What I did when BA tried to downgrade us from Club World at the airport!

When I was younger, I used to specialise in getting offloaded from oversold flights.  My time was very flexible, and cash compensation, a hotel room, my food paid for and an upgrade to business class the next day was quite an attractive package.   And Air Canada, who I used a lot in the early 1990’s because we have family over there, were the masters in over-selling flights and then bribing people to get off.

I haven’t come across it for a long time, though.  Until a month ago in Dubai.

Our family of four turned up at 7.15am for the 9.30am Heathrow flight.  We were booked into Club World on cash tickets booked in the recent BA sale for (relatively speaking) peanuts.  Both my wife and I have BA Silver cards.

On arrival in the check-in queue, we were given a letter informing us that the outbound plane had ‘gone tech’ (as the trade calls it) and had been switched for another 777.  However:

The old plane had 14 First Class, 56 Club World, 44 World Traveller Plus and 185 World Traveller seats

The new plane had no First Class at all, 48 Club World, 24 World Traveller Plus and 203 World Traveller seats

Being a peak day after Easter, the plane was almost full in all classes.  Assuming it was 80% full in First and 100% in Club World, then 11 people were going to be downgraded from Club World and 75% of passengers were going to be downgraded from World Traveller Plus.

It was, however, unlikely to be us.  After all, we had two Silver cards and were travelling with two children ….

BA check-in

However, when we got to the desk, I was more than a little surprised to be told that we were being downgraded to World Traveller Plus.

It is not clear why we were chosen.  I think it was because we were a party of 4.  If you need to remove 11 people, removing 3 large parties means you only need to have 3 ‘conversations’ rather than 11 if you remove solo passengers.  If you end up booking hotel accommodation, you are paying for fewer rooms.

Whilst not exactly happy at the thought, given we were travelling with our children, I had at least one thing to look forward to.  Under EU regulations, we would qualify for a 75% refund on that leg of our ticket.  Given that the tickets were £1,200 return (a bit less for the children) I would have been looking at £1,200 between the four of us.  Not that I was desperately bothered about the money, of course, since if I was so keen to fly World Traveller Plus for less money I would have booked that in the first place.

Luckily for us, it quickly became clear that BA had made a huge mistake:

My infant son (22 months) had been offloaded from the plane!

When the seating was being recut, BA failed to notice that he – despite being an infant and not needing a seat – did have one.  His ticket had been wiped from the system and he had been put down as a lap infant.  All other World Traveller Plus seats had been allocated.

Being unwilling at this point to take someone else out of World Traveller Plus, and with all World Traveller seats taken as well (the new plane had 24 fewer seats in total than the scheduled one), BA got out the cheque book.

We were offered £600 (between us), a room in a hotel I had never heard of (in a suburb of Dubai I had never heard of, run by a chain I had never heard of), food allowance and guaranteed business class seats on the overnight flight.  It might have been OK, but if you have ever packed up a family of four, with two small kids, you don’t want to shuffle off to a hotel for a few hours and unpack, just to repeat the process in a few hours.  And we did not want to do an overnight flight.

I told the rep that we would think about it, but that I would not sign anything which took away my legal rights against BA.  The offer was withdrawn at this point, which was very interesting.  I am not sure if they were expecting me to sign away my rights to EU compensation (if indeed BA can legally do that) in return for the hotel and the cash payment.

The BA rep then made another tactical error – we were told that they would have put us on the Emirates or Virgin flights that morning, but they were full.   However, I knew that Lufthansa has a Munich flight which leaves at 9.30am and which has a good connection to London.  (I knew because I  booked this flight once!)  Because the BA Heathrow flight was delayed, we would actually get to London at the same time as our original flight.  And Lufthansa almost never has full flights to Munich!

I said that we would accept 4 business class seats on Lufthansa, which I was pretty sure would be available.  This threw the BA rep, because she had effectively already told us that they would reroute us.  She probably also knew that seats were available.  And I was now asking them to pay £5,000+ to Lufthansa!  (This is my rough guess of what the intra-airline rate is in these sort of circumstances, ie £1,250 per seat.)

