John Wines and his wife Julie planned a holiday of a lifetime – a safari trip to Africa. To make sure that everything went to plan, John booked his flights with the ‘World’s Favourite Airline’.
That, it turned out, was a big mistake….
Dear Customer Relations,
Right, let me make this clear to whoever reads this: This is not your fault, and I do not hold you responsible for the absolutely disgraceful service we have received from BA (Bad Airways!). You’re just the poor sod who has to try and resolve this case before I take further action!
Starting at the beginning – We booked the holiday of a lifetime through our great travel agents. Imagine. Africa, a holiday that took us 4 years to save for.
Mistake no 1, I specifically asked for the flights, wherever possible, to be with BA as i thought “the worlds favourite airline” mmm, NOT! would make our holiday be a stress free experience!!
Honestly, that’s what I thought!! (what a pillock I am!).1
I checked the flight status, with regular excited vigour, as I wanted to make sure my wife and I sat together. Now I know you can pay extra, as your website claims (lie no.1) ” to guarantee that your party sits together”, BUT I didn’t really want to pay another charge. I could see that the proposed plane, the fantastic and reliable, mmm, A380, has seats in pairs on the upper deck. These are the seats we looked forward to relaxing in. I promised my wife that if these seats started to disappear, I would pay the extra and book them – begrudgingly, I admit!
So fast forward to around 9th July 2016, and I checked the seat progress. FANTASTIC!!! There were exit aisle seats available!! Whoopee! Oh gosh,2 I couldn’t believe my luck! Imagine a little tear of joy running down a poor old man’s face, and you’ll have some idea of the unbridled joy I felt! (though you’re probably guessing there’s another BUT coming!)
So with a shaking, joyful hand clutching my debit card, I booked these seats and for the next week, even the latest news of doom and gloom from our government couldn’t wipe the smile of my face.3
An 11 hour flight is not an enjoyable experience for anyone really, and in cattle class, it’s an experience akin to being in solitary confinement at camp 22,4 North Korea. But the joy of being able to stretch your legs and not have the person in front reclining their seat into your lap, was a joy to behold!
So, on to the day before what might turn out to be an enjoyable flight: At approx 19.10 hours on July 16th I went to check in online because the British Airways website said that this would save time at the airport! Err, WHO FOR?? (Could this be lie no.2?). I logged in and I saw that we had been allocated seats 33E and 34E WTF I thought!5 So I checked Seatguru6 and these seats didn’t even exist on the A380!!
There must be some mistake I thought. Anyway, these seats aren’t even next to each other, and lets face it, what idiot with the brain the size of a broken cornflake would put a husband and wife in different rows?? No, it had to be a mistake!
I know I said!, I’ll ring the British Airways help line, that’ll sort things out! (The inner pillock getting the better of me once again)
I spent a very enjoyable 17 minutes on hold. (A quick side question here, does British Airways earn from the cost of the call? I’m serious, I want to know this!) Then, I finally got through to a supervisor called Manoj Panda.7 Manoj said he was the most senior member of the team in the building at that time, and if you expect me to believe that the boss answers the phone then perhaps I have got a chance of winning Miss World after all? Anyway, he informed me that the plane has been changed and that there was nothing he could do, even though I pleaded with him just to put us together!
Now I know things go wrong, particularly with the “worlds favourite airline”. Actually, I don’t think you use that slogan anymore do you? I WONDER WHY?? And if there is a different plane then so be it. BUT… your website claims “if we have to change planes, then we will always put your party together in the first instance”
I refer to seats 33E and 34E!! I paid for exit row seats , and now my wife and I are in different rows!!! DISGUSTING!!
So Mr Panda said NOT to check-in online as I would have to have those seats, and that they would be able to change it at the airport check-in. (lie no.3 I think. Lots more still to come though).
Well that night, unable to sleep, I couldn’t stop worrying about the fact that I would have to sit with a stranger either side of me on a long flight and the embarrassment I would feel when I had to wake them up to use the facilities!8
But all is not lost, I thought(There I go being a pillock again!)
