Rewind to just over a year ago, I was sitting in a bar in central London sipping on a cocktail accompanied by 2 of my friends complaining about having hit the big 30. One of my friends side eyes me (lovingly, I think!) and tells me that she hits the big 40 the next year. Being the baby in that small group I chose to remain silent on my new decade in life! She went on to say she wanted to do something big for her 40th, like go to New York which was on her bucket list of places to visit. Me and our 3rd partner in crime instantly invited ourselves along, making sure we didn’t miss a chance to visit this amazing city!
The following months from there our plans begin to take shape. The week to go was agreed, the time was booked off work, travel and hotel was booked, dollars were brought and plans to visit certain bars and tourist hotspots were made. We were massively excited, this trip was going to be fantastic!
The day before the flight the birthday girl emails those of us on the same flight, asking if we wanted to book The Lounge at Gatwick. We can eat and have a drink and at a mere £6 extra turn it into a champagne package. So we book, (you only live once right?) we’re going off in style!
I worked until late that evening trying to finish as much as possible before I headed off. Finally, I made my escape and practically skipped out of the building!
The next day I was on my way to Gatwick airport for our 16.35 flight out. We’d agreed to arrive early so we could enjoy the luxury of The Lounge. I was about 15 minutes away from the airport when I received a message from one of the girls also traveling that day (but with another airline), “Who’s travelling with BA today? Are your flights OK?’
“What’s wrong with BA?” I asked. A screen shot from BBC news reporting BA’s IT failure popped up on my whatsapp message in answer. Ah, crap!
I arrived at Gatwick airport and pretty quickly was told that BA had ‘stopped their flights’ and to speak to someone from BA. I made my way to the BA departures and was greeted by long queues and a fair few miserable faces! Heading further in to the mass of people in search of someone from BA who could enlighten me I found a group of people surrounding a member of the BA staff and I overheard her telling them that all flights between 1pm to 6pm were cancelled. Refusing to believe this was really happening I found another BA staff member and got the same message. By this point my friends had arrived and we took the decision to wait around a bit in case the IT blip sorts itself out and we’re able to get on a later flight (the optimistic bunch that we are!).
We propped ourselves in a Weatherspoon’s and ordered jacket potatoes and nachos (not quite as sophisticated as the Gatwick Lounge we’d booked, but we weren’t allowed in there!). Once we’d eaten we headed back downstairs to the departures and found that ALL flights with BA that day had been cancelled and were kindly requested to leave the airport. There was nothing they could do for us, the systems were well and truly ‘down’.
Other airlines had one way flights that were costing over £1000 and completely out of our budgets and BA wouldn’t cover costs for other airlines. They would only refund BA flights or move us on to another BA flight once their systems were running.
A little later by some miracle we were able to get through to an operator on the re-booking number and got ourselves on a flight early the next morning.
We’re going to New York (attempt 2)!
It was a 10.25am flight from Heathrow. The BA app still wasn’t working for us to check-in. I tried online when I got home and only got as far as to see my ‘personal bookings’ had been updated to show the new flight but I still couldn’t check-in on their main site.
My friends and I agreed to meet early at Heathrow, we were aiming for 7.30am. I awoke early and the first thing I did was attempt to check-in again. It didn’t work. We were going to have to do it at the airport. My Dad kindly drove me to the airport and I got there around 7am. There was a staff member at the entrance to Heathrow airport advising that only people whose flights was within the next 90 minutes were allowed in and everyone else needed to wait on the lower ground and come back when their flight takeoff was in 90 minutes. It was 7am and my flight was at 10.25am! I had to wait 2 hours!
I headed downstairs as instructed and sat myself down, thankful there was a power socket right in front of me. Making the best of a bad situation I took my newfound time to charge my phone and portable power charger. All was fine until the man next to me nearly fell asleep on my shoulder! Keeping my friends updated on everything that was going on at the airport, all they wanted to know was if he was cute! All things considered we were still pretty well humoured – I have the bestest friends!
My friends arrived one by one and received the same message at the entrance to Heathrow and so joined me downstairs. We laughed the BA fiasco off and were comforted that our flight was still showing as departing on time and thankfully wasn’t one of the cancelled ones.
Around 8.30am we headed up to departures (30 minutes earlier than we’d been advised to). There was a massive group of people by the entrance but we somehow found an entrance to the side manned by two staff who seemed to be bickering, the male ushered us in with a slightly annoyed non-verbal gesture of ‘just go in if you have a flight’. We immediately picked up there were mixed messages taking place and that we just got very lucky being allowed in via a quieter entrance tucked away on the side.
The inside of the airport was chaotic; there were queues everywhere and no one really seemed to know which queue was for what, even some of the staff! We got in a queue that seemed to be leading to check-in (as none of us had been successful in checking-in online) but fairly quickly discovered that this was actually the queue to re-book flights. My eagle-eyed friend then spotted the check-in machines and we were able to get on to the machines with ease. I entered my details and got an error message. My 2 friends were able to check-in successfully. I tried another machine and got the same error message. Another machine, same error message! There was another woman there who was having the same issue as me. I tried 7 or 8 times and got the error each time. It didn’t make sense, we were all booked on to the same flight at the same time by the same operator.
I found a staff member with an I-Pad and hoped he had the power to check me in. He inputted my details and confirmed I was definitely booked on to the flight – I already knew that! – but he couldn’t check me in. He advised me to get in a queue, then said ‘no, you won’t make it’ and told me I should ask the people in the queue if I can push in front of them and explain my situation to them. There were hundreds of pissed off passengers who had been queuing for hours and he wanted me to ask if I can push in front! I didn’t fancy being told to F-off by angry strangers on top of everything else! The chap took mercy on me and took me to his colleague at the front of the queue and explained there was an issue with my ticket that needed fixing and to let me be seen to next. This annoyed the next person in line who was very quick to ask ‘are you letting that woman in front of me? I’m next in line and I’ve been queuing for hours’. I didn’t like this but I was getting increasingly worried about whether we’d make the flight.
