Hey South African Airlines, I want $10,000 for my inconvenience!

Sometimes there’s no easy way to get from point “A” to point “B.” So when Sima Bakalian and her husband needed to fly from Abijan, Côte d’Ivoire, to Durban, South Africa, she had to take the scenic route, with multiple stops on multiple carriers.

You can probably guess what happened next, right? Something didn’t go as planned. And now, she’s wondering who should fix it.

Bakalian reserved three flights in business class on two different airlines. Her first flight on Air Cote d’Ivoire was delayed two hours because of weather problems. When she and her husband arrived in Accra, Ghana, at 10 p.m., they were escorted to the South African Airways desk to check in for their second flight, but it had already departed.

“The South African Airways check-in desk was closed,” she recalls. “Then a lady came and sat at it. She told us the check-in was closed for our flight. We could hear the boarding calls for it, but she kept saying there was nothing she could do.”

Her attitude was disdainful, says Bakalian. Then the employe “passive-aggressively went to working on something else.” She refused to give them her name, and her badge was hiding behind her desk.

“We asked to speak with a supervisor who came after the flight had left. Both of them said that they were not notified by Air Côte d’Ivoire of our late arrival. He started lecturing us that for international flights, check-in is three hours ahead, and that SAA did everything possible,” she says.

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The South African Airways supervisor booked Bakalian on a flight the following morning at 9 a.m., arranged for hotel accommodations, and then mentioned that the flight was already delayed.

When Bakalian hadn’t heard from the airline the following morning she started calling its office. She finally reached a representative who said they should return to the airport at 6 p.m., to check in for a 9 p.m. departure.

Once on board the plane, the crew announced another delay — there was a leak in the galley that needed to be repaired. A few hours later the crew announced that maintenance had not been able to repair the leak, and a change of aircraft was required.

The new aircraft didn’t have enough business class seats for everyone, so Bakalian was offered a downgrade to economy class, which she accepted in order to avoid an even longer delay. Her third flight was also rescheduled to accommodate the delays — on that flight a sufficient number of business class seats were available.

She eventually arrived at her destination but missed a business meeting. She emailed customer service for South African Airways but never received a response, so she also posted to her Facebook page. There was no response to that complaint either. That’s when Bakalian reached out to us, and asked us to help her recover $10,000.

Yes, you read that right: Bakalian wants to be compensated in the amount of $10,000 for her “horrible experience.” She never explains to us how she came up with such a number.

The South African Airways Conditions of Carriage states that “We reserve the right to cancel your reservation if you do not comply with the Check-in Deadlines indicated.” For her SAA flight the check-in time was three hours prior to departure, which was impossible because her inbound flight was delayed.

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The delay of Bakalian’s first flight on Air Cote d’Ivoire was weather-related — as with every other airline, a weather delay does not qualify for compensation since it is out of the airline’s control. Rebooking on the next available flight is the standard, and even though her first flight wasn’t on one of its planes, SAA did rebook Bakalian on the next available flight.

The delay of the second flight was mechanical, and if this had been Bakalian’s first flight I would definitely agree that South African Airlines owed her compensation for the downgrade that she accepted, in accordance with the Conditions of Carriage noted above. SAA’s contract of carriage includes the following information about downgrades of service class:

If we are unable to provide previously confirmed space, we shall provide compensation to those Passengers denied boarding or involuntarily downgraded in accordance with applicable law and our denied boarding compensation policy.

The Conditions further indicate that compensation would be the fare difference between economy and business class tickets. But does this matter? Bakalian was only on this flight because she couldn’t make her original flight when a different airline had a weather delay. Neither of these was the fault of South African Airways.

In the end our advocates decided that since the original delay happened on a different airline and was caused by Mother Nature this is not a case for us. We referred her to the contacts we list on our website for South African Airways and suggested that she omit the request for $10,000.

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Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

  • Lifetime Expat

    A $10,000 refund? No way. Something for her downgrade? Definitely.

  • Annie M

    This is when those of us reading your column get angry – these people come up with ridiculous compensation requests that make them look bad. I’d ignore her requests too if I was in Customer Service at the airline. And if she had separate tickets on two different airlines, South African Airways has no way of knowing she is coming in from another airline. All they know is she wasn’t at the gate in time to embark.

    Sorry you had to waste any time at all on such a ridiculous request.

  • LeeAnneClark

    It’s unfortunate that the LW asked for such an unreasonable amount. She IS due something – specifically, the difference between economy and business on that one flight. When someone pays for business class, but is put in economy, for whatever reason, they are generally due the difference in fare.

    But honestly, even that compensation is in question. It sounds as if her flights were booked separately, not on the same record. If that’s true, then that was very bad decision on her part – that makes it solely HER responsibility to get to that connection on time, not the airline’s. That puts her at risk of being late for the connection, with no way to control her arrival herself. And if she is late, it falls completely on her…the second airline has no responsibility to accommodate her. The fact that they did, at (apparently) no additional charge, is IMO above-and-beyond, and commendable.

    Of course it’s possible the tickets were booked together as one record (I’m not sure I’m using the appropriate term – I’m sure a travel agent could explain this better). The article doesn’t make that clear. If so, then I would say she is absolutely entitled to the fare difference for the flight on which she got downgraded.

    And I have a sneaky suspicion it’s way less than 10 grand. ;-)

  • MF

    $10K??? And my daughter wanted a pony…

  • sofar

    Had to laugh at the part where the South African Airlines flight was delayed 12 hours (9am to 9 pm). I’ve flown those guys only twice, and both times, was delayed 10+ hours due to mechanical difficulties. One of those delays was 18 hours.

    Nothing to do with this claim, but my god, what is going on at SA Airlines?

  • AAGK

    Why do people think anyone else cares about their missed business meetings. Everyone has to work. Who books travel on 3 planes the day before you need to be anywhere anyway? She should receive a refund for the difference between businesss and coach, as a kindness from the airline and to preserve goodwill.

  • Bill___A

    Some people have very unrealistic expectations. I am not sure if she is due any money, depends if she had two reservations or one linked. There are generally a lot of “variables” in Africa (yes, I have been there), it pays to get to meetings well in advance.

  • Bill___A

    I might have cared but when I see a request for $10K, I then don’t care so much….

  • PsyGuy

    TIA ‘mon.
    Scenic route? Isn’t that why travelers go to Africa in the first place?
    $10,000 compensation? Oh that’s easy she pulled it out of thin air. The same place LW’s get their rational for 2 first class flights to anywhere.
    Had no issue voting “no”. She booked separate itineraries, and she was late.

  • PsyGuy


  • PsyGuy

    Her goodwill was being booked on the next flight by SAA. They had no obligation to give her anything, she was a no show.

  • PsyGuy

    At $10,000 I don’t care at all.

  • PsyGuy


  • PsyGuy

    …with a horn.

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t see how she was generally due anything, including the difference between business and economy, she was a no show, she wasn’t entitled to anything.

  • PsyGuy

    She was a no show, they owed her nothing, yet they put her on a plane. That was their good will.

  • BubbaJoe123

    FYI, it’s Abidjan, not Abijan.

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