On the Spot: British Airways’ silent treatment toward ailing passenger doesn’t help its reputation

Los Angeles Times Travel editor

Question: In 2007, my husband, Neil, and I booked two tickets on British Airways to London. Neil was receiving chemotherapy so we could not fly. British Airways advised us to submit our refund request in writing along with a doctor’s note, which we did on March 12, 2007. Since that time we have followed up with faxes to its customer service in New York. A second written request was sent July 29, 2007. On Jan. 30, 2008, we received a request to submit unused coupons or a copy of the e-ticket and proof of payment. On Feb. 9, 2008, Neil submitted copies of the original e-mail, e-ticket, credit card statement, letter to BA dated March 12, 2007, doctor’s letter and letter to BA dated July 29, 2007. On Feb. 20, 2008, we received an autoreply fax that the airline had received our correspondence. On June 6, 2008, my husband submitted his final e-mail to BA and requested that someone contact him. On June 13, 2008, we received an e-mail from BA thanking us for contacting them and saying that our e-mail was important to them and someone would respond as soon as possible. We never heard from them again. Neil died Dec. 23, 2008. I contacted the airline one final time by e-mail earlier this week and have not heard back. Can you help?

R. Medina, Los Angeles

Answer: I first queried British Airways on Nov. 15 and received a “forwarding to customer relations” message from my contact there. Here is what I heard back from the airline:

I contacted British Airways again on Nov. 23. As of the Travel section’s deadline Tuesday, here is what I heard back from the airline:

Hearing nothing speaks volumes about the way British Airways approaches customer service.

You can argue that Medina should have had travel insurance. In my many dealings with airlines, though, many say they try to work out such situations with the passenger. The airline’s failure to do that leaves Medina with few options besides small-claims court.


I get that British Airways has ongoing labor troubles. The cabin crews have been hassling for a year over their contracts and in May and June walked out for more than three weeks, which caused chaos. I also understand that undergoing a merger, which investors of British Airways and Iberia approved on Monday, can be complex. The Associated Press reported that BA Chairman Martin Broughton said the deal has a “compelling, strategic and financial logic.”

If that is the new bar for BA/Iberia, it needs to look at how its failure to address Medina defies logic.

And so I say to Broughton and Iberia Chairman Antonio Vazquez: If you’re interested in making this merger work, quit talking about your idea of logic and start talking about our idea of customer service, which isn’t ignoring the customer.

There are plenty of airlines that understand what that means. In July, a reader asked for help with a similar problem with a transatlantic carrier, which had given conflicting responses about whether a refund was due. In the end, it did refund the reader’s money. That carrier was Virgin Atlantic.

Or consider the case of L.A. resident Jack Schwartz, who was in New Zealand when he encountered the Lemony Snicket Syndrome (a series of unfortunate events) that cost him $120 plus lots of aggravation. He got back his money, although not the admission of ineptness he was seeking. That carrier was Air New Zealand.

Both of those airlines fly to London along with a host of American carriers.

If British Airways doesn’t want to hear the sound of silence, maybe it will start listening.

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