Even I was surprised at what happened next.  There appeared to be some kind of budget cap in place for compensation, which was about to be blown apart if they bought the Lufthansa seats.  The BA rep suddenly announced that, as we were, after all, both Silver card holders, we really should be on board.  Four Club World passengers had not yet checked in, so three were immediately downgraded to World Traveller Plus and the fourth was offloaded entirely.

But there was more to come.  I was told that our young children (remember, one was 22 months) could not sit with us as the seats were all separate!  This is actually against CAA regulations, I understand, as well as BA policy.  I actually had to remind the rep of this before the seating plan was recut to put us all together.

(What was also interesting is that, of the three people who had their seats changed, one of them was paged in the BA lounge to get their permission.  The other two were moved automatically and would have received a new boarding card at the gate.  It is not clear why this done.)

So, at the end of the day, all was as it should have been.  We had four seats, in Club World, on the flight on which we were originally booked.  It did leave a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, though.  When prioritising these things, a family flying with two young children and having two BA Silver cards should have some priority.

Hopefully those who missed out and were downgraded instead of us enjoyed their 75% refund.  (Or, if they chose to travel later, the £200 per head compensation and the day in the five star hotel, plus whatever ex-gratia compensation they managed to eke out on top.)  20 years ago, I would have been more than happy to join them.

PS.  It is interesting to note that at no point did BA suggest that we were entitled to EU compensation for being forcibly downgraded.  It was not mentioned in the letter we received in the check-in queue, and at no point was it mentioned by the BA reps.  Someone more cynical than me would think they were purposely trying to avoid paying it ….

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  1. Johnny5a says:

    thanks for the insight, good to know about what you’re entitled to. Luckily (fingers crossed) for us we’ve never been downgraded.

    re: silver – maybe everyone else was Gold :-)

    re: comp – doesn’t surprise me, the number of friends who don’t know about comp. It seems like the airlines will keep quiet about.

  2. Batsheva says:

    BA are very difficult to ever get a penny out of! You were very lucky and obviously only got where you did because you know the rules and regulations inside out. A “regular” passenger would simply have been trashed by BA. Until the EU introduces a clause in the compensation regulations that obliges the airlines to notify the passenger of his rights and secure a written acknowledgment that the information has been passed over, BA will continue to run rings around the comp issue. If failure to get the passenger’s signature on a copy of the letter handed over specifying the right to compensation, entailed a fixed penalty fine of £5000, we would all quickly become experts and put a stop to airlines mistreating us.

  3. Dannyrado says:

    I can’t imagine that I would’ve known to deal “so hard”. I shudder to think what would’ve happened to my family. Well done you.

  4. Roger says:

    Wow, what an experience!

    OK, so planes go tech from time to time but BA’s apparent attempt to wriggle out of their liabilities is interesting and worrying. Congratulations on using your accumulated knowledge and experience to assure your booking. I guess most of us wouldn’t have been able to argue to the same degree.

    With one weather-related exception – heavy rain at MUC, MUC-LHR on LH didn’t fly but my boss’s MUC-LTN on easyJet did! – I’ve managed to avoid such confrontations in recent years.

    Perhaps there should be an annotation in Raffles’s BA record: ‘Don’t Mess with Raffles’!

  5. Am I right in thinking compensation should be 75% of the whole ticket price, not just that leg?


    • Yes, you are correct. However, my understanding is that the actual regulations do not clarify this 100% and so most airlines take it to mean 75% of that particular leg. To be fair to the airlines, 75% of the ticket price just for that leg is a lot of money.

      The problem comes when you are flying on anything more complex than a direct return, because the airline will try to distort the value of the ticket which applies to the downgraded sector. For eg, we flew London to Dubai for £1,200, so £600 per leg. Had we done Manchester – Dubai via London for the same £1,200, BA would presumably have argued that MAN-LON was a £200 value (even though the fare would have been the same as a direct LON-Dubai) and thus paid less for the downgraded leg.

