Sunday, 14 May 2017

Statutory EU Compensation, British Airways Customer Service And Ritually Disempowering Customers

Airbus A319 takes off from London Heathrow Airport
A BA plane taking off. This can take a while to actually happen sometimes...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Okay, so you've heard the story about how British Airways managed to screw up our flight at the New Year. Being a little annoyed at the way things turned out, I wrote them an email afterwards letting them know I thought they should pay compensation.

Here's what happened, in case you find yourself in the same boat. It's a long post, sorry.

Under EU regulations, airlines are liable to pay passengers compensation for a flight originating or landing in an EU country that is delayed over three hours. For a short haul flight (Under 1,500km - ie: Belfast to Heathrow), that compensation is €250 per passenger.

The opt-out for airlines is when the flight has been delayed by 'extraordinary circumstances'. These are a little fuzzy, but include acts of terror, the plane being turned into a giant pumpkin, dinosaur attacks, civil disturbances, strikes (NOTE here, not including industrial action by the airline's own employees!) and 'Weather conditions incompatible with the safe operation of the flight'.

Airlines really, really don't like this piece of EU legislation at all. Oh, no.

If you are delayed by more than two hours, the airline is in any case responsible for providing you with a reasonable amount of food and drink; a means for you to communicate (for instance refunding the cost of your calls); accommodation, if you’re delayed overnight and transport to and from the accommodation (or your home, if you are able to return there).

If the airline is unable to organise these (and in our case British Airways was clearly in no state to organise festivities in a brewery. You could argue the merits of an airline which will accept passengers for carriage from and to airports where it has no arrangement in place to manage customers in case something extraordinary happens), the CAA's guidance is that you have the right to organise reasonable care and assistance yourself and claim it back later.

Keep receipts for everything. In fact, keep any and all paperwork you have INCLUDING boarding passes that have been replaced or superseded, baggage slips, everything.

So we were delayed, apparently, because of the weather. Handily, the UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) publishes a list of dates and flights cancelled from Heathrow which it believes would be grounds for refusing a compensation claim on the grounds of extraordinary circumstances. It's linked here for your handy reference.

Our New Year's flight - BA1417 on the 30th December 2016 - wasn't on that list. So I wrote to BA and told them I thought they should pay the compensation. To be fair, they had subjected us to a deeply unpleasant two-day incapability-of-providing-a-flying-machine experience and had totally failed to provide any assistance beyond a useless call centre and their Twitter team offering a refund in extremis (so we do what, walk home?) as well as some pretty meagre meal vouchers the next day.

They had also failed to properly notify passengers of their statutory rights - a nasty habit airlines have these days.

British Airways responded smartly enough to my email:

Your claim’s been refused because BA1417 on 30 December was delayed because of adverse weather conditions, which prevented the aircraft operating as scheduled. Under EU legislation, I’m afraid we’re not liable for a compensation payment in this situation. 

We take all reasonable measures to avoid delaying a flight and we always consider if there are any operational options available before we make a decision. We’re very sorry the delay was necessary in this case.

I love the 'I'm afraid' line in that. I wrote to them again - they have a handy online form for emails which means you don't get to keep a copy of what you've sent them, so it's important to cut and paste your text and keep a record of it in a Word file or some such.

This time the response was:

Thanks for coming back to us about your EU compensation claim. I'm sorry that you are unhappy with our response. 

I’ve reviewed your claim and can confirm that your flight BA1417 on 30 December 2016 was delayed because of adverse weather conditions, which prevented the aircraft operating as scheduled. On the day you were due to travel, there were Air Traffic Control restrictions in place affecting the aircraft coming in and out of London Heathrow, which was a direct result of the severe weather conditions. 

