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British Airways launches its ‘Book with Confidence’ guarantee – but is it enough?

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Things are not in good shape over at the British Airways Waterside head office.  I believe that senior management were working over the weekend in an attempt to draw up some sort of strategy to secure the Summer flying programme, but it is difficult.

EDIT: ‘Book With Confidence’ ended on 7th June 2022.  Bookings made after this date are not covered by the guarantee.  Bookings made up to 7th June, for travel by 30th September 2022, can still be cancelled or amended without charge.

British Airways has launched ‘Book with Confidence’

Today we have seen the first response – the ‘Book with Confidence’ guarantee.

Unfortunately, it isn’t good enough and won’t have any impact.

British Airways BA A380 flying

This is how it works:

For NEW bookings, and ONLY new bookings, made from Tuesday 3rd March to Monday 16th March, you will able to change your flight without paying any change fees.

This applies to all cabins on all routes.

However:

you cannot request a refund

you must pay the fare difference if you want to move your flight to a date which is more expensive than the price you paid

It’s not enough, in my view.

What else can British Airways do to drive bookings?

Very little, frankly.  We are potentially at a point where demand for flights is not driven by price.  For example, if I travel to Hong Kong now then my children would be forced to stay away from school for two weeks when I return.   I won’t be going, however good a deal I may be able to get.

Another issue for British Airways is that it set a bad precedent last week by removing the option of a refund on coronavirus-heavy routes.

Even on routes like Seoul, where a lot of weekly flights have been cut, those passengers booked on the remaining services cannot get a refund.  If you got lucky and your flight was cancelled, you have a legal right to your money back.

Take a look, on the other hand, at what hotel group Melia is currently advertising:

You get a big discount on your room BUT you also retain the right to cancel.  Melia is gambling that a flexible approach will win it bookings.

Perhaps BA needs to take the same option and make all flight bookings refundable.  Even if you are planning to fly somewhere which is not caught up in coronavirus, you are still at risk.  If it turns out that, the previous week, you had visited somewhere else where an outbreak has suddenly errupted, you are likely to be blocked from flying to your ‘safe place’.  It is even possible, although I admit hugely unlikely, that we could end up in a position where UK residents were banned from entering certain countries.

The airline industry is acting like the end is nigh ….

If anyone thought that the airline industry might be able to muddle its way through coronavirus, two other announcements on Monday have probably put pay to that.

Cathay Pacific announced that it is cancelling 75% of flights in March 

Closer to home, Lufthansa Group announced that is cutting up to 25% of its short-haul and medium-haul flights, as well as grounding 23 long-haul aircraft

Cutting flights to Asia is one thing, but cutting huge swathes of your European network is something else.

Grounding aircraft doesn’t stop you losing money of course – the leases still have to be paid, as do salaried pilots and cabin crew – but it helps.

If you think that British Airways is cushioned by its North Atlantic routes, think again.  Over the weekend, for example, GlaxoSmithKline banned all but essential staff travel.  It even banned Glaxo-induced travel by third parties, so clients may not fly in to visit the Glaxo offices.  Glaxo is one of the top 5 (perhaps THE) biggest British Airways corporate customer – the American Airlines flight from Heathrow to Raleigh-Durham, part of the BA/AA transatlantic joint venture, was reportedly set up purely for Glaxo’s benefit. It also dominates premium seats on the Philadelphia route.

British Airways cannot ground its planes, because it will lose its Heathrow slots

British Airways would, I’m sure, love to ground parts of its fleet temporarily.  Except it can’t.

We have covered the Heathrow Airport slot rules before, but in simple terms an airline has to use a landing and take-off on 80% of dates during an airline ‘season’ or it is automatically forfeited.

You might think that there are rules in place to cover events such as coronavirus, but there aren’t.  From what I can tell, there was no dispensation after 9/11, no dispensation for SARS and no dispensation in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse.

