British Airways strike wrecks start of family's £2,500 holiday

After BA cancelled a London-Dallas departure, passengers were transferred to a flight with a tight connection

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 17 August 2017 09:09 BST

British Airways cabin crew working for the airline's Mixed Fleet operation at Heathrow have begun another two-week strike, which runs until Wednesday 30 August. The Unite union says its members are taking the action as part of the long running dispute over pay and the sanctioning of striking workers.

The stoppages have been near-continuous since 1 July, with the airline cancelling a number of long-haul flights each day. The airline says “All British Airways customers will be able to fly to their destinations despite further industrial action by Mixed Fleet Unite,” and is re-booking affected passengers on alternative BA flights or other airlines.

But for Paul Emmerton, his wife Tracey and their three-month-old son Theo, reaching their destination involved getting stranded overnight in Dallas through no fault of their own, and having to pay £200 for an airport hotel.

The family were travelling to Guadalajara in Mexico for a wedding. They had paid £2,500 for a flight from Heathrow to Dallas Fort-Worth airport (DFW) just before noon on Saturday 22 July aboard British Airways flight 193. They had booked bulkhead seats with a “sky-cot” for the baby, and had allowed three hours to reach their connecting flight on American Airlines.

But their planned flight was one of several grounded that day due to the strike by Mixed Fleet cabin crew .

They were told of the cancellation two days before departure. But instead of re-booking the family on an earlier flight, the airline switched them to a later departure on BA’s partner, American Airlines. It was scheduled to arrive 75 minutes later than the original transatlantic service, reducing the transfer time in Dallas to under two hours.

Mr Emmerton asked BA if they would still be able to clear immigration and customs before the onward flight. He said he was assured there was plenty of time for the connection.

He was also told that he would have to try to book a sky-cot at the airport on a first-come, first-served basis. To try to ensure they got one, the family arrived nearly five hours early at Heathrow — only to be told that the bulkhead seats where sky-cots can be located had already been sold. They endured a 10-hour flight with the baby on their laps.

By the time they arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth airport, it was clear their problems were multiplying.

The flight had left Heathrow late. It arrived in Dallas almost an hour behind schedule, only 48 minutes before the onward flight was due to depart. Any hope they had of making the connection evaporated when it became clear that Mr Emmerton was not listed on the flight manifest, though his wife was listed twice. He therefore had to go through “secondary” questioning by US border officials.

When the family were finally admitted into the US, they went straight to the American Airlines desk to organise replacement flights. But they were told they could not be re-booked as BA had not followed the correct reservations procedure. Mr Emmerton spent 25 minutes on hold waiting for the British Airways call centre to sort out the muddle. The family were re-booked on a flight the following morning.

He then asked for a hotel but said he was told by American Airlines staff: “No, we are not responsible — you missed the connection. It's down to you.”

The only available hotel room cost them £200.

They eventually arrived at their destination over 16 hours late, having lost a night of prepaid accommodation in Mexico.

BA said it will meet the extra costs the family incurred at Dallas-Fort Worth airport. A spokesperson said: “We pride ourselves on delivering a high standard of customer service, and we are very sorry that on this occasion we fell short of our customers' expectations.

“We have been in contact with our customer to apologise, and will be covering their out-of-pocket expenses.”

American Airlines said the flight was delayed because of poor weather at Heathrow; Mr Emmerton said that he was told the delay was "because it was still refuelling and awaiting some bags".

An American Airlines spokesperson said: Due to the weather delay, the family missed their connection to Guadalajara, Mexico, at 18:40. As this was the last flight of the day, at 18:55, our DFW team rebooked the family onto the next available flight to Guadalajara, which was the following morning.

"In the case of missed connections, our team members always work to minimise the disruption to our passengers, and get them to their final destination as soon as possible.”

The airline said the family were not entitled to compensation because the delay was caused by bad weather.

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