3 months ago, I paid £3650 (approx $6387 USD) to British Airways to fly business class, full flat bed service from London UK to Cape Town SA. They decided not to provide me with the service that I had paid for, and have since lied and altered their story to avoid paying an acceptable refund.
On trying to complete an online check in 20 hours before departure, I received an error message saying that I couldn’t check in online and could only check in personally. This I did in good time and was surprised to be told that there wasn’t a seat available for check in and I had to wait for “seat allocation”. 20 minutes before take off, it was confirmed to me that “due to the malfunction of a first class seat”, that first class passenger had been downgraded to my seat and I was being downgraded. Being a late evening flight, it was left too late to make alternative arrangements.
The thing was, I had three colleagues flying first class and they confirmed that there were no unused seats in first class. I questioned this with the purser on board who modified the story to say that the first class seat would not recline and so was being used as a “crew rest seat”. My colleagues confirmed after the flight that all first class seats reclined, and all people in those seats enjoyed the “full hospitality” of first class. Staff member on a “jolly” perhaps, or just a lie to hide the overselling of business class?
Needless to say being a business class passenger with British Airways, a company I previously thought to be of good reputation, I didn’t expect to have any problems getting my money back for the leg of the journey they chose not to provide. This is very much not the case though. 3 months later, I am still battling with them.
Their first response was to only offer a handful of air miles as “compensation”. Their second response was to say they had “lost” my claim for refund / compensation. Their third response was to claim that they had a policy that prevented them from ever making a refund of greater value than 50% of the one-way portion of a flight. When asked to show the existence of this policy, they couldn’t.
They maintained their story that one seat in first class had failed, and despite the statements from my three first class colleagues, BA maintained that there was one empty (broken) seat in First Class. (Remember the purser on board confirmed it was not empty).
Two months into my claim against them, they suddenly switched their story to confirm that British Airways had oversold the business class cabin. I believe they changed their story because they could now try and limit their refund by using a European law designed to protect passengers! While they held on to their lies about first class seats being broken, they were confirming that the business class cabin was not technically oversold, because there were an equal number of business class seats and ticket holders for that class. If they held this position, they could not use the European law that exists to protect passengers from the practise of airlines overselling seats.
In the event that a flight is intentionally oversold by a European airline, EU law requires that they (1) provide a 75% refund (this level is set because of the length of flight), (2) Pay compensation (3) Call for volunteers prior to bumping and (4) provide compensation and refunds within 7 days. Since I was blocked from completing an online check in 20 hours before departure, it was clear that BA chose not to ask for volunteers to be offloaded. Their responses to a refund request were designed to hide their legal minimum responsibility to repay at least 75% in the event of overselling.
Finally, they paid 75% (to the penny) of the one-way flight portion less tax as a refund, claiming that this is all the law requires them to do and “that is the end of the matter”. This meant that they still charged me over £450 for a one-way flight – an economy ticket on that route is £250!
As a business class passenger, I did not pay the airline the minimum amount for the minimum service. I therefore did not expect British Airways to initially hide from their legal responsibilities and then twist European law to make the absolute minimum payment available, whilst not complying with any other element of that law – for example making the refund automatically within 7 days.
My advice to fellow business class passengers who need an airline they can rely on to keep their business commitments is to avoid British Airways. Their clear policy of overselling BA business class means that your seat is not guaranteed no matter what you pay. Their true regard for you as a business class passenger is clear if you try to get them to make a refund for choosing not providing a service that you have already paid for.