What happens when BA vandalise your luggage? Nothing.

As many of you may know, I spent the week of the 8th November at SAP’s flagship event, SAPPHIRE, in Madrid. I flew, as I often do, with British Airways, because I like Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport (it’s close to my home) and the points system.

But what happened to me on the way back has led me to reconsider the meaning of customer service and what it means to social media in the 21st century. Have you read the story of United Breaks Guitars? If not, then I suggest you do so, here:


And if you empathise with the story that follows and have had something similar happen to you, then please chime in on the comments. United (no pub intended) we stand.

When I returned home after Madrid on BA flight 457 I found that a sequence of events something like this had occurred:

  • The contents of my luggage had been removed from my bag (fair enough if they want to search it) – but there was no letter as there should be stating this included.
  • All of the contents had been removed (shoe trees from trees, formal clothes, wrapped leather goods, cosmetics from plastic bags and protective wrappers to avoid spillage etc.).
  • All the contents had been thrown back in, in a random order.
  • An expensive smartphone was missing.

I think you can imagine the damage caused inside the bag. Leather goods, clothes, shoes ruined. It’s why bags are packed carefully in the first place, right? To avoid this.

To my mind this is nothing else than wilful criminal damage. Such a thing could only have been done intentionally, and anyone repacking the suitcase in this way would know the damage that they were causing. I feel that BA have a duty of care to look after my luggage as best they can. Accidents happen, but this was not lost or damaged luggage – it was an act of vandalism.

So, I got in contact with Heathrow Airport on Twitter (@HeathrowAirport) who were fast, efficient and helpful. They took the query, explained that BA are responsible for the baggage from end to end and had sent the response to BA for them to look at. Well done, Heathrow. I also asked the BA Social Media team to do the same, on @British_Airways.

British Airways haven’t quite got the memo on Social Media and need to look at that internally – if you’re listening, I’d be happy to give you some advice on this – but I don’t want to focus on that, because it’s a distraction. Let’s just say that after a couple of days of prodding, nudging and letting my feelings know on Twitter, they picked up my request and ran with it.

And here’s parts of the response from Lisa Aubin at BA Customer Relations – and my comments.

We go to great lengths to take care of our customers’ belongings at British Airways, but of course all of the checked-in luggage has to pass through various hands on its way to and from the aircraft. So on the rare occasions when belongings go missing, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint what happened.

Sure – but that’s your process and system and choice and not mine. You have a duty of care to me, and who you outsource that duty of care to is your problem.

We always advise people to keep anything of special value on board with them during the flight, because of this – and because airlines have only limited liability for any items that do go missing.

I value all my belongings – don’t you? And again – this looks like it is passing responsibility. Let’s be clear – you took my belongings and wilfully vandalised them.

I understand you wish us to contact the authorities on your behalf. Unfortunately we are unable to do this, however if you wish to do so, I would be more than happy to provide any further information you may require.

Yes – I see this as a matter for the authorities and a matter of responsibility for BA – which simply hasn’t been taken in this case. Presumably this is because you don’t take acts of vandalism by your staff or agents seriously.

So, dear reader, my request to you is this. If you empathise with my story, if it strikes a chord with you and you want to help make a change, please spread the word. Make comments on this blog. Tell your story. Share.

And if someone with a head on their shoulders from BA is listening – this is not a winning customer service strategy. United Break Guitars – and BA Vandalise Luggage. It’s not about what happens, it’s how you subsequently deal with it.

P.S. I forgot, I had a request of BA to help me with my booking on the same day down to a booking on my next flight. I asked them if they would help me out. It would have cost them nothing to do so – but it would have required some customer focus – and it turns out I managed to figure it out on my own and I’m OK. But they weren’t interested. Perhaps more on that later.

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13 Responses to What happens when BA vandalise your luggage? Nothing.

  1. Tim Guest says:

    Virgin Atlantic badly damaged some of my luggage on route to Miami some years back. They were very apologetic, explained how the damage had occurred and offered to buy me a new case. A few days after returning home I received a Cheque to the value of a new case and £100 Vouchers for in flight purchases on my next trip.

    It seems here BA have no clue about customer service and obviously do not value customer loyalty. In an airline market with more and more choice, combined with the risk of BA staff being on strike I think they will lose a lot of loyal customers.

    • John Appleby says:

      Great story Tim. We all know that this stuff happens, especially accidental damage. Great that they were willing to take it seriously and get involved with the customer.

      I’ve wondered for some time if BA is an airline that is just slowly going bust down to bad management.

  2. Good post, John. Having gone through similar situations, here are my thoughts. I hope I don’t aggravate your agony.

    1) You have made your point that BA customer service did not live up to your expectations. It’s very clear. “Sure – but that’s your process and system and choice and not mine.” I would say that flying BA is your choice and not theirs. The best you could do is stop flying BA and remind them as well as others, every single time you fly, why flying BA is a bad idea.

    2) From what I understand, the airlines do have limited liability. You should double check this and ask for the customer bill of rights and the ticket terms and conditions. BA should compensate you up to that limit. I would assume that they will and if they don’t, you could make them do it. This is not about customer service – it’s about your rights.

    3) If you want to expedite the claim, I would suggest you call the credit card company (if you used a credit card) and dispute the full payment for the tickets based on the argument that BA didn’t fulfill their services. It’s vendor’s responsibility to respond. Let them have fun with the credit card company. Most credit cards would refund the money as soon as you dispute the claim. They might reverse it once the situation is resolved.

