British Airways – a customer service nightmare

Addendum
So I emailed the CEO of British Airways and got a reply; it’s at the bottom of this post. I’ve also tried contacting Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert guy, and BBC’s Watchdog, because there seems to be some kind of media curtain preventing this from being talked about. I guess it’s World Cup and Wimbledon time, so who cares about people stranded on holiday without their luggage?

I’ve also heard about people in far worse situations than us: cyclists on biking holidays who’d paid extra to ship their bikes and been left without them; people who’ve flown to Bogota to go travelling round Colombia (surly an amazing place to be right now thanks to James Rodriguez and friends) who’ve missed internal connecting flights; people meant to be going to weddings left without expensive suits and dresses; and many more besides. The people affected by this are, sadly, legion, and they’re all massively upset with British Airways.

Onto the actual blogpost…
This was always likely to be our last holiday as a couple, before we became a family; it might have been booked a few months before we got pregnant, but we knew we were trying and there was a sense that this would be a last jaunt together. Growing up by the sea, with parents who weren’t big travelers, means holidays have always felt like the ultimate luxury to me. I didn’t go abroad until I was 25.

So I’m rubbish at holidays; Emma has to do all the arrangements, and I find it difficult to relax and switch off, which is hard on her because she loves travelling and unwinding. We’ve managed to go abroad only a handful of times in the 13 years we’ve been together: long weekends in Barcelona and Morzine; a short honeymoon in New York; a week each in Andalucia, Ibiza, and Sardinia.

This trip to Sweden wasn’t quite a city break or a rural retreat; we’d be half an hour outside Stockholm, in a cabin next to water, and we’d spend the days walking, running, bike riding, and reading, with perhaps one day in Stockholm itself. We knew the weather would be changeable, so we’d packed accordingly; jeans, jumpers, waterproofs and trainers as well as shorts, suncream, and t-shirts. But this flexible, bulky packing was OK, because we were flying with British Airways and thus could take a bag each.

Except that we were flying with British Airways, so they lost our bags. Because that’s what they do these days.

I’m hesitant to say our holiday has been ruined, because that sounds dramatic, but it has been ruined. Em is 20 weeks pregnant, and her entire wearable wardrobe is in her bag. Her running kit is in her bag, along with a legion of skincare products because her hormones are currently crazy and she needs more stuff than usual.

But it’s OK, because this is British Airways, and they’ve got a good reputation for customer service, haven’t they?

If ‘customer service’ starts and stops with a generous baggage allowance and a cheese and ham sandwich during your flight, then yes, they’ve got that locked down. If it stretches to solving your customers’ problems, that you have caused, then no. This holiday has been an absolute customer service nightmare for British Airways, and here’s why.

They let flights take off when they knew people’s luggage wasn’t aboard
If we’d known our bags weren’t aboard and that there was a problem, we’d not have flown, as simple as that. Emma’s pregnant, we were only going away for a few days, and we knew that Sweden in changeable conditions without your stuff would be difficult to deal with. It wouldn’t have been worth the hassle. But BA never communicated that our bags weren’t onboard. Apparently other people had seen baggage chaos at Terminal 5 due to conveyor belts not working, but we’d checked in quite early, at a working belt with no queues, and seen no problem at all.

Lack of proactive communication
To be fair, we knew about the mess before most people on our flight because Em got a text message saying one of our bags hadn’t travelled with us when we landed. Yay for contact details and mobile roaming. But that’s the ONLY contact we’ve had. No follow-up message to reassure us that steps are being taken, no apology, nothing. It’s easy to bulk send text messages; I’ve arranged it at work. So why aren’t BA doing it?

Not responding to emails
Obviously they’re going to be receiving a lot right now, but BA are a massive, multi-billion pound company with an international reputation; surely responding to customer queries and complaints via email in a timely manner – 24 hours, I’d say – is a key performance indicator? We emailed on Thursday evening as soon as we got to out destination. It’s now Saturday night, 48 hours later, and we’ve had no reply.

Useless telephone helpline
If you’re not answering emails, you can at least answer the phone. Can’t you? No; BA’s automated 0844 ‘choose your own adventure’ phone line is sifting people into a 45-minute queue. People who are on mobile phones, abroad. We literally can’t afford to sit and wait that long.

Sending the same generic responses to everyone tweeting at them
With no response via email and phone, we resorted to social media. And we got a response, but it was the same generic “we’re doing everything we can” response as everyone else in the same predicament got. Useful. (We’ve seen no one tweet at BA that they’re grateful to have got their bags back, by the way; and we’ve been checking.)