British Airways has no choice but to keep on flying aircraft because if it doesn’t, it won’t have the slots to fly them next year or the year after.

This is not an exclusively UK phenomenon.  The International Air Transport Association said on Monday it was contacting aviation regulators globally to request that the usual rules on the use of take-off and landing slots be suspended.   There is no guarantee that this will happen, however, especially as airlines are queuing up to get into Heathrow.

There is one option open to British Airways.  The airline can begin to ground parts of the long-haul fleet, especially the inefficient seat-heavy Boeing 747 and A380 aircraft.  The Heathrow short-haul flying programme will suddenly be increased, not shrunk, with British Airways wet-leasing aircraft from other operators if necessary to ensure that those slots are filled.

Wherever there is a coronavirus-free spot in Europe, you may find it overrun with BA tail fins this Spring and Summer ….

Long-term, of course, this is an outstanding opportunity for British Airways.  IAG has lots (€4bn) of cash on hand (especially now that it has refused to pay a staff bonus for 2019 …..) and would be ‘last man standing’.

A quick look at the Norwegian share price for the last month (note that this graph does not scale from zero, so it is less dramatic than it looks):

Norwegian share price

….. shows you that the market believes they are at severe risk again now.  Similarly, you have to worry about Flybe even with its focus on domestic routes.

You don’t need to worry about the future of British Airways, however.   You can imagine a scenario in 12 months time where BA is stronger than ever, having picked up Norwegian’s Gatwick slots for peanuts after its bankruptcy and the Flybe routes from London City and Heathrow.  It may even get some additional Heathrow slots from other airlines who have no choice but to forfeit them.  It will be a bumpy ride on the way though.


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Comments (223)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Nonsense says:

    “ if I travel to Hong Kong now then my children would be forced to stay away from school for two weeks when I returned”

    Really? Why? Who would ‘force’ this exactly? Is the school headmaster monitoring Heathrow arrival gates? Are you sure this isn’t sensationalist claptrap?

    • Rob says:

      All parents at our schools have been given a list of countries where the parents may not visit unless they are prepared to withdraw their children on their return.

      If you don’t know how West London mothers operate then this may not make sense, but some of the parents want the schools closed down already and are waiting to whisk their little darlings off to secure bunkers in New Zealand or wherever ….

      • Keith says:

        How would the school know where you’ve travelled to?

        • Rob says:

          I think you’re missing the point here ….

          • Cat says:

            … indeed. There have been a number of outbreaks and large scale quarantines caused by patients who either concealed travel history, or refused to self isolate and be tested, despite being symptomatic. In Thailand, a Thai national returned home from a holiday in Japan, went to the hospital with a fever and lied about his recent travel history. When he tested positive and admitted his recent travel to Japan, 30 doctors and nurses had to go into quarantine.

            It’s wildly irresponsible to conceal your travels in an epidemic, to avoid quarantine Keith. At worst, it puts others lives at risk, and at best it just risks inconveniencing others in exactly the way you’re trying to avoid.

      • Lady London says:

        I have experience of the Brompton / Knightsbridge version of the West London mother, and can assure everybody that Rob is probably understating it.

      • Shoestring says:

        we have a sort of New Zealand bunker: as in – indefinite returning residents visas – kept in reserve in case Putin and Trump start the big willy nuke war

        which I’m sure they won’t

        otherwise – our kids can go and work there if they choose

      • Charlieface says:

        New Zealand has more travel from the Far East than London arguably.

      • Alex Sm says:

        Why wouldn’t you like to spend two weeks at home pretending you are ill while in fact you aren’t! A win win for everyone!! Come on

    • James 1 says:

      And herein lies part of the reason why this virus will spread through Britain like a knife in hot butter.

      Self-obsession.

    • DV says:

      It’s exactly what we have been told by both the schools my children attend in London. It’s very sensible advice.

