British Airways Complaint - Horrific expedience during USA blizzard 2009, 3 day delay compounded by incompetence of BA
This is the complete text of the compleint written to British Airways moments ago.
Date: Tuesday 21st December 2009
To: Customer Relations, PO BOX 5619,Sudbury, CO10 2PG
Subject: Complaint regarding Events of Friday 18th 2009-Sunday 20th 2009 at Washington Dulles International Airport and the treatment of passengers of flight BA 0292
To whom it may concern,
My name is XXXX and I was a passenger on flight BA0292 from Washington Dulles (IAD) to London Heathrow (LHR) originally scheduled for Friday the 18th of December at 1010pm and experienced a tiny piece of travel hell at the hands of British Airways. I am writing this letter to express my displeasure with British Airways and to request compensation for both myself and my fellow travelers for the inconvenience caused by the incompetence of the organization.
I am a British national who lives and works in Washington DC and travels between the USA and the UK frequently and as such I understand that there are elements that are beyond control but in most cases airlines are prepared to deal with these situations and have contingency plans in place. This experience was not one of those times and I feel that my fellow passengers and I were treated without regard by the airline.
As I am sure you were aware over the course of the week preceding Friday the 18th the weather forecasts predicted a nightmarish weather situation that would form the night of the 18th. This storm was anticipated to bring a significant amount of snow to areas of the United States not used to such weather and as such were ill-prepared. This weather system arrived the evening of Friday the 15th and was the catalyst for a series of events that created a hellish situation for me, my fellow passengers and those passengers on flight BA0624 (scheduled to leave shortly before my own flight). This situation was compounded by the lack of preparation for these events by both the ground crews at Dulles and the British Airways ground staff and further distressed by the incompetence of the British Airways ground staff over the period of time from Friday the 18th to Sunday the 20th December 2009. I would like to express my understanding that British Airways cannot control the weather and the magnitude of the storm was ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ but there was a week of warning in which both the airline and the Dulles ground staff should have spent preparing. My complaints are listed and detailed below:
Initial Delay on Friday 18th
There was an initial delay indicated for the flight during the day on Friday the 18th. Efforts should have been made to expedite the turn-around once the plane had arrived due to the oncoming storm. No information was provided to explain the nature of this initial delay and this 1hour would cause the plane and its passengers to be grounded at Washington Dulles for 48 hours. We understand that it was probably related to the weather conditions in the UK but the fact that no information was provided to passengers was unacceptable.
7 hours spent on the plane overnight
We finally boarded the plane at 1145 and were told we were being deiced. This this process had been going on for hours but inside the aircraft we only saw our windows slowly get covered with snow. In an attempt to get us off of the ground that evening the ground staff did everything within their power to get us airborne but the passengers knew the flight would not depart when they saw BA264 return to the terminal (we were later told they had been skidding all over the runway). The passengers were eventually given their dinner at 630am and deplaned at 730am Saturday (coincidently this was about the same time we were supposed to land in the UK). The passengers personally felt that the plane was not departing at 3am and were frustrated with being kept onboard when this fact was clear and apparent.
Lack of Information during delay on Tarmac
During this 7 hour delay the captain gave us information updates only twice. The passengers understood that we probably wouldn’t be leaving but the fact that we were not given any information regarding our status or what decisions were being made was unacceptable. The fact that we had to discover that the trucks had run out of deicing fluid though whispers from flight attendants was also unacceptable and we feel that the airline should have treated us as adults and not kept information from us.
Lack of coordination upon disembarking on Friday night/Saturday morning
There was a serious lack of coordination between BA operations and Ground staff concerning instructions for rechecking/delay procedure for disembarking passengers. Staff told passengers that they needed to recheck in on later flights and to coordinate this with 1800 number. This caused a sense of general pandemonium as passengers all raced to secure the few open seats on the flights the next day. It was only from these calls that it became clear that if we rechecked then the next flights available were days later. After talking to ground staff again it had became clear(after they had spoken to BA operations) that we would all be simply held on this flight and that it would try to depart at the same time the next evening. The complaint is regarding the general state of panic resulting from mixed information from the various conversations with BA staff and customer service.