All night, I was worrying that if a plane that held 469 passengers was replaced with a plane that held less than 300, then maybe I should just take the worst seats that some idiot decided should be ours – or we may not get on the flight at all? So I set the alarm to coincide with the opening of your call centre. At least then I wouldn’t be on hold for 17 minutes.
I WASN’T!! HOORAY! It was only 15 minutes!! (By the way, I still need to know if you earn money putting people on hold – don’t forget now) The operator was actually quite friendly but like Mr Panda before him, he couldn’t of give a crap about my problem! However, during the 2 calls I made on the 17th, I was assured that I would be able to change the seats at the airport. Check your recordings if you’re not convinced.
So, we move on to the airport:
This is where a disaster becomes a calamity of such proportions, not one comedy scriptwriter would even dare to use it as the plot of new episode of “One Foot in the Grave”9 I am a belt and braces kind of guy – bordering on OCD. That means I am incredibly well-organised and I do not take any chances. So I check and double-check things, which brought us to the airport a full 4.5 hours before boarding. I always prefer to be hours early than just 1 minute late and I wanted to take my time – to get through security and have a nice relaxing meal before the flight from hell! (You’re probably ahead of me here aren’t you? I was being a pillock again!)
Anyway, we arrived at Terminal 5. I believe this is the British Airways terminal. Your very own shiny, big terminal. So everything would go as smooth as a baby bottom? Wouldn’t it? Yes, of course it would!! ( I am spelling pillock correctly aren’t I?)
Now we only travel once or twice a year so we don’t always know the full workings of the airline industry (I’m beginning to think British Airways doesn’t either) so I need to ask someone where to go to get our seats changed. I ask a nice (lie number whatever!) young lady “Sorry, can yo….. I’ll be back to answer your question in a MINUTE!” was the curt reply!! I didn’t get her name but if you have a collection tin for members of your staff who failed charm school, then please let me know so I can make a small contribution to the cost of the resit.
So off she went to move a barrier and answer someone else’s question instead. She came back. “Could you pl…” , I began. “I’LL HELP YOU IN A MINUTE!” came the response, then she went off to move the SAME FECKIN barrier AND answered someone else’s question.
AT THIS POINT, I SMELT MY ARMPITS!! Nope, that’s not it, they were fine.
Back she came and I actually managed (I did, honestly!) to ask the full question! HOORAY!
“Is this the line for the BA 055 flight to Johannesburg?”
“YES” she said, and then went of to move the barrier another inch to the left, safe in the knowledge that she’d had a REALLY good day helping people!!
I have been in some slow lines before, but this was ridiculous!! Apparently this was because the automated check-in machines weren’t working!! So hundreds of people were trying to use a machine that DIDN’T WORK! Who’s in charge of T5? Mr Bean?
Now as the queue was taking as long as my education, I spotted that another part of check-in had a much shorter queue, so I went over to ask if I could join it for flight BA055. “No”, I was told “This is for a disrupted flight”. So I went back to join my wife in the longer queue, via another quick question to the same happy Harriett as earlier, just to check once again we were in the right queue (remember, always belt and braces). She answered me straight away this time and confirmed that, yes, we were in the right queue. (Any news on that spelling of pillock yet?)
Just over an hour and a half later we got to see a smiley face at check-in, who then proceeded to tell us we were in the WRONG BLOODY QUEUE!!!!!. The urge to find the chairman of BA and insert a large garden gnome up his backside was becoming overwhelming!
A quick search on Amazon found the perfect implement!! https://www.amazon.co.uk/LARGE-GNOME-AXE-GARD…/…/ref=sr_1_1…
Luckily this nice, smiley faced lady (yes she was nice, you should have her stuffed as proof) took pity on us. Maybe the tears rolling down my wife’s face helped. Seriously though, you can annoy me, but look out when you push my wife to tears!!! Miss Smiley-Face kindly took us to where we should be.
Funnily enough, it was the shorter queue that I had asked if I could join!!!!! (I hit the Buy-With-One-Click button on Amazon!)
The nice young man at check-in (Yep, that’s 2) understood our dilemma of having to spend an 11 hour flight IN DIFFERENT ROWS and simply couldn’t understand how that could have happened? I asked him if he could do anything ,as I had been assured by the British Airways call centre on more than one occasion that he could .
He went and asked a manager.
