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My experience suing British Airways, after CEDR failed

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Two years ago we ran a detailed article on how to take British Airways to CEDR complaints arbitrationCEDR is an independent dispute resolution body that adjudicates disputes between passengers and subscribing airlines, and is meant to help both sides avoid a court case.

CEDR does not always work, however, as I found out myself last year.  I thought this article would make an interesting follow-on to our original 2017 article.

Taking British Airways to small claims court

How did I end up taking British Airways to court?

This time last year I (Rhys, not Rob, in case you didn’t notice the name at the top) was due to fly home after six months in the United States. I had been studying abroad as part of my degree in the suburbs of Baltimore, and had finished my academic year with a mini road trip visiting my friends around Pennsylvania and Maryland.

I was scheduled to fly on BA228, a Boeing 787 flight from Baltimore Washington International airport.  British Airways is the only carrier to fly direct from Baltimore to Europe.

I was staying at a friend’s home on the outskirts of Philadelphia on the morning of my departure. The plan was to give another friend a lift home on my way to Baltimore before dropping off my rental car and hopping on my evening departure.

That was the plan until, whilst having breakfast, I tried to check in – and found the flight had been cancelled.  The Rolls Royce 787 engine problems meant that my aircraft had been grounded.

This is the first time this had ever happened to me.  Although I’ve flown a significant amount, I had never had the bad luck of being on a cancelled flight.

From many destinations this wouldn’t be an issue – you’d simply hop on to the next available flight. Except, of course, that British Airways is the only carrier to connect Baltimore Washington International with Europe – and they only fly once daily.

Taking British Airways to small claims court

British Airways wanted to reroute me via Chicago.  I would fly to Chicago the following day and then catch a connecting flight home.

Geographically, however, I was closer to Philadelphia International Airport.  I knew they had open seats from a quick search online, so I called the BA customer service team.

Of course, flying from Philadelphia would mean dropping my rental vehicle off at a different location, and rental car companies are notorious for ratcheting up costs for unexpected eventualities. I assumed, however, that British Airways would be liable under EU261 law and the Montreal Convention.

I was successfully re-booked and headed off towards Philadelphia, where my flight was leaving a few hours earlier than my original!  It was a little chaotic but I was glad to be sitting on an aircraft taking me home. I ended up paying almost twice as much as my original reservation to drop my car off in Philadelphia instead.

Taking British Airways to small claims court

(On landing at Heathrow we were also subject to a go-around – also my first! – which meant that we had to abort our first landing attempt due to high crosswinds. There’s nothing quite like being on a Boeing 747 which is about to touch down before quickly accelerating away!)

Once home, I started filing the relevant paper work regarding my cancellation.  I was entitled to compensation thanks to EU261, since the cancellation was fewer than 14 days in advance.  I also submitted my rental car receipts, asking British Airways to cover the difference in cost between my original reservation and the actual costs incurred.

British Airways got back within the week, agreeing to my EU261 compensation. (Because I had actually taken an early flight than the one I booked, and had landed within 4 hours of my original arrival time, I was only entitled to half of the 600 compensation package for flights over 3,500km.)   On my request for the additional car hire costs incurred, however, they remained silent.

This started a lengthy back-and-forth between myself and the British Airways customer relations team.

If you look at the wording of EU261 you’ll see that Article 8(3) states that where a region is served by several airports and an airline offers a flight to a different airport:

“the operating air carrier shall bear the cost of transferring the passenger from that alternative airport either to that for which the booking was made, or to another close-by destination agreed with the passenger”

Now, in the law this is a little ambiguous since it refers only to the destination rather than departing airport.  However, it is based on a principle that if a carrier re-routes you, they need to ensure that you are not out of pocket for the costs of getting to an alternative departure airport or from an alternative arrival airport.

Furthermore, the Montreal Convention states that “The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, baggage or cargo.” It would be hard, if not impossible, to argue that an increased rental car drop off fee would not count as ‘damage occasioned’ by the cancellation of a flight.

