, but it’s just not the massive story everyone wants it to be. It’s a run of the mill blunder. Sorry.

OH – and let us not forget that because of BA’s move to cancel, customers were offered even cheaper tickets on competing airlines. So who actually “lost”?

The Ridiculous Bias

I’ve said it: British Airways was wrong here. But as I also said, the entire incident represents 2,000 people. That’s less than 2% of a single days travelers, and just a few plane loads. This year alone, more than a handful of airlines have cancelled “mistake fares” leaving people back to square one and for most of you, I’m willing to bet you never heard of any of the events. That’s bias. I couldn’t help but spit out my coffee this morning with ITV’s ridiculous “British Airways Holding Passengers Hostage” headline, replete with stories of tears over the cancellation. Where was this for the last five airlines that did this? British Airways has a unique knack for spinning minor incidents into major headlines, and the press laps each one up like a 2 for 1 pizza special, whether there’s any sauce or not. No other airline receives nearly as much negative coverage. None. And while British Airways makes mistakes, theirs are treated with 10x the magnitude and scrutiny of virtually any other airline. There are plenty of things to bash airlines about, British Airways can indeed be their own worst enemy and this is not a positive move, but it hardly warrants the ridiculous outcry of public support and harrowing tales the papers are looking for.