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.

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.

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.

Do you think Bakalian is due a refund?

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