Nonetheless, British Airways argued it was not liable, and I remained out of pocket to the tune of £282.

Taking British Airways to CEDR arbitration

If you have ever had a dispute with British Airways you will know that the next step in attempting to resolve the matter is to head to the CEDR.

As our 2017 CEDR article explains, it is a relatively simple process that requires you and the defendant to submit a statement. It is then adjudicated by the CEDR.

Though simple, it is a slow process. Once you have submitted your statement the defendant is given several weeks to submit theirs, after which you are allowed to add any additional comments. The dispute then joins the queue of disputes awaiting an adjudicator (this takes several weeks) before, finally, a decision is made.

It is, potentially, too simple. The adjudicator is unable to communicate directly with either claimant or defendant, and is therefore unable to ask for additional evidence to clarify any positions. There is also no way to appeal the adjudicators decision within the CEDR framework.

This is a problem when your case is as complex as mine.  The problem was that the original vehicle I rented did not have functioning headlights, which meant I had to swap the car free of charge mid-way through my renting period.  The car I dropped off was not the same as the one I originally picked up and it was not possible to easily tell from the final confusing receipt I was given what the additional drop-off fee was.

The adjudicator believed that the additional charge showing on my receipt was related to replacing the car mid-rental, instead of being due to the change of drop-off location.  This assumption could have been easily corrected had they been able to contact me to clarify the situation.

This was frustrating because the adjudicator had theoretically ruled in my favour but stated that as I had not suffered any extra drop-off fees I had no right to any claim on BA.  I went back to Hertz and ended up getting two written statements that unambiguously stated I was being charged a higher rate due to the drop off location.  There is no right of appeal with CEDR so the only option I had available was to go to the Small Claims Court.

Taking British Airways to the Small Claims Court

Whilst the CEDR is a simple process, going to the small claims court is an entirely different world, and slightly terrifying at that given it is an official legal process.  I may not even have proceeded had I not had a family friend who specialises in aviation law and deals with airline disruption all the time. He insisted that I had a case, and so I pushed on.

I did a quick bit of research on how the small claims court works. Despite a lot of legal jargon it is quite simple to file a claim, since it can all be done online. The online form asks for a statement, a timeline of the events, the evidence you wish to file and where you would like the hearing to take place. You also have to pay a fee upfront, which varies depending on how much you are claiming. I would have to pay £25 to file the case and another £25 if it got to hearing.  You can see the fee brackets on the gov.uk website here.

I resubmitted my statements, this time with the additional evidence I had received from Hertz, and paid the £25 court fee. Then I waited.

Taking British Airways to small claims court

British Airways was notified of my filing and a few weeks later filed their own statement, after which we again waited – for months.

Although filing a claim is fairly simple, there is very little information once the claim is being processed. I got various automated emails that required certain forms with complicated names be filed at certain times; every so often I was copied into an email from the BA legal team. In this respect, the CEDR is definitely a simpler process although I quickly realised that if I thought the CEDR was slow, law courts are in a league of their own…

Finally, however, eight months after the flight in question, my claim was accepted by the judge and I was given a hearing date in May.

I was given a final deadline in April to file my final documents and evidence.  Whilst I re-wrote and re-formatted my statements to comply with the court requirements, I got in touch with the legal team at British Airways asking if they did not want to settle the claim and save everyone a lot of trouble.  I did not hear back.

Two days before the deadline to submit my documents and pay the court hearing fee, the British Airways liaison got in touch, asking to settle the case.  They agreed to pay the full amount of my claim as well as the fees I had already paid to the Small Claims Court. After nine months of paperwork and fighting my corner I finally had my £282 back, plus the court fees I had paid.

My dispute with British Airways has taught me never to accept defeat simply because the process is long and complex.  I have also lost all my patience for dealing with the screw-ups of big companies.

Two weeks after my flight with British Airways was cancelled, I found being turned away from an easyJet flight.  I think I may be cursed now …..

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Comments (197)

  • Rivo says:

    I have not yet had to go the full nuclear option and court but I have promised that this is a path I am willing to take. Just always ensure you start any correspondents “Without Prejudice”.