      • Cat says:

        It really isn’t, Harry. It has a 2-3% mortality rate and 20% of the cases are classed as severe or critical. Pneumonia is one of the major risks if you get coronavirus, and you know how severe that can be. I do too – a good friend from university’s sister recently had all 4 limbs amputated after an unknown virus left her on life support with pneumonia in November.
        I could name at least a dozen students who I teach who are asthmatic, diabetic or immunocompromised. Throw in parents or grandparents with heart disease and that’s a lot of people at risk, even if the risk is relatively low, surely S Korea teaches us that the results can be devastating, if quarantines aren’t followed.

        • Shoestring says:

          with great respect – I think the mild cases that nobody reports are being under-reported

          • Alex Sm says:

            Especially in the UK where half of the population is permanently ill with colds etc and go to work to spread germs with zero respect to themselves and others

          • Cat says:

            That’s almost certainly true, and the increased denominator will lower the percentage mortality. The thing is, people usually get diagnosed, and then die a few days later (rather than dying and then being diagnosed, which does happen, but not terribly often), so some of the 92,823 positives so far are going to die of coronavirus, but haven’t done so yet. Those deaths, when they happen, will increase the percentage.

            Only time will tell which predominates.

            On current numbers though, 3164 x 100 / 92823 = 3.4%, and I’m erring on the side of caution and saying 2-3% to account for undiagnosed people with mild symptoms.

          • Shoestring says:

            But what if the number of cases was already really more like 500,000? It would make mortality under 1%, even allowing for a lot of deaths not diagnosed as being caused by coronavirus.

            1% sounds terrible – except it’s not, because the vast majority of deaths are of older people who were going to die of something sooner or later anyway.

            Or put it this way:
            1. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people around the world every year (varies between years depending on the strains).
            2. Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide. Pneumonia killed 808 694 children under the age of 5 in 2017, accounting for 15% of all deaths of children under five years old.
            3. The global epidemiological burden of sepsis is difficult to ascertain. It is estimated to affect more than 30 million people worldwide every year, potentially leading to 6 million deaths.

            —> puts the coronavirus deaths running total 3000 into better perspective.

          • Cat says:

            It’s possible, but unlikely. With the sheer number of tests we’re running (as of 01/03, the UK has run 13,525 so far, S Korea has run 109,591, Italy has run 23,345, and as of Saturday, Indonesia – which had direct flights to Wuhan until late Jan – had run 140), we’ll be getting a fair idea of under-reporting rates soon.

            Everyone’s going to die of something sooner or later Harry. Most of us have older people, or people with asthma, or people with diabetes, or with heart conditions, or cancer survivors who we care about and who we don’t want to die tomorrow, if that’s at all possible. IMHO any avoidable death is terrible.

            Also, sepsis and pneumonia are two of the conditions that develop if your bout of coronavirus turns out not to be a mild sniffle / pussycat version of the virus, and is severe (14% of cases) or critical (5% of cases).

            Comparing annual flu deaths to the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide so far is silly, because it’s only just starting to appear in most countries of the world, and many of those cases have been immediately quarantined (thank goodness), so they haven’t actually start outbreaks (yet).

            However, let’s try comparing annual expected flu deaths *in Hubei*, where the outbreak of coronavirus has definitely taken a firm hold (assuming that Hubei has exactly the same rate of flu deaths as elsewhere, and that the day in question is a normal day in Hubei, as far as flu deaths go – obviously those assumptions are tenuous, as flu mortality rates vary wildly from country to country, also the summer isn’t flu season but winter is, but it’s a fairer comparison than to the worldwide flu deaths).

            (500,000 flu deaths per year x 58,500,000 people in Hubei )/ (365 days in a year x 7,800,000,000 people in the whole world) = 10 people ish who probably die of the flu on average every day in Hubei province, compared to 242 deaths in Hubei from Coronavirus on 12th February, which I think was the peak, but it’s been >30 pretty much every day for the last month and a bit.

