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Downgraded / denied boarding?

  • td235

    Hi all

    I’m getting a little bit lost trying to figure out whether I’m entitled to any compensation from BA and hope you guys can help! Bear with me on the length!

    We booked 2 x return business class flights with BA from Manchester to Cape Town, paid with Avios and a BA 2-4-1 voucher.

    We were unable to check in online (the website wouldn’t let us), and so checked in at Manchester airport. On checking the boarding passes, we noticed we only had seats allocated for the MAN – London flight, and nothing for the London – Cape Town flight. The BA check in staff confirmed we would have business class seats, but just that they would be allocated at the gate.

    So we flew from Man – Heathrow. We were then told at Heathrow we were to be downgraded to economy.

    We explained this wasn’t an option as I’d had spine surgery earlier this year and whilst I was fit to travel in general, I couldn’t physically sit 11+ hours solid in a chair. I needed to be able to adjust my position and lie down. (I hadn’t requested special assistance as I don’t need it, I just needed BA to deliver on what I had booked).

    This was also why we had explicitly asked the question at check in, and we’d also called BA several days in advance of the flight to confirm the tickets, and they’d confirmed we had business class seats allocated (they just couldn’t tell us which ones because the booking had been changed many times because of covid).

    After much deliberation and negotiation where the only real suggestion from BA was to give us a refund, they agreed to fly us to Johannesburg business class and then put us on a 2hr internal flight from JoBurg to Cape Town (economy).

    We arrived in Cape Town approx 2.5hrs after we were originally supposed to arrive.

    We also felt we then had no choice but to pay c. £220 to reserve seats for the flight home to try to prevent the same issue.

    My question is whether we can claim any compensation for what happened? And if so, how much? (Bearing in mind BA doesn’t fly JoBurg to Cape Town, so there isn’t a direct equivalent fare).

    They tried to downgrade us, we eventually agreed to rerouting, with a partial downgrade. We got to our destination 2.5hrs late.

    Thoughts and help appreciated.



    Although it seems BA has behaved badly and unusually even tried to downgrade you by two classes, I’m not sure you will get anything by way of statutory compensation. Although it won’t have felt like that, you made a voluntary rerouting decision rather than be downgraded which is understandable. You arrived inside the delay threshold for long haul (and even if more, as it was voluntary that doesn’t help). Any possible refund for the downgrade on the SA domestic sector would be negligible and was again voluntary vs the direct flight.

    If you complain to BA, they may give you some ex gratia Avios compensation, but I fear that’s about it. Any initial offer is likely to be fairly paltry, so you may need to press them. In your complaint, make sure it is very clear you are complaining for two people as they will try just 1 x.


    I would agree with @JDB re compensation but I’m dismayed as well that your downgrade was 2 cabins – business to economy. That’s a new level of shabby treatment of pax booking with avios/241.

    Be aware that even if you pay to reserve seats BA can downgrade you but hopefully you’ll have a better experience coming home.


    I’m not sure I agree entirely with @JDB

    I think you are entitled to compensation for being denied boarding for the LHR to CPT flight as follows:

    The following paragraphs of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 which has been adopted into UK law via the Brexit withdrawal agreement are relevant. It states that

    10) Passengers denied boarding against their will should be able either to cancel their flights, with reimbursement of
    their tickets, or to continue them under satisfactory conditions, and should be adequately cared for while
    awaiting a later flight.
    (20) Passengers should be fully informed of their rights in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long
    delay of flights, so that they can effectively exercise their rights.


    Article 1 (j) ‘denied boarding’ means a refusal to carry passengers on a flight, although they have presented themselves for boarding under the conditions laid down in Article 3(2), except where there are reasonable grounds to deny them boarding, such as reasons of health, safety or security, or inadequate travel documentation

    So I believe you were denied boarding at LHR for your CPT flight. You should have been entitled to a duty of care and should have been fully informed of your rights. I guess BA will state that you were informed as they eventually rerouted you via JNB however per Article 4 BA should have called for volunteers first before denying you boarding. I would ask for evidence that this happened.

    Article 4
    Denied boarding
    1. When an operating air carrier reasonably expects to deny boarding on a flight, it shall first call for volunteers to
    surrender their reservations in exchange for benefits under conditions to be agreed between the passenger concerned and the operating air carrier. Volunteers shall be assisted in accordance with Article 8, such assistance being additional to the benefits mentioned in this paragraph.
    2. If an insufficient number of volunteers comes forward to allow the remaining passengers with reservations to board the flight, the operating air carrier may then deny boarding to passengers against their will.
    3. If boarding is denied to passengers against their will, the operating air carrier shall immediately compensate them in accordance with Article 7 and assist them in accordance with Articles 8 and 9.

