Is this British Airways flight bad enough for you?

britishArthur West’s 50th anniversary trip to Venice was “extremely enjoyable” — except for one little issue: the British Airways flights. All of them.

He’s so unhappy with the way he and his wife, Eileen, were treated that he’s written the airline several times with a long list of grievances. And he’s unimpressed with their response.

I’m writing about West’s case because I’m not sure if I should ask British Airways to review it. Some of the problems are minor and others are outside the control of the airline. Add it all up and they make for a very unpleasant trip, no question about it. But I’ll let you decide.

It started with — you probably guessed it — his seat assignments.

“We were never able to obtain a confirmation,” says West. “This culminated in an extremely frustrating phone conversation with a service representative. He could not confirm seat selections for us and I could not understand most of what he said. When I asked to speak with a supervisor for more positive communication he became downright hostile and argumentative. I finally did speak with a supervisor who at first was almost as argumentative.”

Bottom line: If he wanted a seat assignment 24 hours before departure, it would cost him $199 per ticket. Never mind the fact that he was flying in business class.

The transatlantic flight was fine, but not the connecting flight to Rome.

“We were shocked that we did not truly have business class,” he says.

He adds,

The seats were no better than economy. There was no space between rows of seats.

The passenger in the seat ahead of my wife reclined his seat so my wife had his seat on her lap the entire trip. I had no leg room so my knees were almost up in my chest. Plus, the contour of the seat was so bad that the head rest dug into my shoulder and did not allow me to lay my head back the entire flight.

A notice in the literature in the seat pocket indicated that all passengers received complimentary wine.

We paid for business class seats but did not receive true business class accommodations.

The return flight was worse. Much worse.

When West tried to phone British Airways to confirm his reservations, he was connected to a woman who was “very nasty and irritable and would do nothing for us,” he says.

He adds,

All we were trying to do — which is what we had been trying to do since the outset — was confirm business class seats and get two seats together. She could not even do that.

I repeatedly told her the website was not working. She ignored that and told me to access the website. She also told me that she could not access the website.

So what sense did that make?

The pièce de résistance was the return flight. I’ll spare you all the details, but let’s just say the couple’s flight was delayed because of fog, they missed their connection, were sent to a second-rate hotel, and West ended up biting into a piece of glass when he was eating a salad. Mostly, circumstances British Airways had no control over, but still — it all added up.

“We will never fly through London Heathrow Airport again,” he promises. “Unless some offset to make up for our gross inconveniences and lack of paid-for and anticipated services is forthcoming from British Airways, it is doubtful that we will fly British Airways again.”

The airline wasn’t unsympathetic to his problems. It promised to send him and his wife 25,000 miles for the inconvenience. Just one problem: It failed to credit his wife’s account because it couldn’t find it (never mind that he’d included her account number in all of his correspondence.)

After another complaint, British Airways again responded, saying it had found her account and credited her with the miles.

“The issues you have raised have been fully addressed, we now consider the matter closed and we will not respond to any further requests for compensation regarding these issues,” an airline representative added. “If you have any separate issues you would like us to look into for you, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

In other words, we’re done.

But West isn’t done.

“Based on the lack of service, the inconvenience, rudeness and punitive behavior by British Airways, I think we should ideally receive either two business class tickets to Europe or reimbursement for the entire amount of our original flight — or, at the very minimum, two upgrades from economy to business class,” he says.

It’s highly unusual to get a full refund for a flight, but I also think West’s flight experience was less than ideal. Should I get involved?

Should I mediate Arthur West's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • technomage1

    That explains why seat guru had them listed as economy class.

  • Carchar

    I wish those who are not of advanced age and who have flown lately would have a little more empathy for this couple. While I don’t think Chris should advocate for them, I don’t think we should jump all over them either. They probably had no clue as to the deterioration of airline service.

    I was just on a flight from EWR to SFO.There was a woman, who was probably in her 80s sitting across the aisle. After the beverage service, she couldn’t understand why other people were getting food but she wasn’t. The FA explained to her that you had to pay for it. So, she ordered a snack and couldn’t pay for it because she didn’t have a credit card with her. She only had cash. Her daughter had purchased her ticket for her, so she could come for a visit. So, she had no food with her and couldn’t get any. The FA did bring her some crackers after the carts were put away. Not everyone is a savvy flier, even in today’s world.

  • KaraJones

    Thanks Tony – I tried that. Didn’t work. Are you on the newest FF version 18.0.1? I am – I wonder if that’s the problem.

  • Nigel Appleby

    Absolutely – run don’t walk.

  • KaraJones

    Reading that really made me sad. I would have bought her a snack.

