I paid extra for my British Airways seat, but it didn’t recline

airplane, plane, seat, cabin, flight, trip, travel, vacation, recline, passengers, aisle
By | August 12th, 2017

Vivienne Pearson’s airline seat — the one for which she paid an extra 40 pounds — doesn’t recline. A flight attendant promised her a refund, but now the airline is balking.

Question: I recently flew from Cape Town, South Africa, to London on British Airways in economy class. It’s a 12-hour flight. In order to reserve a seat prior to 24 hours before the flight, I paid the required 40 pound fee.

The seat was broken — it failed to recline at all. The plane was full, so I couldn’t move to a different seat. The chief purser offered me a 30 pound refund. It was the most she could offer, and so I accepted.

She explained that I would receive an email regarding payment. I did not receive an email, so I contacted British Airways online. The airline’s response was that the cabin manager had no authority to offer compensation. British Airways was not prepared to refund the 40 pounds, and as a goodwill gesture awarded 5,000 Avios points.

I replied, stating that I did not want points. I merely wanted my 40 pounds that I paid for a seat that in fact was broken. The airline said that “to be fair” to all passengers, it could not make an exception. My question is: What can I do? — Vivienne Pearson, Bearsted, U.K.


Answer: British Airways should have honored its offer and raised it by 10 pounds. After all, you paid extra for a seat that should have worked. That’s what I’d call a fair resolution.

But that’s not how an airline like British Airways sees it. In its view, you paid for a seat reservation — a reservation it honored. It doesn’t accept that there’s an implicit agreement that the seat works.

Related story:   I wasn’t a no-show, but my refund is

By the way, please don’t get me started on reclining seats in economy class. That’s a fist fight waiting to happen, since the seats are wedged so close together. Leaning back triggers a domino effect of more leaning, an act that deprives other passengers of legroom and leaves the guy in the last room with practically zero personal space.

But on a 12-hour flight, it’s easy to understand why someone would expect to be able to get a little bit of recline, and why you would be so disappointed with British Airways’ response. While offering a refund on your reservation fee may be against company policy, a representative nevertheless offered you 30 pounds. The airline should have kept its word.

A brief, polite email to the British Airways executives might have done the trick for you. I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer-advocacy site.

I contacted the airline on your behalf. As an “exception,” it agreed to refund the full 40 pounds.



  • Jeff W.

    If the seat was truly broken, then some sort of refund should have been offered. It is possible the the seat had other amenities, such as leg room, that maybe a partial refund would be appropriate. And not all seats recline. Seats in front of an emergency exit row typically do not recline.

    But good job in securing the full refund.

  • deemery

    “But that’s not how an airline like British Airways sees it. In its view, you paid for a seat reservation — a reservation it honored. It doesn’t accept that there’s an implicit agreement that the seat works.”

    IANAL, but that does sound like ‘implied contract’ which can be enforceable in some jurisdictions.

    But it’s crap like this that justifies re-regulation of the airline industry. As an industry, it’s demonstrated it’s incapable of reasonable behavior on its own.

  • Steve Rabin

    Yeah, the airline says you pay for a seat “reservation”, which means they don’t assign you one at check in (40 pounds sounds excessive for a seat reservation, but don’t get me started). They don’t say the seat will work, only you get the one you choose. Sounds like Russian roulette to me.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    In this case, the issue to me is that the airline sold a seat where the seat was not fully functional. If you purchase a car from the dealership, you expect it to have tires. If you purchase an airline ticket, you expect the seat to be 100% functional…if it is not 100% functional then the passenger should be moved to another seat (if one is available) or get a partial refund.

    This is one area where most airlines fail miserably when a feature, amenity, etc. is broken, not fully functionality, etc.especially when it comes to their Business Class and First Class productsservices. Airlines spend millions of dollars advertising the benefits, features or the experience of their Business Class and First Class services but when a feature or amenity doesn’t work…they don’t want to compensate you.

    Back in 2010, we went to the World Fair in Shanghai, China. Our outbound flight was on United in First Class. Our flight was delayed for over two hours for a mechanical issue (a part was leaking oil and they had to replace it). After the first hour of the delay, they boarded the plane and we waited another hour for the part to be replaced. When we boarded, the In Flight Entertainment (IFE) was working in BC but not FC and Economy. Instead of rebooting the IFE to get it working in all cabins, they waited until we were airborne.

    When they rebooted the IFE, it took down the IFE service from all cabins and took down the individual lights and the power outlets to the FC and BC seats (i.e. couldn’t plug in your laptop…it was a 10+ hr flight). I had a RFP that I had to work on since it was due in a few days but couldn’t since there was no lights and power.

    United offered $ 100 as compensation for the three of us. I went to a website and discovered that comp is $ 300 to $ 360 so we ended up with $ 900 but it took some time to get it.

  • Annie M

    It shouldn’t be an exception, it should be a requirement. BA’s customer service is truly awful.

  • BubbaJoe123

    There are two separate issues. Vivienne got the seat she had reserved, so she’s not entitled to a refund for the seat reservation fee. The seat was broken, however (assuming it actually was broken, and not just a seat that, for one reason or another, is designed not to recline), so some compensation is due for that. No particular reason they should be the same amount.

  • sirwired

    I think the amount of the seat reservation fee is not a terrible guide for how much she’s due, BUT I’d think that anybody with a broken seat is due something. (And I won’t even get into how people who get stuck in seats that don’t recline by design, don’t pay any less, although I think they should.)

    Really, minor things like this are the sort of thing vouchers were made for… I’d take $100 in vouchers for a coach seat busted in that fashion. (Now, somebody better roll out the red carpet if I were to pay $$$$ for a business-class lay-flat seat that didn’t recline!)

  • Travelnut

    The last time I flew BA, international from Austin to London, the IFE malfunctioned in my seat and the person next to me. We were the only two seats that were affected. I had paid for a window seat reservation – I think it was also 40 GBP. There was another business class seat available, a middle seat. They wanted to move me there. I asked if I could have a refund of the seat reservation fee. The FA said he wasn’t authorized to do that. So I refused the seat since I had magazines and an iPad to entertain me. When I tried to get some compensation from BA, at first they refused because there was another seat available and I declined it. I pushed back, and eventually they gave me miles. I think there should be a set compensation per flight hour if the entertainment system breaks down. If I hadn’t brought other things to do, that could have been a pretty boring 10 hour flight. Plus it’s something I paid for in the price of the ticket.

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