British Airways: Lies & Incompetence….This Airline Just Gets Worse

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It’s no secret that I really don’t like British Airways but, unfortunately, I spend a lot of time in the UK so I’m often forced to fly with an airline I seem to detest more and more with each experience I have with it. I’m lucky in that I know what to expect from BA, I know a little bit about booking flights and I know a little bit about what things cost so I’m in a reasonably good position to sense when the airline is doing what it does best – lie and screw up.

The thing that annoys me (and that’s currently making my blood boil) is that there are thousands of travelers out there who, through no fault of their own, are not as equipped as I am to deal with British Airways or equipped to recognise when the airline is flat-out lying to them…… and they’re almost certainly being taken advantage of on a very frequent basis.

I can’t do very much about this except to try to shine a spotlight on the kind of nonsense BA gets up to and hope that at least a few people learn from my experiences.

With that in mind, here’s an experience I’ve just had with British Airways which should give you a pretty good idea of what I mean.

a sign in an airport

Booking A London – Los Angeles Fare

I’ve been looking for a decent fare between London and LA so that Joanna, mini-Joanna and I can head back to California to have a bit of a break. The other day I found a fare which allows us to fly out to LA in Economy (yes, I do sometimes fly at the back of the plane) and back in Premium Economy at a not entirely unreasonable cost.

I went ahead and booked the trip online.

As luck would have it there was a lot of Club World (Business Class) award availability on the day we’re flying back so I decided to use Avios to upgrade us all from Premium Economy to Club World.

Although upgrading using Avios is something the BA website allows you to do it wasn’t playing ball with me – I kept getting an error message asking me to call in to BA:

a screenshot of a chat

I called my local number and, after a 7 minute hold (pretty good for BA), I was through to an agent on the other end of the line.

I gave the agent the booking reference, passed the security check and explained the situation.

The agent said that dealing with this wouldn’t be a problem and asked if he could put me on hold while he checked how many Avios we would need (I already knew) and if there was any change in the “taxes” we had to pay.

I noted the agent’s use of the word “taxes” but didn’t say anything – I let him go off and do whatever it was he was doing.

When the agent came back he confirmed that we would need 25,000 Avios each to upgrade (as I expected) and £225 in extra “taxes” – yes, he used that exact word.

Now I happen to know a little bit about how British Airways likes to muddy the water in the way it describes what it charges its customers, so I decided to challenge the agent on his choice of word.

My exact words to him were: “Are you sure those are taxes and not surcharges imposed by British Airways?”

His reply: “yes, those are taxes, there are no surcharges”.

Right….now here’s the issue – he was lying.

I happen to know what taxes are due when departing the US in Business Class because I’ve booked dozens of Business Class American Airlines award flights in my time.

American Airlines doesn’t charge any kind of carrier fees on its awards so, when you book an award flight, any cash element is purely the local taxes due…..

a screenshot of a facebook page

….and those happen to be $5.60. Nowhere near the £225 ($285) being quoted.

American even confirms that these are taxes during the booking process:

a screenshot of a screen

I pointed this out to the agent and asked him to explain exactly what “taxes” British Airways was collecting and which authority they were being paid to.

The agent said he didn’t “know exactly”… I asked him to check.

After a few minutes of being on hold he came back and said “of the £225 there is a £50 per person surcharge and there’s £75 in taxes that needs to be collected on the child’s ticket”


It turns out that £150 of the £225 he wanted to charge me were fees going directly to British Airways and have nothing to do with taxes whatsoever.

Someone not used to the way British Airways does business would, understandably, think that the charges being levied have nothing to do with the airline and are just something that every other airline out there charges – that’s not the case.

But things don’t end there.

I told the agent I needed time to think as I hadn’t expected any fees to be added to our fare and I hung up the phone.

I then started to think about the extra taxes the agent had wanted to collect on mini-Joanna’s ticket….and something didn’t feel right.

In the breakdown of our fare mini-Joanna clearly pays £75 less in taxes that Joanna or I…..

a screenshot of a computer screen …but why should she suddenly have to pay more taxes than Joanna and I when flying back in Business Class?

I wondered if the child tax break only applied to Economy and Premium Economy bookings. To check, I priced up the same flights only this time I put us in Business Class on the return:

a screenshot of a screen

The £75 child tax-break was still there… why did the British Airways agent want a further £75 if we upgraded mini-Joanna to Business Class on the return flight?

I decided to call back.

Unsurprisingly I got a completely different agent to whom I explained that I wanted to upgrade our inbound flight with Avios – I didn’t make any mention of my previous call.

This agent also used the word “taxes” to describe the British Airways surcharges but I was past caring about that at this point…I just wanted to hear what number he would come up with.

He slowly explained that there would be extras “taxes” of £50 to pay per passenger and as I waited for him to continue there was just silence.