  6. James says:

    BA have a reputation for being very slimy with compensation. We were offloaded from a flight in January when it snowed at Heathrow, queued 4 hours for bag drop (there were only a handful of desks open in T5) and were told we had been offloaded – our flight was one of the few that actually left, just with us not on it. We were told to queue for another 2 hours to rebook, but I knew there was no availability that day either. We abandoned BA and the 6 of us with bags, skis and boots had to get the train to LGW for a later EZY flight and the experience could not have been more different, amazing experience with a budget carrier in terms of service and communication.

    4 months on they are still dodging a refund of the original ticket (!!!) and compensation so a county court claim has been filed. Shocking. But props to you for getting what you were due.

    • Sir Stamford says:

      Sorry James, my experience with a certain particular budget carrier in terms of service and communication is equally bad if not worse.

      In fact, I will never ever fly with a certain budget carrier again.

      Sir Stamford

    • Volker says:

      I made different experiences with BA. Was travelling FRA-LHR-GLA, got stuck in December snow in London. BA provided bus transport from London to Glasgow. As I therefore missed my connecting flight from Glasgow (booked through BA, too), they put me into the Holiday Inn (Executive Room) at the airport, gave me a £20 voucher for food, toothbrush etc. and paid compensation at the equivalent of EUR 250. Can’t moan about that…

  7. Rome77 says:

    “My infant son (22 months) had been offloaded from the plane!”

    Although presumably an honest mistake (as opposed to the more deliberate attempts to get away from their responsibilities), this is truly a massive mistake by BA. Imagine the newspaper headlines that could be spun out of that story!

    It also seems a bit frightening that BA wanted to seat a 22 month old away from the parents!?

    • You need to remember that, as far as I could tell, there is only 1 BA employee in Dubai and the rest are contractors. Contract staff neither know nor care about BA’s rules or indeed UK CAA regulations. Part of the problem here is that the contract staff were not willing to agree to anything without sign-off from the one BA person.

      • Volker says:

        “Contract staff neither know nor care about BA’s rules…”

        Have you ever travelled BA from Glasgow? At least at the check-in/bag drop counters they seem to have contract staff only, so e.g. you have to remind them to attach PRIORITY tags to your bags. Never ever have they made me feel recognised as a valued customer, regardless of Silver BAEC membership (do they know what that is?) or Premium Class ticket. I wouldn’t want to depend on their “customer service”, let alone listen to their response to a problem.

  8. Volker says:

    I once received a very special downgrade by BA. Had booked FRA-LHR in Club, but was told at the gate that they hadn’t got any food catering for the flight. The business class passengers were given a EUR 10 voucher which could be spent at the small kiosk at the gate, so I had to be happy with some cereal bars (just like in Economy). They didn’t even have the “Club” headrest covers on board, so apart from a bit more space there wasn’t really any difference to Euro Traveller. I wonder why they bothered at all closing the curtain to separate the cabin during the flight.

    Here’s the reply I got from BA Customer Relations after getting in touch with them: “Thank you for contacting us. I apologise for the delay in replying to you.

    I am concerned to know that you were unhappy with the overall service offered to you on your flight to London Heathrow. Being a loyal customer, I know this is not the kind of service you expect from British Airways and I do apologise.

    We understand how important the meal service is on a long journey, and the effect on our customers. I would like to assure you that we do listen and take account of what our customers tell us. I have now recorded the details of your complaint. A group of senior managers from across the business look at the problems our customers face, and how we can improve. Some issues are easy to fix quickly, and some may take a little more time to put right. We want to iron out the difficulties, and our chief executive expects us to make continuous improvements across all areas of our business for our customers.

    While I appreciate your reasons for asking, I am afraid I’m unable to offer you any compensation.”

    Well, I am pleased that at least “a group of senior managers from across the business look at my problem”. Great.

