British Airways Customer Service Isn’t Good, But When Partners Are Involved, It Gets Even Worse (Tales From the Field)

This is not the first time that I’ve ranted about British Airways’ customer service skills (or lack thereof), and it certainly won’t be the last. For an airline that I think does a good job in the air, it’s amazing that it does such a terrible job on the ground. This time, we look at a schedule change gone wrong, and how British Airways did everything in its power to NOT fix the problem.

A woman who we’ll call Sara came to us at a couple weeks ago sounding defeated. Sara’s original plan was to fly Paris to Newark on BA’s Open Skies subsidiary and then on to Louisville via Philly on US Airways. This was all on a ticket issued by BA, and she chose the routing specifically because she would be in to Newark. Unfortunately, US Airways had a schedule change so the connection via Philly no longer existed. BA gave her two options.

The Client Tries to Solve It First
First, BA offered her an option on US Airways from Paris via Philly to Louisville but she declined. Prem Plus is a great premium economy product, and the option via Philly would put her back in regular coach. That’s a terrible option. Next, BA said that her only option that would keep the Prem Plus seat was to stay overnight in Newark and fly out the next morning. She initially accepted that because there was no other option. Then she realized there was.

US Airways actually had a connection through Charlotte that had more than 2 hours in Newark and would have been perfectly legal. She called BA and they said she couldn’t do that. Despite multiple attempts, she gave up and decided to seek our help.

We Take the Case and Fail Immediately
Our first reaction? Complete dread. British Airways is tough to work with when we’ve booked the ticket, but the airline is nearly impossible to deal with on tickets we didn’t book. Still, with some trepidation, we decided to take the case. Our Travel Architect John was going to learn how much fun it is to deal with BA.

The first problem is that UK privacy laws are extremely strict. British Airways won’t talk to us about a booking unless we’ve been added as a third party on the booking by the traveler. That’s all fine except that BA is incredibly inept at actually following this procedure. So, to make things easy, we started out with a conference call. The client called BA and conferenced in John so that we could all be on the same page.

This call started with BA saying that if she wanted to change again, then it would cost her. The airline had already reissued once and wouldn’t do it again. Great. But John insisted that the agent look for the space at least, and this ended the same as the previous calls. According to BA, those flights we had suggested (US Airways 423 connecting to 5566) didn’t exist. John assured BA that they did, in fact, exist but the agent refused to believe us. At this point, John figured this was just a bad agent, so he went with what is always a good option – hang up, call again (). But before he did, Sara had John added as a third party so he wouldn’t have to keep involving her.

At this point, John tried to call BA again. They said he wasn’t a third party on the record so they wouldn’t talk to him. *sigh* So once again, it was time for a conference call, and once again BA said the flights didn’t exist, but even if they did, she’d have to pay for the change. This wasn’t good. At this point, we decided it was time to strategize.

We Try Every Tactic We Know (and Still Fail)
John called back again (on a conference call, because once again they said he hadn’t been added as a third party despite having Sara do it again), and he tried to see if they would “long sell” the flights. Maybe BA didn’t think these flights existed, but we knew they did. There’s an entry that you can use to try to sell that flight into the reservation even without knowing it exists. We even spoon-fed the Amadeus entry (BA’s reservation system). The agent refused to do that. John then asked if we could get on a four-way call with US Airways. The agent said ok. Progress!

Incredibly, the US Airways agent confirmed the flights existed but BA still said they couldn’t see it, so there was nothing they could do. Well then why the heck did we even do this four-way call in the first place? (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.)

Clearly there’s a problem with BA’s system here. US Airways is a joint venture partner and was the original airline on the booking. This shouldn’t be a problem in any way. I reached out to a at US Airways and had her add these segments into the US Airways reservation directly. Then she sent a message to BA letting them know. This had to fix it, right? No. BA still said that they couldn’t see the flights.

@British_Airways to the Rescue
At this point, we were just about defeated when someone else suggested Twitter. BA is slow to respond on Twitter, but one of our other Travel Architects has had good luck with getting results. It couldn’t hurt to try. I’ll just let you read the conversation here.

BA Twitter Conversation

Even that conversation didn’t go as well as it should have. First they couldn’t help without talking to the passenger, then they could. Then they said that none of their partners had any flights that would work. Then magically, they found them. We weren’t about to argue with the fact that these flights are US Airways flights that have an American codeshare on them. The point was that they found them. We were ecstatic.

Then it made us realize that these flights had been sitting there under the American code in their system the entire time, and none of the many previous agents ever suggested them as an option. What a terrible customer service experience.

It’s also a very strange technical problem that BA has here. The airline can see the US Airways flight numbers the next morning but somehow it can’t see the ones that evening? There’s something very weird going on over there.

As you can imagine, our client was thrilled to have this done, but we wouldn’t be satisifed until the ticket was actually reissued. We followed up a few days later to ask if that had been done. The final insult? Twitter tells us “Hi. The tickets are in a queue to be reissued. Please allow 12 days from the 26th October.” Are you kidding me? It takes 12 days to reissue a ticket? Just imagine if this was in any way time sensitive.

People are used to it being difficult to work with airlines, but British Airways is in a league of its own, and we see issues with the airline regularly. (We’re currently fighting another issue now with an award reservation that BA somehow forget to ticket and the client had to buy a walk-up fare.) I just don’t understand why the airline can’t get this right.

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