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Your privilege to fly BA

March 21, 2011

FlightsCancelled.jpg Back in January I flew out to Amsterdam to speak at a conference. British Airways decided to cancel the flight without giving any explanation of why and to compound the error they made all the passengers go back out through security and queue for alternative flights. After about half an hour they created a separate queue for high status passengers. Net result; after a lot of queueing and having to go through security yet again I finally landed well over three hours late. When I got back into the departures lounge from the queue I realised that there had been no explanation, no meal or drink vouchers and a general indifference to all of us. Also there was no one from BA in the departure lounge to talk to. It was worse for the non-high-status flyers also had a longer wait and in many cases had to cross London to another airport, go to Rotterdam not Amsterdam etc. etc.

There was no reason they could not have set up a desk in departures, pre-booked people onto flights, handed out meal vouchers and generally made the experience a better one. Had they done that I would have been fine, if you travel a lot planes get cancelled, but most airlines tell you why and also handle the basics. Given none of that happened I complained on line. Now if you are British you are generally brought up not to complain and you crease yourself in embarrassment if out with American friends in a restaurant who have no such inhibitions. However for some reason online environments hold no social terror.

Finally in March I got a letter giving me no explanation of what had happened and failing to address any of the helpful (well I think they were) suggestions as to how it could have been done better. There was the standard form of platitudinous apology and to add insult to injury a voucher for their on-line shop the value of which was less than the cost of the meal I bought that evening. Given their profit margins it was worth even less. Now at that point I get indignant, so I check my rights, write a formal letter and then today I get an email confirming liability and advising me that I will be paid the €250 compensation I discover I am entitled to under law.

Now it’s possible that this is a parallel communication process, and the compensation offer was coming through anyway, with the voucher an additional gesture. If that is the case then the left hand is not talking to the right with the effect of of increasing customer dissatisfaction. Its also possible that the email is a result of my writing a letter, I may or may not find out which when I get home. However the net effect of either is the same. A simply failure to deal well with failure at the time results in paying higher levels of compensation later, with a decreased likelihood of repeat business. A smile, a bit of forethought and a £15 meal voucher would have left me happy at the time.

I contrast this with Singapore Airlines who once lost my luggage. It wasn’t really their fault it was the Qantas checkin in Perth. However they met me off the plane in London to apologise personally and hand over £100 cash for me to get what I needed while they got the luggage to me. The same happened when my son visited me in Singapore so it was not an isolated experience. That sort of treatement means that failure is turned into a positive. Failure will happen, its how you respond to it that matters.

As ever, its your privilege to fly on BA, and they make sure you realise that.

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