    I think therefore that you are entitled to compensation per Article 7 based on being denied boarding at LHR for the CPT flight. I think it should be 50% of EUR600 per passenger per the following:

    Article 7
    Right to compensation
    1. Where reference is made to this Article, passengers shall receive compensation amounting to:
    (a) EUR 250 for all flights of 1 500 kilometres or less;
    (b) EUR 400 for all intra-Community flights of more than 1 500 kilometres, and for all other flights between 1 500
    and 3 500 kilometres;
    (c) EUR 600 for all flights not falling under (a) or (b).

    In determining the distance, the basis shall be the last destination at which the denial of boarding or cancellation will delay the passenger’s arrival after the scheduled time.

    2. When passengers are offered re-routing to their final destination on an alternative flight pursuant to Article 8, the
    arrival time of which does not exceed the scheduled arrival time of the flight originally booked
    (a) by two hours, in respect of all flights of 1 500 kilometres or less; or
    (b) by three hours, in respect of all intra-Community flights of more than 1 500 kilometres and for all other flights
    between 1 500 and 3 500 kilometres; or
    (c) by four hours, in respect of all flights not falling under (a)or (b),
    the operating air carrier may reduce the compensation provided for in paragraph 1 by 50 %.

    Also where at LHR were you when you were denied boarding? Did BA display at any point the following message per:
    Article 14
    Obligation to inform passengers of their rights
    1. The operating air carrier shall ensure that at check-in a clearly legible notice containing the following text is displayed in a manner clearly visible to passengers: ‘If you are denied boarding or if your flight is cancelled or delayed for at least two hours, ask at the check-in counter or boarding gate for the text stating your rights, particularly with regard to compensation and assistance’.

    Furthermore, per Article 10 I believe you should be entitled to a partial refund for the JNB-CPT sector. I would claim proportionately for the difference in distance between LHR-CPT and LHR-JNB. Or just ask for at least 10k Avios per passenger
    Article 10
    Upgrading and downgrading
    1. If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class higher than that for which the ticket was purchased, it may not request any supplementary payment.
    2. If an operating air carrier places a passenger in a class lower than that for which the ticket was purchased, it shall
    within seven days, by the means provided for in Article 7(3), reimburse
    (a) 30 % of the price of the ticket for all flights of 1 500 kilometres or less, or
    (b) 50 % of the price of the ticket for all intra-Community flights of more than 1 500 kilometres, except flights
    between the European territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments, and for all other flights
    between 1 500 and 3 500 kilometres, or
    (c) 75 % of the price of the ticket for all flights not falling under (a) or (b), including flights between the European
    territory of the Member States and the French overseas departments.


    I don’t think denied boarding applies here – OP was offered economy seats on the original flights which I suspect fulfills BA’s legal obligations. Whether there’s an element of disability discrimination is another matter but I’m not sure how easy that would be to prove unless OP is registered disabled.


    As @NorthernLass says, the denied boarding regs don’t apply as a downgrade does not count as denied boarding and has a separate compensation scheme but in this instance, while it seems very unfair, the pax chose a voluntary reroute (that BA had no obligation to provide) which was probably the best/least bad solution in the circumstances but doesn’t entitle them to UK261 compensation.


    Downgrade compensation is woefully inadequate in EC261. A business class fare can quite frequently, if not generally, cost more than 4x an economy fare. So receiving 75% back is not compensation as it could leave you worse off than if you’d just booked economy in the first place. Sure this is different for the price of Avios bookings but the whole point of Avios is receiving something of outsized value.

    I had a similar situation a long time ago on a misconnect where nobody told us we’d been given economy tickets as we ran for the second flight of the day to Singapore. The misconnect was part weather and part BA not being able to find any steps at Heathrow to get us off the plane from Edinburgh. I decided not to get on the flight to Singapore (lower back issues). Mrs Froggee showed solidarity. We ended up being split up for the next day’s flight. They rebooked me in SQ J whereas Mrs Froggee had a choice of J via Tokyo (which she did not fancy) or economy with SQ on a later flight to me. I was Gold, Mrs Froggee would have been silver hence me getting the last J seat available I guess. Separate PNRs as work flights.

