Imagine this scenario. I’m flogging an old mobile phone. I want £5 for the memory card in it, plus £50 for the phone itself. I draw up a contract, and you send me £50 only, because you don’t want the memory card. I then keep both the phone and the card, because under the terms and conditions of the agreed contract, you have to buy both items in the order stated, and if you fail to buy the memory card, I cancel your order for the phone, and keep your money. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
Well, similar Terms and Conditions exist in the world of Airline flights. And, despite a number of courts condemning them as unfair across Europe, most EU countries, including the UK, have not made changes in the law.
“No Show” Clauses
These conditions are generally referred to as “no show clauses”. For the passenger booking a flight on line, they are hidden amongst a myriad of other Terms and Conditions that you must check a box to say that you read. And what it means is, that if you miss a flight on a ticket, any further flights which are part of the same ticket, are automatically cancelled.
So if I book a return flight, from Heathrow to Malta, for example, I must turn up for the outgoing flight, and if I don’t, the return flight is cancelled. There could be a whole number of reasons that I still required the return flight, but tough. I have previously failed to make the one-hour cut-off by a few minutes, when travelling to Malta, but thankfully, Air Malta have still let me through. Last October, when accompanying someone to the airport in Malta, we left with hours to spare, but every bus that took us to the airport didn’t show up, and phone calls to taxi numbers all said nothing available until 9am which was too late. We eventually got to the airport 25 minutes before flight time, and they not only let her and a young couple through, but they prioritised their trip through security (yes they have a priority lane for urgents there), and they got the flight.
But then I made the mistake of booking by British Airways, for a flight to Bucharest in Romania, because their flight was very slightly cheaper than the Romanian airline, Tarom. On the day, I allowed enough time to travel for the airport under normal conditions, but not enough to spare if things went wrong. As a result I was a little under the hour’s checking in time at the airport, and was met with a total brick wall when trying to get through, even though they were still accepting luggage at that time. I could have done an online check-in on my phone, but didn’t know how at the time.
I was referred to another British Airways desk, and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, was put on the evening flight, that same day, to Bucharest. This cost me £218, more than the return flight had cost me initially. I was given absolutely no reason to think that I wouldn’t be able to get home, in fact I was led to believe that the price included fees for rearranging the forward flight, rather than cancelling it.
My final destination was not Romania, by the way. It was Bulgaria. Bucharest is about 60km from the border with Bulgaria, and the place I visited, Ruse, was just across the border, and situated around 200km from the nearest Bulgarian airport, at Sofia. My friends met me at the airport.
On the day I had to fly home, no-one was available to drive me back, so I had to get a taxi. The driver agreed a lower price if I could leave at 9am, as he had another job to pick people up from the airport. So I was at the airport about 4 hours early for the return flight. I could not check in on their machines, but I had to wait until check-in opened, two hours before take-off. It was then, and only then, that I discovered that I didn’t have a return ticket. And that British Airways have no staff and no office in Bucharest.
What a way to find out! In a strange place, no friends available, it’s difficult to describe, but it’s scary. It took me every sinew I had to keep calm, and most people I know would have lost it completely, but I knew that if I did that, I would not be home that evening. I had to phone a number in the UK to get on a flight, from my mobile phone. Of course, while I was doing that, and hanging on for an answer, and arguing the toss over whether I had a return ticket, the clock was ticking on the flight closing. In fact I only made it onto the flight because one of the airport staff (they were very good and sympathetic by the way), waited at the desk for me.
Well, when they have you by the balls, they squeeze, and I was charged £316 for the return flight. Absolutely ridiculous, especially as, when I got on the plane, it was the emptiest plane I had ever flown on. Almost every group of 3 seats had only two people, and toward the back, where I was, everyone had a block of 3 seats to themselves.
Customer Service is Zero
One thing you discover in these days of internet booking and call-centres, is that customer service is virtually zero. You can never talk to anyone about your problem, no-one can ever actually resolve a problem, and even the link to the page on line where you send your complaint is obfuscated.
Of course I sent a complaint to British Airways, and got the reply a few days ago, referring me to their Terms and Conditions, and how to check in on line or by phone. Not that I’ll be needing that information, as I won’t be using British Airways any more.