Incorrect instructions On Saturday the 19th
Passengers were instructed to travel back to the airport at 3pm in order to collect their baggage and check-in for any new flights. Any proposed flights for this day were obviously not going to happen due to the increasing intensity of the blizzard. The instructions concerning our baggage was incorrect also as we were told only later in the day that it was all still in the hold of the plane and could not be retrieved (understandably)due to hazardous conditions for baggage handlers. The complaint is regarding the lack of correct instructions and information from BA ground staff to passengers which increased their already frustrated state.
No facilities provided to contact relatives/pickup at end of journey
There was no facility provided, be it a phone or a computer with email access, for passengers to use to communicate with people at their eventual destination. This showed a lack of regard for passenger welfare and that BA was operating under the assumption that all passengers had means of communication.
Assumption that all passengers had means to purchase food and provide hotel with credit card.
It became clear that there were some passengers that had no dollars or credit cards they could use and as such had to borrow money from other passengers on faith as there were no food vouchers provided by British airways. Their problem was compounded by the fact that they had to provide a card at hotel check-in (even though BA would eventually reimburse this) but they could not do this and had to rely on other passengers to provide this credit.
The check-in process for all 5 flights on Sunday the 20th was a complete nightmare. 5 flights of passengers had to check in via 8 check-in desks. There was a single line for each flight that stretched backwards until it became a single snaking line through Dulles. There was no information about how this was organized and this caused severe frustration throughout the line. I was personally in this single snaking line for 2 hours until on investigation I found I could just join the back of the line for my flight. I was in this line for 2 more hours until the 2 BA staff serving my flight were taken to process an earlier flight (this only served to make us feel like second-class passengers). This was eventually resolved after I was waiting in line for 6 hours, when I was finally given my 2nd boarding card of this trip (which would turn out to be useless). The lack of organization and public information at this point of our journey was unacceptable.
Limited Staff on Saturday (no on-callstaff for emergency)
There was a 4 day warning of the approaching storm that BA could have used to make appropriate staffing arrangements in case it hit. The fact that the storm did hit and there were only 2 BA staff to serve hundreds of BA passengers was unacceptable. An on-call system should have been set up with a number of BA staff available to come in on an as needed basis. The fact that on Saturday there were so few staff, even in the face of the severe conditions, was unacceptable.
Limited Staff on Sunday (BA staff refusing to stay and assist)
This caused remaining staff to be pushed to their emotional limit dealing with a plane of frustrated passengers and would also cause the flight to leave later as when it became clear that they would have to manually recheck-in every passenger and the 2 staff that left could have served to expedite this process.
Plane not prepared for departure on Sunday 20th
Both flight 624 and 292 were not prepared to take passengers on their eventual departure date. They were not re-catered or cleaned after passengers were on the aircraft for 7hours on the 18th and even the captain and flight crew were disgusted with this fact upon their arrival. The plane was not deiced and ready to go; our delayed planes should have had priority on all services. Any excuse for this not being the case is unacceptable. The plane had been sitting stationary for 3 days and had not been monitored and this is unforgiveable as BA only has a small number of flights a day from Dulles as opposed to the large number of AA and UA flights. The AA and UA flights had no problem leaving on time on Sunday the 20th. The lack of preparation by British Airways was completely unacceptable and this was not a direct result of the weather but rather a direct result of the incompetence of the British Airways ground crew. This incompetence directly resulted in us arriving to our destination 5 hours behind our anticipated arrival time on Monday afternoon GMT.