  • KaraJones

    Wow, HadEnough – You should read Mr. Ritchie’s post about the “3 people” earlier in this discussion and think long and hard…

  • TonyA_says

    You can easily save $750 by buying BC to London and EC between London and Italy. Of course you take the risks of split ticketing (on the same airline, though).

  • $16635417

    Except I now know that if I get caught in fog in London, I can expect a piece of glass in my salad. ;)

  • y_p_w

    To be fair, I have called a US airline and have been routed to a call center in India or the Phillipines where the grammar was usually impeccable but the accent was hard to decipher.

  • y_p_w

    I’ve flown shorthaul international business class. I figured what the heck and asked for Champagne since it was on the menu.

    Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial, and after they opened the bottle I didn’t notice there were any other takers. I don’t they they had it in economy.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    In Carchar’s defense, I tried to do that for the Unaccompanied Minor who sat next to me on a recent flight, who had only brought cash. The Flight Attendant would not allow me to do so. I should have lied and said the food was for me and not for her. Don’t know if that’s an airline rule; I was allowed to buy snacks for the Air Force personnel sitting in the back of the plane on another airline’s flight.

  • technomage1

    Kind of a rip off, really. Honestly, for most of my personal Europe travel I took Ryanair or the train. At least Ryanair makes no bones about being greedy so and sos. And you know very, very quickly and easily I the booking process what the cost will be.

  • Ann Lamoy

    Maybe a nice piece of Lennox or Noritake. :D

  • Extramail

    My husband did sit next to a dead man on a flight and when he informed the FA he was told that his comment wasn’t funny. He wasn’t being funny – the man beside him had died. The FA politely asked my husband to move to another seat. No “compensation” was asked for nor offered. I wonder what he should have demanded for his trouble?

  • MarkKelling

    Though BO was British Overseas. IATA lists British Airways as BA.

  • MarkKelling

    Short answer: YES, some airline employees have been rude to me.

    Not very often, but there have been a few over the past 20 years I have flown mainly for work. Here are a couple of the worst.

    1. Bought a Business ticket on Southwest. Original flight was cancelled, airport agent put me on another flight no problem, but was unable to give a boarding pass because the flight was officially boarding. Got to the gate, the gate agent gave me a pass with C30 as the boarding number – Business tickets guarantee an A position. I also did not receive my drink coupon which comes with that type of ticket. When I asked, the response was “Tough shit, you should have been here sooner.” And the plane did not actually board for another two hours. The agent replacing this one was more understanding and immediately gave me the A position and a whole book of drink tickets.

    2. UA gate agent in SFO left the counter right when I walked up after helping the person in front of me leaving about 12 people in line. I asked why and his response was “None of your business, all you people are just too pushy for me to handle today.” We had been waiting for nearly 6 hours to get a plane that worked well enough to fly us to DEN.

    3. CO gate agent in LAS threatened to call the police on me because I asked her to explain why I was moved off of my original flight where I had a full fare 1st class ticket but was placed into coach on a different flight and they upgraded several people but refused to put me in 1st on that flight.

    I have also run into many extremely friendly, helpful, and genuinly concerned airline eployees over the years who went out of their way to assist me when I needed it. Unfortunately, those are getting harder and harder to find.

  • MarkKelling

    I’m using Firefox 18.01 at home on my Mac and 13 something at work on Windows 7. Both work fine, it just takes a long time for Disqus to appear in either one and I occasionally have to reload the page before it does work. And for me, IE flat out doesn’t work at all.

  • Bill___A

    I would have paid for her food. I’m a little surprised by the comment about not being allowed to buy someone else’s food. Since when is it a bad thing to help out? I can understand in the case of an unaccompanied minor, they probably don’t want you to interact with a child like that…but anyone else, I don’t see a problem.

  • ChBot

    For me, Firefox works but Safari doesn’t !!!
    And on top of the voting issue, I often can’t read the comments at all !

  • Tim Stoker

    The Wests sound like free-loaders to me. Why should they complain about complimentary alcohol being served in coach class? They complain about a fog delay, it happens! Safety is surely more important. This couple are after something for free, they have no justifiable complaint here.

  • John Doremi

    There are no seat assignment charges if you are paying full fare J Business class

  • John Doremi

    seat assignment in F is free. For all.

  • John Doremi

    Sorry but that is ridiculous. It should be on the merits of THIS case not yours. How is your case relevant to this one???

  • John Doremi

    that would have been for SAFETY reasons! So if you had been thrown against the back of the toilet during landing and broken your nose or worse you wouldn’t have been on the phone with your lawyer then? Of course not….

