British Airways Canceled Every Flight - What Would YOU do?
I'm extremely disappointed and frustrated at how British Airways handled the aftermath of flight cancellations around the recent massive snowstorm in the North-Eastern United States.
Here's what happened...
I was due to fly from New York to London on Friday 28th Jan 2022.
On Wednesday 26th Jan 2022, the news channels reported there would be a massive storm hitting the entire Northeastern region of the States that weekend, bringing over 2’ of snow to the region. It turned out to be one of the biggest storms on record in that area, with thousands of flights canceled.
On Friday January 28th (the day the storms started), I was due to fly from Orlando to JFK on Delta Airlines, and then from JFK to Heathrow, on British Airways. I was just about to board the flight from Orlando to JFK when news came in that New York area airports had been closed down, and my flight was canceled.
The flight departures board from Orlando became a sea of red...
At that point, I had no way of getting to New York or any other airport in that region for my flight to London, and even if I had already been in New York, it wouldn't have mattered because the airports were all closed, and thousands of flights were canceled to/from New York, Boston, Washington DC, Baltimore, and other airports in the vicinity.
This included ALL British Airways flights from JFK:
The good news was that after a quick bit of research, I discovered that BA had a non-stop flight from Orlando to London going the same day, with PLENTY of seats open. So I called BA’s executive club phone line for Gold members and asked if they could switch me to that flight.
Bear in mind that BA claims to greatly value Gold members, promising on their website, "We'll work to ensure your plans aren't disrupted," that they'll provide a "tailored service." They also emphasize that: "Your loyalty means the world to us," and that Gold members will be given "a direct line to our dedicated team of customer support staff for when you need to speak with us."
The phone agent I spoke to responded with an immediate and resounding “No,” because it was against BA's “policies and rules." The London-based phone agent said, “You can only fly from an airport on the East coast.”
I took a breath, and explained to this agent who no doubt has never even been to the States that Orlando is in fact considered an East coast airport, and after a long pause, the agent said, “Oh, that one doesn't count.”
After going back and forth for exactly one hour, seventeen minutes (see screenshot below) with no resolution, I asked to speak to a supervisor.
I waited a further 20 minutes for a supervisor to become available (I was originally told there were no supervisors but I persisted), and I said to the supervisor, “Look, we both know that this is an unusual situation. Every flight on every airline has canceled their flights to and from the New York area because of the storm, and it doesn't look like they're opening up those airports for at least the next 2 days. I'm in Orlando where you have lots of seats available on a flight to London, and that's where BA has already agreed to take me, as my destination. If you put me on that flight it’ll save lots of time and hassle for BOTH of us."
“Oh we can't do that, we would need to charge you a change fee and fare difference of 4523 pounds.”
Bear in mind that I'd already purchased a business class ticket. This fee was an additional amount on top of what I'd already paid.
After reasoning with the supervisor about the absurdity of being charged such an exorbitant fee given the extraordinary circumstances, he said, "Well, I do agree with you, and I've already asked our executive management team to consider the exceptional circumstances for passengers like yourself who are stranded. I can call you back in about 3 hours with an update, does that work for you?”
That was unacceptable. As I mentioned, the storm had been expected since the previous Wednesday so this was something that should have been discussed and planned for well ahead of time. The flight from Orlando was leaving in 90 minutes.
The supervisor said, “The best thing you can do is talk to the staff there at Orlando airport, they can help you.”
So I went the B.A. check-in desk at Orlando, and I asked for the supervisor. He came over and I explained the situation to him.
He rolled his eyes and said, “I'm so sorry Sir, British Airways doesn't allow us to change anything here, we can't even sell tickets! The only thing we can do is check passengers in!”
Really?! That's right, there's no management whatsoever at Orlando airport for British Airways. No one who can make any kind of decision other than whether to check customers in!
In the end, I decided to get a refund and make my own arrangements to fly from Orlando to London, using miles. BA lost the revenue, proved that loyalty is only a one-way street with their passengers, and got me sufficiently annoyed to write this article.
I'm extremely saddened and frustrated by BA's lack of empathy and business sense in this situation. They could have spared many hours of their agent's time in talking to me, when there was a quick, easy, and obvious solution. As it is, their wait times on hold for customer service are notoriously long, just as they are with many other airlines right now.
BA would benefit both themselves and their customers by getting travelers rebooked quickly and efficiently, taking them where they need to go.
I completely accept that if I had been able to get to New York it would have been my responsibility to make that happen. However, not only were there no flights into New York or any other airport in the region, but that wouldn't have helped, because all flights were canceled out of New York, which in turn caused chaos in rebooking everyone on those flights for a future date. In about 2 minutes, BA could have resolved the situation for me, and saved time, money, and hassle for themselves.
I'd be interested in getting your thoughts on this.
Personally, I believe it's unreasonable in these extraordinary circumstances for BA to bar anyone, let alone their 'most valued' Gold passengers from being transferred onto another flight to the SAME destination, that has plenty of open seats available. I wasn't asking for the moon, I was simply asking to be flown to the same place I had a ticket for.
Ironically, this exact scenario happened to me several years ago, except the airline for the International flight was Delta. Just as in this case I was booked to fly from JFK to London, but a snowstorm closed down the airports. Delta rebooked me on a direct flight from Orlando, at no cost to me.
The Delta agent said, "Given the circumstances, this is the obvious thing to do, and we're happy to help you out. It's not our normal policy, but this way we'll get you home quickly, and we'll also have one less person to worry about rebooking from JFK!" And that my friends, is why Delta Airlines is consistently ranked so highly in customer surveys. Oh, and thank goodness common sense does sometimes prevail!
In my own business, when customers ask for something outside of the ordinary, I like to ask myself, "What would I do in this situation if this customer was my own mother or father?" It helps me to make sound, reasonable, and thoughtful decisions, rather than to let old-fashioned rules and policies dictate the decision. That flexibility has served me well, and has often been the difference that's kept customers happy.
British Airways had an opportunity to demonstrate reasonableness, and perhaps even reward me in a small way for my loyalty over the years. Instead, they effectively said: "We're unwilling to help you, you're on your own."
What's your opinion on this? Do you believe it was fair of me to ask to fly from Orlando, since all New York area flights were canceled? Or do you side with BA and believe that rules should always be enforced? What would YOU do in these circumstances as the passenger?
Have you ever had something like this happen to YOU? If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below...
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