    My modus operandi is to go to the very top and bypass customer complaints altogether. It also helps to cc in your email influential individuals such as the head of IATA, Secretary of State for transport, Chairman of the Parliamentary select committee for transport and various travel correspondents.

    In fairness their executive complaints team are very good and will get you a result. You just have to be reasonable.

    • Shoestring says:

      Going to the top at BA (ie Senor Cruz’s office) is an efficient way of getting them to have a second look at any compo claim. BA have an unstated policy of initially rebuffing many compo claims regardless of their merit, this is (presumably) an effective way to get many people to drop the claim. But you can be persistent in several ways. Most people seem to just reply within the online complaints procedure, with correspondence going back and forth until you either get resolution or reach deadlock, after which you can decide to go down the CEDR or MCOL route (or both). But a useful tip to avoid all this hassle (if you get the initial rebuff) is just to email the CEO with a brief / polite outline of your case and what you consider appropriate compo. I’m not sure if Senor Cruz actually welcomes this approach – he might actually think it’s OK as it would be good evidence that he is being responsive to customers, ie a demonstration of good management. Plus of course, he probably never even gets to see these complaints in detail, it’s the office of the CEO that deals with them.

    • Crafty says:

      You don’t technically need to use the term “without prejudice” to render your negotiations on a settlement without prejudice, but you’re right in that it is a cultural norm.

      • TescoTease says:

        True, but it’s a useful signal to the addressee that your informed and probably prepared to take things further.

    • TigerTanaka says:

      Copying in the head of IATA, Secretary of State for transport, Chairman of the Parliamentary select committee for transport just wastes other people’s valuable time. The boss of IATA is not going to get involved in this, his PA is just going to throw you letter/email in the bin.

  • Simon says:

    How easy is it to claim for a missed flight?

    On 31st May, I received an email from Iberia that a flight I was due to take on 2 June was cancelled. They offered no alternative, and I could not access the booking online (it simply returned an error when putting in the booking code).

    Because this flight was one bought as part of the cheap Avios sale I was not too bothered, so I could afford not to go.

    The thing is, I have not even received a refund for this, which I presumed would have been done if I didn’t fly it. By simply letting my flight lapse have I also forgone the right to a refund/compensation?

    • Anna says:

      You should definitely have a case here, however the difficulty may lie in dealing with a Spanish airline. I’m not sure if the small claims court would be an option in this instance, for example.

    • Rhys says:

      Your flight was cancelled with less than 14 days notice so you should be entitled to refund + compensation. The Wikipedia article on EU261 is actually quite a good place to start.

      • Shoestring says:

        Iberia need pushing, they are notoriously awful at paying compo.

        • Simon says:

          I had a look at their website but it seems I can’t fill out a form without the ticket number (I only have the reservation code).

          Is there any other way to apply for a refund?

          • AJA says:

            Hi Simon

            You should have received an email from Iberia confirming your reservation when you originally booked. It should contain the ticket number beginning 075.

            http://help.iberia.com/frequently_asked_question/what-is-the-electronic-ticket-number/

            The electronic ticket number (TKT or e-Ticket) is a 13-digit code in which the first three numbers identify the airline that issued the ticket. The Iberia identifier is 075. After you have booked a flight via Iberia.com, you will receive a confirmation email indicating the number of your ticket.

          • AJA says:

            Also you should chase to have the avios refunded.

  • Neil says:

    How many hours of effort went into this? Looks like an awful lot, all to get £280 back. If you work out the hourly rate you “received” from getting back the money, was it worth it? Presumably had it gone to the hearing you’d have needed to have taken a day off work, too? I value a day of annual leave as my full daily rate as it’s a wasted day and to make it up I’d need to take a day unpaid.

    And given you got EUR300 compensation anyway, that pretty much covered the £280 rental fee charge and you actually got home earlier anyway.

    Might also have been worth dropping the car off as planned and taking out a separate 1-way rental for that day. Appreciate that is a bit of a time waster though.

