Tag Archives: holiday

British Airways – a customer service nightmare

So I emailed the CEO of British Airways and got a reply; it’s at the bottom of this post. I’ve also tried contacting Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert guy, and BBC’s Watchdog, because there seems to be some kind of media curtain preventing this from being talked about. I guess it’s World Cup and Wimbledon time, so who cares about people stranded on holiday without their luggage?

I’ve also heard about people in far worse situations than us: cyclists on biking holidays who’d paid extra to ship their bikes and been left without them; people who’ve flown to Bogota to go travelling round Colombia (surly an amazing place to be right now thanks to James Rodriguez and friends) who’ve missed internal connecting flights; people meant to be going to weddings left without expensive suits and dresses; and many more besides. The people affected by this are, sadly, legion, and they’re all massively upset with British Airways.

Onto the actual blogpost…
This was always likely to be our last holiday as a couple, before we became a family; it might have been booked a few months before we got pregnant, but we knew we were trying and there was a sense that this would be a last jaunt together. Growing up by the sea, with parents who weren’t big travelers, means holidays have always felt like the ultimate luxury to me. I didn’t go abroad until I was 25.

So I’m rubbish at holidays; Emma has to do all the arrangements, and I find it difficult to relax and switch off, which is hard on her because she loves travelling and unwinding. We’ve managed to go abroad only a handful of times in the 13 years we’ve been together: long weekends in Barcelona and Morzine; a short honeymoon in New York; a week each in Andalucia, Ibiza, and Sardinia.

This trip to Sweden wasn’t quite a city break or a rural retreat; we’d be half an hour outside Stockholm, in a cabin next to water, and we’d spend the days walking, running, bike riding, and reading, with perhaps one day in Stockholm itself. We knew the weather would be changeable, so we’d packed accordingly; jeans, jumpers, waterproofs and trainers as well as shorts, suncream, and t-shirts. But this flexible, bulky packing was OK, because we were flying with British Airways and thus could take a bag each.

Except that we were flying with British Airways, so they lost our bags. Because that’s what they do these days.

I’m hesitant to say our holiday has been ruined, because that sounds dramatic, but it has been ruined. Em is 20 weeks pregnant, and her entire wearable wardrobe is in her bag. Her running kit is in her bag, along with a legion of skincare products because her hormones are currently crazy and she needs more stuff than usual.

But it’s OK, because this is British Airways, and they’ve got a good reputation for customer service, haven’t they?

If ‘customer service’ starts and stops with a generous baggage allowance and a cheese and ham sandwich during your flight, then yes, they’ve got that locked down. If it stretches to solving your customers’ problems, that you have caused, then no. This holiday has been an absolute customer service nightmare for British Airways, and here’s why.

They let flights take off when they knew people’s luggage wasn’t aboard
If we’d known our bags weren’t aboard and that there was a problem, we’d not have flown, as simple as that. Emma’s pregnant, we were only going away for a few days, and we knew that Sweden in changeable conditions without your stuff would be difficult to deal with. It wouldn’t have been worth the hassle. But BA never communicated that our bags weren’t onboard. Apparently other people had seen baggage chaos at Terminal 5 due to conveyor belts not working, but we’d checked in quite early, at a working belt with no queues, and seen no problem at all.

Lack of proactive communication
To be fair, we knew about the mess before most people on our flight because Em got a text message saying one of our bags hadn’t travelled with us when we landed. Yay for contact details and mobile roaming. But that’s the ONLY contact we’ve had. No follow-up message to reassure us that steps are being taken, no apology, nothing. It’s easy to bulk send text messages; I’ve arranged it at work. So why aren’t BA doing it?

Not responding to emails
Obviously they’re going to be receiving a lot right now, but BA are a massive, multi-billion pound company with an international reputation; surely responding to customer queries and complaints via email in a timely manner – 24 hours, I’d say – is a key performance indicator? We emailed on Thursday evening as soon as we got to out destination. It’s now Saturday night, 48 hours later, and we’ve had no reply.