Under EU legislation, I’m afraid we’re not liable for a compensation payment in this situation. Article 5.3 of the EU Regulation 261/2004 states that a carrier is not obliged to pay compensation if it can prove that the delay or cancellation is caused by extraordinary circumstances that couldn’t have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken. In Recital 14 and 15 of EU Regulation 261/2004, extraordinary circumstances include weather, strike and the impact of an air traffic management decision which gives rise to a long delay. This means you’re not entitled to compensation under the EU Regulation for your delayed flight. 

I realise this will be disappointing for you but I hope this information will help you to understand our decision.

So we get a longer response with a load of obfuscatory waffle about EU regulations. Nope, I responded to them, you are SO liable for compensation.

A couple of ping pongs later (and by now we're at the end of January), I got this from them:

I felt the need to write back to you. I understand this is something you feel strongly about and I’m sorry you’re unhappy with our previous replies. 

We've received a reply from our Flight Investigation team. I'd like to inform you that we really want you to fly with us again and we know not resolving your complaint fully will affect the decisions you make when you need to travel in the future. I’ve had another look at your claim for compensation and I’ve taken time to make sure our response is accurate and up-to-date. 

I’m afraid our decision hasn’t changed and the responses you’ve received about the eligibility of your EU compensation claim are correct. As Your claim’s been refused because BA1417 on 30 December was delayed because of adverse weather conditions, which prevented the aircraft operating as scheduled, we’re unable to offer you any compensation. I know this isn’t the answer you were hoping for and I’m sorry to let you down. 

Given the information we hold about your delayed flight, our answer won’t change and we’re unable to respond to any further requests for compensation.

It's quite a clever piece of communication. I felt the need... we know not resolving your claim will... and I've taken the time to... as well as I know this isn't... I'm sorry to let you down are all smart use of language.

At this point, having jerked me around for a month, they have refused further correspondence: we’re unable to respond to any further requests for compensation.

What do you do now? I mean, clearly, you're being unreasonable. BA has responded to you time and again explaining why you're not liable for compensation IN THEIR VIEW which they often fail to make very clear. They act like they're the law, representing the law but in fact they are a plaintiff and you are the complainant.

They will unlikely take the same view of the situation as you, but they dress it up with such authority that any reasonable bloke will go 'Oh, right then' and wander off.

It is possible that I am unreasonable. I wouldn't like to deny the charge.

Your next step is to escalate to Alternative Dispute Resolution. You have to wait eight weeks AFTER your airline has refused compensation and then file your case with (if you're a BA passenger - other airlines could use other ADR providers) the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR). At this point, you have to put some skin in the game - if CEDR finds against you, you're liable to pay the £25 fee for the arbitration.

You can skip the eight week wait if your airline agrees to send the case to ADR but they won't. They'll depend on that eight week cooling off period breaking what little resolution you might have left. They really, really don't like that whole EU statutory compensation thing one little bit.

The CEDR website steps you through the process of filing a claim for compensation. It's a little gnarly, but this is where those receipts you kept come in handy. You can file additional documentation, too, so I took great delight in including our car hire receipt, a copy of British Airways' useless rebooking form with its wrong numbers and missing information and an account of how they cancelled, then delayed, then rescheduled, then delayed our flight and basically jerked us around.

I was able to reconstruct the two-day horror quite accurately from my blog post about it and also from my Twitter tirade. The 100-tweet rantathon was just me being bored and pissed off, but it did lead to the BBC getting in touch and filing a story online (Which I also included with my evidence) and did give me a handy list of times and events when I went back over it.

It's not the first time I have been glad of Twitter and I'm sure not the last, either.

The CEDR process takes two weeks. Within that time BA got in touch and gave up the ghost. They would, after all their denials and I'm afraid emails, pay the compensation. It has just arrived in our bank and so now I can post this happy little account. If it helps you in your claim for compensation, I am delighted.

Don't stop. Don't let them brush you off. If you believe you have a case, pursue it.

Be unreasonable!

Here, just in case you want a little fun, are the highlights of that 24-hour Twitterthon.

My sincerest thanks to the lovely people over at All My Tweets. It's best read from the bottom up...

