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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Lost in London, ‘courtesy’ of British Airways

‘This experience was one of the worst of our lives. We are well-travelled and I (Olivia-Petra Coman) write about travels. We both felt humiliated, nobody was willing to help us despite us telling BA staff that our booking was not a regular one and that we could not modify anything online (being a 3-leg flight, 2 of which were with Qatar Airways, the system saw all legs completed and the booking could not be amended). Of course, your employees knew only one story by heart and kept repeating that. However, in today's world, you should learn that not all situations are according to a pattern.
One question, though, remains. How can you mend the stress and the tears? No money in the world can.’

Although set close to Christmas and starting quite similarly in style to ‘Home Alone 2’, this story is far from glitzy. On the contrary, it is quite sad and I guess that is why I kept postponing it. If you were wondering, the words in italics from above are quoted from the claim I addressed to British Airways almost 1 month ago (on 17.12.2017, to be exact). No reply, still. They only asked for more patience on Twitter.


Facts
   Pre-cancellation
  • It was the end of our trip through East Africa, so we flew from Entebbe to Doha and from Doha to London, actually above our native Romania. Conditions seemed perfect.
  • When arriving at Heathrow Airport, there were several cancelled flights, but the Bucharest one was scheduled to leave ‘on time’.
  • Within some tens of minutes, our flight status went from ‘Go to Gates B’ to completely disappearing from the panel. One of our Romanian fellow passengers, turned friend, checked British Airways’ website, only to find out that the flight had gone from ‘Delayed’ to ‘Cancelled’.    
    Post-cancellation
  • Initially, no support was given to us, no food, no water; only some leaflets and a GBP5 voucher were handed over.
  • We were encouraged to stop queuing for support inside the boarding area, but head to zone F instead; once there, we were not allowed to queue and obtain the needed support. They washed their hands clean.
  • Teaming up with fellow Romanian passengers we’d just met, we tried to access the BA app [which wasn’t working, as explained in the italics above, for several-leg flights], find other flights [I did find at least one ok option to Romania, but didn’t go through with it because I continued to hope that BA would be the one to help].
  • In the end, we were allowed to queue and, after a couple of hours that were necessary for us to get to the support desks, we were stopped; when we started raising our tone and explaining our frustration, along with passengers from other countries, Police officers were called in and we were escorted out.
  • We were finally given sandwiches and water and a hotel voucher [without any meals whatsoever; what if we didn’t have any money left on us?!] that we were not sure it was legitimate and were advised to simply leave the airport, as there was nothing we could do. 
  • The Heathrow Airport sunset was fabulous, even more so than our African ones. There was zero snow on the ground and, although British Airways employees had at first blamed the weather conditions – which did not make any sense especially on that bright day!! –, even Heathrow Airport acknowledged the fact that the aircraft fleet was suffering because of the previous snow day and posted the message later in the afternoon.

Lows
  • The degree of humiliation was enormous. We are sure that the plane bound to Bucharest had been redirected and used for another BA destination and we were taken for fools and ‘sacrificed’ because, well, Romania doesn’t count much being way too far in the East.
  • We were treated as having committed a crime, when our rights were the ones that had been violated.
  • BA employees [gathered that day from all departments possible] were very unprofessional, did not try to help or understand us. They only repeated what they were taught to say and when we told them that it wasn’t working for us, they just shrugged. There was only one woman who really tried to listen and queued on our behalf [the lines were busy and when we did get across, apart from the fact that we were charged after a certain time, the operators were as ill-prepared as the employees at the airport, so we needed to get to a support desk, which we were not allowed to, etc.] and managed to get a promise of a seat on a flight 8 days (!!) later. Complete mockery, don’t you agree? Even the Heathrow Express vouchers we were handed were apparently not correctly issued!
  • There were many people from many other nations in our situation. I spoke to two French guys of Lebanese origin who were happy that they could talk to somebody who knew their language after two days of ordeal. I met a woman from Buenos Aires who could not communicate to BA staff because she didn’t speak English at all; she was travelling with a little girl, all cried out and desperate.
  • The flight ticket rates rocketed [that is, if you could still find available seats]. Imagine paying EUR900 to fly a low-cost company from London to Bucharest.
  • Most of the people around us had their hopes shattered. Some of the people around us did not even have clothes on them and were tired after almost two days on the road [which was also our case].
  • We had a hard time having our luggage found, again because of ill-prepared call centre operators. Of course, at Heathrow Airport, they had no idea on how to help us and did not really care, either.
  • During our time in London, we had to buy our own food, clothes, transport and airline tickets. Because of the 3 days spent lost in London, my boyfriend had to work overtime at weekends and I worked even on December 30th (until late in the evening) to complete the projects due.  

Highs
  • Getting to see London again, which is still my favourite city (Braşov doesn’t count), although it was a bit impromptu this time.
  • Meeting some very kind Romanians and befriending them.
  • Feeling the support of friends and of our national airline, TAROM, which, although it felt sorry that it could not do more, continued to encourage us through Facebook messages.

Being left stranded is not fun wherever in the world it may be. Of course that what you see on TV doesn’t cover the full extent of desperation that’s in the air! What you’d expect, as a 21st-century passenger of one of the allegedly most-acclaimed airlines in the world, would be to be treated in a humane way, to be given replies to your questions, and to be offered solutions.
What do you actually get? NOTHING. And you’ve even paid for it.      
Finally going HOME

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