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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  • Brian_in_Wien

    If you will pardon my jumping to a conclusion, it sounds like Mr. West hasn’t flown in a while, and remembers a more glamorous level of service from yesteryear. Maybe he is right to expect that. These days, I’m happy if I get to my destination without lasting damage, and will be able to forget the experience after a few days.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    10 foot pole + you = still don’t touch it

  • technomage1

    This sounds fishy. He couldn’t get a confirmation? Huh? I’m guessing since it was an anniversary flight it was booked at least a month in advance. During that entire time he couldn’t call BA and ask what was going on if he didn’t receive a confirmation page on the website and or email.

    As far as the flight between Heathrow and Rome, it was on an airbus A320, which doesn’t offer business class seating. It’s either first or economy, and the seating chart reflects that.

    Heathrow airport isn’t the fault of BA or any airline. I’ve flown in and out of there many times, and I find its one of the better busy/large airports. But even if it wasn’t that would have nothing to do with my airline.

    It sounds as if he hasn’t flown in a while and could have used the help of an agent to navigate today’s system. Or maybe there is a a lesson here for all of us on what we put up with (and shouldn’t).

  • backprop

    One gauge of whether or not to mediate is, “would mediating this case bring attention to a problem and help fix it for future travelers?”

    In this case, the answer is no. This wasn’t a mixed-up reservation, or an in-flight experience marred by a specific mechanical problem, lost luggage, or any number of other rectifiable things.

    No, it was a self-described “long list of grievances” (written several times) by somebody who both does not follow your own grievance procedures and who quite clearly lives in another dimension when it comes to modern-day travel basics. There is no potential value in mediation.

  • Grant Ritchie

    “Mr. West’s experience with the British Airways service reps reminds me of the old aphorism… “If you meet three assholes in a day, you’re probably one of them.”

  • JenniferFinger

    He says he’s not looking to fly out of Heathrow Airport and it’s not likely that he’ll fly British Airways again, so what good would two first class tickets do, even on British Airways?

    And since they did get him from Heathrow to Rome and back, he’s not entitled to any refunds-especially for the part of the trip that went fine. They don’t have control over the fog.

    At most it sounds like the customer representatives he dealt with could use some retraining in anger management and communications, but most of his problems just don’t rise to the level of something that can be reimbursed or even mediated. Stay away from this one, Chris.

  • johnb78

    He’s massively overreaching w.r.t business class on the European leg of the flight. That’s the way business class works for short-haul in Europe – the point is lounge access, priority boarding, priority luggage and general priority, not a pointlessly large seat for a sub-two-hour flight.

    The fact that BA makes J-class passengers pay $50 per stage for advance seat reservations, on the other hand (and is rude to them on the phone) is an absolute disgrace, and terrible commercial sense.

  • Kathleen Proud Keyte

    oh, a ‘do-over’. These requests are my favourite. Slight inconvenience = 2 business class flights to Europe. You should pass on this one.

  • johnb78

    I swore never to pay to fly KLM again after a particularly horrific failed-connection worse-service experience (also a two-leg business class flight from the US to Europe), but if they offered me two free first class tickets I’d still take them…

  • johnb78

    Technomage: you’re not quite right on the seating. BA offers two classes – Club Europe and Euro Traveller – on its A320s. Club Europe is J, and this is where our fellow was sat.

    Agree completely, he should have used an agent.

  • john4868

    Honestly … The OP has lived up to so many stereotypes in one story I’m finding it hard to believe… Start with the Ma & Pa Kettle who never travels but think they know it all. Excuse me but I’m not a TA and I realize that BA charges for seat assignments on short haul flights less than 24 hours out. That is what they do. If you didn’t do your research or want to do the research, use a TA who might be able to get that waived or will know about the restriction. Beyond that, he had no idea what his seat class on the short haul flight involved.

    Ugly American… “I could not understand most of what he said.” You opted to purchase a ticket from a foreign carrier and are calling their call center. Its not his fault you can’t / won’t attempt to understand what he is saying. I have yet to deal with anyone in the British Isles that I couldn’t understand if I didn’t try hard. Instead of trying to understand their customs .. you pull the Ugly American … I want your boss routine. I am I not shocked that you got “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.” Hmmm … That may have something to do with not listening to what they were saying… I hate to say this but saying no to something you aren’t entitled to isn’t being argumentative.

