British Airways forced us to pay twice to return from our honeymoon

By | October 3rd, 2016

Erin Coffey and her husband were on Cloud Nine during their wedding. But when they departed for the airport the following day, they found figurative storm clouds hanging over their honeymoon. They were scheduled to fly to Italy on British Airways, but they weren’t allowed to board their flight.

Coffey’s story is a cautionary tale for those planning to travel abroad: Make sure to check travel restrictions for all countries you plan to visit. Take care of any necessary legalities as far in advance as possible. And if any of them require changes to your plans, be willing and able to pay any required fees — and pay them. Otherwise, your trip of a lifetime might be abruptly cut short or turn out to be more expensive than you intend.

Coffey and her husband had been planning to travel to Italy for their honeymoon for more than a year, but they weren’t aware of Italy’s requirements for foreign passports. Italy bars entry to foreigners whose passports expire within three months of their trips — and Coffey’s husband’s passport expired in two months. According to Coffey, “In all of our planning and research we had never heard about this restriction. and we certainly weren’t told in any pre-flight communication by British Airways.”

Luckily for Coffey and her husband, the British Airways ticket agent gave them instructions on how to get his passport renewed quickly and rebooked them on flights departing one day later and returning one day later to Boston. Even more fortunately, Coffey’s husband was able to get a new passport in time for their new flight. And the following day, when they returned to the airport, the same ticket agent checked them in and confirmed that they were “all set” with their return flights. Coffey and her husband also checked their flight itinerary online and saw that their return flights had been rebooked as they requested.

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But there was a catch. Coffey and her husband were not told at that time that they were being charged 1,200 euros each for the new return tickets as well as a change fee of 270 euros. They did not learn of the charges until they arrived at the airport in Rome for their return flight and found that they could not check in.

The ticket agent in Rome repeatedly told Coffey and her husband that they would have to call an international customer service number to resolve their check-in problem because the agent “did not have the authority to resolve ticketing issues.” When they called the number, they spent 30 minutes on hold before learning of the unpaid charges.

According to Coffey, “Of course, our initial reaction was to refuse to pay such a high fee — we were never told about it at the time we requested the change — had we been told, we never would have made the change.”

They protested the fees and tried to get British Airways’ international customer service agent to waive or reduce them. But after spending another three hours on the phone and missing any remaining flights back to Boston that day, Coffey and her husband gave up and agreed to pay the fee and fare change for a flight the next day.

After they returned home, Coffey contacted British Airways customer service online to complain and request refunds for the fees they were charged to change their flights, the hotel room they had to stay in for an extra night, and the international telephone call they had to make in Rome. (Company contact information for British Airways can be found on our website.)

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Six weeks later, Coffey received an email from British Airways refusing to refund any of these charges.

“I can live with the phone and hotel bill, but I do think they should refund the airfare as they never communicated these fees to us ahead of time,” says Coffey.

Is Coffey correct?

According to British Airways’ general conditions of carriage,

Carrier imposed charges and/or surcharges may be added to your fare as part of the published total amount payable for your transportation….

You must pay any taxes, fees and charges imposed on us or on you by governments or other authorities, or by operators of airports.

When you buy your ticket, we will tell you about any:

  • carrier imposed charges, and surcharges
  • taxes, fees and charges

Taxes, fees and charges change constantly and can be imposed or altered after the date we have issued your ticket. If they change or if a new tax, fee or charge is imposed after we have issued your ticket, you will have to pay us any increase.

On the one hand, yes, British Airways does indeed give itself the right to impose change fees and charges for new tickets and to require that the passengers incurring those fees pay them before being allowed to check in and board their flights.

On the other hand, the general conditions of carriage also indicate that British Airways will notify the passengers of those fees. And Coffey and her husband did not receive any notification of the fees from British Airways until after they had spent a prolonged time on hold with British Airways’ international customer service line.

