British Airways will offer compensation to fat-finger customers

By | October 7th, 2009

balogoIf you booked a British Airways ticket from North America to India between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. last Friday evening, you already know the bad news: Your trip has been canceled.

But this morning, there’s some good news. The airline is planning to compensate customers who were affected by this fare error, and at least one online travel agency is offering more than just an apology.

British Airways customers began receiving the following notices yesterday:

On Friday October 2, 2009, British Airways updated its air fares between North America and India.

Unfortunately there was an error and the fares that resulted were incorrect. This error was corrected within a few hours.

Due to the error, British Airways is unable to honour your booking.

If your credit card was charged, British Airways will refund in full the cost of your ticket and apologies for any inconvenience.

That pretty much sums up the problem. I have a few more details here.

The incident triggered something of an ethics debate. I argued that occasional passengers who did not see the ridiculously low $40 base fare, and didn’t know any better, were the real victims of this fare error. But those who were aware that this was a likely mistake and took advantage of it by buying dozens of tickets and betting they could pressure BA to honor them — I believe their behavior was inexcusable and immoral.

So I have mixed feelings about the decision to compensate affected passengers. Some deserve it, some don’t. (And I’m not sure if it will be enough for people who had already made their vacation plans, only to find their flights canceled.)

Related story:   Should United Airlines pay for its mistake - or should I?

A British Airways spokesman on Tuesday evening said the airline will make amends. “We are going to try and resolve this with some kind of compensation to those affected,” he told me. “Watch this space.”

Meanwhile, Orbitz last night began sending vouchers to those affected by the fare error. “As a gesture of gratitude, Orbitz will offer impacted customers $100 off next hotel or package booking, good for 3 night stay minimum,” a spokesman told me.

Here are the exact terms:

Book a qualifying hotel or flight + hotel package between October 7, 2009, and March 31, 2010, for 3 or more nights for travel between October 7, 2009, and December 31, 2010, via Orbitz and instantly receive $100 off your booking through the use of the promotion code. Limit one discount per hotel room and one promotion code per booking. Discounts are not redeemable for cash for any reason.

I have checked with other online agencies to see what their policies are, and will update this post when I have that information.

We still don’t know how many travelers were affected by this fat-finger fare. I’ve asked BA numerous times, and it says it is still trying to determine the exact number. Orbitz is said to have sent more than 1,000 of these offers to customers with confirmed tickets and requested reservations.

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