    4) File a criminal complaint against the airport authorities and BA officials with the local authorities (in London) that they have stolen your smartphone. Vandalizing has much lower threshold than a theft.

    5) I do understand that this is not just about a monetary damage. BA didn’t live up to your expectations. But, unfortunately, I am not surprised.

    6) Last point: Whenever I am in a similar situation, I think of it as a negotiation situation and have a clear BATNA. I also crisply outline what’s that I want to get out such situations. That helps me isolate my emotional distress from a negotiation situation.

    I’m really sorry this happened to you. It sucks!

    If you’re a BA person reading this, I suggest you consider this Social Media 101, pick up the phone and call John to apologize, fully compensate for his damage, and ensure him that it would never happen again. Then, look into your system and processes to prevent and fix this. You can do this, can’t you?

    • John Appleby says:

      Thanks for the comments, and I know exactly where you’re coming from. My response would be:

      1) Actually of course it is my choice. But me moving away from BA will not make any difference to them. Or to other airlines that are the same way. My preferred choice of action is to call BA out.

      2) They probably do have limited liability and this makes a lot of sense in the context of accidental damage. I believe in the UK there is an exclusion of limited liability when they do not carry out their duty of care – and vandalism falls into this category. But I am not a lawyer.

      3) Good point but the cost of the ticket wouldn’t go far.

      4) I can do this but I want them to take it as a serious criminal activity by them or one of their agents.

      5) If I an make a difference to someone else or the market as part of this process then that would be a fine thing indeed!

      6) Great idea.

      I think the point is – I’m trying to make a change to the attitude of an enormous and troubled airliner. It’s David and Goliath and perhaps I will fail. But I’ll feel I tried. Thanks again!

  3. Jamie Oswald says:

    Awful customer service is the new collusion. BA can afford to treat you like crap because you’ll switch to flying JetBlue, who is busily treating other people like crap who will switch to flying BA. If they can lower the expectations to a mutually disdainful level, they can treat you like commodity customers while still receiving non-commodity prices.

    The worst part is that no matter how awful your experience is, you’ll end up, some day, somewhere, flying with BA again. It’ll be your only option, or an option that saves you money by an order of magnitude again. And they can treat you like crap all over again.

    • John Appleby says:

      Exactly Jamie! You got it spot on.

      Instead, I choose to continue flying BA and have booked my transatlantic flight for tomorrow to go on vacation, plus another to a conference in Boston already via BA, since the incident. I know it makes very little difference which airline I choose, although some Virgin Atlantic experiences seem to be better.

      And instead, I choose to make my point vocally and publicly and let the people decide. I think this has a much better chance of reaching people that matter. I truly hope this blog goes viral. And I mean it to BA on the offer of Social Media advisory.

  4. MArk Chalfen says:

    Hi John.

    Firstly I hope you have a safe flight and a good holiday.

    Secondly whilst you were in Madrid there were a bunch of people from BA that participated in InnoJam.

    Now I know these people were not customer services people and that BA did not want to use A SAP product to enhance their customer service. However someone should be able to point you in their direction and perhaps they could make some noise for you.

    With regard to the reply from the customer service team the thing that is clearest is that they have missed your point. You have raised one point and they have answered with some different.

    The key here is why did someone open your case and not put things back and also take something. Why did they not follow procedure and leave a note or a card to notify you.

    • John Appleby says:

      Thanks Mark, my latest BA flight was a bit of a nightmare too – I was stuck at the checkin desk until 45 minutes before departure and then had to run for the plane, where I was shoehorned in the back with screaming children and terrible smells. Must be what I get for speaking out about them!

      Think it is probably fair to keep those guys out of it – BA are a SAP customer and I don’t want to have a conflict of interests for them.

      You nailed the other point and I’ve since filled in a customer comments form and a customer survey form. We’ll see if any of those things provoke a different reaction. I’ll keep this blog updated for those who are interested in what happens next!

      • Tim Guest says:

        I can give you the contact details for the BA chap who was at InnoJam. He’s pretty senior and his project used HANA to look at a load of BA statistics on Airline Accidents to try to spot trends and look at predicting them before they happen.

  5. The easiest thing to do in a situation like this is to vow, publicly, never to use BA again. But as you say that is unlikely to change anything, leaving others to suffer the same poor customer service, and possibly even yourself if you ever find yourself in a situation in the future where BA is the only plausible option. And once you are an ex-customer you have less leverage. It is a very noble thing you do for all of us, and we’re all very grateful!

    I’m not sure I have any practical suggestions for you in this case that haven’t been made already by others. If there’s anything we can do to help, besides re-tweeting links to this blog (which I imagine many of us have already done) do let us know…

  6. Pingback: Vodafone, HSBC, British Airways, Virgin Trains and others. You all suck mightily AccMan

  7. daviddumenil says:

    I can’t find the case through Google but I remember an example case I studied covered by the ‘Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977’ with someone in a similar situation.

    BA pointed to their terms of carriage absolving their responsibility for damaged baggage but the claimant successfully argued that was an unreasonable contract term and BA were forced to pay damages.

    Assuming it wasn’t a solid gold iPhone 5 prototype the smalls claims court might be a good route forward if BA won’t make amends.

  8. donald says:

    Sue them with the montreal convention. They will settle quickly given BAs corporate lawyer fees.

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