a plane flying above the clouds

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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I disagree, zero bias here. You cannot find a similarly sized mistake fare that didn’t make the news heavily. This cancellation affected many people and that’s why it’s news (albeit small relative to overall opertions).
    Considering the above, BA are mindless for not predicting this response and should have released a decision in a timely manner to avoid more frustration.

    1. The airline cancelled virtually the same amount of tickets last year for First class. It didn’t make a single newspaper. They picked this fight because it’s economy and bleeding heartable.

  2. Thank you! Someone is finally talking about how much everyone loves to hate BA.
    I completely agree. BA probably should have just eaten this cost, but they made the decision not to. People love to talk about how BA is getting worse and worse every year, but they fail to mention that they continue to offer low fares for long haul travel in relatively comfortable planes. They also fly to hundreds of destinations and make it easy to get most places in the world, even on a budget. I have recently taken them on two rt long haul trips and appreciated the 9 abreast (though this looks to be changing) comfortable seats on the 777, the quality economy class meals, and the pleasant service provided by the mixed fleet crews.
    Great post!

  3. It’s because British Airways has continually let customers down over the past two years. Of course ITV and the Daily Mail would hit out at them. You forget the cancellation is probably impacting tight budgets, holidays of a lifetime, people with little spare cash, treats that people can ill afford. BA’s cancellation isn’t just a cancellation it is mean spirited towards customers who’ve had enough. Let’s hope Swiss don’t cancel that first class deal you’ve promoted or they are in deep trouble.

  4. BA is nothing more than an expensive budget airline with zero regards towards their customers, there customer service department should have stopped them cancelling the flights but as they don’t care about their customers they didn’t.

  5. Not sure where you’re getting your numbers from but I believe that the total number of tickets was quite a bit above 2000. One agent alone had over 1500 tickets they they sold for this.

  6. Not bias – just Karma. Cosmic payback for years of angering passengers with outrageous “fuel surcharges.”

  7. The British press report a story about British Airways cancelling tickets but it’s biased because they didn’t do the same for Air New Zealand and Virgin America??

    1. Yeah… I’m pretty sure all local/national media have a “bias” towards stories that relate specifically to their locality. That’s kind of how they work…

      I can assure you those of us in the USA have not heard a thing about this outside travel blogs (which also reported on the other mistake fare cancellations you mention).

  8. My thoughts exactly, gstp. Pretty big goof on BA’s front, no doubt. But people are always looking to take a shot at them. There have been much bigger fumbles committed by other airlines that didn’t get even half as much bad press as this situation. Nice post.

    Been checking out your site daily for 9 months now. Good stuff – given me some great tips for my travels. Also liking your opinion articles. Keep ’em coming.

  9. There is no bias. British Airways is one of the worst global airlines operating today and deserves every bad character of press it gets. I pray that it will continue its march into insolvency and hopefully disappear entirely. I’d rather fly Air India or Air Koryo. Simply the worst.

    1. On what merits? On time performance? No. Pricing? No. Loyalty program? No. Safety record, also NO. So what then? I support facts.

  10. @Ted Stryker. Would you like to explain your “march to insolvency” comment? You clear have absolutely no idea.

  11. Just flown BA to Greece. Can confirm that Mr.Cruz had reduced a once proud airline to A joke one. No space . Poor food selection to buy. Big prices.
    Internationally, I’ve flown on their 777s. Dirty old aircraft . That’s all I can say.
    Ever try registering a complaint. Customer relations service try hard but with so many idiotic rules they can never satisfy a complaint .
    What that means is that I will only fly with them as a first choice if I have avios.
    Easy Jet for me in future, and the equivalent .
    BA stop living in the past !

  12. talking about BA bashing, one of my friends flew BA long haul CW for the first time. It was on their 777.
    I kid you not she told me that when she was directed to the cabin, she thought the CW seats were premium economy and the F seats were business but was politely directed to the ‘correct’ seats.

    That sums up BAs hard product.

