British Airways forced us to pay twice to return from our honeymoon

By | October 3rd, 2016

Erin Coffey and her husband were on Cloud Nine during their wedding. But when they departed for the airport the following day, they found figurative storm clouds hanging over their honeymoon. They were scheduled to fly to Italy on British Airways, but they weren’t allowed to board their flight.

Coffey’s story is a cautionary tale for those planning to travel abroad: Make sure to check travel restrictions for all countries you plan to visit. Take care of any necessary legalities as far in advance as possible. And if any of them require changes to your plans, be willing and able to pay any required fees — and pay them. Otherwise, your trip of a lifetime might be abruptly cut short or turn out to be more expensive than you intend.

Coffey and her husband had been planning to travel to Italy for their honeymoon for more than a year, but they weren’t aware of Italy’s requirements for foreign passports. Italy bars entry to foreigners whose passports expire within three months of their trips — and Coffey’s husband’s passport expired in two months. According to Coffey, “In all of our planning and research we had never heard about this restriction. and we certainly weren’t told in any pre-flight communication by British Airways.”

Luckily for Coffey and her husband, the British Airways ticket agent gave them instructions on how to get his passport renewed quickly and rebooked them on flights departing one day later and returning one day later to Boston. Even more fortunately, Coffey’s husband was able to get a new passport in time for their new flight. And the following day, when they returned to the airport, the same ticket agent checked them in and confirmed that they were “all set” with their return flights. Coffey and her husband also checked their flight itinerary online and saw that their return flights had been rebooked as they requested.

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But there was a catch. Coffey and her husband were not told at that time that they were being charged 1,200 euros each for the new return tickets as well as a change fee of 270 euros. They did not learn of the charges until they arrived at the airport in Rome for their return flight and found that they could not check in.

The ticket agent in Rome repeatedly told Coffey and her husband that they would have to call an international customer service number to resolve their check-in problem because the agent “did not have the authority to resolve ticketing issues.” When they called the number, they spent 30 minutes on hold before learning of the unpaid charges.

According to Coffey, “Of course, our initial reaction was to refuse to pay such a high fee — we were never told about it at the time we requested the change — had we been told, we never would have made the change.”

They protested the fees and tried to get British Airways’ international customer service agent to waive or reduce them. But after spending another three hours on the phone and missing any remaining flights back to Boston that day, Coffey and her husband gave up and agreed to pay the fee and fare change for a flight the next day.

After they returned home, Coffey contacted British Airways customer service online to complain and request refunds for the fees they were charged to change their flights, the hotel room they had to stay in for an extra night, and the international telephone call they had to make in Rome. (Company contact information for British Airways can be found on our website.)

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Six weeks later, Coffey received an email from British Airways refusing to refund any of these charges.

“I can live with the phone and hotel bill, but I do think they should refund the airfare as they never communicated these fees to us ahead of time,” says Coffey.

Is Coffey correct?

According to British Airways’ general conditions of carriage,

Carrier imposed charges and/or surcharges may be added to your fare as part of the published total amount payable for your transportation….

You must pay any taxes, fees and charges imposed on us or on you by governments or other authorities, or by operators of airports.

When you buy your ticket, we will tell you about any:

  • carrier imposed charges, and surcharges
  • taxes, fees and charges

Taxes, fees and charges change constantly and can be imposed or altered after the date we have issued your ticket. If they change or if a new tax, fee or charge is imposed after we have issued your ticket, you will have to pay us any increase.

On the one hand, yes, British Airways does indeed give itself the right to impose change fees and charges for new tickets and to require that the passengers incurring those fees pay them before being allowed to check in and board their flights.

On the other hand, the general conditions of carriage also indicate that British Airways will notify the passengers of those fees. And Coffey and her husband did not receive any notification of the fees from British Airways until after they had spent a prolonged time on hold with British Airways’ international customer service line.

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But Coffey and her husband would not have incurred those fees had they checked out the Italian passport requirements and made sure that their passports were valid for travel in Italy before going to the airport in the U.S. They had more than a year to do so before they left the U.S. on their honeymoon. And we’re not hopeful that British Airways will be willing to issue them refunds for the additional costs they incurred as a result of their decision to rebook their return flight.

Should we advocate with British Airways for Erin Coffey and her husband?

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