    I’m not going to write a book today so I’ll stop there. Basically, this is someone under the impression that you can plan a trip without doing research. The $50 paid to a TA to help plan this would have fixed most of this…

    The OP should be happy that he didn’t receive a “Dear Sir, please take your business elsewhere.” letter. The miles were a nice “we’re sorry we failed to live up to your unrealistic expectations” gift. The demand for two tickets is laughable…

  • Raven_Altosk

    Hahahha…he wants two free business class tickets? He does realize this is 2013 and not 1980 when the airlines gave a crap, right?

    Also, most short routes in Europe do not have “true business class.” OH NO I WAS SQUISHED INTO A SEAT. Hey, bro, this is my life and I’ve got more miles on me in a year than a car sees in ten!

    …and the glass in the salad? Huh? Was that on the plane or in the “Second Rate Motel?” At least he got a motel. I spent a night sleeping in an airport a few weeks back.

    This guy deserves airline funny money. Two free biz class tix? Oh, heck to the no.

  • TonyA_says

    If the service is SO BAD that you need an ombudsman, why would you ask for more frequent travel miles or an upgrade from coach to business on the SAME airline? Wouldn’t it be better to avoid that same airline? And the things he is complaning about is just normal air travel. I’m shocked he did not complain about the overpriced gondola ride, the flood and stinky smell of Venice.

    If there is one fault attributable to the airlines it is the fact that they easily give away miles for every complaint a customer whines about. All they are doing is training and rewarding customers to whine more about anything. I have actually talked to a number of frequent flyers who regularly do that -complain just to get more miles.

  • Helio

    Last year I traveled to Europe via BA. I found the 24hs seat assigment restriction, and of course I wasn’t exactly willing to pay extra $$$ to assign a seat. My solution? Because the ETD was about 1:00am, I just set the alarm clock for this time in the night before, I waked up, did my seat assignment, and came back to sleep. And saved a couple of bucks. ;-)

    BTW, there was a lot of available seats at that time.

  • BillCCC

    I think that you should leave this one alone. I do not think that you will be able to satisfy this traveler.

  • Adam1222

    Since he received what he paid for (as nearly every european airline has the same setup on short european buainess class), if he were to get a refund, he’d be stealing. And chris elliott hates people who steal.

  • sirwired

    If they think business class was so horrible, why would free upgrades to it make anything better? And even asking for a full refund? Gimme a break!

    The 25,000 FF miles is pretty generous; that’ll buy them a full domestic round-trip on a mileage partner.

    And I don’t see what the bad salad they had at a hotel has to do with anything whatsoever.

  • NoraG

    My “yes” vote is probably prejudiced by my experience with BA. My flight was affected by their strike in 2010, and rescheduled. I’d prepaid my baggage fees at a significant savings. They refunded the original fee and charged me the walk-up fee because this was a “new” flight. They almost laughed in my face at my request to honor the prepaid fee. So yes, I can believe this person’s story about bad treatment.

  • MeanMeosh

    Stay away from this one. First, while J class in Europe does leave something to be desired, he got exactly what he was supposed to, because what he described IS standard business class in Europe today. Basically a row of coach seats with the middle blocked off. Second, it has been BA policy for quite some time now to charge for advance seat assignments, even in first or business, unless you are an elite member of BA’s FF plan, or equivalent on a Oneworld partner program. I think it’s boneheaded to nickel and dime J class passengers in that way, but it’s also something that can be found in about 5 minutes either on or by calling a TA. And while I’m sure the delay due to fog is aggravating, what did he expect BA to do – fly him in unsafe conditions instead?

    The only issues worthy of complaint are the rude customer service (never acceptable, no matter how much of a jackwagon the customer is), and maybe the poor accommodations at LHR, though I suspect he may be exaggerating given the rest of the complaint. Maybe someone with more knowledge of EU 261 can chime in if that applies, but otherwise, 25,000 miles seems like more than enough.

  • Guest

    I just seems very wrong to me to pay for business class (which is so much more) and not get the seats or the service. And there is no argument for rudeness. SO many in the customer service industry treat their customers as inconveniences to their day, and forget that we are the reason they get a pay check. Still, attitude filters down from the top and if many employees are unhappy and rude, I assume the management is not doing their job well. Thank goodness we have choices as to where to take our business!

  • mbods

    It just seems very wrong to me to pay for business class (which is so
    much more) and not get the seats or the service. And there is no
    argument for rudeness. SO many in the customer service industry treat
    their customers as inconveniences to their day, and forget that we are
    the reason they get a pay check. Still, attitude filters down from the
    top and if many employees are unhappy and rude, I assume the management
    is not doing their job well. Thank goodness we have choices as to where
    to take our business!

  • Thomas Ralph

    Completely unreasonable demands. BA charges non-status passengers a seat assignment fee, which he chose not to pay. Short-haul business class in Europe is the same on BA as any other airline. Fog, glass in salads, and so on aren’t BA’s fault. And what sort of “confirmation” did he want?

