Brian Salter's Blogs:
How On Earth Does BA Stay in Business?

 

What is the most dreadful job in the world? Surely top of the list must come the poor blighters who run the call centre for British Airways – possibly the call centre dealing with the most disgruntled customer complaints in the world.

You can imagine it can’t you – every time they answer the phone they just know someone is going to be shouting at them telling them what a crap airline BA is and demanding that they do something – ANYTHING FGS – just so long as they don’t get put back to the end of the queue yet again … assuming that is that they even managed to speak to a human being after having to listen to BA’s awful totally meaningless recorded platitudes for another hour and a half, or however long it took them to get through in the first place.

Let me make my position clear. I LOATHE British Airways and have loathed them for over three decades. Their rudeness, incompetence and lack of anything remotely resembling customer service makes me wonder how they can have remained in business so long. Unfortunately I had no choice when flying back from Beijing to the UK recently. And thus I made the acquaintance over the internet of one Mr Faisal Shaikh. I don’t feel angry with him – after all, he is only doing his job. But it’s what he stands for that I can’t stand.

Let me explain… I was booked on Etihad Airways, the “national airline of the UAE” (though many think that the Dubai-based airline Emirates better deserves this title). The flight was due to leave at just after midnight local time, but owing to a heavy storm that had worked its way up through China from the Philippines, the airport was closed down for eight hours and by the time we eventually took off it was clear we would never be able to make our connecting flight in Abu Dhabi.

Etihad acted efficiently – once we had reached Abu Dhabi (though in Beijing they were noticeable by the lack of any information they gave us.) As we deplaned, we were directed over to a customer service desk and within two minutes I was handed two new tickets – not directly to Manchester as I had originally planned, but to Heathrow and thence to Manchester via the planet’s least favourite airline.

Don’t worry, I was told; your luggage is already on its way and it should be with you when you reach Manchester.

Now, as everyone who knows me well will tell you, I’m a distrusting and cynical kind of guy. So when we finally arrived in Heathrow and managed to make my way over to the airport’s (truly ghastly) Terminal 5, the first thing I did was to go to British Airway’s “Customer Service” desk to check that my luggage would be safely forwarded to Manchester.

The girl behind the desk smiled at me (is this a first, I wonder? Maybe she was about to end her shift.) She checked her computer, dialed in my name and confirmed that I had two bags coming through and they would definitely be on the Manchester connection. Well, what more could one ask? My estimation of BA went up for their efficiency in being able to confirm with such accuracy what was happening to my luggage. Had they really turned over a new leaf?

Haha … as if….

On arrival at Manchester neither of my cases showed up on the baggage belt (what a surprise!). I reported to the baggage manager and was asked to fill in a long form – along with five other passengers who were similarly affected. Don’t worry, he said. No doubt they will turn up on the next flight. After all, there was only a 90 minute turn around at Heathrow.

I forbore to point out to him that efficient airports around the world manage turn around times much shorter than this – in particular Zurich airport which actually schedules its transit connections in under 45 minutes … and I have never found one of my bags missing the connecting flight there.

Sure enough after the next flight from LHR arrived – one and a half hours later – one of my bags magically appeared on the carousel, which is more than could be said for the bags of the other passengers who had waited in vain for their belongings. I felt particularly sorry for a Chinese guy who was about to start a six-month course at Lancaster University, now without any luggage whatsoever.

But of my other case there was no sign. Back to the baggage manager again. This time I was given a customer reference number and told to log in to a web site the following morning to see where the case was currently languishing.

BA, in common with most airlines, is a member of a World Tracer mechanism into which the numbers of lost bags the world over are entered and a computer magically matches them up with their grief-stricken owners on the other wide of the world.

With trembling hand and heart a-flutter I dial into the web site and enter my number. The form correctly tells me I have already got back one of my bags and, as I expected, confirms that the other has not been found.