            This is why the medical world is so desperate to keep coronavirus from spreading. We don’t want the rest of the world to be like Hubei is right now. This is why they’re taking it so much more seriously than the flu, and these are medical experts – they do know what they’re talking about (for the most part).

          • Cat says:

            Also with great respect BTW!

  • Spaghetti Town says:

    Such a stupid rule. I get why it’s in place but it should be waived for this. Just seems a waste of effort, fuel and money.

  • marcw says:

    IATA has been in contact with regulators to waive the 80/20 slot rules.

    The problem with bookings is that… people are DELAYING decissions. That’s the point. Even if it was a refundable fare, I would not book it – because your workload and stree levels might be doubled up (imagine you plan a holidays to XYZ, but then realise, mmhh, I don’t want to go there “everything is going to be closed, so it’s not worth it”, now you request a refund and start looking for another destination”. People are just DELAYING, because coronavirus is unpredictable.

    • Stu_N says:

      I think there’s two things stopping people from traveling outside the worst-hit areas:
      – Risk of being told or “discouraged” by employer from going anywhere with any level of perceived risk; and
      – risk of going somewhere with a level of perceived risk and it’s a rubbish holiday as everything is shut.

      The outbreaks have been completely unpredictable so it’s hitting demand everywhere. I expect it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

      • meta says:

        My partner’s employer said that employees shouldn’t go to Japan even on holiday. Yet, they do not want to cover any cancellation fees or any non-refundable bits. We are going anyway. They can’t know where he’s been. Unless FCO advice changes drastically, we’re going in 3 weeks.

        • Rob says:

          I’d keep it off Instagram and Facebook then!

          • meta says:

            I think they are so daft that they wouldn’t even think about looking there. 😂

        • Fran says:

          Absolutely – lucky you – Japan is an ace destination – ENJOY!!!

          • Mike says:

            …but, a bunch of stuff will be shut and you might have to quarantine on your return.

            On the other hand, you will have the cherry blossom all to yourself…

          • meta says:

            @Mike nothing will be shut. Businesses are actually trying to get tourists to come. Just read on a Japanese website that in Kyoto there is now a new marketing campaign about how empty Arashiyama is… I can’t wait.

            As for quarantine, this is ain’t happening unless FCO advice changes like I said. If it does, we can claim on insurance and cancel the whole thing.

          • Donny says:

            Not so sure about closure, at least Osaka USJ and Disneyland are closed.

          • meta says:

            @Donny Have no interest in going to those places! But understand that some people do.
            I’m talking here about small businesses and authentic experiences like going to a ryokan, onsen, tea ceremony, etc. These won’t be cancelled as they cater for very small or even private groups. But in any case, Japan has abundance of other things to see and do!

          • Lady London says:

            You may not get another chance to see Arashimaya when it’s not mobbed by vacationing Japanese and Chinese groups.

            Staying away from anyone old, with underlying disease especially heart or lung, or immunocompromised until this sorts itself out if you have been travelling in any area near cases, is a decent thing to do. Thinking you can get away with lying about where youve been and ignoring school requests or employer “suggestions” because somehow you’re special, is stupid and selfish.

        • Cat says:

          If you’re asked to quarantine when you get back, that could blow your cover!

          • meta says:

            @ Cat Well, my partner would be suing them if they tried to impose any kind of repercussions which I doubt. Holiday was booked 10 months ago. They did not want to pay for cancellation costs, so they can’t force us not to go if FCO advice is such that we can’t claim on insurance!

            In any case, now that I’ve seen at the circular email, I read it more as an advice rather than ban.

            But seriously, people are blowing this out of proportions!

    • Alex Sm says:

      My partner and I have a trip to Italy booked for late March and we are just waiting for Swiss to cancel our flights because if we blink and cancel now, we will get ZERO refund

  • Pareet Shah says:

    I totally agree with you that BA’s book with confidence is a joke and should be renamed ‘book with zero confidence’.