    • I think we’ve seen that standard response before! 😀

      Dear [insert name]

      Ref: [meal/delay/service/IFE – delete as necessary]
      Standard para 1
      Standard para 2
      Standard para 3


  9. And volker, you then filed a court claim for BA’s breach of contract didn’t you?

    Because you paid for a seat and a level of service. If they didn’t give you this then you are entitled to compensation.

    • Volker says:

      I would have told you about that! Mark… :) No, having studied law, a quick cost-benefit analysis made me grin and bear it instead. Although nice, the short haul food in Club is hardly worth more than EUR 10, and how much compensation would you claim for missing headrest covers? Remember, they DID close the curtain to separate us from the budget travellers…

  10. Do the compensation rules apply to EU carriers?
    Is BA obliged to follow these even for a flight originating and bought in HK?
    I had a similar situation in which I was downgraded (offered compensation) and moved to a later flight – and then at the gate moved back to my original class (WTP) and given nothing. I thien missed my connection because of this.

    Trying to work out what I should have done/ can do now. Feel like I fell for the ‘bait and switch’ to help them manage their capacity and sufferered loss with no compensation as a result

    • The EU rules apply to any flight which starts or lands at an EU airport, irrespective of where the ticket was bought.

  11. James67 says:

    Thanks for this helpful post Raffles. I will be sure to remember part about signing rights away; I think that might be key to better on the spot solutions in such situations. Your experience was disappointing from BA but to be fair it was a challenging day for there staff. Post brought back fond memories of many flights on AA and UA in my younger days when I pocketed a few hundred dollars and an upgrade to C for volunteering for reaccommodation on overbooked flights. One time I got very nice surprize from BA. A large and very expensive box o handmade chocolates arrived along with a thank you letter for assisting a stewardess following an incident she had with a drunk and abussive passenger on a flight to DUS. I thought that was a nice touch.

  12. wobbly wings says:

    Just been “offered” to be offloaded from an ET seat for “hotel and 200 euros” compensation. At no point EU regulations were cited.

  13. Gumshoe says:

    Happened last week to a friend of mine on a BA flight back from HKG. Except they tried to downgrade him 2 cabins from CW to WT.

    The secret to success appears to be persistence. Politely decline all their bribes (unless you’re happy to accept them!), stand your ground, refuse to go away until it’s sorted and, as a last resort, quote the EU regs at them. They’ll eventually realise downgrading you is more hassle than it’s worth, suddenly discover a seat has magically become available and pick on some other poor, less clued up soul.

  14. James67 says:

    Given the difference in price of many CW and WT fares even a 75% refund could leave you paying substantially over the odds for a downgraded WT seat you might end up with. What to do in this siituation? If downgrade arranged at gate it would probably even be one of the worst WT seats on the plane.

  15. Enjoying your blog here in USA! WRT your statement “The EU rules apply to any flight which starts or lands at an EU airport, irrespective of where the ticket was bought.” how would one who lives in USA and buys tickets in USA for travel on U.S.carrier such as AA, UA, or DL proceed to get EU compensation when the purchased (or award) travel arrangements don’t match with what is provided while traveling in Europe? Is it all exactly the same,or are there nuances which I must be aware of?

  16. Does anyone have any experience of being downgraded when travelling on an award flight? How would the compensation be worked out? Are your rights any different?

    • Your rights are the same, I assume you’d just get miles back instead of cash. I assume you’d get part of the taxes back as well?

  17. TWA44 says:

    Great post. Being new to the miles game and not yet aware of the EU regs, I appreciate the info. Will keep it in mind on my next trip!

  18. Reading this we were really lucky, we were offloaded at Tampa in November in club and all four of us received compo of $1300 per person or $1800 in Ba travel vouchers.
    It paid for or holiday, and we had an extra day at sea world and flew back from Orlando in club. I still can’t believe how lucky we were.