    25,000 BA miles is good for two one-class upgrades on BA transatlantic flights (or one from business to first), or five (!) free short one-way flights on AA. So he’s already got his minimum, no?

  • Thomas Ralph

    Of course it isn’t terrible commercial sense. It’s a benefit for elites and high value pax; any oneworld emerald and sapphire members have the fee waived, ruby members get it free from 7 days out, and no fee for people on fully flex tickets.

    Just because US carriers don’t do it doesn’t mean it’s terrible. By that logic, I (in Europe) can say it’s terrible commercial sense for Delta to charge me a checked bag fee because all European legacy carriers do the first one free. (Conversely, AA would not charge me as I’m BA Silver.)

    If there was rudeness on the phone, I agree that isn’t acceptable.

  • Thomas Ralph

    They got the seats, but business class within Europe is different from intercontinental.

  • Thomas Ralph

    25000 BA miles is good for nearly three roundtrips on certain BA routes.

  • Mel65

    Oh. Lord.

  • Josh S

    This is true, but have you called BAs customer service lately? It rivals Comcast or Time Warner Cable for the absolute lack of caring.

  • johnb78

    I’m originally from the UK. The last time I flew BA in business class, I was based in London, on BA silver and on a (very large company) corporate deal, and all of my interactions with them were characterised by Downton Abbey-style worship. Then I worked for a startup and spent a year commuting between London and Hyderabad in economy. The interactions were, ahem, different. Which was fair enough.

    If someone’s paying $500 for bargain-bucket seats, then it’s totally legit to gouge them for anything. But if someone’s paying many thousands for a J fare, then they should be treated as a high-value pax even if they aren’t (yet) a high-status frequent flier with the alliance in question. This is also why I’m never flying KLM again – they did me over massively the only time I flew transatlantic with them, because even though I’d paid many thousands for a J fare, I wasn’t a SkyTeam frequent flier. “Guess what: won’t ever be one…”

  • backprop

    btw Christopher, thanks for the softball. Even regular commenters appreciate an easy one every once in a while.

  • Jeff Kolker

    Have to agree…flying is a test of endurance, and if you make it, and your luggage makes it, I consider that a successful flight.

  • cp556

    It’s true that BA does not assign seats until 24 hours prior to departure, except in certain medical situations. And not all aircraft have “true” biz class seats, so it’s indeed possible that the LHR-ROM segment did not have the biz class (and you wouldn’t know that when you booked, UNLESS you looked at the seat map). But I do find the piece of glass in the food to be unacceptable…

  • Charles B

    “The [grievances] that don’t work have a few things in common: … They are a laundry list of offenses that come across as whining.” — Scammed, Chapter 14. page 161.

  • Thomas Ralph

    Unacceptable, yes, but also entirely outside BA’s control as it was at a hotel.

  • Carol Thomas

    We fly BA business fairly often. The Business seats are very distinctive and there is no question you are in business. We have never had a problem with any international business flight on any airline in terms of seats. We do go through a travel agent and always have our seats assignments in business confirmed. I just think something is not being said on the customer’s part that makes me skeptical of his problem with getting business seats. I think he may have done something wrong. We fly economy domestically but always fly busines on int’l. Again…always go through our excellent agent who does a great job in finding us the most economical business seats. AND, many of the comments are totally correct. There is a huge difference between business class when flying over the ocean than first class on the shorter hops. Our connecting flights from Dallas are usually 1st class within the US and then Business when we connect to the int’l part. 1st class only translates into first on board, a snack and easier access to pre-screening stations. It’s fine with me.

  • ChristinasCucina

    If he and his wife deserve a full refund or two business class flights for the way they were treated by BA and their experience during their flights, then I should be entitled to a lifetime pass of free flights from United Airlines for the way I was treated when I flew with my then 2 and 5 year olds!! Many other people out there who are much more deserving of your time and effort, Chris.

  • rjwing3

    I recently flew from the US to Oslo, Norway in Business Class using miles. It appears that the standard Business Class seats on airlines within Europe, I was on Lufthansa and SAS, are simply Economy seats in a separate section but you get {better} food. As I recall they seats were somewhat better the last time I flew BC in Europe, but this is the current reality.

    The OP is a bit delusional, his request for compensation is totally unrealistic.