    And this person usually flies premium airlines in business class and 1st class. Never flown BA before. This person is also not an avid traveller and therefore was never aware of the BA CW 2-4-2 config.

    This is not BA bashing. this is a fact. happened 1 day ago.

  13. I think it is the frustration that a lot of people have with BA in the recent years due to declining service and negative changes it has made. For me, I still haven’t got my refund from last year from BA. BA claims it is refunded to my credit card and I didn’t receive it and confirmed it with credit card company and even disputed (but BA didn’t respond to my cc company and they do not have to after 2 months…) Every time I contact BA, they say their record shows my refund is processed and I should contact my bank, which I did many times. Yet they have no resolution for this. It is kinda unbelievable that BA cannot keep track of its refunds. In my extensive travel experience, I had no other airline that cannot track its own refund in 21st century. And BA’s attitude that it doesn’t want to do anything about it is worse than budget airlines. You can call me biased but the bias comes from personal experiences, the constant negative experiences customers had with BA.

  14. You always appear keen to promote BA or apologise for them? What’s the deal? Have you got an arrangement with them to use your site to promote BA? When I read Ben at One Mile at a Time, I am genuinely of the view that his comments are expressed without fear or favour. I struggle many times to feel that you can be objective like him. You seem keen to build some bond with Alex Cruz. Try using your site to hold BA and others to account and not do their bidding for them otherwise you may find that people will opt not to follow you or take interest in what you might have to say. Your weakness around hard critique seems to fundamentally be with BA- whether you mean it or not, whether you know or understand it or not, you will need to show more clearly that you have the courage to criticise BA and Cruz. Your audience deserve this and we can smell soft soaping a mile off so step up to the plate and stop apologising for BA.

    1. Pretty inflammatory comments without any flame. Ben is a BA basher, always has been. I find the people who fly them the least are the ones who criticize the most. OMG, i’m so sorry, they didn’t serve filet mignon on that one economy flight six years ago. I fly the airline weekly and haven’t had a delay or cancellation of any note. People should stick to what they know. I did BA no favors in this piece. They screwed up. But the press, and people like yourself seem to have a love to hate them or have an emotional attachment beyond other airlines. I call everything from scratch. And I don’t give a flying F if you read again, if you think I do peoples bidding. Anyone who throws out accusations like that without merit has no place here.

  15. It does not take a week for a multinational company to make a simple decision on cancellation. The decision itself was wrong as we have seen sale fares that approach this level so no reason for passengers to assume BA error. Next time if BA cancels in 24 hours and offers 100UK vouchers I think you would see very few complaints. The airline (like most) is penny wise, pound foolish and poorly managed.

  16. Heard of a woman who has bought back flights London to Doha for £280 in the past, this fare was £218 so hardly an obvious mistake – £60 cheaper.
    They cancelled them and when she looked at the new price they were twice as much and an option on another airline somewhere in between the £218 and £450 now wasn’t available as flight prices change.
    So she got proper screwed over.

    They should have to honour the price.

  17. Surely the UK media published the story because it’s a UK-based airline, and their readers/viewers can relate to it. Why would the UK media make a big deal about Air NZ on the other side of the world, an airline which almost none of their readers/viewers have any experience or interest in? I’m sure if this happened on Easyjet the press would be over it just as much.

    It’s not just flying, local media always report local stories at the expense of foreign ones, whatever the tragedy, disaster or general happening.

  18. Hang on! You say because people were offered fares by competitors,, who lost? How would they ever have been offered those dates of the media hadn’t reported it? I expect your right that there’s some bias. But it’s entirely reasonable for the _British_ media to hold BA to a higher standard than non-British airlines. You’re examples didn’t include other British lines.

  19. I don’t get how they can get away with this. If a shop marks good with an incorrect price, don’t they have to honour that as something called “invitation to treat”.

    1. Invitation to treat is just that, an invitation. So no, if a shop marks something up at the wrong price, they absolutely don’t have to see it to someone at this price.
      The only exception is if they are deemed to be doing it to deliberately mislead and defraud (or doing it again and again).

