Broke after British Airways stranded us in London
January 12, 2010 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Stranded for 5 days by British Airways, are we entitled to have any of our expenses covered by the airline?

My girlfriend and I took a trip to Europe over Christmas. We had great time and saw a lot. Our return flight was routed via England, and the entire trip was with British Airways.

On January 6th we were to return to the US. The first leg of the flight went without a hitch. We got to Heathrow.

After a bit fo a delay we were boarded onto our flight to the US.
We spent the next 8 hours waiting on the tarmac.
First they said they were waiting for the de-icing truck to come over.
Secondly after 4 hours, the crew passed the limit for how long they could work (factoring in the flight time), and we spent the next 3 hours waiting for a replacement crew that never showed up.
The last hour was spent waiting for the busses to show up to take us back to Terminal 5. (Note this is illegal in the US now (over 3 hours))

The captain made sparse and conflicting messages throughout the affair.
About one an hour.
Before we left the plane we were promised that BA personal would take care of us at the airport, get us a coupon for a hotel and transport.

We get to the airport, and there is no BA personal to be seen.
We wander around, and the crowds are just HUGE. The lines are
BA had ONE person working on the "Travel connections" (for economy class) and well over one thousand people waiting in line.

Soon a rumor started spreading that they had run out of hotel coupons.
I was lucky, by standing in line for a long time, I was told there was no coupons. I discussed this with the clerk and he told me that senior managers were coming down with new coupons soon.
So I waited around, and God Bless the man, he pointed one of these managers out, and I spoke to her, and was told no.
Then I got upset, and a few other people got upset and it ended up with getting a coupon for a hotel.

So 80 pounds later, and 7 hours total since we left the airplane, we are at the hotel. We had been told NOT to return to the airport until we were booked on a flight out. This was stated on the paperwork BA gave us, after standing in one specific line.

I asked the senior manager who gave me the coupon if we needed to return of if they would pay for the hotel, and she told me they would pay for the hotel.

So we go to sleep, call in the next day, and no matter what we do, we can only get a flight out on Sunday the 10th.
We talk to the hotel, and they agree to let us stay, but we have to put it on a credit card, since BA has not contacted them.

On Friday night, our flight on Sunday is cancelled by BA without giving us any reason. Nobody can be reached on the phone, we just get fast busy signals for the 3 hours we try.

On Saturday we get a hold of BA again, and they again promise to pay for the hotel, and book us on a flight on Monday.

Monday arrives, we check out and BA again has not contacted the hotel.
We do get to fly home that day though.

Repeated calls now to BA and they refuse to even talk about paying for the hotel, or the meals, or anything else. (We have receipts, all of them).
They claim that since the weather was bad, they have no obligation
to pay for our considerable expenses.

We were pretty broke after our trip around Europe ,and we are really broke now. I feel like I have been pushed around and repeatedly lied to.

Again and again BA has made decision that are good for their purse (such as not flying us out sooner) and really costly for us.

I attempted to file a claim on BAs website for cancelation compensation
and they turned me down for both flights that were cancelled.

We are left with HUGE bills, many days out of work so loss of income, and really foul taste.

Can I take BA to small claims court?
Is there anyway I can try to appeal to BA to cover some of our expenses?

They did claim on multiple occasions to at least cover our hotel, but failed to deliver on all but the very first night. It was not our choice to stay in London for so many days, we wanted to fly out the next day, and our flight left the next day, without problems.

They should have had an extra plane on the airport from our cancellation, why did they not fly us out the next day on that airplane?

If anyone out there has any advice...
posted by digividal to Travel & Transportation around London, England (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You're probably not going to get very far with them, since it's weather-related. It happens. Sorry.

The hotel coupon you did manage to receive was likely a courtesy, though I'll admit I'm not familiar with applicable UK/EU regulations regarding compensation; this would be true in the U.S.

Flying out your plane the next day isn't as simple as it sounds, especially with all the weather delays. It throws crew and flight scheduling into total chaos. Is the substitute crew that's going to work your flight still stuck in the U.S., since another flight coming back to the U.K. was also canceled? Is the crew working your plane's return flight stuck elsewhere? Is there capacity at your U.S. airport to accommodate an extra BA plane on the ground, and is there enough rested crew to get two planes back to London in time? And so on, and so on. And they can't exactly kick everyone off tomorrow's flight to accommodate a cancellation today. These kinds of situations aren't ideal for passengers, but they're not easy for the airlines, either, since often-thin profit margins don't allow airlines to keep extra planes and crew sitting around, at home or abroad.
posted by SpringAquifer at 6:40 PM on January 12, 2010

No advice, but BA absolutely refused to reimburse me for anything at all after getting stranded over the holidays, rerouted through multiple countries, and having none of my luggage on me for longer than two weeks. I'd say that I placed about a dozen international phone calls and mailed a couple of registered letters that including copies of receipts, etc. I got several very polite F.U.s on pretty official letterhead. Good luck.
posted by halogen at 6:45 PM on January 12, 2010

I think people's usual advice about this is to keep escalating it, to find a senior executive's email address and send them an email. Also, obviously if you have travel insurance, you should try that (also, if you bought your tickets on a credit card, some cards offer travel insurance for trips booked on the card). Good reason to get travel insurance next time, although you always need to read the fine print carefully to see what it will cover.

But you should look at the EU Denied Boarding Compensation details and see if these apply to your situation.

