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BA powercut debacle: Airline keeps passengers in the dark about their rights

Press release updated 30/05/17

Situation with BA and the powercut

The British Airways IT debacle, has caused more than a third of British Airways flights from Heathrow to be cancelled due to the airline being hit by a computer system power failure on Saturday. Many people took to Twitter to share their feelings, particularly towards BA Chairman & CEO, Alex Cruz, who spoke to camera regarding the disruption yesterday and again today

Many were appalled by BA’s IT systems:

BA Flight delay

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer champion and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! [1] echoed the voices of many of the thousands of affected passengers but also criticised BA for not informing customers of their legal rights.

BA stance and breaches of laws

1) The BA CEO said in the online video that it would refund those who decided not to travel or chose to use another airline. However, at no point in the 1:52 minute clip did the CEO mention the compensation to which all those flying within the EU are entitled. Nor did he mention the entitlement to food, refreshments and accommodation. “It is the airline’s responsibility to inform people of their rights and it does not appear to me that BA has done nearly enough”, said Dewdney.

2) Further to this we now hear BA charging people at premium rates for phone calls! Well, they have to try and get some of their money back don’t they?! Unfortunately for BA it is a breach of the law. The Consumer Contract (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 prohibited traders who offer telephone helplines for consumers to contact them about something they have bought, from using a phone number costed at more than the basic rate from 13th June 2014. BA was offering an 084 number for helplines and now for compensation enquiry lines. (087 and 09 numbers also breach the regs.) When challenged they say they will refund the cost. But we all know that it is not the majority of people who will read about their legal rights….. (For more information about this please see first comment from Ian (thank you) in comments below).

3) In addition to this, looking at the claim for expenses online, once you start the online process it suggests that you should claim from your travel insurance first! For EU flights this is in breach of EU law! The airline must pay for reasonable expenses! And for all flights BA even says this as part of its terms and conditions!

Since writing point 3 above The Financial Times has spoken to the Association of British Insurers  which says that BA should change its wording on their website, which at 01/06/17 it has failed to do). More on this on the FT.

“Any cover available under travel insurance will usually kick in only if compensation is not available from any other source,” the ABI told the Financial Times. “Those affected should seek compensation, and any refunds of expenses, in the first instance from British Airways. “People affected by the disruption should be able to claim compensation and refunds for any expenses as simply as possible, not being passed from pillar to post. EU flight compensation regulations set out that airline operators should provide compensation to passengers that suffer long delays or cancellations.”

Legal rights Europe or using EU airline

Under European regulations (EC261/2004), passengers have significant rights if their flight is delayed, cancelled or they are denied boarding. These rights have been in place across Europe since February 2005 and the CAA is the national enforcement body for them here in the UK. The rights cover the following:

  • Flight cancelled or delayed for several hours – the airline must look after passengers. It must provide food, drinks, and some communications. If passengers are delayed overnight, this also means providing them with a hotel and travel to and from it. (All these must still be provided even if the delay was out of the airline’s control).
  • Flight is cancelled – the airline must offer an alternative flight or a full refund. The passengers may also be entitled to compensation if the flight was cancelled less than 14 days before the scheduled departure.
  • Denied boarding or “bumped” from a flight – the airline must offer an alternative flight or a refund. Passengers are entitled to compensation.
  • If a passenger’s flight is delayed by more than 5 hours and they no longer want to travel they are entitled to a full refund.
  • Rights regarding phone calls to airlines as above.
  • The Civil Aviation Authority says “Sometimes airlines may advise you to make alternative travel arrangements, then claim back the cost later. If you do this, try to keep costs down as much as you can, keep receipts and record the name of the person giving this advice. Book with the same airline if at all possible.”
  • A means for you to communicate (often by refunding the cost of your calls)
  • If you are not satisfied with the response you can take the matter to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution for a decision which the airline will be bound by but not you so you still have the Small Claims Court option too.

Length of delay

  • delays of two hours or more for flights of up to 1,500 km
  • delays of three hours or more for flights within the EU of more than 1,500 km, and all other flights between 1,500km and 3,500km
  • delays of four hours or more for all other flights

Dewdney emphasises that passengers should make sure they claim the EU-stipulated compensation for delays to which they are entitled. This is between 250 and 600 Euros per passenger, depending on the amount of delay and the flight distance.

Legal rights flying outside of Europe

  • These will depend on the terms and conditions of the contract with the airline. For British Airways their website states that they will cover meals and refreshments, travel between hotel and airport (or your home) and accommodation.
  • You must keep costs reasonable.
  • Rights regarding ‘phone calls to the airline as above.