Useless telephone helpline
If you’re not answering emails, you can at least answer the phone. Can’t you? No; BA’s automated 0844 ‘choose your own adventure’ phone line is sifting people into a 45-minute queue. People who are on mobile phones, abroad. We literally can’t afford to sit and wait that long.

Sending the same generic responses to everyone tweeting at them
With no response via email and phone, we resorted to social media. And we got a response, but it was the same generic “we’re doing everything we can” response as everyone else in the same predicament got. Useful. (We’ve seen no one tweet at BA that they’re grateful to have got their bags back, by the way; and we’ve been checking.)

Failure to provide guidance as to what constitutes ‘essentials’
We’ve been referred to a generic webpage about ‘essentials’ that BA are happy to reimburse for. Except that they don’t details what ‘essentials’ are; toiletries and clothes, we assume, but what about data roaming and international call charges? And how much clothing? I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt on the plane, because it was 23 degrees in London the day we left. It’s 16 degrees in Sweden. We’ve got no washing machine in our cabin. The light jacket I’ve got with me isn’t waterproof. But at least I’ve got a jacket; Em’s was packed. The BA website gives no guidance about this, not even an upper limit on what they’ll reimburse.

Continued to let flights go before they’d adequately fixed the problem, thus compounding the issue for everyone already affected by increasing their own workload
This is hopefully pretty self-explanatory; not only are they adding more people to the problem, they’re making the problem more difficult to solve, and therefore worse for everyone, by doing so.

Supplied disinformation, or worse, no information at all
We were told our bags would be on flights later that day, and given times. But we’ve heard nothing since, and the online system just repeatedly says “tracing continues”. Are our bags at the airport in Stockholm? Are they in Heathrow? We have no idea, and presumably neither does anyone else.


Still no sign of bags or anything beyond a generic social media response. So I’ve emailed Keith Williams (keith.x.williams@ba.com), the CEO of British Airways, because maybe he’ll reply more willingly than his staff. This is what I’ve said:

Dear Mr Williams,

Due to yet another baggage cock-up at Terminal 5, my wife and I have been left without our bags for several days, which has ruined our holiday. As no one at your company appears to be responding to emails, giving useful information via social media, or sorting out the 45-minute queue on your customer service ‘help’ line (that, as we’re abroad on mobile phones, we’re loathe to sit and pay for), I thought I’d email you.

Details of the complete failure of your organisation’s customer service can be found here: http://sickmouthy.com/2014/06/29/british-airways-a-customer-service-nightmare/

Several hundred people have already read this. I’m doing my best to make that several thousand; not just for my wife and I, but for everyone else who has been left feeling let down and neglected by your organisation. As CEO it is your responsibility to set the ethos, values, and spirit of British Airways. Right now I feel quite strongly that you have failed at this.

Yours frustratedly,

Nick Southall

I got a reply from the “chairman’s office” at BA (I’m skeptical; it reads like bog-standard customer service text). This is it:

“Dear Mr Southall,

Thank you for your e-mail to Keith regarding the baggage system failures on
the 26th June, as part of his Executive correspondence team he has asked me
to respond on his behalf.

Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience the delay to you baggage
is causing. The baggage team, with help from our engineers and cargo
handlers, are doing all they can to reflight disrupted bags as soon as
possible. The baggage system is currently running at normal capacity to
manage today’s flights but we are still unable to use Terminal 5’s systems
in the way we would like to speed up the repatriation process and are
having to invoke a manual process to reload disrupted bags and this is
slower than using the automated system. Unfortunately this means the
tracking system (World Tracer) takes longer to update customer baggage
information. Heathrow Airport continue to work with the IT engineers to
fully restore the automated system.