  • emanon256

    First world problems. So his short haul flight has domestic business, rather than the same international long haul business, that’s pretty normally. Did he not look at the website and even look at the plane info when booking? I would never expect to get long haul business class on such a short flight. Was he really complaining that there was free wine in economy so why did he pay for Business? He really should have used an agent to help understand his flights. Also, it sounds like he only called once. I would have called back if the agent was rude. And did they end up sitting together, he never says? Every time I have traveled on European carriers, they did not give seat assignments until the airport, but everyone was in the same boat, so I have always gotten to sit together.

    Then his next complaint is that his flight was delayed due to fog, and he was put up in a hotel. Does BA have huge fog generators? Most airlines in the US won’t pay for a hotel for weather. It may not be the type of hotel he would like, but it was paid for. And biting into something in his salad in the hotel? How is that BA’s fault? That is not reasonably foreseeable, and if he has any injury, he should go after the hotel. Again, he never said if he was injured. And based on who winey he is, it sounds like he is just grasping at straws to get people to feel sorry for him.

    Then they get 25,000 miles each and he still wants a full refund or 2 free busienss class seats? Wow! I think the airline did far more than they ever should have for what is a pretty decent flight experience. Had the hotel not been paid for, I would say it was a normal flight experience. While I feel sorry for the majority of Chris’s posters, and believe they were wronged. This guy seems like an over entitled winer who thinks he is holier than anyone. If Chris doesn’t mediate, I bet he will then start tying to find people to mediate against Chris. There is just no way to please him, run away while you can!!!

  • Raven_Altosk

    CLAPS. This x 1000

  • Christopher Elliott

    You’re welcome!

  • $16635417

    Several years ago I spoke with an attorney who represented people who had “slip and fall” type cases. He told me the first thing almost everyone said they wanted was free tickets, gift certificates, etc. to the establishment they were suing. This is the last thing the cruise line, major league baseball team, supermarket, etc wanted to give them. Another opportunity to have a litigious person come back to the establishment, knowing another suit gets them free stuff. When he would tell the people he would not ask for free goods and gave them a realistic assessment of their chances and expected monetary compensation…they many times decided to not pursue the case. (At least not with him.)

    On another note, BA once gave one of my clients a voucher for about $10K because his in flight entertainment system didn’t work. (Essentially a free first class ticket, but this was a guy who flew BA about every 3-4 weeks from the US via London to various European cities and purchased a full fare first class ticket.) He used it to bring his wife along in first on a future trip and had the company purchase his ticket. I remember calling BA another time for a wait list request to get him on a flight he wanted and the agent said a note was in his profile that said “Never say “NO” to Mr. Smith, make his requests happen!”. They confirmed his wait list while I was on the phone.

  • MarkKelling

    His issue is he could not get a confirmed SEAT ASSIGNMENT. He had the confirmation for the flight.

    This is one of my major issues with BA and why I choose not to fly them. Even when I (my employer) purchased a full fare Business class seat, I had to pay extra to get a preassigned seat! If I was buying a severely discounted seat in steerage, I mean coach, I would be OK with paying a few dollars more to get the pre assigned seat, but paying $8,000 for a round trip you would think you could get an assigned seat when you buy the ticket. (I don’t know what the OP paid.)

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The guy’s a griper, pure and simple. Thus, it’ll be impossible to sort out what may be a legitimate complaint and what was caused by his own lousy attitude. Multiple phone calls with different people at different times all result in people being rude to him for no reason whatsoever? Yeah, okay. Not buying it.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Just an all-time great post. I’d never heard that aphorism before today…but I’m going to use that one myself now!

  • pat

    we dont fly with ba anymore after a horrible experience with them
    on our way to london inbecome ill and spent mots of the flight on the toilett, a flightperson bounced onnthe door demanding that i sit down, even while i ws standing there in the door stinking of shit and white as a ghost not oce was mam are you okay i was not… i was thankfully done and the meds finaly worked she actualy looked the toilettt behind me………..
    i complained about it on or return flight, some nice person upgraded us from cattle section to one up what was nice but still never Ba again

  • technomage1

    Ah, I see. You only get a seating assignment upon check in or if you’re a club member, bought a fully flexible ticket, or have an infant. Kind of an odd policy, and the website really doesn’t make it clear during the booking process (at least as far as I went into it). Lesson learned – don’t fly BA if you’re picky about seat assignments/flying together.

  • TonyA_says

    This one is getting printed on the wall. Thank you very much.

  • Asiansm Dan

    Again an outdated infrequent traveler don’t know the Business Class in Europe is a TOTAL FAKE known for 30 years already. But by experience, BA is not too bad even I agree with the OP that’s not Business as Transatlantic.
    I experienced worse on KLM Amsterdam-Paris on a smallest business class seat in the world on B-737 and the middle seat is not empty like on Air France or other carriers.
    Turkish Airlines has true Business Class Services and Seat for European Routes, and British Airways on Moscow route only.