Now I couldn’t hear what that manager was saying, but by the way he waved this nice young man away, I guessed he just thought we were lucky to get on the flight at all! So, defeated, the nice young man suggested that the best thing to do was to take the seats we had been allocated IN DIFFERENT ROWS, and ask the stewardesses on board to ask someone to move for us. He did say that there was a later flight and if we took that we could have exit row seats that we’d paid for, but it arrived in Johannesburg at the same time of our connecting flight to Hoedspruit10 was due to leave. So, best to take the bad seats. At least we’d make our connection. (Guess what?, Yep. ANOTHER LIE!!)
So, by time we’d been in more queues than a Russian food shopper, we had just about enough time to jog to the nearest food outlet available, the Pilot’s Bar and Kitchen, and ask them to rush through an order for two breakfasts, which came to, with 2 small lemonades, just under £40!
Replete with a breakfast expensive enough to please Iain Duncan-Smith’s (For American readers: Iain Duncan-Smith is a British politician. That’s all you need to know)) expenses sheet, we went to the gate. There she was. The plane that would finally take us on our hard-earned holiday. A majestic piece of engineering excellence – all shiny and with a proud British flag on her tail wing. (Spoiler alert: There’s another BUT coming!)
So we waited for boarding. And we waited. And waited.
Then finally!! Yes, please! Boarding call?
NO!! A message to say that British Airways regrets that there will be slight delay in boarding as the plane is too hot to board, Yeah, too hot. Would you believe that I’m slightly regretting the day I insisted on flights with British Airways!!! So I went and had a word with a nice young man at the gate (yes, that’s 3 nice people, well dome) about the chances a) of getting on the flight at all and, b) of making our connection *(he said that British Airways would be liable for if we missed it) and c) of getting on the later flight, as that might be a safer option.
He studied his screen and it appeared that this plane had the same fault as the A380 before it ,and that’s what caused all the heartache.
You’re probably assuming that I’m screaming at the guys there by now. Who could blame me? But it’s not their fault so I just got back on to Amazon and ordered another gnome.
Well, we finally boarded our Boeing 777, over an hour late. As Mr Nice-Young-Man had suggested, we asked the the stewardesses to ask someone to move, but of course they didn’t bother. So with the prospect of my wife being robbed of my witty repartee for the next 11 hours, she asked the gentleman next to her if he would kindly agree to move? Luckily, he took pity on us, and I will be forever in his debt.
Now when we boarded we assumed, (hello, where’s that confirmation on the correct spelling of pillock?) that we’d be on our way shortly.
WRONG! We spent over an hour and 15 minutes waiting in a hot plane to take off, with 1 poxy glass of warm water to help keep us alive!! Thanks.
Actually, I made a blog of this part of the episode on my IPAD to pass the time – a minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow account of the whole sorry episode which I will gladly send as an attachment if you like. Be warned though, the language is a little colourful. British Airways had finally broken me!!
So, take-off finally arrives, with the prospect of our connection definitely missed! As luck would have it, we would haven been better off going on the later flight, as I believe that landed before ours!!!!!!!!!
But British Airways to the rescue!! We have an announcement that there will be a team of people there in Jo’burg to help with your missed connections!
Well SHE was there. A team of person, not people it turns out.
Yep. One feckin person for a flight full of people all desperate for her attention! So I fought my way to the front of the melee and was told our name was NOT on her list. Not on the feckin list! WE have to go to the desk!!
So, I go to the desk, and the very UNhelpful person there said we weren’t on her feckin list either! So we go and see SA Express, the airline for our connection and guess what? There was NO room on the only other connection to Hoespruit that day. Cue my wife’s tears, AND NOW MINE!!!!!!!!!!
Four years of scrimping and saving to be treated like crap!!!!!
Luckily, I was able to contact our travel agent and he sorted out a later flight the same day to a different airport, and a 3 hour transfer to our lodge. We finally arrived 9 hours later than we should have, but missed our first game drive, which makes up a sizeable chunk of the huge cost of our safari, which I hold British Airways responsible for! A near £500 a night safari, and i miss a night. Look out British Airways!
