Ridiculous or not? Airline wants my bank account information

By | August 24th, 2011

British Airways lost Jean Perrotti’s luggage, and it stayed lost for six days. But that’s not why she contacted me.

“Aside from the fact that they are asking for information I already sent to them, they are also requesting my banking information,” she says. “Their reason is that if they decide a settlement is due, the fastest and most secure way to settle my claim is by bank transfer.”

Perrotti wants to know: Is it OK to give the airline her bank account number?

By account number, British Airways means the 9-digit ABA routing number that identifies your financial institution and your checking account number. This information appears on every check you write, so everyone you’re doing business with has access to it.

British Airways’ refund policy is spelled out in its General Conditions of Carriage.

Interestingly, section 10 f suggests that if you paid the airline by credit card, it will refund you by credit card – in other words, there would be no need to supply your bank information.

When I lived in Europe, bank account information was given out freely. If I wanted to pay someone, I would ask for their account information and then send the money. No one thought twice about it, because you could only send money to another account, not withdraw from it.

“In Germany, bank information, including the bank name, account number and routing number, is on each company letterhead, with information like name, address and phone number,” says reader Moshe Leib.

When Kerry Cushing visited Turkey recently, account numbers were also used in a fast and loose way.

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“It seems to be a routine thing for money transfers there,” says Cushing. “We had no problem. The money arrived and nothing further was noted.”

Michael McGown, a reader from Austin, Tex., says even in the United States, giving out a bank account number should be safe. Or at least, “As much as anything else these days.”

He points out that any bank routing number can be looked up just by doing enough Googling, or going straight to the American Bankers Association or downloading the Mars banks database.

“At least in theory, transactions can go into but not out of an account with the routing and account number pair, and fraudulent transactions are protected,” he says. “In James Bond movies, money can move in all directions. But in real life, banks generally don’t let money go out of an account without some kind of verification.”

Still, not everyone is comfortable with disclosing this information.

“I can think of no value in giving out that number to anyone,” says Jeff Paintner, a reader from New York.

He prefers the more secure method of money transfer his bank, JP Morgan Chase, offers online.

“The receiving individual receives an email that money is being transferred to them,” he says. “They then accept the transfer. The receiver never sees the routing information.”

In a society where identity theft runs rampant, I can understand why anyone would think twice before surrendering details of their bank account. I like JP Morgan Chase’s way, which is a lot like PayPal’s.

British Airways ought to offer several payment options, like any good business.

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But it could be worse. It might not compensate Perrotti for her lost luggage at all.

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