Legal rights using a UK airline

Passengers are entitled to services to be undertaken with reasonable skill and care under The Consumer Rights Act 2015. Passengers probably haven’t been! So claim under this too!

Most effective way of claiming for flight delays

Should a passenger affected want to book a flight with an alternative airline, they need to keep the cost as reasonable as possible and the airline may agree to pay it. If they do, make sure you get the name of the person agreeing this and get it in writing to be able to claim back later. Passengers should also check if travel insurance will cover an alternative flight if the airline refuses.

Don’t use a claims company either! ECJ ruling on flight delays: Consumer champion warns against third-party claim firms

It appears that BA are trying to make passengers claim one way (on line) for expenses) another for the compensation and so it all goes on. Clearly wanting to discourage people from claiming. DO NOT BE PUT OFF! You do not have to go through the way they want you to claim! Simply do the one email/letter outlining everything with what you expect.

Marcus Williamson, editor of the consumer information website says that searches for the BA CEO’s email address have tripled as a result of this debacle. He recommends  that customers who do not get swift results from customer service escalate the issue to the CEO, Alex Cruz, by email.

When you claim do it in writing anyway. Then you have a record and proof. Get a read receipt when sending and ensure you give a deadline for when you expect a response before you will ask for deadlock letter and go to the ombudsman. Be fair(ish) they’ll be a bit busy but I would argue they should invest in more staff to deal with the backlog! Give ’em two weeks! You might at least go to the top of the queue if you give deadline and then go to the CEO.

See Tips for complaining and why you should write not phone to complain.

Airline claim compensation letter template


Quick guide to lost luggage – your rights too! In case BA send your luggage elsewhere this is what you need to know!


BBC Breakfast 5th August 2015 flight delays


Financial Times BA flight chaos: how to get compensation podcast

Other holiday/flight complaints

It’s not the first time  BA flies in the face of consumer law and decency!

Look out timber frame on a beach "researching, booking and complaining aabout holidays and flights. Tips, ideas and your rights"


See All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights for more information, advice and rights regarding all aspects of holidays, flights and service.


For information, consumer laws, tips for complaining effectively and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

5 replies on “BA powercut debacle: Airline keeps passengers in the dark about their rights”

BA may try to wriggle out of compo on basis of “extraordinary circumstances”. However since the CEO has said publicly that the cause was a power supply issue, which their systems should be entirely proof against (uninterruptible power supplies are essential for all central computing systems) he effectively confirmed it was entirely BA’s fault. Everyone who had checked in and whose arrival was delayed should claim compensation under regulation EU 261.

Not extraordinary circumstances as we all know their IT systems should be better. Just as when it went to court about “technical issues” and the ruling about it not be extraordinary circumstances so people were due compensation(see link above for details) and as you say CEO has admitted fault.

Situation as of 29 May 2017…

Anyone who has had to call BA on their premium rate 0844 number to enquire about an existing booking, re-arrange travel, track baggage, enquire about a refund, or any other such after-sales issue has the right to a refund of call costs incurred.

Consumer protection regulations in place since 13 June 2014 require inclusive 01, 02 or 03 numbers or free-to-caller 080 numbers to be used for after-sales enquiries and issues, and ban the use of premium rate 084, 087 and 09 numbers.

While BA does now advertise an 0344 number for some enquiries, the old premium rate 0844 number still works, offers the same menu options and fails to inform callers to hang up and re-dial the new 0344 number. It would be easy for callers to be caught out by this.

Situation as of 30 May 2017…

The Sun reports on BA’s errant usage of a premium rate 0844 number costing up to 62p per minute for after-sales enquiries…

BA has subsequently announced a free-to-caller 0800 number for those affected by the recent and ongoing issues and have also said they will refund call costs for those who called chargeable numbers.

Additional pressure from coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live…

Later the same day…

BA has seen the light and scrapped their premium rate 0844 telephone number.

Upon calling the old premium rate 0844 number you are now directed to hang up and re-dial either a free-to-caller 0800 number if your call is about the ongoing recent incident or an inclusive or geographic rate 0344 number for all other enquiries.

BA’s website has also been updated with the new details.

Situation as of 3 June 2017…

BA has reversed the recent changes that were in place for just a few days.

Calls to the 0844 number no longer have a message advising callers to hang up and re-dial a cheaper number. Calls to the 0844 number are now connected straight through to the callcentre with no information that a cheaper number is also available.

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