Failure to provide guidance as to what constitutes ‘essentials’
We’ve been referred to a generic webpage about ‘essentials’ that BA are happy to reimburse for. Except that they don’t details what ‘essentials’ are; toiletries and clothes, we assume, but what about data roaming and international call charges? And how much clothing? I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt on the plane, because it was 23 degrees in London the day we left. It’s 16 degrees in Sweden. We’ve got no washing machine in our cabin. The light jacket I’ve got with me isn’t waterproof. But at least I’ve got a jacket; Em’s was packed. The BA website gives no guidance about this, not even an upper limit on what they’ll reimburse.

Continued to let flights go before they’d adequately fixed the problem, thus compounding the issue for everyone already affected by increasing their own workload
This is hopefully pretty self-explanatory; not only are they adding more people to the problem, they’re making the problem more difficult to solve, and therefore worse for everyone, by doing so.

Supplied disinformation, or worse, no information at all
We were told our bags would be on flights later that day, and given times. But we’ve heard nothing since, and the online system just repeatedly says “tracing continues”. Are our bags at the airport in Stockholm? Are they in Heathrow? We have no idea, and presumably neither does anyone else.

Postscript

Still no sign of bags or anything beyond a generic social media response. So I’ve emailed Keith Williams (keith.x.williams@ba.com), the CEO of British Airways, because maybe he’ll reply more willingly than his staff. This is what I’ve said:

Dear Mr Williams,

Due to yet another baggage cock-up at Terminal 5, my wife and I have been left without our bags for several days, which has ruined our holiday. As no one at your company appears to be responding to emails, giving useful information via social media, or sorting out the 45-minute queue on your customer service ‘help’ line (that, as we’re abroad on mobile phones, we’re loathe to sit and pay for), I thought I’d email you.

Details of the complete failure of your organisation’s customer service can be found here: http://sickmouthy.com/2014/06/29/british-airways-a-customer-service-nightmare/

Several hundred people have already read this. I’m doing my best to make that several thousand; not just for my wife and I, but for everyone else who has been left feeling let down and neglected by your organisation. As CEO it is your responsibility to set the ethos, values, and spirit of British Airways. Right now I feel quite strongly that you have failed at this.

Yours frustratedly,

Nick Southall

Post-postscript
I got a reply from the “chairman’s office” at BA (I’m skeptical; it reads like bog-standard customer service text). This is it:

“Dear Mr Southall,

Thank you for your e-mail to Keith regarding the baggage system failures on
the 26th June, as part of his Executive correspondence team he has asked me
to respond on his behalf.

Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience the delay to you baggage
is causing. The baggage team, with help from our engineers and cargo
handlers, are doing all they can to reflight disrupted bags as soon as
possible. The baggage system is currently running at normal capacity to
manage today’s flights but we are still unable to use Terminal 5’s systems
in the way we would like to speed up the repatriation process and are
having to invoke a manual process to reload disrupted bags and this is
slower than using the automated system. Unfortunately this means the
tracking system (World Tracer) takes longer to update customer baggage
information. Heathrow Airport continue to work with the IT engineers to
fully restore the automated system.

We are prioritising bags in order of age and by the next available flight.
Once your bag has been reallocated a flight the details should appear on
World Tracer. However, due to the manual processing, some bags are being
delivered without World Tracer updating. These bags are being loaded
directly onto flight containers and World Tracer will be updated once they
reach Stockholm. You can check World Tracer via this link with the baggage
reference you have been provided with

http://www.worldtracer.aero/filedsp/ba.htm

Should you need to purchase essential items during your trip please do so.
To ensure we can process your claim as quickly as possible, please keep all
receipts and submit them as directed on our baggage compensation claim form
where we will seek to reimburse you as quickly as possible. Please use this
link to submit your claim: https://baggageclaim.britishairways.com/

I appreciate you feel our handling of this situation has fallen short of
your expectations. I can assure you we are working continuously to reunite
our customers with their bags.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Kemp
Chairman’s Office Executive”

There is very little in there which isn’t just repeating information we’ve already found inadequate on BA’s website.

10 responses to “British Airways – a customer service nightmare

  1. Seen this on Twitter, retweeted and shared on Facebook. Hope you get your stuff back soon…

  2. The same issue occurred to us on June 5th of 2014. We have yet to recieve a response from BA. Good luck. I have submitted the claim he refers to, but we were told on the day ours got lost, they lost another 37,000 bags. How long is it going to take to get through that? Plus if they have to pay everyone what they owe us, they will be bankrupt.