  • Pursuing a claim for compensation from #BritishAirways, they've already denied it and refused to go to adjudicator three times. Nice people. Jan 08, 2017
  • #BritishAirways sent an automated customer service email the day after the Great Belfast Disaster. I responded. They've sent two more since. Jan 03, 2017
  • It's lucky we CHERISH departure lounges! Squee! We said as we lolled around for 10 hours with no information or contact! #BritishAirways Jan 01, 2017
  • Oh noes. After everything over the last 48 hours, #BritishAirways just sent me a 'Customer Satisfaction Survey'. I kid you not. Jan 01, 2017
  • Honestly, #BritishAirways, it would have been more sincere to have said I was a noisy pain in the arse and you're g… Jan 01, 2017
  • What's more, #BritishAirways - why thank me for my patience? I threw about 100 frustrated tweets your way yesterday… Jan 01, 2017
  • Well that's all very nice, #BritishAirways except you don't understand at all. How could you, sat in your office tweeting platitudes? Jan 01, 2017
  • Thanks for your company, Twitter. You know who y'all are. Off to London for New Year, finally! Dec 31, 2016
  • CafĂ© full of shiny, happy people now. Much elation. We're all going home/where we're going. It's only taken 26 hours... #britishairways Dec 31, 2016
  • Crew here = we there. Doing a little departure dance as we speak. #britishairways Dec 31, 2016
  • See, my issue is I don't see staff in pom pom outfits with #britishairways CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE TEAM tops lining the way to Gate A... Dec 31, 2016
  • I think we have spotted the extra crew. Either that or there's a #BritishAirways themed drag act doing a gig in #Belfast for #NewYear... Dec 31, 2016
  • The #BritishAirways Customer Experience Management Team, meanwhile, are experimenting with dropping cats down vertical blackboards... Dec 31, 2016
  • One detail on the Beeb story was incorrect, the BA note wasn't handwritten but in a horrible 'handwriting' style font. Dec 31, 2016
  • Ooh, lookit! I is on da Beeb! Dec 31, 2016
  • Man in clown mask bouncing up runway on Pogo stick. Thought it was incoming #britishairways Customer Experience Team. It's just a clown. Dec 31, 2016
  • Have just tried to move. My arse is now a right angle. Staggering around like Quasimodo. Or a #BritishAirways Customer Experience Manager. Dec 31, 2016
  • #BritishAirways 1415 to LHR is now getting ready for boarding. They're like golfers 'playing through'. We are happy for them. Really. Dec 31, 2016
  • A #BritishAirways plane has landed at BHD. We feel like worshippers of a cargo cult. Will there be crew? Yes, my son, there will be crew... Dec 31, 2016
  • For the uninitiated, an Ulster Fry is bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans, black pudding, fried bread and fried egg. With white wine. Grief. Dec 31, 2016
  • Okay a new low for the weirdometer: two Ulster Fries being demolished with gusto washed down with glasses of white wine. #ThingsYouSeeInBHD Dec 31, 2016
  • Roses are red Violets are blue I'm having a #BritishAirways customer experience How about you? Dec 31, 2016
  • Me: When I said #BritishAirways would lock us in from 6am and jerk us around all day and you called me cynical... Sarah: ShutupShutupShutup Dec 31, 2016
  • #BritishAirways have more vouchers for us! £10 each! DOUBLE VOUCHER BONUS! #SoExcited #StockholmSyndrome Dec 31, 2016
  • I was serious about Sarah photographing her hat. Here's the photo. She's planning to go to Boots after lunch.… Dec 31, 2016
  • It's 09:10. There's a bloke here doing an Ulster Fry and a pint of lager. That's pretty hardcore, IMHO... Dec 31, 2016
  • Some men in CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE TEAM t-shirts started to erect a bouncy castle then left mumbling about a 'wrong location'. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • tube on a stand at BHD and right now it's as useless as a #BritishAirways Customer Experience Manager. Dec 31, 2016
  • So the problem wasn't the slot, it was the crew. There's no bloody crew. Other flights will come and go, but we're stuck. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • Help! Send entertainers! Or, better, #BritishAirways Customer Experience Management Team members and a selection of sharp, pointy things. Dec 31, 2016