    Well done for not giving up, but given those facts I’m not sure I would have bothered myself!

    • Rob says:

      I’m sure you were a penniless undergraduate once, Neil 🙂 That is a whole term of Pot Noodles.

      • Anna says:

        And the principle! I refused to pay a £60 parking “charge” a couple of years ago because I knew the parking company (aka cowboys) were in the wrong. They increased it to £100, then threatened to take me to court but I stood my ground and said I would happily see them in court with evidence that I was in the right. They dropped it at that point 😃

        • Neil says:

          Ah yes didn’t consider the penniless undergrad angle!

          I agree with the principle of it all. I hate it when companies get away with it.

          I guess I am the typical sucker that they rely on to avoid paying out as I can’t be bothered with the hassle of it all.

          I guess the real lesson to take away here is to go the adjudication route as that seems quite simple, but make sure everything you have is absolutely clear and not rely on the adjudicator looking too deeply into it all.

          • Bagoly says:

            It’s good that there are some time-rich cash-poor bright undergraduates to show aggressive corporates what is right.
            Especially those studying law?
            If delay (or in this case advance) of flight does not actually cost me anything, I tend to regard the EU261 compensation as being liquidated damages to cover extra costs.

        • RussellH says:

          Quite right Anna.

          I have recently seen a few instances of people being sent ridiculous claims for failing to follow Ts+Cs at one local privately run car park. Typically their ticket machines require entry of Reg No (not so unusual), but the ticket only records two or three characters. People get court forms which, as Rhys says, can look quite initimidating at first glance, and you lose if you do not return the form. But once you do that the ball is in their court. A couple of cases have gone to a Small Claims Court hearing, and the (same) judge has always thrown them out. AIUI, they now just fail to attend the hearing, which means that the case fails automatically. It is all about intimidation.
          Our MP has called for the car park to be boycotted, but this means that there are always spaces available, and there is always someone else who does not realise and gets caught.

    • Leo says:

      Absolutely with you on this. Not actually out of pocket due to the standard compensation. I definitely would not have bothered. Life is too short. But then I’m not a student….

    • Mij says:

      Just out of interest as I have no experience of small claims and big companies, if this has gone to court and Rhys had won his case would he have simply got the same amount that BA settled for outside of court (£282) or could he have received more in compensation does anyone here know or can guess?

      • ChrisC says:

        No. You only get the amount you claimed for plus reimbursement of the cost to lodge the case.

        The judge can’t award you more than you asked for under MCOL rules. You have to claim for a specific amount

    • Nick_C says:

      “Might also have been worth dropping the car off as planned and taking out a separate 1-way rental for that day. Appreciate that is a bit of a time waster though.”

      I think Neil has hit the nail on the head here. In a situation like this, you have a duty to minimise your additional costs. £280 to get from BWI to PHL could be seen as unreasonable. I would have returned the rental car to BWI and looked at the cheapest reasonable way of getting from there to PHL. A one way car rental or even an Uber.

      Although BA paid out, that doesn’t mean they were in the wrong. Simply that it is cheaper for firms to settle than send a solicitor to Court to defend the claim.

      But on a personal note, I’m obviously pleased Rhys didn’t end up out of pocket.

      • John says:

        Does anyone know how much an Uber would cost? That’s probably what I would have done myself, then there is a clear indication of exactly what extra costs BA caused me to incur.

        Technically BA could have argued that Rhys saved some fuel by not having to drive to BWI, so not the full £282, although it probably isn’t worth anyone’s time to work that out properly.

    • ChrisC says:

      The €300 compensation is compensation for the delay / cancellation and is not meant to cover other costs that are covered by the ‘duty of care’ aspects of EU261

      BA can’t deny a claim for hotel costs for example just because they gave you €600 under the other provisions

      • Neil says:

        That’s a fair point, however it seems he actually arrived back earlier than planned, so there was no delay to speak of.

        • Rob says:

          The payment was for the cancellation, not the delay.