My friends had queued in the line for baggage drop off (the one that I was cutting) and suddenly appeared behind me; they’d been told to come to the front ‘as they weren’t going to make the flight otherwise’. I couldn’t believe we’d been held out of the departures for 2 hours and now were having to resort to cutting the queue! If I had been in that queue for hours and saw people jumping straight to the front I would have been pretty annoyed!
We approached one of the baggage drop off counters. My situation was explained to them. After some tapping on a computer, I was told that my new itinerary for that mornings flight hadn’t been ‘associated to my reference number’ yet. It didn’t seem a problem to the staff who said they could manually do that but she needed her colleage at the next counter to do that as she couldn’t do it herself. After some faffing around on their part and feet-tapping waiting on mine and my friends part we were sent back to another counter to check me in and get my suitcase dropped in. My friends had already had their bags labelled and sent off while my ticket was being fixed in the interest of time.
The counter lady suddenly looked annoyed and said ‘you’re not even checked-in’. I explained the problem to her and told her what I’d just been though. Her response was a cavalier ‘well check-in has closed now, I can’t let you on this flight’. I explained what had happened again and told her she needed to let me on. Time was really not on any of our sides, we still needed to get through security. I told my friends to go and I’d catch them up while the counter lady phoned someone about my situation. I was sure I’d be let on the flight – check in takes 2 minutes and I was already at the front for baggage drop off. Given the epic failure of BA and their systems, they’re bound to show some timing flexibility for their customers, right? WRONG.
‘Sorry madam, but the dispatcher is saying I can’t let you on and so is management.’ My blood was starting to boil, I knew this whole mess wasn’t her fault but she pushed my button when she said ‘you should have got here sooner’. How dare she?! I wasn’t allowed in to the airport for 2 hours and even when I was allowed in, it still felt like we’d managed to sneak in past a staff member who had given up on the day already.
Check-in closes an hour before the flight – they’d given us 30 minutes to work our way through the masses of people and figure out what was going on. With the epic IT failure they should have known there’d be issues with peoples tickets that would need fixing. 30 minutes wasn’t enough time for me to figure out the issue and get THEIR error fixed and yet there I was being told I should have got there sooner. I just couldn’t see how they could treat their customers, who had already been through enough, with such lack of empathy and not let someone who was booked on to the flight and was at the counter on to the flight just because the check-in had closed a few moments ago..? In ordinary circumstances, yes we need to follow the rules, but this was no ordinary circumstance. The airline had screwed up but I, the customer, had to lose out by not being able to travel.
I expressed my dissatisfaction at the service and had no choice but to walk away. They weren’t letting me on.
The queue to re-book on to another flight was ridiculous. The phone number to re-book over the phone had an automated message advising customers that due to the busy lines they couldn’t connect us to an operator and to try again later. No on-hold music – just a disconnected line.
I was starving, having skipped breakfast to get to the airport early. The queue snaked around endlessly. I knew there was another flight around 4pm, but the lady at the counter had already told me that I probably wouldn’t make that flight either. Based on the queue I figured she was right. Eventually I gave up and headed out of the airport, half decided on whether I would still try to get to New York or not.
Feeling sunken and trying not to cry I headed towards the underground to catch the tube home. I took the train to Green Park and switched on to the Jubilee line. I was so lost in my own thoughts stewing over what had happened that it took me 4 stops to realise I’d gotten on the wrong train and was heading in the opposite direction! Could this day get any more worse!?
Eventually I got home and checked the latest news. The BA flights had somewhat resumed but passengers were still warned to expect further delays. I couldn’t bare the thought of booking another flight and the same issues happening again. Even if I was to get another flight out most of the girls already in New York would be about ready to come home by the time I’d have gotten there – I’d missed 2 days. It just didn’t seem worth it and I was feeling shattered having spent nearly 2 days at an airport but not making it out of the country! My holiday was ruined and the Bank Holiday wasted and to make things worse, I now had the joy of applying for a refund and claiming anything BA won’t pay on insurance. Fun times!
Needless to say the overall experience was unpleasant. I know things go wrong, that can’t be helped sometimes, but there was no contingency plan and the communication to customers was very poor. But what really tipped it over the edge for me was –
- Not being allowed in to the airport – if I had been allowed in, it would have given me enough time to attempt to check-in, fail at that, get the issue with the ticket resolved and check-in on time. I would have spent the last week in New York for my friends birthday had I have been allowed in to the airport.
- Missing the check-in deadline and being told that I should have got there sooner. *Big breath* I was kept out for ages – point 1 refers!
The ripple affect of me not making it on to the flight, affected one of my friends who was already in New York. We were meant to share a hotel room and she’d budgeted to pay half the room rate and me paying the other half, but of course now had to pay the full amount upon check-out. Don’t worry I transferred the money to her! Another claim I’ll need put in and I don’t even know if BA will cover that!? I can only try or go through the insurance – it’s just more of my time spent on this disaster.
Will I fly with BA again? Not willingly. Alongside with their reducing the quality of services I just don’t feel their most recent failure was handled well and I wouldn’t want to spend my hard earned money on such a careless airline.
I hope everyone affected either managed to eventually get away to their destination or get a full refund/compensation back.
I’m still yet to put my claim in – I don’t have the hotel receipt – but I hear it could take months to get the money back due to the number of refunds they need to process.