3rd Check in
As a result of our information being in the system for over 48 hrs the system had removed our stored information and the ground staff needed to re-check-in the entire passenger list. This was the 3rd time many passengers had checked in. This only served to anger everyone as it is RIDICULOUS that this was not foreseen by anyone in the organization. It became clear that our original boarding passes from Friday would have got us through security…completely negating the reason for me and my fellow passengers to stand in line all day and check-in a second time. This process was rumored to occur from 2300 and then was confirmed by an announcement from the ground staff at 0025. I personally was not able to board until 0246. The fact that this would occur and cause us to all check-in manually was unacceptable. This situation was also compounded by the staff that refused to stay beyond a certain time to assist the other ground staff, their presence would have expedited this process and we would have boarded at a time closer to our original departure time. The lack of foresight was unacceptable.
Lack of Priority given to delayed or cancelled flights (delayed by days!)
5 flights were flown from Dulles (IAD) on Sunday and every flight was allowed to leave before flight 0292. Every passenger feels that it was unacceptable that us and flight 264 were not given priority for departure on Sunday and that those flights that were scheduled for the 20th at 615pm, 930pm and 1010pm were allowed to leave before us and the fact that our delay was compounded by the lack of preparation and organization of our aircraft created a situation that threatened to boil over.
Lack of email communication from BA
My flights were booked by the people who were picking me up and as such they were expecting to be informed of any cancellation or sever delays via email as this form of communication had been used for confirmation of flights and supplementary notification. To get any information it required multiple phone calls to BA in the UK who on repeated occasions knew nothing about the flights predicament. The fact that we had indicated email as the preferred preference for communication did not appear to matter. This was unacceptable.
Lack of information at Heathrow T5 caused ‘worst case’ speculation
Upon arriving at Heathrow T5 for passenger pickup there was no information on the boards or from ground staff. As the plane had been sitting in freezing conditions for 3 days and ‘looked after’ by a ground staff in Dulles(IAD) that had demonstrated earlier on Sunday that they had not monitored the plane (catering and cleaning) there were fears of plane safety amongst both the passengers and the families waiting. Upon talking to BA staff at T5 they told us that there were ‘unable to find any trace of or flight status of’ flight 0292. Experiencing this lack of information from BA only caused speculation of a plane crash to spread amongst those passengers waiting at T5. The emotional stress this caused on top of the existing situation was unacceptable
Lack of information regarding complaints procedure and compensation from BA
Our flight was not the only flight at Dulles delayed and other airlines also had flights of frustrated passengers to contend with. On Sunday evening it became apparent to us that other airlines had already discussed with their passengers how they could complain and had already explained the levels of compensation that would be available to them. British Airways passengers at Washington Dulles received no such communication.
This weekend would have been a lot worse had it not been for the accommodation provided by British Airways for passengers on this flight and for this myself and the other passengers I have spoken with are very grateful but the consensus is that this was inadequate considering the events of Sunday 20th 2009.
I would like you to think about the other passengers on this flight. I was lucky in the sense that I had no connections that I had to catch and had people to pick me up from the airport but there were plenty of people who were not so lucky and this experience caused far greater stress for them that it did for me. Some particular passenger situations that were on my flight are listed below:
•A young Indian man in his 20’s flying home for his grandfather’s funeral in India, if our flight took off after 1amMonday morning (which it did) he would miss the funeral as the next available flight he could get on was Thursday the 24th. This poor fellow was in tears as we were boarding our flight at 4am Monday morning.
•2 families with 4/5 small children.
•2 families that had autistic children (one teenager, one young child).
•A pregnant polish woman in her20’s who didn’t speak English and had a connection to Eastern Europe.
In spite of these complaints I would like to single out our captain, Captain Richard White, for his thoughtfulness in constantly communicating the situation to us passengers on Sunday night and taking control of the situation in regards to the catering, cleaning and deicing of the plane that evening.
This whole experience was created by a freak weather system that the area was ill-prepared for but was compounded by the incompetence and efficiencies of the airline that I had chosen to fly with and a timely offer of compensation would be appreciated.
My total travel time from arrivings (9pm on the 18tH) for my first check-in until arrival at LHR T5 (530pm on the 20th): 63 hours
Amount of time spent in lines: 15 hours.
Amount of time spent of aircraft: 15.5 hours
I look forward to receiving a formal response from you addressing all of the issues above.