  3. We are living the same BA customer service nightmare. My daughter arrived home to Toronto from Edinburgh via Heathrow June 28th on a BA flight without luggage. She is 14 years old and was traveling alone. BA only had 2 agents available to write up baggage delay claims at Pearson International Airport. They would not let her leave to file a claim online and she ended up waiting 4 hours to file her claim. Apparently there is a big class action lawsuit in the US against BA for disproportionate volumes of lost baggage. The US court found that the 1500 dollar limitation of liability clause did not bind BA given that it had acted reckelssly. Not sure if the case is fully litigated yet but I would be on the lookout for similar cases in the future.

  4. Pingback: Bob | Sick Mouthy

  5. 6 weeks on and our claim has still not been processed – we were one of the many that had travelled with BA to attend a wedding, in the best hotel in Bellagio, Lake Como. The whole weekend was a celebration – most of which was spent in our travelling clothes. We got an outfit for the wedding – we wanted something nice – it was a posh do after all, but if I say the cheapest pair of knickers I could find were EURO 25 – and that was in the sale – you can imagine how much we spent just on wedding outfits – and as you know, we had no clear guidance on how much we would be able to claim. This on top of the money we had spent on our original outfits – which we never got to wear.

    So we paid for the stuff on our credit card – and now we’ve had to clear that credit card – and still no compensation. No communication whatsoever – the system for uploading the receipts didn’t work – thank God I waited 60 mins on hold with customer relations to check, so I could email them through to be uploaded properly.

    So, 6 weeks have passed and so to chase them up. You ring customer services and the automated service hangs up on you – without telling you they are hanging up. That really helps the situation.

    All this after the lie after lie after lie at the start of this whole fiasco.

    Has anyone had their claim paid yet??

    • Hi Joanne, thanks for posting your story, and I really hope you can get reimbursed soon.

      We’ve been very fortunate and have already been reimbursed; we got paid via BACS on Monday of this week. I have no doubt that the stink I kicked up here, on Twitter, and by emailing the CEO would have helped expedite our claim.

      Like you, though, we had awful trouble with BA’s online systems and phone systems, and ended up having to email photos of receipts to BA directly.

      I really hope you get it sorted out soon.

  6. How awful for all of you!! I on the other hand have complained about the cleanliness of the plane we were on , last week as it was filthy. Someone had left the contents of their nose on the side panels and the screens were covered with bits of food! As well as general dirt that was around for months I think..! I emailed at the weekend and as yet not had a response. Looks like it will along time receiving a response….

  7. What a shambles BA. For an airline with such heritage and loyalty they have really let us down as a family. We were due to fly to Nairobi, Kenya on 20th August ’14, but there was a technical problem with the plane which they couldn’t fix so they cancelled the flight, so the next day we eventually left Heathrow 28 hours later than planned. Since we returned from Kenya I reported our concerns to losing a whole day of our family holiday and Im now in a rather mixed up CRM system which means they ignore you for weeks or they reply to other members of your family on email and ignore your original request to make a complaint. So to be clear all I have done so far is create a case because I want to complain about the delay and customer service on the day of the original scheduled flight. I did this on 2nd September, today is 26th and I’ve not yet spoken with someone but I have now been complaining about the poor customer service since reporting the case. Its all going now where and they cant tell me when they can address the issues. Pulling my hair out!
    What next I dont know, twitter gets a small response from them, but only for someone to DM you and apologise.
    They really need to sort their CS out as its damaging them.

  8. Disgraceful- this is the complain letter I have just taken an hour out of my day that I don’t have to spare in order to write:

    I was booked on this flight from Manchester via Heathrow to Geneva last Monday along with my 21-month old son. Firstly, I booked this flight using my Avios miles in order to take advantage of the added comforts that flying business class would provide to me when travelling with my 21 month old son- how wrong could I have been.
    I turned up at Manchester Airport to0 check in for this 15.25 flight at 2pm, only to be told that the flight was delayed meaning I would miss my connecting flight and that instead I would have to re-queue in order to change my connecting flight. This seemed simple enough.
    What was not simple however, was the then proceeding @ HOURS and 15 MINUTES in which I stood in a queue with a 21 months old child in order to change this flight because seemingly, only one person out of five check-in desks was trained to change flights.
    When, an hour and 3/4 in to my queuing, I had to visit the toilets in order to change my son’s nappy (which I did advise to the supervisor of this queue), I returned only to find a person who had not even been in this very queue but instead queuing for the desk next to me, was now being served in front of me, I was, as I am sure you can imagine, incensed to say the least, something which I communicated to the supervisor.
    Eventually, I was served, and advised that because I had been queuing for such a length of time, I would probably be ‘more comfortable’ changing flights to a 17.20 departure rather than this one which was due to depart at 16.50. I agreed to this, although now, in retrospect, I believe that I was offered this alternative because, given that once I had checked-in and passed security I had to go straight to the gate to even catch this flight, because BA knew that I did not have a chance of making the earlier flight- hence advising me for your own benefit rather than mine.
    I was also, at this point give a £10 voucher to use either before or after check-in for refreshments. This, given that I had at this point been queuing for 2 ¼ hours was simply adding insult to injury. As someone who works in customer service training- I, to be frank, found this to be quite incredulous. When, pray tell was I expected to use it? Wouldn’t a better approach have been to give me the voucher at the beginning of my 2 ¼ hour wait, advise me to go to the coffee shop directly opposite the BA desks and that someone would come and get me (out of the three people stood ‘supervising’ the queue) and my 21 month old son when it was time to check-in, rather than leaving me standing in a queue for 2 ¼ hours?? Also, given that my business class flight would have entitled me to access the BA Lounge anyway, should I have had any time to use it, what was the point of this ridiculous token gesture??
    I then arrived at Heathrow where, given this later flight, I was given no opportunity to make use of the BA lounge facilities (the main reason I had booked these flights in the first place- effectively, by this point, I had spent five hours in an airport with a toddler and only forty minutes flying).
    I then arrived in Geneva, not at 20.15 as my original flight was intended to do, but somewhere close to 11pm. Upon arrival at baggage reclaim, my baggage was nowhere in sight. After waiting twenty minuted for my non-existent baggage, I then attended the office for missing baggage where I was told that my baggage had missed the flight and would not arrive until the following day. My baggage contained a large suitcase containing everything needed for my 21-months old son, as well as my son’s car seat as I was due to hire a car. Once I had filled out the pre-requisite forms in order to have my baggage delivered to me the next day, I then, by this time at 11.30 at night in a deserted Geneva airport, proceeded to car hire.
    I now believe, that upon checking me in, the BA staff would have had an indication, as they had with other passengers who they advised accordingly, that my baggage might miss the connecting flight. This, for a woman travelling alone with a 21-month old child, is a COMPLETELY unacceptable risk to take, and had I been advised accordingly, would have altered my travel plans accordingly.
    Due to my delay with my lost baggage, by the time I arrived at the car hire at circa 11.40pm, it was shut. I was now, thanks to BA, completely stranded at Geneva airport with a 21-month old child and no baggage.
    During this time, BA also, very kindly, emailed me to let me know that my baggage would not be arriving until the next day, when it would arrive on the 9.15 am flight.. Fantastic, and an email that I discovered once I had checked in to a local hotel costing £160 SFR at 12.30 am than night, – the only option left to me given the way BA had conducted themselves over the course of the day.
    The next morning, along with my very tired 21-month old son, I duly arrived at the airport to claim my baggage and visit the now open car hire counter.
    Unfortunately however, my ‘baggage’ which BA had promised to deliver on the 9.15 am flight consisted solely of my child’s car seat. My suitcase containing everything from nappies to medicine for my child, was nowhere to be seen. The baggage handling department thought that it ‘might’ turn up at some point that day, but that so far, they had no record of it.
    The only further way in which I managed to make contact with BA (who made no further attempt to contact me)was via Tweets, but as I have now read online, my situation seems to be regrettably, all too common when it comes to BA’s approach to customer service.
    My baggage eventually turned up on Thursday 9th October- a full 72 hours from when I had last encountered it at Manchester airport, at which point, given that I was due to return on Saturday 11th October (not with British Airways-thanks God) I ase4kd for it to be returned to my home.
    I was in Geneva and subsequently Chamonix for meetings-several of which I had to cancel in order to take the time to buy basic provisions such as clothing, nappies, medicine etc. for my son- absolutely unacceptable. I also work remotely, and given that my laptop charger was also in my suitcase, I have been unable to work and therefore generate an income during my time away.

    All in all, this has to be the WORST customer experience that I have ever encountered. You pride yourselves on being the ‘world’s favourite airline’, but for me you are very far from it.

  9. I find it frustrating there is no alternative to making contact other than with the generic box with the original reference to a complaint as its now 3 months since my original complaint about compensation for our delayed flight from LA to Heathrow

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