As we all know, the United Kingdom experienced massive snowfalls earlier this week – which caused havoc with flights. Sadly, British Airways (BA) only added to the complications – by leaving passengers in the lurch!
I was booked on a flight from Stuttgart to Heathrow, on Sunday, December 10. Because of the severe snowfalls in Germany too, it was a major challenge to get to the airport! I wasn’t sure that I would be able to get to the airport, so I checked the BA app and website for information, which wasn’t forthcoming.
So, I telephoned British Airways in Germany – only to discover that they don’t work on Sundays. Instead, I called British Airways in the United Kingdom. They put me on hold for one hour. Can you imagine the cost of that call? I had no choice, though. I needed to know if I was flying or not. The friendly BA staff member assured me that I was – and that I should make my way to the airport.
I arrived at Stuttgart Airport three hours before I was due to fly. BA only opens its check-in desk two hours before scheduled departure time. So, I waited. Two hours before we were due to fly, I joined the surprisingly long queue at the check-in desk. I was flying Business Class, and the queue at the Business Class check-in desk is normally very short.
After queuing for about 15 minutes, I was joined by two delightful chaps, who happened to mention that our flight had been cancelled. I laughed. “No, it hasn’t been cancelled. BA would have told us!” I said with a smile. But they were insistent; they had been sitting in the BA lounge – and the BA employee there had told them that the flight had been cancelled.
I didn’t believe them. So, I went to the front of the queue and asked. Their information was spot-on right. The flight had been cancelled but BA hadn’t bothered to tell anyone. BA had my mobile number and email address; they could have advised me. Or, they could have had someone going down the queue, speaking directly to passengers. They chose not to do that.
I was a tiny bit disgruntled but I had a lovely chat with the two delightful guys, and we decided that we would all meet in our hotel later for a drink. While a cancelled flight is a hassle and we were all going to miss important meetings, we weren’t too stressed. After all, BA isn’t responsible for the weather. It’s only responsible for the wellbeing of its passengers. We knew that they would take good care of us.
When we got to the front of the queue eventually, we were handed a boarding pass for a flight 24 hours later and a voucher for a meal at the airport. I thanked the lady and asked her what hotel we’d been booked into. “There isn’t any hotel accommodation available in Stuttgart. All the hotels are full. My colleague has been trying to find accommodation for you for over an hour; it’s impossible,” she informed me.
I wasn’t happy at the thought of being stranded; I asked her if she expected me to sleep at the airport. “Why don’t you try to find a hotel and then claim back from BA,” she suggested.
I went onto Booking.com and found a hotel at the airport – the Wyndham – within five seconds. It had a room for me! I was so surprised and so happy! To be frank, I took the very first hotel that the app offered me; I was really worried about sleeping at the airport. After all, the check-in agent had assured me that it was impossible to find accommodation! I booked the room and dashed across the road. While waiting at reception, I checked Booking.com again – and found dozens of accommodation options. So, the lady at the check-in desk had lied to me.
The following day, I returned to the airport for a meal, clutching my voucher. I couldn’t use it. The voucher was only valid on November 10 (no one bothered to inform us of this fact at check-in). So, I tossed it.
It cost me R2600 to stay in the Wyndham, which I will try to claim from BA. Let’s see. But this is not about money; I’m horrified at the way in which the airline treated its passengers. Its behaviour was atrocious on all fronts. I say this because:
- There was zero communication with passengers.
- BA should have provided passengers with accommodation. There were some people in the queue who could not afford to pay for hotel accommodation! I felt desperately sorry for those people. Not everyone has a pliable credit card like me!
- The staff need training. In fairness to BA, the airline makes use of contracted out labour at Stuttgart airport. They are not fulltime BA staff members. However, they are representing BA. The buck stops with them!
- Lying isn’t cool – on all fronts.
- There was zero empathy/understanding on behalf of the airport staff. They really didn’t give a hoot.
Incidentally, lots of other airlines DID fly into Heathrow on November 10. A friend flew on Lufthansa at the exact time my flight was due to depart. I wonder if the BA flight was cancelled because it wasn’t full perhaps? (BA’s response, which we publish below, suggests that this wasn’t the case … but you never know …)
In the airline game, things do go wrong. Sometimes badly – and then people die. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case on Sunday: it was just a case of some flights being cancelled. I’m grateful for that. However, I’m peeved with BA – I expected better. When things go wrong, a company can turn around a situation – and it’s really not that hard. The company needs to treat its customers courteously and honestly, it needs to be proactive, communication needs to be top-notch, it needs to apologise for the inconvenience, and it needs to resolve the situation as best it can. Then – if possible (sometimes it’s not) – the company should surprise and delight its customer.
Did BA do any of the above? Nope. It failed dismally on all counts.
We believe in the right of reply and so we sent our article to British Airways. Here is the response:
We are very sorry that customers experienced disruption to flights at Heathrow caused by the severe weather conditions that affected airports across northern Europe.
Time spent on de-icing aircraft to ensure safe operation plus a reduction in the number of aircraft that were allowed to land led to cancellations and delays. At Heathrow, as we are by far the largest airline, with around half the slots at the airport, our flights will always be disproportionately affected.
We fully understand how frustrating this experience was for customers and our crews and ground staff tried to give as much information as possible, during a very difficult time and where the situation was changing rapidly. Airport teams did what they could to help re-book flights and find hotel accommodation. Where they couldn’t book it themselves, they invited customers to book their own accommodation, which British Airways would reimburse.
During Sunday and Monday we offered refunds for those who no longer wished to travel from Heathrow regardless of whether their flight was cancelled or not.
We also offered the opportunity for anyone not wishing to travel to rebook their flight to a later date.
Customers who had their flight cancelled were offered the opportunity to travel up to 14 days after the date of their original booking, subject to availability. We rebooked customers onto flights operated by other carriers and to alternative destinations so that they could travel as soon as possible.
We brought in additional staff at our call centres and at Heathrow to help customers, and provided information for customers on ba.com as we received it.