  19. We were bumped off an Iberian connecting flight to Miami last year, we got the EU comp and would have been happy but it meant we missed the start of our Princess cruise (funded with Tesco points).
    Princess had booked the flights but were no help at the time. We had an extra night in Miami and a night in St Marteen, it was stressful but I persisted with my complaint with Princess and we eventually got our extra flights paid for, as well as a pro rota refund (in cash) on the cruise.
    Princess still shot themselves in the foot as I’d told everyone I knew how terrible their customer service was by the time they paid us back everything I asked for.
    Iberian don’t really seem to do customer service!

  20. Mr Bridge says:

    what happens if your using avios and get downgraded

  21. Slightly off topic but maybe someone here will know:

    I booked an award club world ticket with avios points on let’s say the 1st of January for the next morning, the 2nd , from London to Cairo. Before pressing on the ‘confirm’ button it came up a yellow box that I have 24 hours ‘ peace of mind ‘ and I will be able to cancel for full refund.

    I finished the booking and than went to check in online to choose my seats. As I saw the seat map , I released that I won’t be on the normal BA club world , because BA changed their plains to Cairo and tell tell Aviv with the old BMI ones with a Swiss air style business class . As I was only going for leisure, and had nothing important to do in Cairo, I decided that I don’t want to fly on these CW seats so I called up to cancel, and the lady told me that as it’s already within 24 hours of flight departure I won’t get my miles back .

    Not wanting to loose my miles , I didn’t cancel and took the flight.

    Any advice ?


    • Interesting one. It is true that you cannot cancel a miles seat within 24 hours. It is also true you have the cooling off period. However, the ‘terms and conditions’ you were shown during the booking would have reminded you that you can’t cancel within 24 hours.

      If BA doesn’t play ball, it seems like a Small Claims Court job. It would probably come down to how prominent both policies were displayed on the site. If the cooling off period was substantially more prominent then that would probably be taken as the one that counts.

      • And what can I expect to get as compensation? And any idea how much time I have for that ? This story was in December.

        And for last , do you think my relationship with BA will get affected if I take them to court ? I mean I have over 200k avios points and I don’t want to lose them !

        • Oh , and how can I proof that in court ?

        • Did you fly or not? If you flew, then you probably can’t sue BA. By flying, you implicitly accepted their contract terms.

          If you didn’t fly and lost the Avios, then you should be able to get them reinstated by the court if you won.

          BA has the right to close your Avios account if it wants, but I doubt they would over this since it would not be a ‘grudge’ case (eg suing BA over not honouring a mistake fare on their website).

          I assume the terms on the website – including the placement of the ‘you can cancel in 24 hours’ rule in a prominent place – are still the same. Take a few screen shots now in case it changes in the future.

          What you CANNOT do is make any sort of claim based on the seat. You can only claim based on BA’s failure to stand by its cancellation policy. You must have suffered loss to make a claim, though. If you flew, then you got the seat that BA offers in business class on that route so you don’t have a leg to stand on.

          • Sorry again, I still can’t find any link to contact you. Can you drop me an Email so I can reply? Thanks!

            • See top right of screen – http://www.headforpoints.com/contact/ – raffles [at] headforpoints.co.uk

            • Someone seems to post this question at least once per week. Am I underestimating how tricky it is to find?

            • I thought it was fairly clear myself – perhaps folk just aren’t used to not seeing a webform or clickable link? Dread to think how much further your spam would increase with either of those though – the spammers love commenting on articles as it is!

            • …. which is why there is no form!

              And for every spam comment you see, there are literally 99 you don’t.

            • Yep, just what I was thinking! (and as a subscriber to email updates on every comment I certainly see a lot more of them and would attest that there’s a vast number that you kill off rapidly from appearing on the blog!)


  1. […] http://www.headforpoints.com/2013/05…itish-airways/ Super post about one's rights if offloaded in the EU, including a link to a great FT thread. I think this will be of interest to both newbies and oldtimers who read travel/miles/points blogs. […]