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But Coffey and her husband would not have incurred those fees had they checked out the Italian passport requirements and made sure that their passports were valid for travel in Italy before going to the airport in the U.S. They had more than a year to do so before they left the U.S. on their honeymoon. And we’re not hopeful that British Airways will be willing to issue them refunds for the additional costs they incurred as a result of their decision to rebook their return flight.

Should we advocate with British Airways for Erin Coffey and her husband?

View Results

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  • Regina Litman

    I voted yes because I almost always side with the letter writers. But this was only a “leans Yes” vote, not a “Yes of course” vote, and I can understand why the No votes are in the lead.

  • Doug_S

    I voted no. This is a most unfortunate experience, but it is completely the fault of the couple. Every single pop-up on every single airline web site reiterates that fliers have the sole responsibility to make sure they have the proper identification and documents for foreign travel. BA is charging the posters a change fee and (likely) the fare difference. I am particularly sympathetic to their story, honeymoon and all. But BA did nothing wrong or unfair, and there is simply nothing to advocate for.

    I’m troubled if BA didn’t say anything at all about the rebooking fees, but sadly, I mistrust the poster’s recollection. They were probably upset at the counter and may not have remembered every detail. BA is generally pretty upfront about all the fees it charges. I am willing to say I’d change my mind, but right now, I’m not seeing anything BA should refund.

  • sirwired

    If there was ever a case where a change fee makes sense, this would be one… the seat flew off into the sunset without them in it, and there was no opportunity for the airline to recover the revenue.

    “In all of our planning and research we had never heard about this restriction. and we certainly weren’t told in any pre-flight communication by British Airways.”

    I wonder what sort of “Planning and research” they did… just about any guidebook goes into then-current passport requirements, and, of course, the State Dept. tells you all about it. Every airline DOES tell you that you are solely responsible for meeting legal requirements for travel.

    “Of course, our initial reaction was to refuse to pay such a high fee — we were never told about it at the time we requested the change — had we been told, we never would have made the change.”

    “[They] never would have made the change”? What? How would that even work? What exactly was the alternative? I suppose they could have canceled entirely, but they would have had to pay the fee when they used their airfare credit (if they ever did.) And, of course, make other arrangements for their honeymoon. (Their onward flight was already being changed (and almost certainly not for free), meaning the return was going to be part of the re-booking, unless it was a one-way ticket. I doubt it was much more expensive to delay it a day.

    And I find it hard to believe that they arrived at the airport, and the ticket agent made the change and didn’t hand them a receipt…

    The only puzzler is why this was an issue when they checked in to come home… maybe the credit card charge didn’t go through on the outbound?

    MORAL OF THE STORY: ALWAYS have six months remaining on your passport; so many countries have that requirement that you might as treat it as expiring six months before it actually does.

  • sirwired

    Personally, I find it hard to believe that the changes were made to the flights without handing over a receipt, which would have detailed the charges.

  • Tricia K

    It’s one of those cases where you don’t know what you don’t know, which is why anyone booking their own travel needs to be able to read and research details carefully. Last year my daughter was headed to the Dominican Republic with less than six months left on her passport, which set me into a bit of a tizzy, mostly because I couldn’t convince her this could be an issue. Her first response to me? “That’s stupid.” Fortunately in my daughter’s case, the DR simply required a valid passport but that’s not the case for many countries. We have a trip to Rome planned next May and my passport expires next August. I will be renewing it in January just to be sure. Fortunately the stories here and on the forum can also serve to educate the rest of us before we have a problem.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    Unless the OP hasn’t traveled in the past ten years; has not read any travel articles; etc, it is hard for me believe that the OP isn’t aware of fees to make changes to tickets.

  • Pegtoo

    I tend to agree that the op doesn’t always hear details correctly, but it happens. Tension and emotions wreak havoc on a person’s ability to hear and understand clearly. But since these travelers were not allowed to board because the bill hadn’t been paid yet – It seems they had no idea they were on the hook for additional expenses. They clearly had not been told of additional charges. (Whether they should have realized it or not). Advocate for a reduction.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    How could you not be aware traveling with a passport about to expire is going to be a problem?