  • pplaresilly

    Haha!!! ^5


    I’d pay EXTRA to sit next to a dead guy on some of my flights! :-) Lucky the airline didn’t consider it an “enhancement” and upcharge!

  • jim6555

    I’ve done the same thing to get an “A” group boarding position 24 hours prior to a Southwest Airlines flight. However, Southwest does not extract a huge premium for business class or make any pretense about paying more to get more seat room or better inflight services.

  • naoma

    I liked that comment — never heard it before.

  • naoma

    Could have had screaming kids sitting next to them and a smelly dog. BUt, I digress.

  • Fred Kite

    Good for you John. As a regular and happy BA customer (from the UK, no accent issues) this is just silly. A small amount of research would make it clear that seats can be grabbed 24 hours prior to check in for nothing (although $199 sounds a lot). And the seats are the seats. And heck, a weather delay and somewhere to sleep. Glass? Whose glass?

    It’s not what I expected, so it’s your fault? Crazy crazy.

    A couple of recommendations for anyone ringing a call centre (sic, I’m in the UK :-) ) Firstly, do all possible to respect the agent. They are human like you, and they just have a job to do. It’s the process that’s the problem. Secondly, calmly ask for the supervisor if you need to. Repeatedly. Make it clear it’s not the agent you want to complain about (because that’ll always drive them defensive). Thank the agent for their help but ask for a supervisor to give feedback. I have yet to not get one. A worker who refuses to put you through to a supervisor is going to be in real trouble if you’re entitled to ask.

    Given the nature of the problem, I’m not surprised BA closed the door. None of this. NONE of it was a failure in their standards. And theirs are pretty good.

  • Thomas Ralph

    A full-fare ticket *does* come with free seat assignments on BA.

  • J422j3

    I have two free transatlantic flights with BA miles and the cost for them ends up being more expensive than the regular tickets! BA miles are pretty much useless.

  • Devesh Agarwal

    Chris, it is a known fact that British Airways charges for seat allocation, regardless of class of flight. The horrors of London Heathrow as an airport are equally well known.

    My parents flew British Airways First Class, and we too experienced a very “ho hum” attitude from the airline. Having misplaced their baggage the airline took a we couldn’t be bothered attitude. Little wonder most of their flights to India now lack a First Class, while the MEB3 (Middle East Big 3 of Emirates, Qatar and Etihad) are cleaning their clock.

    If the West’s were paying for business class, they probably would be much better off with Lufthansa or even a US carrier. If they wanted to fly oneworld, then Finnair would be infinitely better than British Airways. Superior aircraft, and a hugely superior attitude.

  • Devesh Agarwal

    May be in economy class, Brian. Around the world airlines are outdoing themselves to pamper premium passengers. In the era of alliances and mileage accumulation on global carriers, even US carriers have started getting their act together, to stem the flight of passengers to world leaders in premium class service like Singapore, Emirates, Qatar, SWISS, Lufthansa, Virgin, and others. Japan Airlines is even offering the highest grades of Wagyu beef to its First Class passengers.

  • Devesh Agarwal

    Which no other airline, I know of, charges for, at least in Business Class.

  • Devesh Agarwal

    There are in British Airways.

  • Mel65

    Friends all have porsches?

  • Vishal Gandhi

    I disagree. I have flown many carriers and I find this to be an odd BA policy. My wife and I flew BA on a transatlantic flight a week after our wedding. We weren’t able to pick our seats during booking or even during online check in. I called BA and found out that seats are assigned at the counter. Despite getting there early enough, our seats weren’t together. We had to politely insist and be persuasive on sitting together. Keyword, polite. They usually work with you if you work with them. I guess we got lucky, because they were depending on other passengers who were willing to change their seats in order for my wife and I to sit next to each other. However, the same thing happened on our return flight. It was actually very annoying. This topic came up in social conversations and we found out we weren’t the only ones who had this issue. Rather odd policy, and the fact is that people who want to sit next to each other will opt for another airline. I have no other complaints against BA, but at the same time, I have nothing special to say about them either.

  • Vishal Gandhi

    small fee? That’s relative. In my opinion the fee is not small, and more importantly it is assessed when most other carriers don’t assess it. In that light, it becomes even more of a problem. However, in my personal experience of flying BA and other carries over the years, I feel their customer service is sub-par. Most passengers who are used to flying regularly except minor problems during their flying experience, but, the grievances usually lead into actions when compounded with poor customer service. Just my 2 cents.

  • Vishal Gandhi

    *expect, not except. * carriers, not carries. pardon the typos.

  • cahdot

    i hate that even when u pay for business class they still will not giver u a seat since we are foreigners