    There’s a conference in Singapore in May that I was 50/50 about attending. It may get cancelled due to coronavirus as many of the delegates were going to be from China and many others may decide against travel.
    In which case I’ll have flights that are totally useless and no scope for refund/insurance cover unless FCO advice is not to travel.

    • marcw says:

      Just don’t book anything. Book only when the event is confirmed.

      • Pareet Shah says:

        Yep… that’s probably what I’m going to do however taking time off at short notice is difficult and remaining seats may be really expensive (or I’ll have entire CW to myself)!

        • K says:

          I am not so sure. SIN airport is pretty much deserted. I have never a major airport so empty. Streets, shops are pretty quiet. Whilst life is normal for residents, tourists and business travellers are almost non existent. I think there will be good deals to encourage people to travel to SIN again.

          • Alex Sm says:

            We will come in the autumn for my big 4-0, rest assured!

        • manoj brahmbhatt says:

          Hi,
          I am assuming that this is for the ITI conference in May?I booked Qatar J before Christmas and am resigned to the fact that I will be cancelling the flight costing me £800 in fees. My wife isn’t keen for me to go and my employer has placed Singapore on the list of places that you need to self isolate (for two weeks on return), which is more hassle than it is worth. Annoying to say the least. I suspect the conference will be cancelled due to poor ticket uptake.

          LST

    • Mark says:

      Get better travel insurance then. Decent cover will apply if ‘your destination is experiencing a pandemic’ regardless of FCO advice.

    • Lady London says:

      It’s just copycatting AA and AS which announced pretty much the same thing.

      The only people who will gain out of all this are contrarians. I am sure Shoestring will agree with me.

  • paul says:

    I think your right Rob, pretty pathetic response and wont have me rushing to book. When you think of how BA got the world flying again in the past by giving away every seat on a single day for free and the best they can do now is this!. I don’t expect them to give away seats or match their illustrious history ( they have proved again and again they are not the same firm now) but to engender confidence then I for one need the power of the unconditional guarantee. Full refund, no quibble… nothing else will do

  • BlueHorizonuk says:

    Melia offer worked on me and I booked with them for this summer with their promise of no cancellation fee and indeed not even paying upfront for the room.

    • Sean says:

      Me too – just cancelled an existing points booking as price in the sale being refundable too good to refuse.

    • marcw says:

      Usually HOTEL bookings are paid AFTER the stay. While flights it’s upfront. Best policy would be, secure your flights now, you won’t pay anything until 7 days before departure. If your change your mind! Don’t worry, free changes! Want a refund? 50 GBP penalty! Happy flying!

      • BJ says:

        BA Holidays bookings are a good compromise to get some cheap flexibility. I will bd going ahead with existing travel plans unless there is FCO advice to the contrary. I will be making new bookings as required but being redemptions, not a big deal anyway.

        • meta says:

          I’m glad I booked most of the hotels in Japan as refundable rates or on points. In the past two weeks one hotel has gone down by £300 and I’ve saved 24k points at Hilton Tokyo by rebooking. I’m sure there will be more reductions.

          • Spursdebs says:

            I had booked and paid for a room at Conrad Tokyo on non refundable rate, when my cruise around Japan was cancelled I emailed hotel and asked for refund which they gave me. I actually came out £10 better off with exchange rates. Have a fab time in Japan.

  • Alex says:

    The poor way they treated people with China/HK bookings is coming back to bite them. IAG can’t see past the end of its arrogant nose.

    • Dr says:

      Yip, Ryanair have declared the virus will be gone by 8th April

      • Shoestring says:

        and the good news is: I booked a couple of Ryanair flights today to see her mum in hospital – and the prices were a helluva lot lower than a few days ago 🙂

    • Lady London says:

      As yesterday I will take a bet that flight cancellations so far are actually of those flights that anyway can be deleted without losing much money.

      The airline I feel for is Cathay Pacific which is a great airline. They don’t deserve all the factors that are hurting right now. I really really hope they can come through this and resolve the other issues including with Greater China.

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