          If you were planning to fly from Manchester to Heathrow at 10am tomorrow, but were told this afternoon you would be flying from Edinburgh at 9am instead – and would have to make your own way to Edinburgh – I think you’d want compensation too despite technically not being late into London.

  • Nadeshka says:

    I ended up filing a MCOL against BA back in 2013 (I think) for refusing to pay out EU261 when a plane went tech as we were awaiting takeoff. We were in first on a 241 from Bangalore and similarly there is only one direct flight a day. We ended up being rerouted the following day via Delhi, as there were no seats on a direct flight for a week.

    BA claimed extraordinary circumstances and after several weeks of back and forth I sent the letter before action and then filed the small claims case for the EUR1200. I wasn’t aware of CEDR at the time so read up and went straight for the claim. BA said they intended to defend it and sent some pretty intimidating paperwork from DLA Piper. They maintained they would fight the case but offered to settle for a pretty restrictive travel voucher a few days before the court date.
    I countered with the value in avios, (at 1p/point) which they agreed to.
    Glad I didn’t have to go to court and we used the points with a 241 for our same trip the following year. I knew we would get good value for the points hence my decision to suggest it.
    I wasn’t long in my job and my boss found it very amusing when I put in my leave request for the court date because I said I needed to go sue British airways!
    Completely agree with comments saying BA just leave it to the last minute as they know most people will give up before they have to pay.

    • Anna says:

      I would definitely do the same if I had an immediate use for the avios. I’ve much more use for 1200 euros right now though!

  • Steve R says:

    Using MCOL is the only way to get their attention, as I know from experience. They settled before it went to court. whether they thought they might lose or just the cost of defending.

    They did ask why I used MCOL. I said six emails & letters didn’t get your attention, but this certainly did

    • Alex M says:

      MCOL is a super easy process and does get attention – used it twice already (Aeroflot and Wizzair) – Aeroflot paid straight away, Wizzair sent a response from their lawyers saying they would defend but eventually agreed to pay when the court date was getting close. CEDR was a waste of time in the Aeroflot case.

  • Nick says:

    Am I the only one giving BA any sympathy here? If they start paying for consequential loss it’s hard to see where it ends. Rhys could easily have dropped his car off in Baltimore and caught a train to Philly, which would have been significantly cheaper. I think they paid this to avoid the risk of creating precedent, not necessarily because they should have done.

    • Calvin says:

      Hopefully this should be a rare case. Had they let the case go to court it would’ve set a precedent, albeit one at the small claims level, but nonetheless one that potentially opens them up to abuse.

      Unfortunately, while I don’t really agree with the original dispute (sounds too much like a first world problem to me), this is the only way for those with legitimate claims to be heard by the airline.

      System gaming happens everywhere, but there should be very little room for abuse, it’s either that or airlines would be in a really hard place, I agree with you, Nick.

      • Polly says:

        Calvin,
        That’s harsh calling what Rhys did, system gaming. It certainly is not. It’s called being suddenly inconvenienced, as BA probably didn’t want to fly a low loaded plane. Cheaper to dump people. They do it regularly out of Jed And Riyadh. Saves them a fortune…

      • Anna says:

        The law is the law. If BA settles out of court it would have been because their legal team advised them that they were likely to lose the case. People shouldn’t forego their legal entitlements out of sympathy for a hugely profitable business!

      • Nick_C says:

        Decisions in the Small Claims Court do not set precedents.

      • Ian says:

        You’ve gotta be kidding me right? People should put up with inconvenience because an airline can’t run their service properly?! Of course he should be entitled to a refund, as the courts ruled. Very strange that there are people on here disagreeing.

    • Rob says:

      Depends how much luggage he had after 6 months away ….

    • Lady London says:

      Yes you are the only one giving British Airways any sympathy on that particular point Nick.

      • Nick_C says:

        Read all the comments and at least three of us feel Rhys didn’t properly mitigate his losses. A claim with clear documentation of an additional reasonable cost, such as a one way car rental or an Uber, might have been settled earlier.

