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[Updated] British Airways reacts to the chaos at Heathrow with an improved flexible booking policy (temporarily)

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Update 22 July 2022: British Airway has extended the dates during which its improved flexible booking policy will be in effect (details below).

Following the decision by Heathrow Airport to attempt to limit the number of passengers that pass through its doors this summer, British Airways has temporarily updated its flexible booking policy to make it easier and cheaper for customers to change their plans.

What’s happening at Heathrow?

Put simply, Heathrow doesn’t have the staff to cope with the demands of the peak summer travel season, and the company that provides ground-handling staff also cannot cope with the demands of the peak summer travel season, and because neither can recruit more staff quickly enough to cover the shortfalls, all hell is breaking loose as people realize that the airlines have sold seats to more customers than the airport can handle.

What has Heathrow said?

Heathrow’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye, has written an open letter in which he says that his company can no longer offer the level of service it wanted to offer over the next few months and because of this, it is going to limit the number of passengers that can use Heathrow for the rest of the Summer season.

What is Heathrow proposing?

Heathrow has written to all the airlines and requested that they stop selling tickets for flights departing Heathrow through 11 September in an attempt to cap the number of daily passengers to 100,000.

The issue

The problem facing everyone now is that while Heathrow wants to cap passenger numbers to 100,000/day, the airlines that operate out of Heathrow have already sold more seats than that cap will allow.

Legally, there’s nothing in place to force the airlines to comply with Heathrow’s request but the airport has made it clear that it will force airlines to cancel flights if the requested reductions are not put in place.

The net result of all of this is that more and more passengers will now find that their plans have been changed/canceled/ruined.

Genuinely, the level of ineptitude, incompetence, and stupidity currently being displayed across the travel industry, staggers me. How some of the “leaders” in this industry still have jobs is a mystery that I’ll never understand.

The British Airways response

British Airways has its own issues and has already cancelled thousands of flights for this summer season as it too struggles to keep up with demand. Now and in response to the latest issue caused by Heathrow, the airline has updated its flexible booking policy.

Specifically, the policy now says that…

We would now like to advise that customers flying from London Heathrow beginning 26 July up to and including 07 August 2022 will receive a proactive communication outlining various rebooking options available should they wish to change their travel plans and to encourage them to contact their travel agent.

In light of this, this is what British Airways is telling the travel industry.

Customers travelling on a short-haul flight from Heathrow, including a connecting flight (Book Away Policy)

  • Customers who are travelling on a short-haul flight (UK or Europe) from Heathrow, and including customers with a long-haul to short-haul connection, e.g. JFK-LHR-CDG, between 26 July and 07 August 2022 inclusive, who wish to change their flights, can be rebooked onto another British Airways operated service free of charge, to any date within the next 12-months of the original date of travel, subject to availability.

Customers travelling on any British Airways operated flight from Heathrow (Heathrow Capacity Restrictions Trade Policy)

  • Customers whose bookings were ticketed after 08 June 2022, for travel completed by 30 September 2022, who no longer wish to travel, are eligible to retain the value of their ticket in the form of a voucher.
  • For any customer with a booking ticketed prior to 08 June 2022, for travel completed by 30 September 2022, please refer to our Book With Confidence policy.
  • If a customer’s flight is cancelled, they can request a full refund as per our standard customer guidelines.

These policy changes are already in place and customers visiting BA.com should see the following message at the top of their screens:

a close-up of black text

Customers can also find more details of this temporary policy change on this British Airways page.

Bottom line

Heathrow is a mess and the people who run it are now flailing around like one of those gas station/car wash ‘air dancers’ as they attempt to steady the ship (a phrase involving deckchairs and the Titanic comes to mind).

Sadly, all this embarrassing flailing around will have a real-world effect on travelers who have already suffered enough and in an attempt to make things marginally better, British Airways has now introduced a few limited-time improvements to its booking/cancellation policy.

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  1. The improvements are purely self-serving. BA wants to get a reduction in total passengers by having people volunteer to give up their travel. Instead of BA canceling more planes and annoying thousands. LHR is only seeking a 1,500 ticketed passenger reduction on 101,500 tickets already sold. So if BA doesn’t have to cancel and gets, say, a 5% reduction, which they hope will leave them capacity to sell higher-priced last minute tickets to folks such as biz travellers, it’s a win-win for them… and has them meet the ask for LHR

  2. Also my understanding is that these notices did not go to everyone. If I was BA, I would target the lowest cost ticketed passengers, those redeeming Avios etc. And also do it in waves e.g,, first do the 20% lowest cost ticketed passengers, then depending on success, the next 20% etc.

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