After a second or two I realised there wasn’t going to be anything more forthcoming from the agent so I asked if the total extra fees would therefore be £150?

“Yes” came the reply.


So both agents managed to call British Airways surcharges “taxes” (which is underhand, deliberately deceptive and should be illegal) and the first agent even tried to charge me taxes we weren’t due to pay!

You would have thought that the incompetence and lies would stop at that point….but they don’t.

a silver emblem with two lions and a shield

Reserving Seats On Our Flights

In order to upgrade using Avios I had bought the tickets while logged in to my British Airways Executive Club account… that was the frequent flyer program associated with the booking. I have no status with BAEC and, as I wanted to select seats without having to pay extra for that privilege, I asked the agent to associate my American Airlines frequent flyer number with the booking…which he duly did. Sort of.

As soon as I was off the phone I logged in to and proceeded to try to select seats for the three of us…but something strange was going on.

All the exit row seats were showing as reserved (I forgot to take a screenshot of this but the seats were unavailable for selection).

That was strange because Expert Flyer clearly showed the cabin was empty and with all exit row seats available:

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I then tried to select seats in the Business Class cabin for the way back and kept getting an error message.

At this point I noticed that my BAEC number was still showing in the reservation so I headed on over to to use the trick which allows you to easily change the loyalty program associated with a British Airways booking.

Strangely, however, was showing my AAdvantage number already in the reservation.

Clearly something weird was going on so I called up British Airways for the third time (oh joy!)

I’m going to cut the story short here because I could go on for ages.

I explained to the agent the issue I was seeing and that I’d like him to manually select seats for me.

Here’s how that went down.

I was told:

  • I couldn’t book the exit row because we have a child in the reservation – I pointed out that mini-Joanna is over the age of 12, the age at which BA allows kids in exit rows.
  • I was then told that the exit row seats we wanted (the three seats between the window and aisle) were bassinet seats – I pointed out that (a) bassinets weren’t allowed in those seats and (b) if mini-Joanna was too young to be in an exit row what would an infant be doing there?
  • He then said I couldn’t book the exit row because the exit row seats were already reserved (if that were true you would have thought he would have mentioned that first) – I pointed out that ExpertFlyer showed me they weren’t – the agent reiterated that they were reserved and that he had the only live view of the cabin seating plan.

a close-up of a sign

I was pretty sure I knew what the issue was so I gave up with this agent and asked to be passed over to the Executive Club.

Once I had an Executive Club agent on the line I explained that I believed that our reservation still had my BAEC number associated with it somewhere and that this was stopping me from selecting seats (the same thing I had just told the previous agent).

I asked for all mentions of my BAEC number be removed from the reservation….which the agent did.

I logged out of my account…then logged back in again.

Surprise, surprise…there was my AAdvantage number in the reservation and there were the exit row seats (all 6 of them!) waiting to be selected:

a screenshot of a computer

No more issues at all.

To Sum Up

The experience:

  • Two BA agents tried to pass off British Airways fees as government taxes.
  • One British Airways agent tried to charge me taxes I wasn’t liable to pay
  • One British Airways agent was incapable of adding my AAdvantage number to our reservation correctly.
  • One British Airways agent:
    • Told me the exit row seats I wanted were booked when they weren’t
    • Told me that mini-Joanna was too young to sit in an exit row when she isn’t
    • Told me that the exit row seats by the windows were only for passengers with bassinets when they’re definitely not

I don’t know how much of this is incompetence and how much of it is plain old lying but I suspect it’s mostly the former….except for the issue of calling British Airways surcharges “taxes”.

British Airways has clearly taught and conditioned its agents to call the surcharges it charges passengers “taxes” to give the impression that it’s the government and not the airline imposing these fees.

Airlines have already been told that they have to list these charges as “carrier imposed fees/charges” on their websites…but apparently that doesn’t extend to what agents have to tell you when you call in.

The moral to this story is this: check everything you’re told by a British Airways agent and take nothing for granted. If something doesn’t seem right, ask them about it…. and if it still doesn’t feel right hang up and do some more research (you can even email me here at the blog if you think I can help).

There’s nothing wrong in checking the details and, as my experience today proved, sometimes you’re a lot better off if you do.


  1. How frustating! We are taking british airways to Europe in September. .. should I credit it to BAEC or somewhere else?

  2. I would suspect that you would be better off crediting your flights to American Airlines AAdvantage but, if you give me a little bit more information, I’ll be able give you better informed advice:

    What route are you flying?
    Are you flying in Economy, Business or First?
    Do you already have American Airlines miles?
    Do you already have Avios in an account?
    What do you mainly like to use your miles for – short haul or long haul awards?
    Which airlines do you fly with most regularly?

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