British Airways has problems

While American Airlines has been dealing with a slowdown by their mechanics union, British Airways' pilots are in the midst of a strike which, over two days, has lead to 1,700 flights being cancelled.

But he told the BBC that while BA says publicly it is willing to talk, "in private they say they are not going to negotiate". And although the headline dispute is about pay, he said there was also deep resentment about the airline's direction.

"BA has lost the trust and confidence of pilots because of cost-cutting and the dumbing down of the brand... management want to squeeze every last penny out of customers and staff," Mr Strutton said.

Mr Cruz defended the airline against Mr Strutton's claim, saying it had never in its history embarked on such a big investment programme in services and training. He said the airline was "ready and willing" to return to talks with Balpa.

It is the first time BA pilots have walked out and the action could cost the airline up to £40m a day. Some 4,000 pilots are involved in the strike.

That's certainly a problem for British Airways, but this article isn't about that.

Booking on British Airways

British Airways has what may be the most generous policies towards travelling with children who turn two during a trip. Most airlines will require you to book a seat for the child on both legs, or alternatively, book your travel with one-way tickets and include a seat for the child on the "return" leg. British Airways, for tickets operated by them and sold by them, will give the child a seat for free on the return journey if the child turns two in-between the two legs.

However, you need to call British Airways reservations directly in order to do this. I tried using the American Express Concierge, hoping to either save a phone call (and use the app) or make use of the American Express International Air Program discount. Unfortunately, after checking with colleagues, the person with whom I was conversing in the app eventually told me I'd have to call American Express Travel to talk with someone on the phone. The phone agent then told me she could not help either, because of the change in age of the child between legs, but did offer to connect me directly to British Airways, which was the most helpful an American Express concierge has been this year.

British Airways reservations

Following the hand-off from American Express, an agent answered quickly. The call took some time, but he took the flights I was interested in, and I explained the reason why I was calling: that my wife and I were travelling with our three children, but that our twins would be turning two during our flight, and as such would be lap infants on the outbound leg but would need seats on the return. He seemed to understand, indicated that the phone-booking fee would be waived because this wouldn't have been bookable online, and took down our names and dates of birth.

While he was inputting all of this information, he asked if this would be our children's first flight, and talked about having taken his kids to Disneyland Paris when they were little. He started asking which tickets should be associated with the lap-infants, which seemed a little odd, but I responded that it didn't really matter as long as one was associated with me and one my wife, since my daughter was only going to be four. To speed things along though, I specified which one would go with my wife, and he began issuing the ticket.

A few issues

It shortly became apparent that he did not quite understand the request. He thought the infants were travelling one way, and would be staying in the UK. We corrected that misunderstanding, and began the process over again. When he came back, he asked for a credit card, and we began the check-out process. It may be perfectly British to not talk about such matters, but other than not charging a booking fee, the question of money had not arisen, so I casually asked exactly how much was going to be charged to my card. I forget the exact number mentioned, even though I had him repeat it a couple times, but it began with a "six". That didn't sound right given what I was pricing online, and he confirmed that it should be exactly the same price. The expected price for the party was approximately $11,000, so I assumed he was quoting about $16,000 and wondering if the infant tickets had been priced incorrectly. It turns out he was saying $67,000. Oops. He became increasingly irritable as I explained what prices I was seeing online.

He had confirmed that prices should match what was offered online, so something had to be different. We confirmed dates and flights. The next thing I could think off was fare class. The self-service methods (app and Web site) default to non-refundable tickets, but at no point in the call had the question of refundability ever been broached. I asked if he'd priced refundable tickets, and indicated that I had intended to book non-refundable tickets. He asked for a moment, and began repricing. I apologized for not having made that clear earlier, but was admittedly perplexed that the agent had not asked, or even thought about that when we had a pricing difference. In the end, we were still $400 apart, and again, he couldn't explain why. I quoted the price I had for each of the adult tickets, and how much our daughter and infant tickets were pricing at. He confirmed the adult price was what we were seeing, but I couldn't get any further details over the phone, which made it difficult to find the discrepancy.