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    “In all of our planning and research we had never heard about this restriction.”

    I wondering what type of research that the OP did for over a year on their trip to Italy? In less than 60 seconds, I found the passport requirements to Italy.

    Of course someone will post that I am a super duper uber Google searcher but I typed ‘passport requirements for us citizens traveling to Italy’ and it is a Google Suggest (in other words, several people entered and searched for this exact term).

    The first search link is a display from the US Department of States which is the following:

    “Italy is a party to the Schengen Agreement. Please visit the Embassy of Italy website for the most current visa information. Passports should be valid for at least six months beyond your departure date. U.S. citizens may enter Italy for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.” Jan 22, 2016

    The second search link is from Travel Tips – USA Today which is the following: The passport must be valid for at least three months beyond the intended period of stay in Italy.

  • cscasi

    One would think when the ticket agent made the change for them that he would have asked for the change fee, and issued them a receipt. I haven’t had to do that in years. It used to be when they collected money for something from you, they issued you a receipt which was issued on the ticket stock, only it showed it was a receipt and had all the charges on it.
    Nonetheless, I cannot understand the changes being made and the Coffeys not being charged right then. Strange.

  • cscasi

    Because, as pointed out already, various countries have various passport validity requirements to enter their countries. This is readily available in the Internet for those who want to familiarize themselves.

  • Jeff W.

    I voted no, for two reasons.

    If they chose instead to not go to Italy, it most likely would have cost them more. They would have likely had to fly back to the US from the UK instead of Italy. Any lodging and activities they had reserved in Italy were likely nonrefundable at that point.

    They were being extremely greedy. It is clear that the “research” into passport requirements was lacking. And you can make an argument that BA should have disclosed the additional charges for the flight change. Maybe BA did or did not. But since they asked for hotel and phone charges to be reimbursed for something that is the fault of the traveler, sorry, do not advocate. Pure greed.

    Looking at it, BA was actually quite helpful. Told the passengers what they needed to do and got everything straight and it was able to get done in a day. Yes, maybe they had to wait on the phone for awhile. Whose fault was that? BA was not the one with the invalid passport…

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I am wondering if the OP used a wedding planner. If ‘Yes’ then I have no sympathy for their case. They probably spent thousands for the services of a wedding planner but not willing to spend $ 100 for a professional brick & mortar travel to book their tickets. Just like the OP who purchased a $ 600 beer package but passed on the travel insurance and ended up with a $ 11,000 medical bill and a lost cruise.

    If ‘No’ then I have some sympathy for the OP but they were their own DIY travel agent. They have to assume the responsibilities and risks of being their own travel agent.

    It has been written on this blog that people should use a professional brick & mortar travel agent for the ‘once in a lifetime trip’, honeymoons, anniversaries, etc. especially when it involves international travel. There will be people posting that you don’t need a travel agent to book tickets to Italy. Yes…it is a simple round-trip from Boston to Rome…how about convenience?

    Given the stress (i.e. making sure that everything comes together at the reception; etc.) of getting married, it is a convenience for a travel agent to book the tickets (one less thing to worry about). Also, if there is an issue (i.e. cancelled flight due to weather, etc), your travel agent can make changes, advocate for you, etc.

    I have booked thousands of flights, hotel rooms, car rentals, etc. but I do use a travel agent for some of our trips especially our international trips. I am currently planning a vacation trip for my family and it is taking some time (spent over 8 hours so far)…it is my preference for a travel agent to book this trip because I don’t have the time. I put a value of my time.

    The first time that my wife and I went to Europe for a tour, our travel agent didn’t book the tour until we presented our passports (i.e. she wanted to make sure that our names were correct) and didn’t give us our ‘tour tickets’ until we presented our passports with the required visa (i.e. she wanted to make sure that we could enter the few countries on our tour that required a visa at that the time).

  • DepartureLevel

    I’m in agreement with other posters that the passengers should have found out passport requirements (given all the research they did beforehand).