We are prioritising bags in order of age and by the next available flight.
Once your bag has been reallocated a flight the details should appear on
World Tracer. However, due to the manual processing, some bags are being
delivered without World Tracer updating. These bags are being loaded
directly onto flight containers and World Tracer will be updated once they
reach Stockholm. You can check World Tracer via this link with the baggage
reference you have been provided with

Should you need to purchase essential items during your trip please do so.
To ensure we can process your claim as quickly as possible, please keep all
receipts and submit them as directed on our baggage compensation claim form
where we will seek to reimburse you as quickly as possible. Please use this
link to submit your claim: https://baggageclaim.britishairways.com/

I appreciate you feel our handling of this situation has fallen short of
your expectations. I can assure you we are working continuously to reunite
our customers with their bags.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Kemp
Chairman’s Office Executive”

There is very little in there which isn’t just repeating information we’ve already found inadequate on BA’s website.


On airports and aeroplanes

I didn’t really go on holiday when I was a kid; there was a weekend in Blackpool, a week in Falmouth, and numerous trips to see relatives in Yorkshire, but that’s all. But I grew up in Dawlish! Every day’s a holiday when you live by the sea. Except when the sea is cold, and you get sand between your toes, and a rash from walking home up the cliff in a damp, clinging swimming costume.

I didn’t go abroad until I was 25, when I flew to Dublin for a friend’s stag party. I was best man. Since then I’ve flown to Guernsey for work, and to Leeds/Bradford for other work. Before this year Emma and I had taken three holidays in our ten years together (not counting the odd night away to see friends or bands); long weekends in Barcelona in 2005, the Alps in 2006, and New York in 2010 for our honeymoon. So I don’t really know how to be a tourist, or what a holiday is. As a kid we couldn’t really afford it, and so I grew up thinking of holidays as unimagined indulgences for the bourgeoisie.

This year we’ve gone a little crazy, though: a couple of days in Cornwall for our anniversary in April; a couple of days in Scotland in May for the wedding of some friends; an entire week (almost) in a cottage in the Andalucían mountains in June; and, just now (we got home at 3:30am last night / this morning) three days camping in the east of Ibiza, well away from San Antonio and superclubs and awful steroid-freak, E-guzzling, cocaine-snorting, vodka-shooting Welsh rugby boys on a raucous stag weekend, shouting, boasting, swearing, drinking, causing a ruckus, making the flight be delayed, being egged-on by a gaggle of 19-and-20 year-old girls from Bridgwater heading out for a hedonistic birthday weekend. Sadly, though, our flight out was not well away from them. Neither was our flight back.

We wanted three days of sunshine, scenery, tapas, warm seas, and cheap wine. The rugby boys and birthday girls did not. We each got what we wanted, more or less. One of the rugby boys also appeared to get a black eye. Many of them were much, much more subdued on the way back than on the way out. I heard the word “detox” on numerous occasions. I find, these days, the best way to avoid having to detox is not to tox excessively in the first place. Maybe I’m boring now. I used to drink like a moron a decade or more ago. But never like this.

The Bristol to Ibiza flight, and its return leg, must be the most awful flights to work on to or from a South West airport. I’ve never seen security called onto a plane before takeoff to warn a passenger to behave. I’ve never seen passengers be prevented from leaving the plane straight away so that the captain can remind them of the law and of the common decency of polite aeroplane deportment. I’m not exactly a frequent flyer (except this year), but even so. I have no idea how any of these people involved, be they sober, drunk, drugged, whatever, could possibly think that any of their behaviour was acceptable in a city street, let alone a compressed cigar-tube doing 500mph at 38,000 feet above sea level. But I guess that’s not my culture, and though I may see evidence of it on TV, I seldom encounter it in the flesh.

Airports themselves are weird places. Obviously, by their nature, they are designed to be passed through on one’s way to somewhere else, rather than visited in their own right. They are also, I have no doubt, especially about the larger ones, designed to make you spend money; they always seem to be too hot or too cold, never temperate, the seats uncomfortable and arranged in alienating ways, as if to encourage people to stand and walk around, browse shops, feel thirsty, spend money. This is, I suppose, a pretty common way of designing large commercial buildings, from supermarkets to multi-unit shopping centres to those weird outlet villages to big blue and yellow Ikea shops. They all share common properties. Massive. Disorienting. Alienating. Physically a little uncomfortable. You never want to sit still in them, so you keep moving, keep consuming.