  • It's now light. We can see #Belfast out of the window. It's 08:55am. 'Light refreshments' at the #BritishAirways Gate. Oh callooh callay! Dec 31, 2016
  • #BritishAirways #BA1417 to fly at 17:30. 'Regretfully the saga will continue - I know that's completely ridiculous' - announcer at BHD. Dec 31, 2016
  • Argh. @flybe are pushing back. Happy New Year, you smug, purply happy-looking bastards... #britishairways Dec 31, 2016
  • I can see the #BritishAirways 'Customer Experience Management' team meeting now. 'Let's do the Kraken now!' 'No, no! The Kraken later!' Dec 31, 2016
  • Sarah is taking iPhone photos of her hat. We might need the medical services team soon. It's getting light. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • Sarah now threatening to buy a Radley bag out of boredom. This is getting twisted. We got up at 03:30. We're 5 hours in... #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • We apologise for the lateness of your next information, this was due to the late arrival of the previous next information. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • 08:32: 'Next information at 08:30' #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • FOUR minutes to go until 'next information'! We're having a wee 'next information' party at our table. Silly hats and all. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • Ah, it's okay. Panic over. The skeleton wasn't a dead pax. Apparently it's the Spirit of Customer Experience Past... #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • We've just spotted a skeleton under one of the tables in a darker corner. This isn't looking good... #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • Transcend your corporate newspeak and fake sympathy. Truly go beyond the ordinary. Really, for once, delight people. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • I mean, here's an idea, #BritishAirways. Seriously, a positive #NewYear thought from me. Open up your business class lounge to #BA1417 pax. Dec 31, 2016
  • Ooh, yes, you're right. #BA1417 now showing departure 5.30pm on the #BritishAirways website. It's 08.00am. #Joy… Dec 31, 2016
  • Update 'Next information at 08:30' THERE HAS BEEN NO INFORMATION EVER YOU SPONGIFORM DOLTS! #YesBetterNowThanks #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • I'm waiting for 'Hitler finds out anything at all ever from #BritishAirways' to break... Dec 31, 2016
  • A woman has just stroked her husband's arm and said 'It'll be okay'. I kid you not. It's like Downfall around here... #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • The chap offering a glass of prosecco with a strawberry in it has just gone away. He'll be back in 30 mins, apparently. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • The table next to us is getting hysterical. Their brittle laughter has collapsed into moans and nail-biting. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • EI has just pulled back and I should be happy for them but I'm not. I hate them. Smug, travelling people going somewhere. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • A one-man band just tap-danced past dressed as a pearly king. I thought it was a #BritishAirways 'Customer Experience Manager'. But, no. Dec 31, 2016
  • Sarah has taken to staring into her coffee. She's gone to the toilet for a change of scenery. It's still dark. All is lost. Send help. Dec 31, 2016
  • I mean, you treat us like cattle, obfuscate and misinform us, and this in the name of 'customer experience'? Nah. #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • 'Next information at 8am' showing. This follows 'Next information at 7 and 7:30'. #BritishAirways information: there is no information. Dec 31, 2016
  • A hunch-backed drooling gnome with a pointy hat is poking my leg with a sharp stick and cackling. This must be a #BritishAirways manager... Dec 31, 2016
  • The 7am 'information announcement' has now become a 7.30am 'information announcement'. There is no information. No hope. All is bleak. Dec 31, 2016
  • The face painting team hasn't showed up yet. The clown seems to have gone home. Oh, the joy of the #BritishAirways 'customer experience'! Dec 31, 2016