  • TonyA_says

    Your rich and loyal client deserves that $10K voucher considering how much business he gives BA. As for us (or me) mere peons, we need to understand that money talks and BS walks. And, please do not abuse a kindhearted travel advocate. An airline is a business and not a public day-care center.

  • TonyA_says

    I use the same tactic even for other airlines what have advanced seat reservations and all the good seats are taken. At OLCI start time, they release the blocked seats. Voila!

  • Thomas Ralph

    You will very rarely be separated even if you don’t pre-assign a seat, especially not if you check in online 24 hours out.

  • TonyA_says

    won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz …
    [corrected lyrics]

  • pauletteb

    If the tone of West’s “conversations” with the various persons involved was anything like the tone of his complaint to Elliott, it’s easy to understand the lack of service he received. He’s already received better than he deserved.

  • SoBeSparky

    “Club Europe”, Business Class on BA inside Europe, is exactly what the OP got.

    I cannot verify his other complaints, but on this one, he did not do his research. If that were the case for the entire itinerary, then most of his unreached expectations are a result of his fantasies for a business class trip.

  • Frequent flyer

    West should “Zen up” and forget all of this. I doubt you will get anywhere either. In the mean time I have decided never to fly BA again.

  • Bill___A

    I voted yes, if for no other reason than to find out what happened. It is common to have business class on some legs and economy on other legs. The last time I flew BA was 1990.

  • emanon256

    My friends all drive Porsches

  • bodega3

    BA isn’t the company it once was, but then what company is these days? There are many airlines that do advance seat assisgnments for no fee and with business class you get your asisgnements even with the intra Europe connecting flight. The OP didn’t do his homework as a DIY’er and now wants Chris to handle things for him. I voted NO.

  • TonyA_says

    I must make amends

    Worked hard all my lifetime

    no help from my friends

  • Philip Brown

    Yes, I feel the demand for two (2) tickets is unreasonable; based on the circumstances. The suggestion to use a TA is a good idea, for next time. Why do so many airlines forget about “customer service” after the check has been cashed? I have an on-going issue with Spirit Air over:
    1. Not being informed of a ONE (1) CHECKED BAG policy on flights to Lima, Peru.
    2. Tried to cancel within 24 hours; was told I had to do within 4 hours – NOT TRUE according to the new rules as of Jan. 2012 (see Chris Elliott post).
    As consumers, we vote with our wallets & voices; any one listening “Don’t do business with BA (should be “BO”) or Spirit Air…
    Philip C. Brown

  • TonyA_says

    Dang great post.

    Venice is a particularly difficult destination to get real BC seats.

    Dang is spot on about TK for this one. Otherwise come on over to JFK and try Delta nonstop.

  • Nikki

    Voted no. Too laundry-listy. As someone else has said… if you meet 3 assholes in a day – you’re probably one of them.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    It cuts both ways. I’m sure the BA customer service people are glad to see the OP taking his business elsewhere. It’s clear from reading the letter that nobody was going to make the OP happy. And in terms of rudeness, I doubt the reps could have kept up with the OP.

  • emanon256

    So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.

  • technomage1

    I can believe that, however it seems like it was a sore point for the traveler in this case. He’d have been better off with another airline that does allow confirmations since that was 90% of his grievances.

  • Elizabeth Smith

    This guy is what my frequent flyer friends call a DYKWIA (a “Don’t You Know Who I Am?”) He apparently didn’t do all of his homework regarding flight/class-of-service options, seat selection, contract of carriage, etc. I say, “Welcome to the 21st century air travel!” Perhaps he should have hired me to be his travel agent. ;)

  • TonyA_says

    I’ve always been curious and had wanted to ask this question for a long time.
    Has any airline employee* ever been rude to you?
    I live and work near (or in) New York City and have expected to bump into rude agents in one of our airports. But I haven’t. How about you?
    Is it just me who is lucky enough to be served by nice airline employees or are some passengers just whiners? Please help me understand.

    * I can understand that if I call an outsourced call center in India, that the difference in accents or tone can easily be interpreted as being pushy. I have several close friends who are Indians and I can tell you they are some of the nicest people I have ever met.

