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Sep 3, 2010

British Airways, lost luggage and lost customers

It is difficult to imagine why anyone would willingly part with money to fly British Airways between Australia and anywhere, given the alternatives, and the fact that it is, like Tiger,

It is difficult to imagine why anyone would willingly part with money to fly British Airways between Australia and anywhere, given the alternatives, and the fact that it is, like Tiger, difficult if not impossible to contact by telephone when something goes wrong short of ringing the UK.

A reader has sent us this account of her experience of the carrier after her checked luggage went missing between Heathrow and here.

I recently had my luggage ‘lost’ by British Airways on a non-stop flight from London to Sydney. My experience with Menzies Aviation at Sydney Airport was pretty good, I put in a report then followed up with them on the phone daily in the first week, giving them a very detailed description of what was in the bag in the hopes that this would help locate it. Apparently it all goes into the bagtracer system, which can be updated from anywhere in the world. But as I pointed out this system relies on humans actually looking through bags in order to match them and I have no way of knowing whether this actually happens.

However my experience with BA has been quite poor. It’s not possibly to contact British Airways directly by phone in Australia on the issue – everything is diverted via Menzies – so I’ve been dealing with them via email, a frustrating experience. The customer service representatives have obviously been well briefed to not admit to liability therefore my repeated questions of ‘how could this possibly happen’ and ‘what is being done by BA specifically to locate my luggage’ have gone ignored. Instead I receive form responses on what BA are doing generally to improve their service, which only increases my ire.

A separate but related issue is that of compensation. My travel insurer has told me to claim first with BA, however BA keep deflecting me back to the insurer. BA are not saying they won’t compensate me, it’s more of a gentle nudge – telling me about the items they won’t compensate me for (a rather random list including jewellery, sunglasses, contact lenses, a computer mouse and my swimming goggles) and asking me to send receipts, insurance valuation etc to their office in the UK.

What I really want is my original luggage returned to me, as it contains many items that are of more sentimental value than monetary value. Unless it has been stolen, it must be somewhere, and I believe it is most likely in Heathrow, with labels having fallen off, and stored in a room somewhere with a whole lot of other identical black bags that will all eventually be considered ‘unclaimed’ because no-one has bothered to look through them and match the items with those listed on the bagtracer system.

I have travelled all over the world on every form of transport imaginable in situations that many people might consider dangerous, with a high likelihood of my bags going missing (from being poorly tied to the top of buses driven around mountains by maniacs, or pilfered by desperate and corrupt porters) and yet it is the most simple, and you would think reputable, voyages – a non-stop flight from Heathrow to Sydney – that has brought me unstuck.

British Airways’ indifference to repatriating customers and luggage in the UK is legendary too. Just search the newspaper libraries for the horror stories, especially in the aftermath of its botched opening of Terminal 5 at London Heathrow, after which it was reported to have trucked the lost luggage to an incinerator in northern Italy, rather than attempt to identify and trace owners.

I discussed this report with a very highly respected travel agent in Australia, who has incidentally made it policy to recommend strongly against using British Airways for any travel needs, and the first piece of advice was to lodge and /or pursue already lodged claims with Menzies and the insurance company without delay, and seriously consider referring them to consumer affairs and the relevant small claims tribunals if the matter isn’t properly dealt with.

As to talking to British Airways. It’s a lost cause. Once a company pulls up the drawbridge so to speak, and cuts off simple, direct access to a customer the reality is they don’t care.

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7 thoughts on “British Airways, lost luggage and lost customers

  1. joey

    My favorite part of the pathetic existence of BA is that they’re apparently a full service carrier.

  2. lofi

    No-one does bad call centres quite like the British. Combine complacency and a ‘not my aisle’ attitude and this is what you get. Outsourcing customer service is a debacle anywhere in the eyes of the consumer. In regard to the the BA baggage problems at LHR… I have some familiarity with this. Without going into too much detail, the problem was (again a very British way) of people so busy focussed on secondary tasks, that the main game: identifying bags and updating Worldtracer so customers knew what was going on, got forgotten. Also, don’t forget most of Heathrow is of a 3rd world standard – in fact these days it’s unusual to find an airport that decrepit anywhere outside Europe and America!

  3. Roger

    “a non-stop flight from Heathrow to Sydney”
    Wow! How long has an airline been able to fly non-stop over such a long distance? I’ll fly BA next time to the old dart.

  4. Ben Sandilands

    Maybe it just felt never ending.

  5. Elan

    Just BA? Just British customer service?

    Have you been living under a rock?

    This experience is a classic example of customer ‘service’-particularly by large organisations in most countries-including Australia.

    I’m not condoning BA. Service improved dramatically(many) years ago, when all passengers were forced to transfer to QANTAS in Singapore.

    It has to be worse nowadays, because it is now a standard. Profit over service.

    The most malignant thing of all is ‘marketing’. An absolute cancer!!

    Marketing by Corporates all over the globe tell the customer how valued they are/ how they will be ‘looked after’/ how ‘we are here to help you’.

    NONE of that occurs. Just the opposite. The disparity between the two,-the ingrained training to make it the customers fault….. (customer’s? That bloody apostrophe ((apostrophy…arrrghhhh!)) song has got me hyper about punctuation. Gawd!).

    Not to admit liability, and to respond as if they were damned machines!

    ‘They’ are our brothers/sisters/mother/fathers etc., What in the hell does ‘customer service’ DO to them?

    THE most stressful thing is to be told of one’s (ones?!) importance/value, when being treated like….er, sheet!

    Until we desert these Co’s én massé,-this will continue.
    We won’t; it will.

    (See the thingy’s/thingys above the eeeesss! Impressive eh?)

  6. comet

    Avoid British Airways.

    Avoid London Heathrow altogether.

    Heathrow is a madhouse. Fog. Volcanoes. Security scares. Customs interrogation for all Australians. Better to go via some other European port.

    Also, if you’re booking with other airlines (especially Qantas), make sure you don’t get put onto a British Airways code share flight (even though your ticket says Qantas). The code share system is designed to put you on an airline that you would not otherwise travel with.

  7. mechanick

    BAs luggage system is shocking – I did the same London flight on Dec25 and lost my bag – xmas holiday was great with no clothing – I’ve since heard nothing of it at all. Seems it has been lost into the ether.
    By the way, all the cases ‘lost’ at London heathrow get auctioned off – max. BA compensation is currently about £1100 – my case cost £350 for god’s sake!