BA flies in the face of consumer law and decency

Customers who bought tickets for the economy cabin on short-haul and domestic flights from Heathrow and Gatwick flying from January 11, 2017, and from London City and London Stansted by summer 2017 are being stung and will find that food and drinks are no longer free! Has it become a no frills airline? On the 29th September this year BA announced to great fanfare that it had partnered with Marks and Spencer. The new British Airways menu, which will replace the airline’s current complimentary snacks, includes items from the M&S Food on the Move selection. Well that’s nice isn’t it? Well maybe spending a few quid might be better than the free alcoholic drink and a few free nibbles in the future but what about those people who bought their tickets before the 29th September? They lose out, that’s what.

You may think that customers only lost the cost of a drink and a few nuts. But stop, don’t flee yet. How many tickets do you think were purchased before the 29th September this year for flights after the 11th January 2017? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Ok, so just how much have they actually saved? That’s the principle after all. Couple of pounds on every flight, you do the math, it’s thousands and thousands of pounds right?

“Oh” I hear you cry “But BA will refund the cost of the “free” drink and nibbles so they won’t make that money”. Really? It wouldn’t appear so. Those people who have already booked flights received an email starting with “Thank you for booking your flight with British Airways. We’re writing to let you know about some key changes that are taking place to our on-board catering.” The press release followed. There is no mention at all of compensation, partial refund or how to make a complaint. They may not refuse any calls of this nature but why the lack of transparency or assistance for customers. There’s nothing on their website either!

I asked the BA Press Office for a response and so far have not received one. I tweeted BA and they said all flights after 11th Jan will have new catering menu. “Breach of contract” says I and here is their stance on that:

@Airways 

@ComplainingCow Hi Helen, sorry for the delay in replying. We’ve given our customers a four month notice period of the changes… most short-haul customers do not book this far in advance, but any customers who hold bookings from January 11th 2/3… and are unhappy are welcome to contact us to discuss their booking.

So, there you go. BA will discuss your bookings but will not actively point out that they have broken the terms and conditions of contracts.

Right, well that’s it. It’s the principle of the thing. It doesn’t matter if you think it is only a few quid or you are just a bit miffed or even if you don’t care. BA appears to be making money from this. Instead of doing it properly and offering vouchers/AVIOS points or partial refunds to affected customers it would appear that it has simply informed them that the terms and conditions have changed and hoped that the majority of people won’t bother complaining. They would not be out of pocket and the PR would have been much better showing them to be doing the “right thing”.

So, we can’t catch all the customers affected and of those we catch we can’t get them all to complain. But we can have a damn good try at knocking the BA profits and making sure customers actually get what is legally due. How? Like this:

  • Email the CEO. You can find his address at ceoemail.com
  • Provide details of when you bought the tickets and the booking reference numbers
  • Tell him that BA is in breach of contract for breaking the terms and conditions of the contract you have.
  • Say that you are aware that the breach falls under The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, Regulation EC 1008/2008 – Article 23 Transparent pricing, Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and Consumer Rights Act 2015 (including Part 2 Unfair Terms).
  • State that you are entitled to a full refund on the ticket or you will accept a partial refund for the value of the “free” drink and food that formed part of the contract. (Both ways!)
  • Inform him that should you not receive a satisfactory response you will not hesitate in taking the matter further such as the Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme.
  • Optional – say that you are disgusted with the way BA has handled this matter and will be spreading awareness of people’s legal rights via social media. (And then of course do so, the more people we empower to fight for their rights the better so do your bit!)

Don’t be fobbed off by any  requests to call an 0844 number either as these are no longer permitted for after-sales enquiries and issues, Regulation 41 of  aforementioned Consumer Contracts (Information Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. Refuse to ‘phone anyway because you want your answer in writing should you need the evidence! A call won’t give you that. Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively.

If you bought your ticket(s) through a travel agent you will need to contact them as if you paid the travel agent directly the contract is with them.

Beat BA at their own game and don’t let these big businesses get away with it. Call them out on it and ensure you get your legal redress whilst you are about it.

If you want to do more about asserting your legal rights and need some help. See the Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively and the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results packed full of information, guidance, advice, consumer law and template letters.

Who’s bothered about Ts and Cs ?

Terms and conditions, who reads them? They are pages and pages of small print. How many of us tick the box that says “Agree to terms and conditions”, only to fall foul later when we need to complain?

This may be set to change following a call for evidence from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills for consumers to provide feedback regarding their experiences. The open consultation begins today and ends on 25 April 2016.

Helen Dewdney -- Consumer Rights Blogger at The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results -- welcomes the call for evidence. Currently under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 consumers do have rights regarding unfair contracts. The law creates a “fairness test” to prevent consumers being put at an unfair disadvantage.

If a contract tilts the rights and responsibilities between the consumer and the trader too much in favour of the trader, then it can be deemed unfair. “That’s all well and good”, says Dewdney, “but when so few people know their basic consumer rights and even fewer know that they can challenge unfair terms and conditions then they are more likely to be fobbed off or be unable to cancel a contract”.

Dewdney should know as this is a topic she frequently advises on for people. For example, hidden charges within terms and conditions saying that ‘a charge’ could be made but not providing the amount until after the flight booking process. People are not aware that this illegal.

Nick Boles, Minister of State for Skills and Equalities, says in his foreword to the call for evidence document “on the rare occasions I have clicked on and opened ‘T&Cs’, I have found them to be very long, in small print and full of impenetrable jargon and legalese. That does not help anyone and certainly doesn’t encourage further engagement by customers”.

Dewdney agrees and also points out the need for people with disabilities to be considered more than they are now in this area. For example, an audio version of a terms and conditions document should be available as standard for those with vision difficulties.

There should also be recognition that more people are agreeing contracts online, so terms and conditions need to be easily readable on mobiles in addition to being fundamentally clearer and shorter. There should also be a requirement for companies to highlight changes to terms and conditions. For example when a bank sends pages of updated terms and conditions and you have no idea what has changed!

Dewdney hopes that the call for evidence will expose a plethora of examples of poor practice. She says “Undoubtedly people’s biggest gripes about t & c’s is the length of them and anything that leads to companies being forced to reduce this burden would be welcomed by the consumer.”

Note to editors

Government Improving terms and conditions consultation here

More about how to complain about unfair contract terms here and here.

Talking about Ts and Cs 18 months later:

Terms & Conditions The One Show