Back in October, a reader wrote me to ask for advice: She had booked extremely cheap tickets to India on British Airways. The airline then canceled her tickets because the low fares were actually a mistake. At the time, British Airways offered affected passengers a refund and $300 credit—a pretty paltry attempt at compensation when one considers the cost of flying to India.
But the Department of Transportation (DOT), which has been on a sort of consumer crusade of late, wasn't having it. And now British Airways is going to pay up. Here's what the airline says on its website:
"British Airways is prepared to reimburse you for penalties imposed by an airline or ground service provider as a result of your cancellation of air or ground arrangements in reliance on your cancelled British Airways booking. British Airways will also reimburse those passengers who necessarily incurred added air fare costs in restoring a pre-existing booking or reservation from the United States to India if that booking or reservation was abandoned as a result of making the cancelled booking on British Airways. Further, if you have incurred any other out-of-pocket expense, British Airways Customer Relations will make appropriate reimbursement to you in circumstances where the losses were caused by reasonable reliance on a British Airways flight booked between the U.S. and India on October 2, 2009 and its subsequent cancellation. British Airways will also assist you in properly documenting your claim so that it can be processed in short order."
Sounds great, right? But what this doesn't make clear is whether or not customers who booked alternative travel at a higher fare with another carrier (such as our reader above) can get the fare difference refunded. The language above only includes flights that were booked, cancelled so the traveler could snag BA's cheap fare, and then rebooked when the cheap fare was nixed. I've contacted British Airways to get this clarified and will post any response I get.
British Airways has also extended its $300 credit toward rebooking. This is the same offer the airline made when the fares were cancelled. Customers must book by December 3 and travel by September 30, 2010.
That said, Kudos to the DOT for exerting pressure on British Airways, and fair play to British Airways for fully addressing the inconvenience and costs incurred by its customers. This was, after all, British Airways' mistake, and in my opinion the carrier should have done more at the onset than it did. Quite frankly, I still don't understand why British Airways cancelled the flights at all. The struggling airline was probably too concerned about the lost revenue, but it could have avoided all the angry customers and bad press it has endured since by simply letting its customers keep their tickets.
And in the end, British Airways will pay up anyway. Think the airline would like a do-over on this one?