    Unfortunately most people, when they are put on the spot at a ticket counter (checkin), don’t try to “step back” and think of an entirely different alternative to get home – without spending a fortune – AND THAT MEANS NOT USING THE AIRLINE THAT IS SCREWING YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE. If you can get online and google flights from Rome to Boston – even last minute, something usually pops up with choices that are lower than 1200 Euros per person one way.
    They spent approximately $2600/USD to get home the next day.

    I just looked at google flights from Rome to Boston (today) and found a $750 fare per person on AerLingus (connect Dublin). You’re stuck in Rome, you have nothing but time on your hands – instead of panicking and grabbing the first flight BA offers, just step away and do some research – build your own itinerary; not impossible with many intra-Europe cheap airlines to another gateway and then home.

    As an airline employee, I’m forced to brainstorm and sometimes set in motion plan B or C to get home. I have booked confirmed at the last minute flights intra-Europe to get to another gateway if I see that what I originally planned is full or impossible to standby for. At worst it may cost me $100-$200 more to fly to another European city and then standby from there (my carrier). But even revenue passengers can do this and save tons of money. Yes, it takes work and brainstorming but Google Flights is your friend !

  • Daddydo

    “How much is this change going to cost us”? Oops, forgot to ask. On behalf of the clients, I have never heard of re-ticketing one way and not the return, so I have to assume that the “very nice agent that helped them at the counter” screwed up. As far as the passport is concerned, shame on the self designated travel agents, you deserved the inconvenience, not the dollar amount.

  • colorunr

    As alluded to by other posters, I cannot believe that BA would have reissued a round-trip ticket without receiving payment and providing a reconfimation email or hard copy receipt that clearly shows the additional charges. Why was there no charge for the outgoing portion of the ticket, and why were they able to board the outgoing flight? Were these two one-way tickets under a different fare class? Things don’t add up. I think there is more to this story than what has been presented. I am a BA frequent flyer with roughly 1M miles over my career. I’ve never encountered a situation like this with BA, or any other airline for that matter… My vote is a qualified “yes”, assuming the OP did not leave any details out of the story (which seems likely).

  • William Leeper

    I just can’t fathom why they were allowed to fly out if the charges were not paid. If not for the little piece of info that they “found out when they were unable to check into their return flight,” I would believe they misunderstood, but most airlines collect the fees and fares before any leg of the trip commences.

  • The Original Joe S

    BA has a bad record on this blog. Avoid.

    Everyone posting here to get assistance: You’ll get as much sympathy for your plight as has an exterminator for bugs. Many of these people here are working in the travel industry, and, as usual, will hang you out to dry rather than extend themselves to help.

  • The Original Joe S

    what TA do you own? Most posters here autonomically side with the shady operators.

  • Rebecca

    My husband, for the life of him, just cannot Google something and get the information he wants. I don’t know why, I’ve tried to figure it out. It seems to be a combination of his horrible spelling, autocorrect and his tendency to use broad search terms instead of more specific searches that would be significantly more helpful. He works in technology for a living, on complicated engineering software, so it doesn’t logically make sense. I have to look up everything. So I believe someone could miss the info in a quick search. However, something as important as a passport requirement when there was supposedly a year of lots of travel research, no, that I don’t believe. Either they didn’t look or just figured it would be no big deal, until it was a big deal.

  • Altosk

    I voted no. You don’t mess with passports. That’s not the airline’s rule…that’s the traveler’s responsibility and if you fail to do what is required, it’s an expensive lesson.

  • Nathan Witt

    So when a traveler doesn’t want to lose money they paid for travels, lodging, etc., that’s greed, but when an airline wants to charge additional fare and change fees, even though they didn’t notify the traveler of these charges, what’s that called?