We spent several hours in Ibiza airport on Saturday evening, from a little before 8pm until after 1am when our flight departed. It was the longest, by far, that I’ve ever spent in an airport; bus timings, lack of finances, and a desire to not hang out in Ibiza town after dark on a Saturday night when I could be reading a book somewhere comfortable, with the vague concern over getting to the airport exorcised from the back of my head, were the factors that drove us there. We hoped the airport would mirror the culture we’d seen over the previous few days; surely Ibiza airport, which must be large, cosmopolitan, full of young ravers, slightly older hippies, and aged sun-seekers of all nationalities, social backgrounds, and creeds, would have the same kind of relaxed feel that we’d come across in all the Spanish places we’d visited, in Barcelona, in Andalucía, in Ibiza itself. We imagined we’d be able to while away a few hours with a cerveza and some tapas, reading, sitting somewhere comfortable and relaxed, that it would feel different to Gatwick or Bristol or Jersey City or Heathrow or Geneva.

Of course it didn’t. It felt like every airport ever, including Malaga and Barcelona, the other Spanish airports we’d flown through (Barcelona was, to be fair a little better); a Burger King, an identikit duty free shop, an overpriced newsagent, somewhere to buy a handbag or a Lacoste polo shirt, an anonymous Americanised grill-bar eaterie, and the same long, tall, empty corridors of alienating space as any other airport anywhere else. With hours to kill we watched different cohorts of passengers travel through the space, saw the waxes and wanes of busyness, witnessed some of the shops close as 11pm drew near, felt the airport slowly wind down, tease towards hibernation but never actually quite stop working and moving completely, like a massive shark that will sink and die if it stops moving and consuming completely for any length of time. There must surely be some way to make these spaces better, nicer, more comfortable?

What I did on my holidays

I’ve always hated people who apologise for not updating their blogs for a while; it seems like such an egotistical thing to do, to apologise for not gifting people with your thoughts and words. I remember Ian Brown, in an interview circa 1995 after The Stone Roses had returned from their 5-year hiatus (how short a gap between albums does 5-years seem now?), saying something like “do you think we’re that important? Do you think people just sat around not breathing while they waited for us to make another record? I don’t.”

Since April 14th I have ridden over 200 miles on my bicycle (some of it in the company of my wife). I have visited The Drift Record shop in Totnes for Record Store Day, and bought some vinyl. I have had a brief, beautiful anniversary holiday with my wife in St Ives (where we stayed in a terrific B&B), visiting Sennen Cove with a friend on the way back (and listening to a certain Ride b-side on the journey), and took a lot of pictures while we were there. I’ve had a family barbecue at the in-laws’ house. I’ve been to the theatre for the first time in a decade (to see The Dumb Waiter by Pinter). I’ve played Brian Eno’s Another Green World at Devon Record Club. I’ve been to the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink. I’ve helped my wife plant some tomatoes, some chillies, some lettuce, some mint, and some other stuff in our yard. I’ve bought a garden chair. I’ve put SPD pedals on my bicycle, and clocked my fastest-ever single mile (2mins 58secs down Honiton Road behind Exeter Airport, without realising how fast I was going at the time). I’ve watched some of the Royal Wedding (despite being a vague republican). What I haven’t done (bar the Brian Eno piece for DRC) is any writing. I had every intention of doing some, given that we took advantage of the cluster of Bank Holidays and extended our break to eleven days in a row, but frankly I haven’t been of a mind to. I’ve pondered writing something about being a dilettante, about cycling, about St Ives, about record clubs, about lots and lots of things, but sitting down at a desk to type has seemed too much like work. I return to actual work on Tuesday for three days before another long weekend (including a trip to Scotland for a friend’s wedding), so maybe… I would say “normal service will resume”, but what’s normal service?