I check the site again the following day, and the day after and the day after that; but each time the answer is the same. So I finally click on the Contact Your Airline Tab and enquire what is going on with the search for my missing bag. It is now that I make my acquaintance with Mr Shaikh, all of eight days later, when he finally replies…

Dear Mr Salter, he writes;
Thank you for your email dated 05 July 2013. I am concerned to read about your missing bag whilst flying with us to Manchester on 02 July 2013. I recognise how frustrating it must have been for you. Please accept my sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused.
Well, full marks to Mr Shaikh so far, though I suspect this is purely the first copy-and-paste paragraph from BA’s armoury of keep-the-cuastomer-quiet platitudes.

At British Airways we aim to give an outstanding service to all of our customers at every step of their journey with us.
Oh really? Since when, I ask myself.

The large majority of bags travel with their owners. However, we let you down on this occasion, and I am sorry.
Ah, another apology. Maybe I have been unfair to BA all these years and they really have turned over a new leaf.

If a bag misses a flight for any reason, we aim to load it on the next available flight so it is reunited with its owner as soon as possible. However, there are occasions when we have the wrong information and we are unable to re-flight baggage before investigations are carried out. This then results in baggage missing the next available flight.
Well, in fairness Mr Shaikh did not know I had already checked with BA’s own Information girls at Heathrow who had assured me that both bags were on their way to the Manchester flight.

For information on the status of your baggage, you can click on the link given below and go to ‘Baggage tracking service’. Enter your last name and file reference, which is AHL MANBA61301.
Oh no, Mr Shaikh. I have been doing that for eleven days now and am getting somewhat fed up with the same lack of information being shown.

Alternatively, you can call our baggage tracing helpline on 0844 493 0785. Thank you again for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention. We will do everything we can to reunite you with your belongings as swiftly as possible.
Best regards, Faisal Shaikh, British Airways Customer Relations

I try ringing the number given. And try… and try…. But give up over an hour later when I tire of listening to BA’s obnoxious messages telling me that I am their number one priority and they are there to help me.

I write to BA’s “Customer Service” again asking WTF is going on? Once again, Faisal Shaikh reaches for his copy-and-paste list of platitudes and fires off another missive to me.

Dear Mr Salter - Thank you for coming back to us. I am concerned that you have still not received your luggage. I completely understand how frustrating it must have been for you. Please accept my sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused.
Wow this guy is so understanding. If only they were all like this at BA.

As mentioned earlier, for information on the status of your baggage, you can click on the link given below and go to 'Baggage tracking service'. Enter your last name and file reference, which is AHL MANBA61301. Alternatively, you can call our baggage tracing helpline on 0844 493 0785.
But I have already tried doing that which is why I wrote to you again!

I hope you will find this helpful. Best regards, Faisal Shaikh, British Airways Customer Relations
Actually, I’m afraid I find this anything but helpful and my patience is wearing very thin!

I try the 0844 number again ... and this time after a mere 28 minute wait I find myself talking to a real person. I give my customer service reference number and wait while said person looks up his electronic file.

So, Mr Salter, you flew from Abu Dhabi to Manchester via Heathrow, But our investigations tell us the bag is not in Abu Dhabi, so our search continues at Heathrow, he tells me helpfully. Except, I tell him, I started my journey in Beijing.

Oh, he answers in reply. Did you? Well, unfortunately as a month has now passed since your bag went missing it is too late to check out with Beijing if they have found the bag.

I am outraged. So all this time, bloody British bloody Airways hasn’t even checked with my point of departure and now they tell me it is too late!

I go to their compensation page and start to fill out the ridiculously long form I am presented with. I have to fill in the items I think are in the bag. Does anyone remember exactly what went into a bag they packed five weeks ago? Was it ten, or twelve or maybe thirteen shirts I packed? Was it three pairs of jeans or four? What about the small items that I put in there which I am blowed if I can remember? And what about a computer hard drive I placed in there – one of 12 that I have?

Anyway, I write down what I remember and send in a claim for £570. Quite reasonable in the circumstances I reckon, given that most of the clothes listed were practically brand new. But once again BA shows its true colours when Faisal Shaikh writes his next copy-and-paste missive…

Dear Mr Salter - Thank you coming back to us. I am sorry to read about your missing bag. I would like to assure you that the large majority of baggage that travels with us does not get mishandled.
Hang on, we’re surely past this stage aren’t we?

