Before the aviation industry entered its present difficulties, one of the worst events an airline could face was bad weather. There were two such events in the UK this year: Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis. I was booked on domestic flights during both of them. This review is for my (exhausting) experience during Storm Dennis when I was booked, re-booked, and delayed for over 24 hours with British Airways, from London Heathrow and London Gatwick to Glasgow International.
Ticket purchased with Avios
I travel between London and Glasgow a lot. I previously contrasted the experience of flying British Airways against traveling by Virgin Trains. I also reviewed my experience on a canceled easyJet flight from Glasgow to London Luton during Storm Ciara.
In this article, I review my attempt to fly from London Heathrow to Glasgow with British Airways in Club Europe (Business Class). The flight was meant to be on Sunday 16th February 2020, the day Storm Dennis hit the UK.
I had purchased my ticket for this flight, BA1492, the night before. It was an unexpected purchase. I was trying to see what I could buy with the Avios I accumulated as a British Airways American Express cardholder, and so I performed a few random ticket searches. That was when I discovered a fairly good deal for this peak-time Heathrow flight.
I only paid 12,000 Avios and a £0.50 admin charge for a Club Europe flight on the second day of the UK school holiday, the February half-term. The same ticket was selling for £386 in cash.
First flight canceled
My flight was due to depart London Heathrow at 17:45 on the Sunday. But by mid-day, I was already certain it would be canceled. The Airbus A320 assigned to our flight, registered as G-EUXF, was delayed coming back from its first rotation of the day in Amsterdam.
Storm Dennis winds had already started causing aborted landings and delayed take-off clearances early in the morning. These had major knock-on effects, leading to delays for the rest of the day. Taxiing times ballooned.
By the time our A320 was given clearance to leave for its second rotation of the day, to Brussels, it had already incurred a major delay. By the time I arrived at Heathrow and dropped off my luggage, my flight’s status had already changed from “delayed” to “canceled”.
I was re-booked onto flight BA1478, also in Club Europe, departing Heathrow for Glasgow three hours later, at 20:50.
British Airways Galleries North Lounge
Much to my surprise, Heathrow was in chaos. My passport ahead of entering security had to be checked manually and then stamped. The scanners were not working.
I proceeded to the Priority Security lane. Ironically, though not unusually, this was about twice as long as the regular queues on the other side of the hall.
I decided to spend my time in the British Airways Galleries North Lounge. I first had to spend 15 minutes in the queue, waiting to get in, because there were a lot of fairly desperate passengers trying to figure out what gate their flight was departing from. The British Airways lounge staff had this information, and all the display boards across Heathrow did not. There was a systems failure, so passengers could not see their flight status in the halls.
Second flight canceled
Three hours after I first arrived in the lounge, I was notified that the flight I was re-booked on was now canceled too. I had already been anticipating this in stress, having seen that our A319 aircraft was heavily delayed in departing from Inverness.
Things then rapidly deteriorated. Because of the Heathrow systems failure, there was a major issue with luggage. Had I not had a Club Europe ticket, I would not have checked in a suitcase. I would have been able to just walk out of Heathrow. But I had a suitcase, so I couldn’t – I first had to find out whether my luggage was still in Terminal 5, or in Glasgow.
Unhelpfully, British Airways provided only one way for me, and all the many other passengers stranded in Terminal 5, to find this out: we all had to queue in a line stretching out across multiple halls of Terminal 5 to get to a gate where staff were giving out information in person. There was only one gate. The queue was massive.
I didn’t fancy queuing for hours so I returned to the lounge. I spent another hour and a half there making my way through the complimentary offering. Thankfully, there was a lot of wine.
At 22:00, all of Terminal 5 was given a shock announcement: the Terminal was closing, and all British Airways staff would be leaving within minutes. All passengers were asked to leave all queues and just make their way down to passport control. Past passport control, the entire group of passengers who were still remaining at Terminal 5 would then be taken out to baggage halls.
Luckily for me, I did not waste hours in the queue that had just been shut at such short notice. But for those who had been queuing, only to find out that they would not be seen, this must have been incredibly frustrating.
The app was not working, presumably not just for me, so no one could sort out their issues themselves. We all had to queue. And yet British Airways did not provide sufficient staffing to see us all. Plus, passengers were only told minutes before Terminal 5 was shut that they would not be seen.
In the midst of this chaos I kept checking the app, and for a brief moment a single ticket popped up for a flight departing Gatwick for Glasgow the next day. Someone must have canceled their ticket because for many preceding hours all tickets to Glasgow had been sold out. I bought the ticket straight away because a British Airways member of staff told me this was my only way of getting to Glasgow in the next 24 hours. The airline had stopped re-booking people at 22:00. And the app was not working.
The entire hoard of Terminal 5 passengers made their way through passport control to get to the luggage area, where chaos continued. Bags were coming out in random order for all the flights that were canceled that day.
The British Airways customer service counter was shut exactly at closing time, despite there being dozens and dozens of desperate passengers in the queue, trying to find out where their luggage was. Three members of staff came out from behind the counter and continued handing out “lost luggage” forms to people. But there was no way of telling where your luggage was, or whether it was even lost. All we were told was that some bags will come out for pick-up that night. Additionally, some bags would remain at Heathrow but would not be brought out. Lastly, it was mentioned that some bags had already left for their destinations.
So I waited for almost two hours while the bags kept coming out, eager to find mine. But the suitcase never came, so I left, exhausted.
Overnight accommodation near Gatwick Airport
I arrived at Gatwick Airport by private transfer, which British Airways later refunded. I spent the night in Airbnb accommodation, which British Airways refunded too.
I arrived at Gatwick an hour ahead of the flight I re-booked myself on. I purchased an extra legroom seat for £13.
I was not third-time lucky. This flight too was delayed, for technical difficulties. My “extra legroom seat” was just a standard seat. British Airways had sold me an emergency exit row seat that was not an emergency exit row. There was no aircraft type change, so this was clearly an error on their part.
At Glasgow Airport I reported my luggage missing, and realized that British Airways had no idea my luggage was lost despite me filling out a claim with them the day before. My luggage was delivered from Heathrow to Glasgow Airport the next day, and finally to my accommodation the day after.
Refund and compensation
I filed several complaints, refund requests and expense claims with British Airways. This is what I received in return:
- An email apology for the WiFi in the lounge not working
- Full refund for hotel and breakfast costs, taxi fare from Heathrow to Gatwick, but nothing for all the other expenses I incurred while delayed overnight including essential food
- Full honor for the expense claim for toiletries and essentials I purchased as a result of my luggage being delayed, but no compensation for the perishable goods in the suitcase I had to throw away
- £13 refund for the “extra legroom” seat that was not extra legroom
- £0.50 refund for the canceled Club Europe flight
- 12,000 Avios refund for the canceled flight and £12 refund for the “fare difference” for the flight I purchased myself
- 5,000 Avios as an apology bonus
I was fairly annoyed that I was only refunded £12 for the £132 Economy ticket I purchased to get myself to Glasgow. I would have preferred a full refund for the £132 ticket and no refund for the Avios. I don’t see how the £12 refund compensates for the downgrade from Club Europe to Euro Traveller.
It is never easy for an airline to manage large scale disruption. British Airways was hit badly by the combination of bad weather and a Heathrow systems failure.
However, this does not excuse them for the lack of staff for such contingencies, nor the app not working. Add to this the extremely long waiting times on the phone (unlike Lufthansa), no advance cancellations in case of anticipated bad weather (unlike easyJet), and no willingness of almost all of their customer service staff to work a single minute longer than scheduled.
So, overall, this was not a very nice experience.