  20. Finally someone who interprets the situation for what it really was
    Let’s all have a BA hate week
    The media response was dribble
    How far will they go for a story.

  21. Agree, did you notice the fuss the papers made about 10 abreast on 777 and how much room is going to be squeezed. Now it’s been done on some flights, not one single article or follow up on actually how bad it. My guess is it’s not and they have nothing to write about. In fairness if they right bad articles about BA they should try writing a few good ones

    1. Well they act as if BA is the only one. Virtually every airline, including the highly lauded Cathay Pacific is 10x abreast on the same plane.

  22. For me the problem here is not an incorrect fare but rather that customers bought this fare in good faith and, by law, entered into a contract with BA. BA discovered their pricing error and renaged on the contract. Not only is this unethical but probably illegal. BA are quick enough to add charges when you want to change the contract – such as a date or name change. So all in all another very poor decision by BA that further alienates customers. As someone said ‘it’s only 2 percent of daily travelers ‘ … Thin end if the wedge and we all know where BA is heading.

  23. They are getting slammed because they are worse than other airlines. I have never seen other airlines make people buy new tickets after disruption from the volcanic eruption that happened about 9 years ago. And raise prices on on top of it. I wonder if you are not being paid by British Airways to write this article, which is in itself completely biased. I wonder if you are not a British Airway minion Shilling for them.

  24. I agree about the bias against British Airways
    Although BA has a lot of room for improvement,overall still is a premium airline the majority of the cabin crew are excellent without being servile even in Club World which I usually fly.The same goes for the ground staff too
    British Airways offers an understated luxury in the premium cabin’s
    Thank you

  25. Hey gstp, could you share around some of the free flights that BA is clearly giving you for being a part-time employee in their Public Relations Dept? How do you get a job like that in the first place? It must be great sitting on Cruz’s knee all day long.
    Why not grow a set eh? Stop feeding us some BA marketing message and start commenting on the fact that they have the worst business product of any major airline and cram people in like Sardines in Club and economy.

    1. John Peck, proverbial nonsense like yours and facts are entirely different things. Does BA have the best business? Hell no. Is it the worst? Hell no. Is their economy like sardines? No more than virtually any other airline on earth. Look at actual numbers and get your head out of your ass. I write based on facts and you are just one of the mindless turds of the world who regurgitate what other people tell them. Think for yourself and do some research. And thanks for the clicks, I need free flights like you need trolling advice thanks to you.

  26. All I can say is I have travelled to USA annually for over 20 years on different airlines and only returned from Colorado last week flying with BA economy. My flights were on time and comfortable enough. The food was adequate. The cabin crew were great despite some needy passengers. I paid £561 for my return fare which is very reasonable. I prefer to travel with BA over other airlines I have flown with and as for refunds: I was travelling last year on the day their computer system went down. BA paid for a hotel for the night, gave me a voucher for an evening meal and had me on a flight the next morning to Heathrow and then on to USA. I will be booking my flight for USA next year with BA.

  27. Americorp wants all BA’s landing slots hence the 51st state newspeak in the Daily Mail every other day … against BA.

  28. BA what happened to you – as an ex loyal passenger for years – absolutely nothing you do these days seem to honour one simple thing ‘customer service’. In most businesses if you make an error with a client then you take the hit and move on – don’t pretend you care by offering £100 back as a gesture of good will – that’s even more condescending. I actually can’t believe how BA have gone down so much in all aspects of their operations. It’s a great shame and am sure I speak for some people who would only love to return to to the days when BA were a fantastic airline to fly with.

  29. BA used to be the envy of the skies. It was the best in flight product. Great service and an all round pleasure to fly on.

    They’re now at the very bottom of the list. Whilst the Asian carriers like SQ have an undeniable advantage of low cost base its their customer service and customer first strategies that makes them far superior.

    I never thought I would see the day she I would rather fly United than BA. But now I would.