At British Airways we aim to give an outstanding service at every step of the journey (I think we have already covered that – and I still don’t believe you!) and we do our very best to ensure your baggage is handled with care. However, all the checked-in baggage has to go through a complex process on its way to and from the aircraft. So unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint what happened.

With this in mind we advise our customers to place any fragile or valuable items in their hand baggage including laptops, personal electronic devices, share certificates, bonds, business documents, passports and other identification documents. Unfortunately this means we do not accept liability for the hard drive you have lost and I am sorry for any disappointment this may cause. It is standard practice for customers to claim directly on their travel insurance policy when items are missing from their checked baggage.

So now we get to the heart of the matter. BA are trying to slither out of their responsibility (which you will note Mr Shaikh has already acknowledged) by saying that because they “advise” against packing certain items they will not cover their loss. Worse, they are “assuming” their customers take out travel insurance so that they don’t have to cover the loss themselves.

Apart from the fact that I never actually booked on this miserable airline, I look up their standard terms – and there it is in black and white (well, actually, blue and white) … “In line with other airlines we cannot accept claims for loss to items in checked baggage which are … of special value.” Or, to put it another way, BA reserves the right to decide what is of special value or not. Presumably if I had been carrying a suit worth, say, £200, they would have covered this. But because I chose to pack a hard drive worth a quarter of that value they won’t. Where is their logic?

So that I can deal quickly with your claim for other missing items, please send me the receipt, card slip, insurance valuation, quotation or any other document to support the value of your missing property at the address mentioned below. Please mark our Customer Relations reference number on the letter.

Oh FGS another weasel scam. How many people do you know who keep all their receipts of clothes etc bought? I reply once more:

“Frankly I am disgusted by the way British Airways not only obviates itself from any responsibility for losing baggage, but also from then also making up its own rules for compensating its passengers so as to avoid paying proper compensation! Unsurprisingly I have no receipts for the items that were in my luggage. How many of your passengers after all keep all their receipts for items bought?”

But this cuts no ice with British Airways. According to them, it is surely our beholden duty to receipt everything we ever put into our luggage, otherwise…

In settling your claim we have taken into account the depreciation of your missing items. As you do not have any receipts, we have deducted 50% from the cost of the items listed.
Thank you again for contacting us and for giving me an opportunity to look at your case again. Your feedback is invaluable, without which we would not be able to address such issues. I hope our decision will not deter you from flying with us in the future.
Best regards, Faisal Shaikh, British Airways Customer Relations

Amazing! Does BA really think I will ever set foot in one of their miserable planes ever again? Am I alone? Am I a voice in the wilderness? It appears not, if a deluge of comments lifted from the web are anything to go by…

Next time I need to travel business I will probably be asking my client specifically not to book me on a BA flight.
• You will not receive any responses from BA until you start sending them 20 emails/day. I will certainly not fly BA ever again in my lifetime!
• I have to submit an essay to do with the evaluation of British Airways and their customer care policies; something that has been extremely fun to do as i get to point out all the things they do wrong! You are probably the millionth person to tell me of just how awful the airline really is
• I have never come across a company that was so useless at dealing with complaints, what is funny is they told me they were unable to reply as they currently had 95,000 complaints, well that’s not a surprise BA your crap and no wonder your staff go on strike.
• When a person in a service department engages a customer, the goal should be to solve the problem, not recite meaningless phrases. This was our first trip aboard British Air and will no doubt be our last.
• A cautionary tale and note of assistance to all those who have suffered the misfortune of travelling with British Airways and experiencing their unique brand of so-called Customer Service: BA are an unmitigated disgrace when it comes to customer service and they totally ruined our wedding and honeymoon travel.
• We will never travel BA Again we will spend our money on a different airline that cares for their passengers and are polite and friendly towards us .

I think, Mr Shaikh, my point has been made. And yes, I know I should be feeling sorry for you and the awful job you are having to do… but forgive me. The fact is I don’t!