Another BA Upgrade I Didn’t Want……..This Time It Wasn’t Just Because The Product Is Terrible

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It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote about an unwanted operational upgrade I got from British Airways when traveling on their short-haul network within Europe. On that occasion I’d been upgraded from an exit row seat with adequate legroom to a Club Europe seat with the same amount of legroom as a regular Economy Class seat (i.e cramped!) On that occasion the only real issue was that, in my opinion, I’d been “upgraded” to a less comfortable seat than I had booked – this time things were decidedly worse.

Joanna and I flew out from London Heathrow on the day after British Airways’ IT system collapsed and the airline realised it had no real adequate backup plan. Things had been a real mess for passengers traveling on the Saturday and a little of that mess had spilled over into Sunday – some short-haul flights were being cancelled and some flight delays were occurring as BA attempted to reposition its aircraft and re-assign its crews.

I was reasonably confident that our flight to Larnaca (Cyprus) would be ok as the 767 that operates this route hadn’t left Heathrow the previous day. That meant that there was definitely an aircraft in position to fly us to the Mediterranean. Of course there was always a chance that BA would re-assign this aircraft to another route and leave us in the lurch…..but I didn’t expect that to happen. And it didn’t….at least not in any way I could have foreseen.

Joanna and I checked in at the First Class area at Heathrow T5 (a perk of having Emerald status with a OneWorld airline) and, rather than being issued with boarding  passes for the exit row I’d booked (row 27)…..

a screenshot of a video

….we were issued with two seats in the aircraft’s Club Europe cabin:

a screenshot of a plane

This wasn’t really good news as I already knew that I didn’t want the Club Europe seat (I’ll show why later) but the airline was clearly still in a bit of a mess from the previous day and the priority had to be to get as many passengers on the flight as possible – I wasn’t about to cause a fuss over an upgrade I didn’t want when I knew there would be passengers on our flight who had seen their flight cancelled the previous day. I was just happy we were going to be flying on the day we intended.

The time at this point was a little past 10:00am – that’s important for this story.

We used the new First Class security line at T5 (which helped us to avoid the lines elsewhere in the terminal) and proceeded through the new walkway that leads directly into the First Class lounge – no need to navigate the maze of shops in T5.

a hallway with signs on the wallA slightly blurry image of the new walkway at Heathrow T5 which leads directly into the First Class lounge

Once in the lounge I checked FlightRadar to see if there were any updates on our flight (at this point there were none) and then proceeded to use the “where is my plane right now?” feature to check where our 767 currently was.

I didn’t realise I’d need a screenshot of this so you’ll just have to take my word on the fact that the app showed that our aircraft had arrived at 9:39am.

I’m not sure if “arrived” refers to when the aircraft reached Heathrow (i.e it wasn’t physically at the airport until 9:39am) or if it simply means that’s when BA moved it to the appropriate gate from elsewhere at the airport. Still, regardless of which meaning is the correct one the important thing to note is that our aircraft was in place at 9:39am for a flight with a scheduled departure time of 11:45am. It was therefore also at the gate 21 minutes before we had checked in and been upgraded.

After a while spent in the lounge we realised that our flight was going to be delayed by an hour (scheduled departure time was now 12:45pm) so, by the time we came to board (around 12:15pm), the aircraft had been at the gate for over two and half hours.

As boarding was called the gate agents checked our boarding passes and passports (as usual) and waved us though to the aircraft – we were on our way…or so we thought.

When we got to the aircraft door we were met by the Cabin Services Director who, upon checking our boarding passes, asked if anyone had spoken to us about our seats. No one had.

He then rather sheepishly told us that the seat Joanna was booked into wasn’t working and that at the present time there wasn’t actually a seat for her on the aircraft. He also added that the ground staff had known about this “for quite some time”……which isn’t surprising considering the aircraft had been sitting at the gate for over two and a half hours!

The CSD wasn’t exaggerating about the seat either.

As I looked into the cabin to see if the issue was an obvious one this is the sight that greeted me:

a row of seats with a t-shirt on it

Joanna seat was the one with a “do not occupy” cover over it and, somehow, the seat ahead of it was missing its back altogether!

a seat on a seat

It looked like someone had physically ripped the seatback from its mounting….although, presumably, that’s not really what had actually happened.

