What I remember of flying British Airways…
I'll remember British Airways as a an airline where the service is as poor as the ticket is expensive. Here is how my journey from San Francisco to France happened on February 14, 15 AND 16.
It started going awry at the end of the BA286 flight (which by the way was late: departed at 20:38 instead of 19:45 from SFO). When the aircraft started its descent to London Heathrow, cold water started dripping from the ceiling of the cabin, onto my shoulder and the armrest of my seat (45G). I pressed the button to call a flying attendant. Nobody came. When leaving the aircraft, I casually mentioned the problem to a flying attendant who was standing by so that this could get fixed and avoid a shower for the new passenger. His reply was "oh, it's normal, it's condensation, it happens sometimes. There's nothing we can do about it. It's just that you are our unlucky passenger today."
Well, maybe there's nothing British Airways can do about it, but when I had the exact same incident a few years ago on an Air France flight, the hostess rushed to stop the rain by absorbing all the water that was on the ceiling with a pile of paper towels, and apologized for the inconvenience.
This small incident was actually just the start of a continued shower of disappointments during this journey.
Heathrow was not my final destination, but just a (dis)connection. A long connection (2+ hours) which became a very long connection, because the BA322 flight to Paris was delayed. Originally scheduled to depart at 17:50 from gate B33 (or at least I think that's the gate the person at the passport check told me), it was announced as "gate opens at 19:59"!
It was quite obvious I would miss my train connection in CDG (21:06) and have to change my ticket. I estimated the new arrival time in Paris: given that the flight was now expected to depart around 20:30, there was no way it could reach Paris before 22:07, the time of the last train toward Lille. Taking the BA322 flight meant being stuck in CDG for the night.
After noticing this, I researched the other possible options, and reached out to the British Airways staff to request their assistance.
Another possible option was taking the BA336 flight for Paris Orly (it was late too, and wasn't closed yet. It would have taken me to Paris at a time when finding a train connection from Paris would have still been possible). The staff told me that flight was already full and there was no way to get a seat there. Maybe that's true, but I have doubts, given that I heard numerous calls more than half an hour after that indicating that the gate would close soon and passengers should proceed immediately.
The last possible option was to take the metro to London St. Pancras, and take a Eurostar to Lille. That was actually the safest and fastest possible option, but the BA staff was very reluctant, saying that BA would probably not pay for that ticket, and that getting back my checked in suitcase would be quite a hassle.
They advised that I stick with the BA322 flight, however late it would be, and figure out something in Paris with the BA staff there, although BA would possibly not pay the hotel because the contract was to transport me to Paris, and the train wasn't part of the contract, blah blah blah. They said that I should keep receipts of any incurred cost and file a complaint to British Airways, because even though they had no obligation to pay for the hotel, they do study cases on a case by case basis, and may decide to do something.
They gave me a £5 voucher for a refreshment and instructed me to return to the main gate.
With that voucher I got a small (but £4.70, because, you know, everything is super expensive in airports…) tuna sandwich that kept me from starving, but not from being hungry.
The flight finally departed at 21:21 (according to FlightAware), and landed at 23:04. It seems the flight was shorter than usual (maybe the captain was trying to catchup a little bit on the schedule?), and it seemed to take the crew by surprise when they hear that we were starting our descent to Paris and people should return to their seats. Only about two third of the passengers had been offered snacks and hot drinks. It was too late for the others. I was hoping to get some food and a coffee during the flight to stay awake and be ready to affront the inevitable complications in Roissy; no luck… All I got was a coke.
Of course, at the Roissy airport, the British Airways staff did a really good job of being invisible and impossible to find. The only person I could talk to was the lady at the baggage claim desk, who was as nice as she was unable to do anything useful for me. The best she could do was call some British Airways people, who said they wouldn't deal with the passengers in Paris, and that anyway, the delay was not their fault, but only due to the bad weather. No, it was not! Most flights in Heathrow were delayed, yes, but not by more than 3 hours. (I actually have a photo showing that at 19:42, all the flights with original departure times before 18:30 but BA322 had their gate already open, or had already departed.)
The person at the baggage claim desk told me to follow the signage to the information desk where they could help me find an hotel. I did. And finally found a closed desk, with nobody around. At midnight, Roissy is deserted, and the remaining people are mostly homeless people. The only man I could find near the information desk was busy collecting and storing away luggage trolleys. He indicated me where I should go to find the hotel shuttle. I waited there in the cold for what seemed like half an hour, then hopped into the shuttle. I had no idea of which hotel to go to. I asked the bus driver for advice about which one would be the least expensive. He dropped me at the "Première Classe", which indeed seemed to be a cheap hotel with minimal service. The guy at the front desk scolded me for arriving at his hotel at 1am without a reservation, told me how lucky (really?!?) I was that a room was available, and urged me to at least call from the airport next time (to be honest, I don't see how I could have done that without help from the British Airways staff, especially at a time when the airport's info desk was closed). 1am, I reached my room and collapsed on the bed. The night cost me 65.47euros, that I think should have been paid by British Airways.
Next morning, I took a quick breakfast, a the shuttle back to the airport, and finally took a train to Lille.
I reached home around noon. The same evening, I started not feeling very well… and I spent the next 2 days in bed with fever. I have no doubt that this was at least in large part (if not fully) caused by British Airways' incapability of taking care of passengers blocked because of delays. I had almost no food on Saturday (a small breakfast in the first flight, and a tiny sandwich in Heathrow. I had no food in the flight to Paris, despite the tickets stating there would be snacks. I was dropped in the middle of the night in a cold and deserted airport, with no connection departing from it until the next day, and with nobody taking care of setting up accommodation for the night. Is this the level of service you would expect for a ticket that was paid more than $2,000? I'm disappointed. Very disappointed.