British Airways Strike – A Lesson in Customer Service

“DirecTV doesn’t want you to see your favorite programming” – AMC
“AMC is refusing to provide programming to you through your DirecTV subscription” – DirecTV

We’re Going Public

We’ve all seen stuff like the above. Companies bicker with each other and can’t sort out contracts behind closed doors, so they take it public and make fools of themselves in the process. Unfortunately, their politicking tends to gather support on either side, and consumers lash out at one side or the other. When it comes down to it, they’re all guilty. Consumers are merely pawns in their negotiation tactics, and it makes me roll my eyes so hard you might mistake me for WWE star The Undertaker.

via GIPHY

British Airways strike, September 2019

A similar thing took place in the last 24 hours or so with British Airways. I say similar because it’s a labor dispute between the corporation and the pilots’ union that led to a strike.

Yesterday at 4:54 pm, I received two emails from British Airways notifying me that our flight back to the United States would be canceled. Cue the anger. Cue the panic. The end of the workday suddenly turned into a big ball of stress as we tried to figure out what we would do. Should we book an alternate return trip? What if prices are crazy – do we try and cancel everything else and work out something with the cruise ship reservations? Thousands of dollars are at stake. Here we go.

My wife quickly found an alternate set of flights back the next day, meaning we’d have to stay an extra day in Rome (twist our arms). The rate was pretty reasonable, so she jumped on it. I booked an Airbnb. The trip wouldn’t be canceled. Cool. What about refunds for the return trip, though?

A Customer Service Brick Wall

British Airways wouldn’t answer phone calls. They simply told you to try again later. Wow.

Further, their website said several troubling things to us. Our options were limited to working with them on rebooking a way back or canceling the entire trip (there and back) for a refund. Neither of those options was acceptable. We did what we had to do to solve the problem they made for us. Now we just wanted our money back for the return trip. It sounded like British Airways was going to pocket the money they took from us for the return trip if we didn’t cancel the whole thing.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that we booked through an online travel agency, Vayama. We’ve booked through Vayama before and got killer rates on flights, and that’s why we did it again this time. However, with the extenuating circumstances British Airways caused – they wouldn’t deal with us directly and told us to work with Vayama. Talk about passing the buck.

I mean, that’s kind of the theme of the entire public dispute:

Responsibility? What’s that?

Each side is pointing fingers, shifting the blame. Neither side is admitting responsibility for this whole situation. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are dealing with changing travel plans, spending lots of money, not sure if they’d get refunds, etc. It’s a damn mess.

So after spending plenty of time booking new flights and reservations, on the phone, writing emails, and composing tweets… We get the following emails this morning:

That’s right. Less than 18 hours from the initial cancellation emails that sent thousands into a panic, they started sending out “LOL JK” emails. In a way, I’m thankful we got these notices. Ultimately, we were able to cancel our alternate trip back to the states as we were within the 24-hour cancellation period. But I know that many are still out there trying to sort out their travel plans and are worried about the investments they made.

Further, I’m just appalled by the poor decision making that caused the initial emails to go out. If they used verbiage like “may be canceled” in the initial emails they could’ve saved themselves at least some headache.

TLDR

My point is that using consumer pain as a negotiation tactic is a bad look for all parties involved. Whether you’re sorting out TV deals or a certain percentage pay raise, sort it out on your own behind closed doors. Don’t let it get to the point where you’re causing harm (time, money, etc) to consumers. Egg on your face isn’t a good look.