    This entire article just shows how ignorant the author is. BA is getting slammed because their leadership is completely lacking which has been shown time and time again over the past two years with the unbelievable decisions they have made when faced with a problem.

    There is no strategy. No vision for what they want to become. They’ve done nothing but cost cut and ruin costumer and staff relationships on a race to the bottom of a spreadsheet. They are nothing more than a Ryan Air with business and first class products (that are out of date and terrible).

    If you’re going to be a low cost airline then act like one and noone will care how crap you are. But don’t pretend to be a quality airline when you no longer are. Or better yet fire the useless management team you have now and get someone in that can transform the airline with a vision and clear mission of what it wants to be and become.

    So back to the stupid headline that started all this. BA are not being targeted anymore than any other company that is pretending to be something it’s not. So pull your head out of your ass and do something useful like ask them to figure out what they are. Low cost crap airline that delivers cheap fares and average customer service. Or a premium airline…. In which case start operating like one.

  30. Coverage is localised and you’re London based… Reaction is in an atmosphere created by BA who have consistently taken a ‘firm’ line of support and compensation when things go wrong and in the process angered and cost many, many customers… IT meltdown 13months ago and attempting to squirm out of minimal legal responsibilities, a customer service line open for 4hrs in every 24, cuts upon cuts and eg. refusal to offer anything like date change to even the most deserving cases where customer is bereaved whilst simultaneously making over a billion profits…
    If an organisation doesn’t behave with common humanity then it can hardly expect positive coverage to actions which harm their customers. IF BA weren’t so arrogant and incompetent in their behaviour, perhaps the reaction would be more supportive…. They’re not, hence #flyABBA and all the negative comments.

  31. Just 6months ago, you published this:
    Why the change of tune?
    – You’ve written in the past about the emotional attachment many have to BA because of their unique history and PAST innovations*. Perhaps these and the current day marketing on the image and reputation that no longer accurately represents the service they deliver are contributory factors to an overly positive perception on the part of GSTP?
    * = BA are still innovating but now the changes seem uniquely for the benefit of the airline / shareholder rather than any for the benefit of the customer robo tugs and biometric boarding both of which reduce overheads vs. lie flat beds AI chatbots on customer contact centres which again reduces costs but does nothing to improve customer experience

  32. Had the fares been ridiculously low I could understand but this insane airline charge made them look like genuine great prices and the poor people who genuinely booked thinking it was real are the victims here.

    Could them not have dealt with this differently and not wrecked people’s holidays or trips

    Cancellation is the worst outcome.
    I would have paid more to keep the ticket. I’m sure others would too.

  33. Mixed feelings on this one. Fair play for being able to take a step back without mindlessly jumping on the bandwagon. Agree that many of the people so outraged by this have no idea that real ‘mistake fares’ are cancelled, by a wide range of airlines, on a daily basis – they just see this as another negative BA move.

    But, re “because of BA’s move to cancel, customers were offered even cheaper tickets on competing airlines. So who actually “lost”?”. In reality, though a smart PR move, the Wizz Air offer to ‘step in’ and help affected passengers was only valid AFAIK for travel over the next 6 weeks or so. That wasn’t much help to pax who had booked 2019 travel.

    As you say BA should have undoubtedly just swallowed the loss. They surely are aware of the way that they’re currently perceived in certain sections of the media – this was only ever going to inflame that.

  34. I am brand new to GSTP, but this thread is a hoot !! My wife and I are flying BA internationally more frequently of late. We like traveling. It’s not cheap, but how else are you gonna’ get thru 8-9 time zones in a day. We’ve taken KLM, Delta, SAS, Norwegian and BA long-hauls for over 100,000 miles within this last year. And I’m (apparently) a rare minority who thinks BA has the best overall value proposition going these days for long-haul flights. This thread seems to be heavily populated by a bunch of armchair whiners. It’s a fare cancellation, that’s all. Things like this happen, especially if one flies more than one flight annually. No one died…. so let it go, move on. Geez !!

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