You can find information on this website and there is a form here (PDF). I don't understand all the details, but I understand there are lots of exceptions for things uncontrolled by the airline (like weather).
posted by AnnaRat at 6:48 PM on January 12, 2010

Denied-boarding compensation, whether involuntary (IDB) or voluntary (VDB), is very, very different from digividal's situation. You may have seen, the EU or in the U.S., gate agents or even check-in agents looking for volunteers to take the next flight out for a $200 voucher, going up to $400, $600, $800, or something like that, if nobody volunteers at first. Mechanical delays can get you some form of compensation, too; I've seen plenty of people wrangle some frequent-flier miles out of short ones. These are some examples of denials of boarding, delays, and cancellations that merit compensation.

But weather-related compensation is usually a courtesy. Can an airline really afford to pay all passengers' living expenses for the better part of a week every time a snowstorm suddenly blows through?
posted by SpringAquifer at 6:56 PM on January 12, 2010

The EU Denied Boarding Compensation doesn't apply to weather-related delays. Here is the full text, check items 14 and 15 of the preamble. Oh I wish I didn't have a reason to know that.
posted by halogen at 6:59 PM on January 12, 2010

Maybe contact The Consumerist. They may have advice for you or names/email addresses of people who might have the power to do something for you, especially if you raise a big enough stink.
posted by ishotjr at 7:09 PM on January 12, 2010

Can an airline really afford to pay all passengers' living expenses for the better part of a week every time a snowstorm suddenly blows through?

But that isn't exactly what happened. The deposit was made at the hotel in good faith that the agreement with BA to have them pay for the hotel was valid. If they had not agreed to this then it is at the very least possible that the OP would have found different accommodations, changed plans, etc.

I don't know what your legal rights are exactly, but when someone you are already in a contract with makes an explicit verbal agreement to recompense you for an expense you are about to undertake, I believe that they have a legal obligation to make good on that. Wish I knew how to suggest you puncture the bureaucratic shield.
posted by meinvt at 8:09 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been in a similar situation (but at a different airport and with a different airline) and did not get a coupon either. I think the difference between weather and other circumstances is that it's the *airport* (not the airline) that makes decisions on whether to fly in snow/rain/whatever. Denied-boarding situations, or flight cancellations based on a faulty plane or a near-empty plane, are decided at airline level, but if the airline is denied permission to fly by the airport, they can't really guarantee you anything.

(so, seconding SpringAquifer's answer, I suppose.)
posted by easternblot at 8:19 PM on January 12, 2010

Repeated calls now to BA and they refuse to even talk about paying for the hotel, or the meals, or anything else.

Hm. Sounds nearly like Continental airlines. But Continental would have probably insisted that you buy a new ticked since your ticket expired...
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:44 PM on January 12, 2010

Open a credit-card dispute on the ticket-purchase transaction for the amount of the tickets, or the total amount of your expenses incurred due to their incompetence, whichever is smaller.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:50 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

As other posters have pointed out, you have no rights, as it was weather related. The vague promises made about the hotel by the BA guy are meaningless without a written contract. However, the squeaky wheel... Write to BA. The CEO is Willie Walsh, address: British Airways plc, Waterside, PO Box 365, Harmondsworth, UB7 0GB. Be polite but tell him what you told us. You may get something.
posted by TheRaven at 1:02 AM on January 13, 2010

I would just dispute the charge. Escalate it as far as you can with BA, but ultimately, I'm not paying for something BA told me they would cover. I hope you used your AMEX.
posted by jckll at 7:32 AM on January 13, 2010

Response by poster: It was not the airport that told the flight not to fly.
It was the staff onboard that by either union rules or general rules were not able to fly,
due due to the delays.
And the company that was unable to find a new crew to find the plane.

I believe the airport would have no issue with us flying out.

The weather also did not prevent us from flying out the next day, or the day after
or the day after that. It was BA who kept us from flying out on those days.
posted by digividal at 7:34 AM on January 13, 2010

It was not the airport that told the flight not to fly.
It was the staff onboard that by either union rules or general rules were not able to fly,
due due to the delays

But the delays were caused by the weather in the first place. (You may not be aware, but some London airports were closed completely at this time; Heathrow cancelled a large number of short-haul flights, too).

I agree with TheRaven's approach, especially the 'be polite' part. Just say 'this happened, then this happened, then this happened'. I'd leave out your comment "Note this is illegal in the US now (over 3 hours))" (I'm sure the US approach is highly sensible, having sat on a runway for a few hours myself recently, but you've got to concern yourself with whatever the European/UK rules say).

Also, I'm guessing you don't have travel insurance? Because good travel insurance would surely cover most of your costs, quite easily.
posted by Infinite Jest at 8:53 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I know the day we landed both Gatwick and Stansted were closed as well.

the fact for me remains that British Airways did what was cheap for them.
Let us absorb all the cost of the delay, and keep us waiting for days, instead
of stepping up and arranging for an earlier depature.

For British Airways it did not cost them anything to let us stay fo a week, or even
two weeks. so I presume the felt no incentive to help us.

British Airways also made several promsies to us about covering the cost.
This type of deceptive business practices should be and I believe is illegal.

The way they operate seems to be, to say anything to the customer, when he is
close to you, or on the phone, to get them off the phone as soon as possible, and
then quietly not follow up on any of the promises they made.
posted by digividal at 2:26 PM on January 13, 2010

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