It’s been 10 years since I’ve experienced a cancelled flight so I must admit that I was flabbergasted when we arrived at SeaTac Airport this afternoon to see FLIGHT CANCELLED next to our flight number on the departures board. We had checked in the night before and had printed out our boarding passes. Busy at work all day, neither the WanderDad nor I had even thought to check the British Airways website for any flight-related information.
Before I start my rant about what happened next, I should explain that we’re loyal BA customers. In the 14 years since we moved to the U.S., we’ve chosen BA for 90% of the flights we’ve taken between the U.S. and Europe – and we fly frequently. We’ve calmly handled lost baggage (not fun when traveling with small children), flight delays, bizarre seating arrangements (a toddler seated alone away from parents for example) and the exorbidant taxes and fees for flying through Heathrow without complaint, but today I was appalled at the pitiful customer service BA displayed in resolving the situation at hand.
My specific complaints:
1. Total lack of communication. As I said, we had checked in online and printed our boarding passes. In doing so, I had provided BA with phone numbers, email addresses and even a back-up emergency contact phone number. Over 10 hours elapsed between when the outbound flight should have left Heathrow and the planned departure time of my flight. I fail to understand why BA did not contact me via email, text message or phone call to inform me of the cancellation.
2. On the screens above the check-in desk, a phone number was displayed for passengers to call for customer service assistance. The call wait time was 30 minutes – not much help in this scenario.
3. My biggest complaint about this whole experience: BA provided no explanation or apology for the cancellation.
4. The paltry compensation option provided to some ticketed passengers on the cancelled flight showed utter disregard for the disruption caused to all traveling passengers.
With no other choice for how to proceed, we lined up to speak to a check-in agent. When it was our turn at the check-in desk, the agent took our boarding passes and without apologizing for the cancellation, calmly said “Your flight’s been cancelled, so here’s what we’re going to do: we’ll re-book you on the 10:40pm flight to Heathrow tomorrow evening, OK?”‘ I was quite stunned. What I had expected was: “We’re sorry, your flight’s been cancelled. We’re going to try to accommodate your travel plans as best we can, but our options are fairly limited. Here’s what I can offer…”
I have to take a slight aside here and explain that under normal circumstances, we would have been fine with postponing our departure for 24 hours. However, there were two reasons why this was not an optimal solution. Firstly, our trip to the U.K. is only for seven days. With such a short trip, losing a day is non-trivial. Secondly, and more importantly, due to a school commitment which came up after I had booked our trip, CAM was not traveling with us. Coordinating the logistics of facilitiating this decision had been challenging, as had the actual act of saying goodbye to him (he’s only 12 and a week is a long time – possibly longer than he’s ever been away from either of us). Returning home just to repeat that again the following day was something I wanted to avoid. Back to the scene at the check-in desk…
Fighting to stay calm in the face of such blatant high-handedness, I explained my situation to the check-in agent, Siobhan. I asked about getting seats on the later flight (BA flies twice daily from Seattle to London) – it was already full. I asked if there was any other routing they could organize for us with another airline – not feasible. We refused the offer of overnight hotel accomodation and reluctantly decided to return home and wait. It’s interesting to note that BA was offering compensation in the form of hotel vouchers to passengers who needed accommodation, but nothing – not even an apology – to passengers who did not. We were only offered the hotel vouchers because Siobhan empathized with our situation and as a mom, understood the subtleties of our conundrum.
What followed next was a lucky (potty) break motivated by one mom trying to assist another. We’d been in the airport more than an hour at this point and BigB “needed to go”. WanderDad took him to the bathroom as I waited for Siobhan to change our booking. Once done, I stood within view of the check-in desks, waiting for the boys to return. Minutes later, Siobhan was waving me back to the desk excitedly. She had just learned that there were seats available on the SAS flight to Copenhagen, due to leave within the hour, would we be interested in taking those instead? No question! Talk about a diving save! Ever need a reason to remember that the ground staff you deal with when your flight is delayed, cancelled or otherwise interrupted is not responsible for the problem? Here you have it. They will work to help you if you work with them.
I’m writing this post on the flight to Copenhagen. I still don’t know why our flight to London was cancelled. I’m very glad I stayed calm and explained my full story to the (originally curt) check-in agent, and particularly thankful that she was able to help, but I’m still under-impressed with British Airways. Next time @britishairways, even a tweet would do