Is this British Airways flight bad enough for you?

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By Christopher Elliott

Arthur West’s 50th anniversary trip to Venice was “extremely enjoyable” — except for one little issue: the British Airways flights. All of them.

He’s so unhappy with the way he and his wife, Eileen, were treated that he’s written the airline several times with a long list of grievances. And he’s unimpressed with their response.

I’m writing about West’s case because I’m not sure if I should ask British Airways to review it. Some of the problems are minor and others are outside the control of the airline. Add it all up and they make for a very unpleasant trip, no question about it. But I’ll let you decide.

Downgraded dreams

It started with — you probably guessed it — his seat assignments.

“We were never able to obtain a confirmation,” says West. “This culminated in an extremely frustrating phone conversation with a service representative. He could not confirm seat selections for us and I could not understand most of what he said. When I asked to speak with a supervisor for more positive communication he became downright hostile and argumentative. I finally did speak with a supervisor who at first was almost as argumentative.”

Bottom line: If he wanted a seat assignment 24 hours before departure, it would cost him $199 per ticket. Never mind the fact that he was flying in business class.

The transatlantic flight was fine, but not the connecting flight to Rome.

“We were shocked that we did not truly have business class,” he says.

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He adds,

The seats were no better than economy. There was no space between rows of seats.

The passenger in the seat ahead of my wife reclined his seat so my wife had his seat on her lap the entire trip. I had no leg room so my knees were almost up in my chest. Plus, the contour of the seat was so bad that the head rest dug into my shoulder and did not allow me to lay my head back the entire flight.

A notice in the literature in the seat pocket indicated that all passengers received complimentary wine.

We paid for business class seats but did not receive true business class accommodations.

The return flight was worse. Much worse. (Here’s our guide to resolving your consumer problem.)

When West tried to phone British Airways to confirm his reservations, he was connected to a woman who was “very nasty and irritable and would do nothing for us,” he says.

He adds,

All we were trying to do — which is what we had been trying to do since the outset — was confirm business class seats and get two seats together. She could not even do that.

I repeatedly told her the website was not working. She ignored that and told me to access the website. She also told me that she could not access the website.

So what sense did that make?

A British Airways odyssey

The pièce de résistance was the return flight. I’ll spare you all the details, but let’s just say the couple’s flight was delayed because of fog, they missed their connection, were sent to a second-rate hotel, and West ended up biting into a piece of glass when he was eating a salad. Mostly, circumstances British Airways had no control over, but still — it all added up. (Related: I had an aneurysm, but British Airways is keeping my money.)

“We will never fly through London Heathrow Airport again,” he promises. “Unless some offset to make up for our gross inconveniences and lack of paid-for and anticipated services is forthcoming from British Airways, it is doubtful that we will fly British Airways again.”

British Airlines wasn’t unsympathetic to his problems. It promised to send him and his wife 25,000 miles for the inconvenience. Just one problem: It failed to credit his wife’s account because it couldn’t find it (never mind that he’d included her account number in all of his correspondence.)

High-flying discontent

After another complaint, British Airways again responded, saying it had found her account and credited her with the miles.

“The issues you have raised have been fully addressed, we now consider the matter closed and we will not respond to any further requests for compensation regarding these issues,” an airline representative added. “If you have any separate issues you would like us to look into for you, please do not hesitate to contact us.”

In other words, we’re done.

But West isn’t done.

“Based on the lack of service, the inconvenience, rudeness and punitive behavior by British Airways, I think we should ideally receive either two business class tickets to Europe or reimbursement for the entire amount of our original flight — or, at the very minimum, two upgrades from economy to business class,” he says.

It’s highly unusual to get a full refund for a flight, but I also think West’s flight experience was less than ideal. Should I get involved?

Should I mediate Arthur West's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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