  • Sausages in the machine, we await our 'customer experience' as we watch boards promising information that never comes... #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • Herding the 'about to be processed' and dashing their hopes in a crushing, relentless tide of 'service experience'... #BritishAirways Dec 31, 2016
  • They shake up wasps in jam jars, pull kittens' nails and scare bush babies in a relentless quest to better the #BritishAirways experience! Dec 31, 2016
  • Oh, joy! Deep in the bowels of #BritishAirways HQ, the 'customer experience managers' experiment, Mengele-style on unwitting victims... Dec 31, 2016
  • Wait, what, you have 'customer experience managers'? Gosh, golly! What do THEY do every day of the year? Dec 31, 2016
  • £10 per pax for food and drink for an overnight 'delay' doesn't seem quite, well, cricket, does it? #BritishAirways #BA1417 Dec 31, 2016
  • It would be interesting to see what compensation is available from #BritishAirways - which has offered minimal assistance for #BA1417 pax... Dec 31, 2016
  • While we slowly rot, we're plotting how to spend our gorgeous £10 #britishairways 'compensation voucher'. Maybe share a breakfast roll... Dec 31, 2016
  • 'Next information at 07:00' says the chirpy wee screen at BHD: #BritishAirways rockin' real-time... @HeathrowAirport yet foggy, apparently. Dec 31, 2016
  • The Ulster Fry is the Lady Gaga of breakfasts - a terrible thing to behold. It's sort of wrong yet at the same time it gets your attention. Dec 31, 2016
  • The optimism all around me is heart-breaking. Everyone thinks it's over. We've all got boarding cards, but there's no slot for #BA1417... Dec 31, 2016
  • BTW, #BritishAirways, a 'breakfast roll' here at BHD costs £6.95 and two coffees is £5.20. But we must be grateful for small mercies... Dec 31, 2016
  • We're now checked onto today's 'free flight' - we have a plane, boarding cards and a VERY generous £5 'breakfast voucher'. Just no slot... Dec 31, 2016
  • So #BritishAirways has known all along it could accommodate all of yesterday's #BA1417 pax, it just didn't want to share for some reason. Dec 31, 2016
  • Right. We've found the missing #BritishAirways #BA1417. It's been sitting on the tarmac here at BHD all night. Just they didn't tell us. Dec 31, 2016
  • Obviously no BA staff on hand, tannoys or information. Just a queue. People sharing stories of disbelief in anything #britishairways says. Dec 31, 2016
  • 5am. BHD airport. All is quiet apart from a long, long queue for the #britishairways desk. No sign of the promised BA1417. Dec 31, 2016
  • We're assured we have a 6am flight BHD/LHR. That means getting up here in Newry at 3.30am. They'd better be serious... #britishairways Dec 30, 2016
  • We're being told our BHD/LHR flight is delayed until 6am tomorrow rather than today's cancellation. Don't trust it… Dec 30, 2016
  • Brilliant. @British_Airways has DMmed me and offered a full refund. I can have my money back and SWIM to the mainland. Great solution. Dec 30, 2016
  • "All our agents are busy at the moment but your call is important to us." Call centre case study, @British_Airways... Pure gold. Dec 30, 2016
  • It's a case study in screwed up comms. EVERY single comms tool is failing. @British_Airways is in a simple, straightforward, total mess. Dec 30, 2016
  • It's hard to think how an airline could have handled this more maladroitly than @British_Airways. Well, perhaps apart from @Ryanair... Dec 30, 2016
  • The @British_Airways airways app is as useless as a chocolate in a blast furnace and their website worse. Call centre now has 30 mins wait. Dec 30, 2016
  • No @British_Airways staff on hand to manage re-bookings. Handlers giving out leaflets with the wrong number to call 'between xx and xx'. Dec 30, 2016
  • So @British_Airways flight to LHR has been cancelled. They are singularly, spectacularly useless. Website, app, call centre. Nothing works. Dec 30, 2016
  • Mad freezing fog @HeathrowAirport, so we're sitting at George Best waiting to see if we can fly or not. Already 2 hrs 45 delayed. Oh joy... Dec 30, 2016

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