I noted my confusion about the price difference, but given that he said that was what his system was pricing at, and there was no other way to book the special case infant/child hybrid ticket, I assented to booking the tickets and resolved to follow-up with customer support later. The next morning (later that day in the UK), I sent British Airways an eMail asking them to clarify the pricing discrepancy. I've not gotten a response to that inquiry, nor a subsequent follow-up when I asked about an additional roughly $23,000 in charges that hadn't been present with the pending charge.

Calling Customer Service

Having not gotten a response via eMail, I called British Airways customer support, which is only open Monday to Friday between the hours of 9am and 1pm Eastern time, which isn't particularly convenient.

British Airways had a surprisingly refreshing hold experience. They play soothing music which does have me envision sitting on a beach somewhere1. They have a soothing English voice providing information, and surprisingly, do not have harsh cut-ins utilizing the captive time to try and sell or advertise additional services.

When I reached an agent, he couldn't find any record of the two errant charges totalling $22k. He suggested calling my bank regarding those charges.

When I asked about the difference in price, he indicated that tickets which were fully flexible don't have child discount. I confirmed that the price should have been the same as the Web site or app, and when I indicated that the prices had, and continued to show different prices he asked me to send him a screenshot. He initially phrased his response as it was my fault for accepting the offered price on the call, although when I indicated I'd asked about the difference and child price, he offered that he could refund the tickets and reissue them, except that would incur a $200 cancellation fee which would have negated the difference. Instead, he directed me that I would need to file a claim after flying.

I was impressed that he was able to pull-up details on the previous call that were actually quite detailed; he confirmed that I'd provided the dates of birth and that child price should have been offered. Unfortunately, I was stuck calling American Express about the mysterious $23,000 in extra charges.


Calling Amex

The next day, I called American Express, who was the issuer of the credit card I'd used. After working through the remarkably picky voice response system, I was confronted with the more familiar hold pattern which had a human voice cutting-in what felt like constantly, and with an abruptness which felt designed to irritate the caller. Each time, the voice announced that wait times were less than one minute. After 15 minutes, an agent picked-up.

After a little bit of explaining, American Express was incredibly helpful. They read-off the L3 information: the $23k in extra charges were for tickets in the name of my wife and youngest child.2 She cautioned against disputing just the two charges, since they were connected to the same reservation as the tickets we had intended to book. She offered to call back once I had again talked with British Airways, since she understood the problem. British Airways customer service was closing for the day, so I initially declined the offer, but she insisted, offering to call back either Monday or Friday between 10:30 and 9pm Eastern time. We set a time for her to call back at 1pm on Friday, and after 38 minutes the call ended.

Web site

The American Express agent recommended going through the Web site to challenge the charges if British Airways still could not resolve the issue. I had actually tried this before calling the American Express agent, however there's a $20,000 limit on the amount of a charge which American Express will let you dispute via the Web site.

Back to BA

On Thursday, I called British Airways once again. It took a couple minutes for the agent to understand the issue once again, even though he had the notes from the previous call. Once I gave him the information from American Express, however, he muted the line and came back having found the charges. He was at a loss as to how the situation had arisen, but indicated that the charges would be reversed in 8-10 business days.

Child Tickets

That brings us back to the other issues: the children fares. The agent confirmed that for my daughter, I would need to fly the flight, and then file a complaint with British Airways to receive the $400 refund for the child fare I should have been able to book through the agent. Given the hassle we'd been through though with the extra charges, he said he'd also make a note of the issue with the child fare in addition to an inquiry into the extra charges.

For our twins, I would have to call British Airways in-between our flights, after the outbound leg but before the in-bound, for them to issue the tickets on the return leg of the journey. Having confirmed this twice (despite no mention of that procedure during the original booking), I accepted it as the policy, set a reminder on my calendar, and resigned myself to fears of having the children trapped in the UK, unable to get a seat on the plane.

Post script

After two weeks, we saw the refund appear on the credit card. We have yet to get a response to the original eMail, and I haven't received any other updates regarding the child fare or infant/children tickets, so we're continue to operate on the last information we had regarding calling after or in-between our flights.

  1. ignoring for the moment I generally don't enjoy beaches

  2. Oddly, their Web site doesn't show this information.