Why won’t British Airways reimburse me for my delay?

When Catherine Jackson’s flight from Johannesburg to London takes off without her, she asks us to help her get reimbursement from British Airways for her delay. But there is one big problem with her request: Her British Airways flight wasn’t delayed.

Jackson’s story highlights the need to get all your facts straight before you contact an airline — or a consumer advocate — for help. We always want to assist wherever we can, but in this case we can’t. You’ll see why in a second.

Getting all the facts to advocate Jackson’s case was a little like pulling teeth. When she initially contacted us she said she had no idea why she and her husband were denied boarding on her flight to London.

She explained,

My original flight was British Airways 54 departing Johannesburg at 9:10 PM and arrive in London/Heathrow at 7:20AM. We did not get to take this flight. We checked in.
One hour later, the man who checked us in, found us in the crowded airport. He brought us back to the ticket counter and put us on a different flight and a different airline.

Eventually, she says, they arrived in London eight hours after their scheduled arrival. She believed because of this delay, she qualified for a 600 euro (about $644) payment under the European Commission’s rule 261 (commonly known as EC 261 or EU 261).

The EU 261 is a regulation that governs all flights operated by EU carriers that originate, terminate or connect in Europe, as well as any flights originating in Europe. It is lengthy and complicated, but it has strict guidelines that must be followed and there are big fines involved for airlines that don’t comply. Under this rule, a passenger is entitled to up to 600 euros, depending on the length of the delay and distance covered by the flight.

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We were surprised when Jackson reported that British Airways had outright denied her claim for payment. Based on what she had told us, we assumed that she qualified for the reimbursement.

So we began to dig a little deeper.

When we reviewed Jackson’s travel documentation we noted that she was scheduled on a connecting flight prior to the British Airways flight. This flight was from Durban and was operated by Comair, a South African airline. Hmm…

So we asked Jackson if she was on that flight and if it was delayed. She told us,

Our incoming flight was not delayed. We were already checked in at the Johannesburg airport and were waiting around. They found us in the middle of the crowded airport and made us go back to the counter. It was the same man we had checked in with an hour earlier. He said there was a problem on his end and he needed to get us on a different flight.

Under these conditions, it seemed clear that Jackson was entitled to the payment. But we thought we had better check on that Comair flight before contacting British Airways. FlightStats is a useful and free tool to check flight and airport data; historical and current. So we went to the website and checked out the information about Jackson’s incoming flight.

And here is where the giant wrench is thrown into her hopes for any reimbursement.

A delayed flight that is operated by a non-European airline in a non-European country does not qualify for payment under the EU 261. The reason that Jackson missed her British Airways flight is clear. Her Comair flight from Durban to Johannesburg was 81 minutes late and landed after boarding was complete for her British Airways flight to London.

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Now we were thoroughly confused by Jackson and her story. We asked her for clarification of the facts. How could she have been checked in and waiting for her flight if she was actually on a flight from Durban? She told us she didn’t recall this delay and she apologized for bothering us.

At this point, we suggested to Jackson that she may wish to write a letter to Comair and request some type of reimbursement for the inconvenience that the delay had caused her. We also recommended that she post her story to our help forums, as we have travel experts on staff there who may have further advice based on the actual facts of the case.

We are sorry that Jackson’s arrival in London was delayed several hours, but we hope that this story serves as a reminder that in order to help a consumer, we must operate with facts.

There are consumer-friendly rules and regulations that we aim to make sure are enforced. But when we receive a request for help with missing and inaccurate information, it makes our advocacy attempts more difficult. We don’t know why Jackson did not recall her delayed flight. But the entire case hinged on that flight and is, ultimately, why this story now rests in the Case Dismissed file.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of Elliott.org, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • sirwired

    And I thought my memory was sometimes made of Swiss Cheese… She “didn’t recall” the delay, but DID somehow remember an elaborate process of checking in for a flight that had already left? She was “denied boarding” for her outgoing flight? That would imply she got to the gate and they didn’t let her on… I imagine she might have noticed there was, in fact, no plane to be let on TO.

    Forgive me if I’m having trouble believing that she was checked in for a flight that had already left, and it took them an hour to realize that the plane was gone.

  • KennyG

    I typically get beat up whenever I say this here, but once again, the problem with our traveler is a lack of personal responsibility. I have to think that the reason “…We don’t know why Jackson did not recall her delayed flight” is because it was easier to neglect to mention it because it would have made her have no case against the airline at all.

  • MarkKelling

    Instead of trying to get compensation for being late, she should be thanking the airline for getting her to London only 8 hours late since she missed the original flight. They could’ve called her a no show and made her buy new tickets.

  • sirwired

    It was likely a code-share or interline ticket; Comair is a BA partner.

  • Kristiana Lee

    How much time did they have for the connection originally? 80 minutes is a significant delay but if the London flight had already finished boarding, it sounds like the connection was pretty tight for an international flight. I’d love to see the original schedule.

  • cscasi

    Especially since it was in no way, British Airways’ fault that her Comair flight arrived in Johannesburg too late for her to connect to the flight to London.

  • johnb78

    The Comair flight wasn’t just a BA codeshare, it was a BA codeshare on a plane painted in BA colours with British Airways written on the side (see pic), sold as British Airways. I think it’s pretty reasonable for a customer to assume they were on a BA flight. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/edba886857d748e0e167244cad95142bf2a4166733a46c51ffd9028413644107.jpg

  • PsyGuy

    I know why she didn’t recall her flight delay, it doesn’t support her case. This is a scammy PAX.

  • PsyGuy

    Now that I believe.

  • PsyGuy

    I would have

  • PsyGuy

    Well it wasn’t the PAX fault either.

  • PsyGuy

    I hate codeshares, they should be banned. They always create problems. Banning codeshares and OTA’s would put Chris out of business though.

  • sirwired

    I don’t see how it would have made a difference in this case. If this were an interline ticket instead the exact same problems would have happened, and there would have been the exact same resolution.

    It doesn’t appear the OP was confused, since it was identified as a Comair flight throughout.

  • PsyGuy

    EU 261 would have applied on an interlined flight itinerary.

  • sirwired

    Not if the first flight took place outside the EU on a non-EU airline. (Which is exactly the case here.)

  • PsyGuy

    This is British Airways, did Brexit happen and I missed ed. Isn’t Great Britain in the EU?

  • sirwired

    The delayed flight which went nowhere near the EU took place on Comair, which is a South African airline.

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