  • Nathan Witt

    Yes, they should have known about the passport requirements. But BA also should have informed them of any charges necessary to change flights, and the travelers should not have been allowed to board a changed flight (London to Italy) without paying those charges. Airlines can and do waive these extra charges sometimes, and if the Coffeys assumed that a change made and a boarding pass issued without a charge meant that there would be no charges, can you really blame them?

  • JewelEyed

    If you’re not willing to do the research to make sure your international, once in a lifetime trip is all set, please use a travel agent. A quick Google returns this, which says 6 months beyond departure date, not 3:

  • Mark

    It’s hard to believe you wouldn’t recall a €1,200 surcharge. That’s the sort of thing that sticks in your memory.

    However it’s equally hard to imagine the desk agent not mentioning it.

  • Mark

    Is there a chance that the agent thought that they were doing the change for free, but that something triggered a price recalculation?

    I can imagine that BA may have a waver in place for shifting a flight to the next day for passport issues – but maybe there’s no such waiver in place for also moving the return flight, and that’s what caught them out?

  • Rebecca

    I think the most likely scenario is actually that they were charged a change for the original flight. The return flight was not changed, but a separate one way was booked (ie the original return ticket was forfeit and they were classified as no shows). Based on the way it was charged and processed, that would be my guess. I’m only speculating, but that seems to fit what happened.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    Passport issue aside, why extend the trip another day? They had to pay for two additional nights in a hotel by extending and by missing the last flight the next day. If they had kept their original return flight, wouldn’t the additional fare have been less since only the outbound would have changed? I’d rather settle for one less day of vacation than spend a lot more to get the additional day back.

  • Michael__K

    If they were never informed of the new charges and never signed anything to accept the charges and if they are still within 60 days from the closing date of the credit card statement with those charges, then they should dispute this with their credit card company ASAP.

  • Michael__K

    The charges were unpaid so I would find it hard to believe that a receipt would have been handed for charges which were not paid…

  • Michael__K

    What BA appears to have done wrongly or unfairly is not disclosing and taking payment for the change fee at the time the change is made. Normally this all happens at the time when the change is made.

    It’s possible the agent was looking out for these passengers’ benefit so that they wouldn’t get charged for a second change in case they didn’t get the passport renewed in time for the next day’s flight. But if so, this should still have been explained up front.

    And in any case any payment issue should have been resolved before they finally departed BOS. Passengers should not be ambushed with payment demands mid-itinerary.

  • Michael__K

    “[They] never would have made the change”? What? How would that even work? What exactly was the alternative?

    Simple. The alternative was to choose new flights/dates with a much smaller fare difference than 1200 EUR per passenger.

  • Dutchess

    My initial response was NO because having the correct travel documents for your flight is the passenger’s responsibility. However, I voted yes in this instance because if the agent tells you they’re changing your flight and doesn’t tell you there’s an additional fee I would be shocked and angry if I was hit with an extra €1200 AFTER I had taken the flight. I’ve had agents make changes for me without a fee before many times, so it wouldn’t be so unusual to have an agent change the ticket at no cost, especially for a couple on their honeymoon. If it wasn’t disclosed, then the couple wasn’t given the opportunity to decide if they were okay with the cost of the new tickets.

  • Jeff W.

    The greed is asking for hotel reservations / phone calls to be reimbursed from BA while they need stay in the UK to fix a passport problem of their own making.

    If they would have stuck to the original issue of the $1200 charge, I think there would be more sympathy. Although the comments regarding passport rules would still be valid.

  • Michael__K

    If they chose instead to not go to Italy, it most likely would have cost them more. They would have likely had to fly back to the US from the UK instead of Italy

    The way I read it, they renewed the passport in Boston the day after their wedding. They could have rescheduled to flights/dates with a smaller fare difference if the fees were not being waived.

  • Michael__K

    If they were allowed to fly to Italy, that implies they had a confirmed reservation. In which case, they technically have grounds to pursue EC 261 compensation, which includes everything they’ve asked for and more.

    If a reservation is revoked or canceled, it’s incumbent on the airline to notify the passengers.

  • Annie M

    Should have used a travel agent.