    I offered to swap so she could have the direct flight (I was willing to go via Tokyo!) but computer said no as the agent couldn’t transfer my flight to her – it would have been released into the wild to get taken by whoever was on the waitlist.

    It was a rubbish experience. I complained to BA who replied with a generic “sorry, not sorry” and I gave up. I’d had misconnects with Air France and KLM in the prior few years which were even worse so just took it as part of the joy of international travel. Still not as bad as the time it took me 48 hours to go from my flat back to my flat with a night at Heathrow following a misconnect and then a night on a flight that turned round and came back after five hours.

    BA did refund a portion of Mrs Froggee’s fare which went to her employer. Sometimes life just sucks.

    Sad face.


    BA also know that they are only going to be on the hook for 75% avios and some surcharges for these downgrades (if the passengers even know they can claim these), which will be far outweighed by the profits of aggressively overselling expensive J and PE seats right up to the last moment. It will be interesting to see if this becomes more common post-pandemic.

    Lady London

    It’s a shame passenger does, apparently, not have the right to refuse a downgrade and have it automatically qualify as a cancellation.

    It’s clear BA overbooked Business Class. As a result the passenger’s seat was cancelled. I don’t think airlines should be able to force someone to travel on a flight if they would have to accept a downgrade in order to do so. Precisely because of this type of reason a passenger might have booked in Business.

    And @Froggee has told us why this passenger would be far more likely to be picked on by BA if they were on avios 241. So almost zero cost to BA, to force them into a downgrade.

    Win-win for BA as they aren’t called out for cancelling the person’s seat. That’s precisely what BA did. But so long as there’s 1 seat next to the toilet in Economy, BA doesn’t have to pay costs of rerouting, doesn’t have to pay duty of care while they wait for a flight that can transport them in thecconditions to those they booked, and BA avoids the risk of having to pay compensation as well.

    I am wondering if BA’s reservations system actually counts an avios seat someone has booked in Business, as sold. Why should they? They can leave that sold avios seat up for sale, and if no one books it then the person who paid avios for it gets to keep it, never knowing how much at risk they were. But if the flight gets busy in Business then that seat that was paid for with avios is a phantom booking which disappears as soon as there are no more seats available in the cabin and someone comes along to book for cash. As the cost of avios is never going to be as much as the cash cost of a seat in Business then if there’s a seat in a lower class the avios booking will be downgraded. With the downgraded person still being forced to fly,as they have no rerouting right and no refund right if they refuse to fly in the downgraded class. If you were BA, wouldn’t you run your airline the same way?

    We need a test case where someone challenges this state of affairs as BA would be nuts not to exploit this.

    How to prevent this? The one thing you didn’t do is declare yourself as disabled to BA at all stages and have them note this on the booking as soon as you made it. The airline is not allowed to ask the specific nature of your disability but I would mention to them that your disability means a flat bed is required on the aircraft and hence you have booked Business. Legally they are supposed to considet disability and cam mess you around with less impunity.

    Our expert on this was @Chris???? – @NorthernLass will know – If you can search pre-Forum on HfP, going back a way now, you might find sone of his posts. The protections extend to your travel companion as well eg it’s harder for them to separate you as they are needed to assist you.

    I’d have been b*ggered before I’d have paid BA anything for a seat reservation on the way back. As BA disregards those when it suits them too. But I would have made b1oody sure they noted on the PNR that I had a disability requiribg the flat bed booked in Business for the return leg.


    I believe @JDB called this correctly. OP was
    not denied boarding either but a double downgrade seems so weird. I can see why @Anna thinks it’s aggressive overselling that would give rise to such but to me it would seem more trouble than it’s worth to massively outsell it’s own projections of no-shows. I think something else went wrong here, IT errors, reaccommodating for their own or other airlines perhaps, or something else.


    Thanks all, the mixed opinions on here match what I’ve seen online.

    Think I’ll give a complaint a go and throw it all in the mix. We were told on check in that we definitely had business class seats, and it was only in Heathrow when we needed to pass through electronic gates to transit to the connecting flight area that it flagged a problem and we had to go to customer services where this all kicked off. This was at c. 5:30pm, and the Cape Town flight was due to depart after 10pm. As such there was no way that they’d asked for volunteers at the airport as it was far too early.

    We only got given the paperwork with our legal rights after we had accepted re-routing. Re-routing was our suggestion. BA’s suggestion was to go economy or get a refund, or wait until the flight the following day and see whether seats became available, although at that point in time they didn’t have 2 business class seats available and it therefore seemed unlikely that that option would work.

