I was bumped from my flight, so where is my compensation?

Celeste Powers is bumped from her flight, and British Airways issues her a debit card worth $659 as compensation. The card doesn’t work, and a month later the airline still won’t resolve the issue. Can our advocates help her get compensation for her overbooked flight?

Question: I bought a round-trip ticket to England on British Airways. The outgoing itinerary was Oakland International Airport to London Gatwick Airport. The return flight was London Heathrow Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Prior to the flight, I was unable to check in online. I got to the airport in time to check in, and was told that the flight was oversold. After waiting around for a few hours, the British Airways agent told me that I couldn’t fly until the next day. I was put up in a horrible hotel that wasn’t near the airport and given a debit card for 509 pounds [$659] as compensation. I switched hotels at my own expense.

When I returned to the U.S., I tried numerous times to use the debit card that British Airways had given me. The card was always declined in stores and at ATMs. I emailed British Airways customer service asking if the reason I couldn’t use the card was that it was issued in pounds and I was trying to use it in the U.S. Its reply was to give me a case number and to say it would be in touch as soon as possible. This is the only email I got from British Airways.

I also sent British Airways a direct tweet about not being able to use the card. It responded and said that that the card wouldn’t work because it had already been used and was empty. I had never used the card. I asked where and when it had been used, and was told that it had to check with its finance department. Over the next month, I asked British Airways for updates, and it kept telling me that it was waiting on the finance department.

Related story:   “I have never in my life experienced such disregard for human decency”

I even went to the British Airways agent at the Seattle airport and was told that they couldn’t help. British Airways hasn’t given me an answer about when the card was used, or a replacement. I’ve spent so much time on this without getting anywhere. Any help is greatly appreciated. Can you help? — Celeste Powers, McLean, Va.

Answer: How frustrating! First, you were bumped from your flight. Second, you were placed in an unacceptable hotel and, at your own expense, moved to another one. Third, you were given an unusable debit card as compensation. And fourth, after more than a month, British Airways still hadn’t ensured that you actually received the compensation it owed you.

When you were involuntarily bumped from your flight, the requirements of EU 261 applied. EU 261 is a regulation that establishes rules for help and compensation that some airlines must give to passengers on certain flights who are delayed or involuntarily bumped. At the time of your flight, this regulation applied to your flight on British Airways because it originated in a European Union country on a European Union airline.

EU 261 is a complex rule, and understanding how it applies to overbooked flights or delays requires a careful reading of the regulation. But, you can find answers to frequently asked questions about EU 261 on our website.

After getting nowhere with British Airways, you contacted our advocates for help. But before seeking help from our advocates, you could have posted your question to our help forums. Our forums are staffed by travel industry experts, who may have had helpful suggestions about how to address this issue with the airline. And, you could have tried escalating your complaint by contacting company executives who may have intervened on your behalf. We list executive contact information for British Airlines on our website.

Related story:   Why am I paying an extra $600 for my hotel in Maui?

Our advocates contacted British Airways on your behalf. Shortly thereafter, you received a check from the airline in the amount of $659. You were thrilled and told our advocates, “I can’t thank you enough for what you do for consumers.” We’re happy we could help.

Diane Perera

Diane and her family love to travel, and they do so as much as they can. Having experienced the downside of travel, and having learned so much from Elliott.org, led Diane to become an advocate and to help fight the good fight.

  • greg watson

    how frustrating it must be…….to solve a small problem……..over such a long time! B.A. & other airlines should just do the right thing…….if the problem is justified. It’s their front line employees & customer service who have to deal with this & their time is wasted if they can’t make the correct decisions. Better training perhaps, or make the complaint process more simplified & accessible.

  • Alan Gore

    This is typical for British Airways. It’s a decent airline until something goes wrong, whereupon Instead of snidely nitpicking you to death like Lufthansa, BA will be genial but incompetent. Good work on the part of our advocates.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Cash is king, but a debit card issued by an international airline should be designed to work worldwide. My US based bank’s debit card manages to work in England, so BA should be able to provide cards that work everywhere.

  • KanExplore

    I’m assuming that the agents responsible for issuing compensation don’t keep that kind of cash handy, and that it would thus be complicated and time consuming to process a cash payment. I’d be fine with the debit card rather than needing to carry and then exchange the pounds, assuming it would work, of course.

  • Nigel Appleby

    I suspect that the debit card was already empty when in was given to the OP. Who emptied it, of course, is an interesting question. One question, why didn’t she use it to pay the hotel she actually stayed in?

  • cscasi

    Or better yet, why didn’t she check the card after she first received it and ensure it was loaded with the $659? It’s not hard to do at all; either online or usually on a toll free telephone number.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I’m skeptical about this use of a prepaid debit card. Companies issue these rather than checks because of “breakage.” Checks get deposited, and the customer gets all the money. Prepaid debits often get partially, but not entirely used, and the remaining balance eventually reverts to the issuer in many cases. There’s a reason rebates are increasingly paid using these debit cards, rather than just a check, and it’s not consumer convenience.

  • Lindabator

    it is because then they can assign a refund at the desk, rather than you having to wait for finance to track back and send out a refund – so usually works much better – and since you can withdraw cash from them, you do not lose a dime – have had these a couple times without a problem

  • BubbaJoe123

    I guess, although you can’t necessarily withdraw ALL the cash from them (a $659 card will leave $19 on the card unless you find an ATM with something smaller than a $20 in it), so there’s potential savings there.

    Also, it would seem to me that, if you can issue a credit to a prepaid debit card, they should be able to just swipe the credit card of your choice and put the credit onto that card… Then again, I’m not in the payables department of an airline, so that might actually be really difficult.

  • Annie M

    Great job by Elliott and staff.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.