The following is not legal advice. Please contact the author (email@example.com) or your own attorney should you have questions.
We grumble when we hear the announcement, “Calls may be recorded for quality assurance.” “Just get me to the agent already!” is our natural response. Then something inevitably goes wrong and we hope and pray that the conversation with the agent was indeed on the record.
Curiously, inevitably, indubitably, when we need that call pulled, it, like exculpatory evidence in an action thriller where a hero is falsely accused, mysteriously disappears.
Enter in my experience with British Airways.
The facts of this case are simple: I purchased two business class tickets to Nice from LAX with a return from Milan to LAX during British Airways’s Avios + AARP + Cash sale for $1600 + 60,000 Avios. Given the horrendous events in Nice and my previous experience visiting Sharm el-Sheikh after the Russian plane was bombed, I thought it best to cancel my flight and go somewhere else. When I inquired about cancelling I was told that I would receive a full refund for the cash within seven business days and the points back instantly minus $55/pax if I cancelled online or $110/pax if I cancelled over the phone.
Heeding the advice of the agent and the hypnotic message from BA’s hold music, I decided to visit BA.com and move forward with the cancellation. Unlike some hotels and airlines which present the warning: YOU WILL SURRENDER YOUR FIRST BORN CHILD SHOULD YOU CANCEL, British cryptically informs customers that the refund amount would be provided after (emphasis added) the cancellation is processed. Naively, and some may say foolishly, I clicked ‘cancel’.
After hitting refresh on BA’s website more times than I can recount in anticipation of my points refund, I called the airline to explain what happened and they said that I would only be receiving a refund for the taxes. The representative said that this was a cash ticket so I was not entitled to a refund beyond that. To clarify what I thought would be a correctable situation, I provided the exact time I placed the call to the agent who incorrectly advised me and the number I dialed. From there, I figured that they would pull the record and confirm that I was not making this up. Instead, I was shuffled around from one disinterested agent to another. “This is a customer service issue, let me transfer you.” “This is a ticketing issue, let me transfer you.”
Ultimately, I was told that they could not find the call so nothing could be done. This would be a total loss.
Outraged and justifiably enraged, I decided to file a suit in small claims court as there is no contractual opportunity to engage in consumer arbitration. Since my law firm is based in New York, I was within my rights to sue BA in Queens. Since two business class tickets cost at least $5000, I asked the court for this amount, the maximum that can be sought.
My Babu Bhatt legal argument is that I justifiably relied on another party and was injured as a result of this reliance. Legal theories notwithstanding, my argument was based on common sense reasoning; what kind of imbecile would give up points + cash + and a trip to South of France in exchange for nothing? What kind of company wouldn’t believe such a plausible explanation especially with audio proof?
The case is still pending though I anticipate that British will counter by arguing that this was a nonrefundable ticket and that I am responsible for understanding the terms and conditions. Furthermore, I expect them to say, as one cheeky agent did, calls ‘may’ be recorded for quality assurance.
This same song and dance is not unique to British. The consumer implores the agent to follow the choreography of reason by processing the claim step by step. Instead, his reluctant dance partner departs from the grace of the waltz, insisting on the chaos of salsa. Dizzy from being spun in circles, the consumer finds no resolution as he is transferred from one help[less] desk to another. Notes, documentation, recordings in support of the consumer all disappear as the agent engages in a freestyle routine. “We have no rec, rec, record.”The charade of service ends with an ode to Billy Idol as the consumer finds himself talking solely to himself, either because the phone was abruptly disconnected or because he has been on the phone for so long that the department has closed.
Unfortunately, cases like mine are for too common. Corporations hide behind their terms and conditions instead of acknowledging the errors of their employees. It’s far easier to blame the consumer and take the next call in the queue than to show empathy. It’s far more convenient to pass the call on to another department than deal with the problem. It’s far more profitable to reply with an automated response to a consumer inquiry than to provide human and humane service.
I do not know what will happen with my British claim but I do know that the next time I’m on the phone with a company whether it be Sprint, Comcast, Bank of America, and most certainly with British, I will began by saying, “My name is Alexander. This call will be recorded for my own assurances. How can you help me?”
|Alexander is a New York attorney and BoardingArea blogger at thepointsoflife.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org|