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

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By Christopher Elliott

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 failed to recline. 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 broken seat. 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. And if it’s any consolation, you are not alone. British Airways has done this kind of thing before.

Reclining seats in economy class is a touchy subject. 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. The best solution on a shorter flight is to lock the seats in place.

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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 this site.

You reached out to me via my nonprofit consumer advocacy site. I contacted the airline on your behalf. As an “exception,” it agreed to refund the full 40 pounds.

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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.

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