  • ploughmud

    People are so helpless. Good Grief, a seat reclined into lap…I could have taken care of that in a moment, bumping continually w my knee… hehehe….small seating, well all airlines are the same there. Agreeing with others, launguage accents differ… BA is BRITTAIN! I think people should certainlly buck up and deal w issues themselves when they are this petty.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Paying extra for biz class and not getting anything for it is definitely reason to help this guy. I’ve heard about British Air’s attitude and lack of customer service but assumed it applied to people flying on the cheapest tix they could find. I don’t think they should “get away with it”. When you have an airline problem and are connected to people whose speech you cannot understand and who have no ability to help you, it’s an untenable situation. Airlines need to step up and take care of people who pay premium fares …. they pay these fares so they can be TAKEN CARE OF, not treated like an annoyance.

  • Abidah

    Why does everybody want to punish this guy for not being a frequent traveler? And why should an airline be any less informative than an travel agency? Don’t they have an obligation to inform their passengers of the rules in a courteous manner? I have worked for both travel agencies and for an airline and I still get confused over who allows/requires/forbids what. But I have a much better idea of what questions to ask than someone who doesn’t travel much, if at all. BA is notoriously snooty and while I believe ALL passengers deserve respectful treatment, a passenger who is paying for two business class tickets certainly deserves at least a confirmation and a clear explanation of the rules and costs of his class of service. Just because BA’s standards are going down the tubes doesn’t mean we can’t keep demanding better service. If we don’t, who will??? Why is this guy called stupid because he expects decent service? What’s wrong with all of you who seem to be defending poor service, rude employees and constant aggravation? Enjoy your flights, fellas, you don’t speak up, you deserve what you get.

  • travel rob

    I totally agree with you on this one.Why would he ever want to fly BA again if it was so bad? As for unhelpful Customer Service,a lot of companies need to work on that. I found in most cases all the people can do is stick to their script.They have little power to make decisions.If there is a major problem,it’s much better going to the contacts on Chris Eliotts On Your Side Wiki.

  • Daddydo

    Seating rules are seating rules. Why do people try to change them? copied from the British site:

    Executive Club Members plus companions

    Choose seats free of charge for everyone in the same booking
    if you are a:

    Blue Member – from 24 hours before departure, when check-in

    Bronze Member – from 7 days before travel, except exit row
    seats and on British Airways flights only

    Silver Member – from time of booking, except exit row

    Gold Member – from the time of booking

    Log in to
    the Executive Club

    Customers with fully flexible tickets

    When you choose a flexible ticket, you can change your flights at short
    notice with no penalty fees.

    You can also choose your seat for free as soon as you’ve booked.How
    to find flexible ticket information Go to
    Manage My Booking

    Families with an infant

    When you travel with an infant (under 2 years) who won’t be travelling in a
    seat of their own, you can reserve a seat for yourself and everyone in your
    booking, free of charge, as soon as you’ve made your booking.

    If you don’t choose a seat in advance, we’ll reserve a suitable one for you 5
    days before the flight.

  • technomage1

    Nice tip. I’ll have to remember this for next time I fly.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I SALUTE YOU, SIR. That is gold. Pure gold.

  • emanon256

    I love it, and have to remember it.

  • emanon256

    I can’t remember where I saw it, I think it was on, or maybe a co-worker e-mailed it to me. But regardless, it was a supposedly true story about a DYKWIA who barged up to the front of the gate agent desk skipping the line demanding to be re booked in first class immediately for a canceled flight. When the agent asked him to wait in like like everyone else, he immediately said, “Do you know who I am!” after which the agent picked up the PA and announced, “We have a passenger by the podium who does now know who he is, if any one could help us identify this passenger we would really appreciate it.” She then asked him to wait to the side so that hopefully someone can help him figure out who he is, and she went back to helping the people in line. Not sure if it is true, but it sure made me laugh.

  • Thomas Ralph

    BA does allow confirmed seat assignments, but passengers who are not elite, in first, on full fares, or on a corporate arrangement need to pay a small fee.

  • emanon256

    As you know I travel a lot. So I have had a few. But the super majority are oh so very nice. And I know others will disagree, but I think the Indian call center reps are often nicer than the ones in the US.

    In my last 7 years of flying 100K+ a year, this is what I remember:

    1. UA gate agent agent at LGA refused to let me board during my zone, still not sure why, she said I was not a “real” 1K when I was and had it on my BP. I was flying out of LGA every week for several years and there were always the same agents. I never saw this agent before, and didn’t see her since.
    2. Multiple times CO agents at EWR refused to add me to the standby list, and were quite rude when I asked. They flat out refused, even when the old CO mobile site showed availability.
    3. UA SFO Agent refused to let myself and several others board. She closed the flight 25 minutes early when several of us mosied on down from the club at T-25 to board. She was quite nasty to all of us.
    4. UA LAX agent refused to let my wife board when she was boarding with me, we were both in F, and she said 1Ks board first, and since my wife was a Premier Executive at the time she would not let her board with me.
    5. F9 gate agent yelled at me when I asked if there were any aisle seats. I just asked her, and she started yelling about how she is sick of these requests and to stop asking.
    6. A few times both UA and CO FAs refuse to serve snacks on snack flights in F, and or drinks in F and Y on shorter flights. This is mostly 2-3 hour regional flights. I guess they weren’t rude, they would just sternly say, “There is no (beverage or snack) service on this flight.” and go to the galley and read a magazine.
    7. Recently, a former Continental phone agent told me he is sick of these United people making these damn requests when I called and asked to have my wife sit next to me in economy plus when we were on the same flight and it wouldn’t let me do it on-line. I called again and the next agent did it no problem, and I think its finally fixed on line.