        And the settlement doesn’t show BA were wrong. Simply that they adopted the most cost effective option.

        Properly mitigating the loss is also important for a S75 claim or an insurance claim where these are the appropriate avenues to pursue.

        While I’m happy Rhys got reimbursed, and it’s a very good and informative article, I don’t think it’s a blueprint for the best way to deal with situations like this.

        • Ken says:

          Except he did mitigate some losses. The Chicago option would have generated the full 600 euro compensation rather than 300, and would have required a night in a hotel.
          There was no argument that he had failed to mitigate loss, it was a blanket refusal.

  • John says:

    Thanks for the interesting article and glad that you finally managed to get back the compensation you are entitled to! I completely agree with you that we should never back down, its a matter of principles!

    One question though, could you have gone to the CAA before the CEDR? I found the process quite easy and as the CAA can contact you directly, your trouble with the CEDR could have been avoided?

    I had a case with Iberia few months back which I brought to the CAA when I was flying from London to Palma, connecting at Madrid. The outbound flight from London to Madrid was delayed resulting in me missing my connecting flight at Madrid and I had to wait 4 hours for the next flight and arriving Palma more than 6 hours later than my original flight. I submitted a complain directly to Iberia which they replied a month later simply apologising and remained silent on the compensation. I complain to them again with the same result. I then brought the case to CAA, submitted all the evidence and a month later, CAA contacted Iberia directly and I got my compensation money back within 2 weeks.

    • Polly says:

      That’s a very good point. And maybe something his aviation expert friend might need to take on board when dealing with future cases.

    • NickAnon says:

      Hi John,
      I was on that flight too, I complained via Resolver to Iberia and have had exactly the same response as you did. I have contacted CAA twice now but had nothing back at all.
      Did you contact CAA directly?

      • John says:

        Hi Nick,
        Yes I contacted CAA directly. I contacted the CAA via their Passenger Advice and Complaints Team. You can access the form by navigating from the CAA main website > Consumers > Passengers > Resolving Travel Problems > How the CAA can help (subheading under Making a complaint) > You will see an option to “send us the details of your complaint” under “How to submit a complaint.

        It did take the CAA around a month to contact me though. They mentioned in the email that they were contacting Iberia directly.

        Hope this helps.

        • NickAnon says:

          Thanks, I’ve re-sent the complaint via the web form, hopefully it will get through this time.
          I cant believe the reply from Iberia which was basically “yeah, sorry about that, bye”
          Can I ask how you arrived 6 hours late? Our flight got to PMI just under 4 hours late, did they put you on an even later flight?
          There was an Iberia rep as we got off the flight handing out new boarding passes. We queued up at the service desk, in the hope of getting confirmation of the cause of the delay, but they refused that.

          • John says:

            There were no reps when I arrived at Madrid. I had to queue at the service desk to get my boarding pass reissued to the later flight which delayed further hence just more than 6 hours delay vs originally arrival time.

    • Dawn says:

      I also contacted the CAA when our flight on Easyjet was diverted from Gatwick to Stanstead in the big storm a few years ago at Christmas. They told everyone that they had some coaches but it was only for women and children and that everyone else should make their own way home and they would cover the cost if we sent in our receipts. It took us 9 hours, 2 trains (with the driver getting out to move tree off the line) and a taxi across London. Easyjet refused to pay us despite our receipts but after contacting the CAA they were forced to pay.

    • Lady London says:

      CAA and “chocolate teapot” have sometimes been mentioned together as an aveue for this.

  • sayling says:

    Heading up correspondence “Without Prejudice” is often advised by people who don’t necessarily understand what it means – it can harm your opportunities for maximum redress if not used correctly

    https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/2-107-7511?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)&firstPage=true&comp=pluk&bhcp=1

    • Phil says:

      Seconded
      I had a small claims court case many years ago where I lost on the basis of a bent district judge stating I had admitted I had done wrong by making a “without prejudice offer to settle ”
      I won’t be making that mistake again ever.
      Small claim court judges can within reason do what they want
      He called it Palm Tree Justice