    The disability angle leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but might be worth further thought. I could probably get a letter from my surgeon – but I really dislike the idea of having to present a business case to BA to get the product I paid for!

    Edit: this was all booked pre-covid, whilst the spine surgery only took place this year (and is (hopefully) a temporary issue). Therefore it’s a happy accident that I’d sorted out business class for the journey originally in 2019 as a treat for myself, when it actually became essential in 2022. Interestingly though, that does mean it wasn’t possible for me to identify as disabled at the time of making and deferring the bookings.

    Lady London

    They lied to you. I’m pretty sure the BA staff in Manchester could see what would happen in London.

    Lady London

    You can declare yourself disabled as and when. Just phone the reservations number and ask them to note it on the PNR. You won’t be asked to provide evidence as they are not supposed to ask you for details Obvs mention if it means you need flat bed, aisle seat, close to loo etc Keep a record of the date and time of the conversation, and who you spoke to


    @Lady London, I am not sure if things hace chanfed in recent years as I no longer pay attention, or if BA does things different, but I’ve never got the impression that passengers are forced into involuntary downgrades, at least not initially. In severe cases of overbooking, I’ve heard airlines calling (or offering at check-in) for volunteers to accept cancellations, reroutes or delays, all with incentives to accept. If this remsins common then the downgrade is hardly forced. In my student days I intentionally ecploited such on my USA traveks with anerican carriers. In more recent (20) years it has happened to me twice. Once with BA when I got cost of flight refunded as a voucher for taking a later departure, and once with zginnair where I got cash and a couple of duty free vouchers. I was always happy enough. A different story for my partner who was compelled to downgrade from AF PY to KL Y to BKK following AF industrial action and subsequently took 9 months to get every penny due to him plus a miserly amount more as goodwill.


    I stand corrected. I agree with Lady London that the check in staff at MAN must have known what would happen in London so rather than deal with the issue they just issued you boarding passes to LHR and got rid of you.

    The fact that it was an Avios ticket on a 2-4-1 voucher adds to the poor behaviour by BA.

    I still think however that BA in downgrading is effectively denying boarding for the seat in the cabin you booked. They realise that they can avoid compensation by involuntarily downgrading instead – they could upgrade but that hardly ever happens especially if you don’t have status.

    I also think that involuntary downgrading is against BA’s own General Conditions of Carriage, in particular clause 3c7): “We will accept each flight coupon in your ticket for transportation in the class of service on the date and flight for which you have a reservation unless you fail to meet the check-in and boarding requirements in clause 6 or we have to deny you boarding because of overbooking or we exercise our right to refuse to carry you under clause 5d3 or 7.”

    Effectively the only valid reason for not travelling in the cabin as booked is when BA itself denies you boarding because of overbooking. Therefore I think in downgrading you are automatically denied boarding per BA’s own Conditions of Carriage


    @td235, check flightradar to see if there was anything out of the ordinary with the aircraft you flew. Some BA aircraft have muvh fewer business seats than others. If you ended up on one of these and it is not the norm on your route then X passengers including you were not being provided what they were sold. It will
    provide a little extra to your complaint but sadly not much as all carriers reserve the right to swap equipment but it’s still something.


    @td235 please think seriously about phoning BA to explain your situation and need for them to provide the flat bed you have paid for on your flight home. I don’t know if this will be your new normal going forward but it is obviously important at the moment while you are still recovering from your surgery. Sometimes you really have to advocate for yourself and `it sounds as if you can’t really afford to run the risk of BA trying to downgrade you again. As Lady London says, you do not need to provide proof from your doctor, although it probably wouldn’t hurt to carry it.

    I still feel a real degree of loyalty to both BA and Qantas after a situation years ago where I broke one ankle badly and also the other foot on my way to the airport in Bangkok en route back from Australia to Europe. After my emergency hospital doctor visits Qantas phone representatives put me on a flight to London two days later and noted that I was travelling with both legs in plaster from the knee down and needed three economy seats for the journey to London. I had to fight for this with the check-in staff at BKK but they eventually backed down when I told them I would simply wait in a wheelchair at the airport for as many days as it took for the first BA or QF flight with an available row of three economy seats. The first flight that evening was the BA flight and the cabin crew were brilliant. It seems ridiculous now but it took several months before I no longer wheelchair assistance at the airport.

    I think things really have changed and you are probably giving BA just a little too much benefit of the doubt in this case

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