    That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. Though the LGA red coast are very often rude, and I have come across a large number of rude TSA employes. But you said “Airline” employes, so I limited it to that.

  • tio2girl

    Sad but true.

  • Frank Windows

    If you don’t already have an “unrealistic complainer” bin, make one and then toss this guy’s request into it. Every complaint that wasn’t the airlines fault could have been discovered with a Google search and/or a travel agent. Save the column-inches for people who have been honestly wronged.

  • TonyA_says

    Oh lordy, lordy, I pray I’ll never have to commute. Hopefully, retirement is just a few years away. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked this question and opened Pandora’s box. Anyway your commute days are coming to end, correct?

  • HadEnoughOfMoaningIdiots

    Stupid people, didn’t do their research, serves them right. BA should give them nothing at all, they’ve already been overly generous. The Euro business product is similar on most European carriers as anyone would know with a bit of basic Internet research. And if a bit of recline in front means a seat is in one’s lap for the entire journey, you must be VERY fat indeed, surely. Hardly the airline’s problem.

    This couple is pathetic and don’t deserve passports or the gift that is global travel. It’s meant to broaden the mind, not shrink it – especially when there appears to be precious little to risk shrinking in the first place.

  • emanon256

    That’s right. Actually, I am officially off the road now. And withdraw is starting :)

    And according to my spreadsheet, those 9 experiences (CO Standby happened 3 times) were out of 478 trips. So that’s less than 1% per individual flight. Not to bad in my opinion.

    I’ve still got a long way to go before I retire. If I actually retire.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thank you for correcting it. It’s bad enough you inserted the brain worm into my head without having the wrong lyrics posted! :D

  • TonyA_says

    Man, you are just has bad as the whiny passenger. Chill out so I don’t get an upset stomach reading your post.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Most blatant example I’ve seen was in O’Hare last year, when UA switched the gates for a flight for the 3rd time, after delaying things an hour each time they changed gates. Several “international” passengers didn’t understand the gate agent’s announcement and thought the announcement was for boarding. The gate agent screamed at them to the effect that they should stay home if they can’t understand English. One lady in traditional Muslim garb broke into tears. I helped her understand what was happening, walked her to our new gate and let her call her ride since her phone had died by then and let her use my charger so while we all waited 90 minutes for our flight. I didn’t get that {expletive deleted}’s name to report him – he disappeared very shortly after his temper tantrum.

    Wasn’t rude to me per se, but I did get to witness it.

  • TonyA_says

    Hi Abidah, welcome. I “liked” your post because it does describe the exasperation of NON FREQUENT travelers. I am sure that since you worked for both a travel agency and an airline, that you understand why people who need EXTRA SERVICE are better served by travel agents. The term “extra service” can be quite controversial nowadays since many airlines have simply defined service as cheap transportation with the minimum possible human interaction. So extra means talking to a human and you need to pay for that.

    BA is one airline that has been pushing customer service to more and more automation. Almost everything you need to deal with them (including airport check in cutoff time) is in your confirmation page. It is as if BA does not want to talk to you. Go read the your personal confirmation page or don’t call us. But they offer cheap flights. So those who want to fly BA and need extra service should consider going to (and pay for) a good travel agent that knows how to deal with BA. It’s that simple.

  • TonyA_says

    My idea of (early) retirement is being able to see my parents more often until “that” day. They are both in their upper 80’s and still love traveling. Hopefully, I can chaperone them and carry their luggage while I still can. I used to do that as a teenager. Now I am about 60 and will do it again. My advice to everyone is to stop complaining and begin enjoying :-)

  • TonyA_says

    Do airline executives know about these horrible events?
    What are they doing about it?

  • dourdan

    I’m glad i am not the only one who thinks this way. I love to come to this site and laugh at all the complainers and their demands of a “complete refund”. if you got from A-B without a water landing, sitting next to a dead body, or suffering a crippling injury–you do not get a refund.