So, at this point this was the state of play:

  • BA had checked Joanna in into an unusable seat after the aircraft had already been brought to the gate.
  • The aircraft had been at the gate for two and half hours (with a broken seat) and no one thought to page her to let her know of the issue.
  • The communication was so bad that the gate agents allowed her to board an aircraft on which she had no seat
  • The CSD could not say if she was going to be able to fly

We were not impressed!

Still, it’s never a great idea to get visibly angry in these situations (no point in annoying the only person who has the power to help you) so I calmly pointed out the irony of the upgrade to the CSD and suggested that the person in Joanna’s exit row seat (the one booked almost a year in advance) should be the one not to fly and not Joanna.

Yes, that could be considered a selfish point of view but frankly I didn’t care – we were flying out for 4 nights and I really didn’t want Joanna (or both of us) to lose one of those nights because BA can’t maintain its aircraft.

The CSD had an iPad out and could apparently see the whole progress of our booking and agreed that it seemed more than a little harsh to bump Joanna considering the circumstances…..but that didn’t really count for much at this point. The aircraft only had a set number of working seats and, at this point, the number of checked-in passengers outnumbered them.

15 minutes elapsed as Joanna and I waited in the galley area to find out what the outcome would be when, finally, the CSD reappeared with a new boarding pass for Joanna for seat 12F.


I have no idea if someone else got bumped to accommodate Joanna (there was a teenager in the jump seat just ahead of row 12 so that may have something to do with this) but I was just very, very grateful that the CSD had worked some magic.

I’ve already written about how pathetic BA’s communications were during the IT meltdown but I’m really not sure how the airline screwed this reservation up quite so badly.

It’s inconceivable that someone hadn’t noticed the completely destroyed seat in row 12 and the inoperable seat in row 13 in the time between the aircraft arriving at the gate and boarding being called… how on earth was Joanna (a) not informed and (b) allowed to board?!

The incompetence beggars belief.

Why I Didn’t Want Us Upgraded Anyway

In all honesty I would have taken just about any seat on the plane if it meant both Joanna and I could fly on our scheduled flight (naturally I would have given Joanna my confirmed and working seat in Club Europe) but it’s still worth mentioning why I didn’t want us upgraded in the first place.

Club Europe seating isn’t comfortable…..not even on a wide body aircraft like the 767.

Here are the two seats we were originally booked into:

a seat in an airplaneBritish Airways 767 Economy Class Row 27

And here is what a regular Club Europe seat pair looks like on the 767:

a seat with a bag of packages on it

See what I mean?

There is acres of room in the exit row while the Club Europe seats are cramped and are in no way a premium product.

I book most of my British Airways short-haul trips way in advance specifically to make sure I can pick exit row seats to maximise comfort….especially on flights of over 4 hours like this one. Getting “upgraded” out of these seats is never, ever, a good outcome for me – I don’t need free drink and food as I’ve usually eaten in the lounge and I usually have a rental car waiting for me at the other end. I just want a bit of space on the aircraft.

Bottom Line

In the grand scheme of things everything ended up ok (although there is another slightly dramatic story involving this flight that I’ll write about in due course) so there was no disaster here….but the incompetence on show was staggering.

I felt genuine pity for the CSD who had clearly done his bit to let the ground staff know of the situation on board only to have his colleagues let him down in spectacular fashion….and then left him to do all the explaining.

I was also incredibly thankful that he found Joanna a seat on the flight and that we weren’t seriously inconvenienced…..although the wait to see if Joanna would get a seat is something we could have done without.

People sometimes ask me if, perhaps, I bash British Airways a little too much and my answer is always the same – If I had the time I’d bash them even more.

This is an appallingly run airline with an ever-increasing lack of regard for their customers and their cabin crew – it’s only a matter of time before this is reflected in the company’s bottom line and then, perhaps, we’ll finally see senior management get its comeuppance.

There appears to be a relentless fixation with cost cutting at BA with little regard for the effect this is having on the product being sold to travelers.

The sooner Alex “low cost” Cruz and Wille “show me the f***ing money” Walsh are parted from BA/IAG the better…perhaps then BA will go back to being worthy of being the nation’s flag carrier.