  • Bill___A

    This information about passports needing to be valid is readily available – including several times on this very site. It is very unfortunate that it turned out this way, but certainly not the airline’s fault at all. However, they should have collected any additional fare immediately when it is due, it is not good to find out about these things after the fact, which I find troubling because I have not encountered a situation where there is any other procedure at the airport but “pay right away”.

  • C Schwartz

    They had a USA to LHR to Italy itinerary and not allowed to board as the passport was not valid for the destination. Passports are checked at the airport at departure from the US. EU 261 would not apply as the passenger was not able to enter the destination country. That is not the fault of the airline

  • Michael Anthony

    One would think that the first BA agent is at fault. Yes, she gave them instructions on getting the passport taken care of, but she a also rebooked their flights. It’s inconceivable that they were not made to pay for them then and there, but in Florence, on the way home. If I’m told I’m being rebooked and no cost is mentioned, I assume it’s at no cost. And that’s true.

    Those that advocate no assume the traveling public is as informed as you are. If we were to each take a poll of 10 random people on the street how about passports expiration dates and each countries rules regarding that, we’d probably find the majority having no idea. Prescription Drugs have blacked box warnings at the start of their info sheets on things that could harm you greatly. Perhaps carriers should have black box warnings AT THE START of reservations when you’re trying to book a destination that rules that affect many travelers.

  • Michael__K

    They had a new BOS to FCO round trip itinerary after the “change” after they renewed their passport and they were allowed to board for travel to FCO and then they were denied boarding on the return trip.

    If they did not have a confirmed reservation after renewing their passport, they should never have gotten to Rome until this was resolved and that is the fault of the airline.

    If they did have a confirmed reservation then EU 261 applies.

  • joycexyz

    I am sympathetic to many of the letter writers, but there are those who are off the wall, feel entitled, think their situation is special, don’t read agreements, or hear what they want to hear. While I don’t think this couple fits into any of those categories (except maybe the last), they failed to do their homework (the almost expired passport). And I find it hard to believe that BA didn’t tell them about the fees they incurred by changing the flights. I voted “No.” My only question is why were they issued tickets if they had not paid for them?

  • joycexyz

    Always a good idea to make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months ahead of your return.

  • joycexyz

    Exactly. How could they have been issued tickets without having paid for them?

  • colorunr

    As alluded to by other posters, I cannot believe that BA would have reissued a round-trip ticket without receiving payment and providing a reconfimation email or hard copy receipt that clearly shows the additional charges. Why was there no charge for the change to the outgoing portion of the ticket, and why were they able to board the outgoing flight with the return portion unpaid? Were these two one-way tickets under a different fare class? Things don’t add up. I think there is more to this story than what has been presented. I am a BA frequent flyer with roughly 1M miles over my career. I’ve never encountered a situation like this with BA, or any other airline for that matter… My vote is a qualified “yes”, with respect to the fare difference only (change fee and hotel should be at travelers’ expense)–assuming that the OP did not leave any details out of the story (which seems likely).

  • rothsteg

    I voted to advocate meaning in this case, querying BA as to whether there is any indication that the first agent told them of the cost to rebook. I have enough experience with BA ground personnel (although I’m a fan of BA onboard crews) to know that they are often are quite sloppy in their handling of any problem.

  • AAGK

    Am I understanding this right that this woman was given a second accommodation from the airline (the first when husband messed up the passport and the 2nd when they refused to pay the fees on the way home and were allowed to book another set of tickets?). I wouldn’t advocate. She used up her goodwill. I’m all for exceptions but airlines should spread them around. This PAX received more than her share already.

  • C Schwartz

    BA may not have charged them when they changed the flights at the airport after finding out that the passport was not valid, not knowing if one of the passengers would actually be able to get the passport renewed to make the next days flight. I would imagine that the focus was on getting the passport problem fixed first.

  • C Schwartz

    They may not have made them pay then and there because of uncertainty as to whether they would get the passport renewed in time for the following day.

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