    “West ended up biting into a piece of glass when he was eating a salad” this is the only point that migth warrent a full refund and that is ONLY if it resulted in medical bills.

  • ronay

    Mr West’s experience with the seat assignments happens to me all the time now, so I have a feeling this is a portend of things to come! For instance:

    Recently, with United Airlines, it took 5-plus (ultimately contentious) calls to actually get them to honor my 2 seats–expressly and necessarily assigned to be next to one another. In this case, one of them was an “extra” (empty) seat, which I need because I’m a fat lady.

    The first e-mail acknowledgement I received, was already in error. The seat assignment had been ignored, my seats were not remotely near one another. (The flight number and body-type of the plane had remained the same, so it wasn’t an issue of changing to a larger/smaller plane).

    Even when it is only two seats for my husband and I (no extra), I have naturally requested, and actually been assigned, seats together. Even so, when I check them on the computer, they usually come up separated, and I am doomed to repeat the same, frustrating exercise.

    Just as an aside, the airlines are always encouraging fat people to purchase an extra seat, but make it incredibly complicated to do so. Even if you manage to get it done (most often with snarky, irritable reservation/customer service people), AND have confirmed seat assignments, you will still need to spend the time until flight day, making sure your seat assignments are intact (they won’t be).

    You will again be navigating the choppy seat-assignment waters of unrequested seat changes, and arguments with people who refuse to, cannot (a) find your original assignment, (b) find your confirmation number, (c) track your reservation correctly, and so on.

    I feel so sorry for Mr. West and for me, and for all of us who are encountering this problem now. Passengers (other than first class) are now treated as qan imposition, not as a paying customer.

  • dourdan

    first sentence= awesome!

    i bet the OP is the kind of person who would say “well you just lost a customer!” lol

  • TonyA_says


    On BA 319/320/321 series European Business Class (Club Europe) seats, only the first 3 rows are permanently assigned to Club Europe. The next rows are convertible coach (Euro Traveler) seats to Club Europe by simply not selling the middle seats B and E (on the 3 by 3 row configuration). While the seat widths are the same, the problem is the Euro Traveler section may have 31″ pitch instead of 34″. So it is possible to be assigned a Business Class Club Europe seat that is just as cramped as a coach seat because it really is a coach seat.

    ADDED: So it makes sense to pay the extra money if you can be guaranteed you will be on the first 3 rows (Rows 1-3).

    Is this worth complaining about? Not really because all this information is available BEFORE one buys a business class seat from BA. The meaning of Business or First Class depends on the airline, the aircraft, and the market. It is a bit dangerous to assume a lot of things when one travels. The OP learned that the hard way.

  • KaraJones

    Sorry this comment is off-topic…Chris, your site hasn’t been working with FireFox for a couple of weeks. I can read the story but I can’t vote or view any comments. It works fine in IE and in Chrome. I think Tony mentioned a FireFox problem about a week and a half ago and you were aware of an issue – any update?

  • TonyA_says

    Kara, I’m on Firefox now (Win OS) and it works. Got fixed late last week.
    Try login on to Disqus first before you do anything. Maybe that will help.

  • Joshua

    Maybe the establishment being sued should buy a gift certificate/free ticket for one of its competitors and offer that to the person suing.

    “Mr. West? Since you had such a poor experience on BA, we’re prepared to offer you two free business class tickets on Air France. Go bother them instead on your next flight.”

  • Mark G

    Professional complainers! I am really surprised and upset that BA gave these people miles as compensation. It makes complaining for no reason profitable!

  • TonyA_says

    How about Alitalia outsourced to Carpatair (Romania)? They are so embarrassing that Alitalia is now being accused of literally “white washing” the aircraft that crash landed in Rome.

    Please read

  • Geert Behets

    None of the airlines within Europe have a “real” business class. BA is one of the better ones…. On low priced business class fares, you indeed pay for your choice of seats. On the other hand, the comfort in Terminal 5 and onboard the long haul flights are very good.

  • TonyA_says

    Hi ronay, I think your post is the kind that Chris Elliott should bring up next time he talks to his contacts at United (or any airline). To be precise – how can a person of size pay for 2 seats and get confirmation that they will be adjoining each other throughout the entire journey. Consider this a handicapped passenger who is willing to pay and not impose on the carrier.

  • emanon256

    That sounds nice. My parents are both pushing 70, and they refuse to travel. My dad has medical issues and can’t. My mom on the other hand is in super healthy. I keep pushing her to do it while she still can. She always says she wants to go back to Italy and visit where her parents were from. But then she says she is to old. I hope one day she goes.

  • 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