I also hold you responsible for the near £20 phone call it cost me for the call to our travel agent at £1.40 a minute!!!!!! (robbing b……s). And that’s before we even START to talk about the stress and hardship we were put through through as a result of the the inadequacies of your airline.
I hope you take this seriously , and I can assure you that I will use all my power and energy to make sure that Bristish Airways is held accountable for this disgraceful service, and will use my consumer rights and social media to let people know about how British Airways treats its customers if this is not resolved to our satisfaction!
Yours, hoping you even read this and don’t send an automated reply!
John and Julie Wines
DCR never did receive an update on what happened following the complaint. John, please do let us know whether you got any response.
I still have a letter from John to Fred Olsen Cruises from around 2012. I must get around to formatting and sharing that one too.
For American readers: Pillock is pejorative British slang, most commonly used in the North of England, meaning a stupid or annoying person or simpleton. It has its origins in the 16thC when it meant penis. It is derived from the Norwegian word Pillicock which was also slang for penis. The Vikings were probably responsible, as they used to indulge in regular raping and pillaging expeditions to the North of England so pillicocks probably came up in conversation from time to time. Us equivalents might be klutz, ditz or bonehead ↩
For American readers: Yes, British people do actually say ‘Oh Gosh’ from time to time, especially posh British people. Posh people generally don’t say pillock though so John probably isn’t too toffee-nosed ↩
Remember, this is early July 2016, so Britain had just voted to stick a finger (or two, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on) up at our erstwhile friends in Europe and our politicians were busy either getting drunk or predicting the end of mankind as we know it ↩
Kwan-li-so (penal labour colony) No. 22 or Camp 22 is very real. It is around 225 km2 (87 sq miles) in area. It is surrounded by an inner 3300 volt electric fence and an outer barbed wire fence, with traps and hidden nails between the two fences. The camp is controlled by roughly 1,000 guards who are equipped with automatic rifles, hand grenades and trained dogs. In the 1990s, there were an estimated 50,000 prisoners in the camp. Prisoners are mostly people who criticised the government, people deemed politically unreliable or purged senior party members. Based on the guilt by association principle (Korean: 연좌제, yeonjwaje) they are often imprisoned together with the whole family including children and the elderly, and including any children born in the camp. All prisoners are detained until they die; they are never released. So, probably even worse than a long haul flight in cattle class ↩
WTF could refer to the the album ‘Wisdom, Tenacity and Focus’ by rapper Vanilla Ice or perhaps ‘Weird, True & Freaky’, a documentary series on Animal Planet. Probably not though ↩
SeatGuru.com is a website that features aircraft seat maps, seat reviews, and a colour-coded system to identify superior and substandard airline seats. Very handy if you’re planning to be sat in an airline seat for more than an hour ↩
DCR understands that, in common with many other airlines, British Airways has relocated most of its call and complaint handling to India – Mumbai in this case. See also the exchanges with EasyJet’s Indian complaints department in the Easyjet Chronicles section of the website here. In a recent consumer survey, British Airways came third in the study’s league of “rudest call centres”. It was criticised for cutting off customers who are waiting to speak to an operator – four per cent of calls to the airline end in this way, according to researchers. The survey was carried out by WeQ4U, a telephone queue-cutting service, which made 10,000 calls to 3,000 different companies. ↩
For American readers: British people really don’t like saying ‘toilet’ and so we have developed an extensive vocabulary of alternative euphemisms – bog, loo, khazi, netty, privy and… the facilities to name but a few. That’s probably why the use of the word restroom developed in the USA ↩
For American readers: One Foot in the Grave was a genuinely funny British BBC television sitcom series broadcast between 1990 and 2000. The series features the exploits of Victor Meldrew and his long-suffering wife, Margaret. The programmes invariably dealt with Meldrew’s battle against the problems he creates for himself. Set in a typical suburb in southern England, Victor takes involuntary early retirement. His various efforts to keep himself busy, while encountering various misfortunes and misunderstandings. Look our fo it on Netflix, it is hilarious ↩
Hoedspruit (Afrikaans for Hat Creek) is a town situated at the foot of the Klein Drakensberg mountain range in the Limpopo province of South Africa, on the railway line from Tzaneen to Kaapmuiden. Bet you didn’t know that ↩