Travel Comment

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BA ... it stands for more than British Airways

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If you're flying to Europe via London-Heathrow airport, here's a word of warning: try to avoid British Airways.

It has a smart new check-in system which means passengers coming in from New Zealand are always going to be at a back of the queue.

My wife and I discovered this when we went to check in at Heathrow for the final leg of our journey from Auckland to Rome.

At BA's vast new Terminal 5, this is done via electronic terminals - easy enough until the machine told us we could not be allocated a seat and should report to a flight management counter.

There a young woman from BA explained that all the seats on the flight had been allocated to other passengers, so we would have to report back in a couple of hours to see if there had been any no-shows.

Eh? But we had booked weeks ago, even paying extra because, being the last flight of the day from London to Rome, this flight was in demand. How could we end up without seats?

With weary patience, she said that BA, like most other airlines, always over-booked by about 10 per cent to avoid flying with empty seats when customers failed to turn up.

If we wanted to be sure of a seat, we should have checked in online, 24 hours before the flight, like everyone else.

Good idea, except that it was the first we'd heard about it and, anyway, we had been in the air for the past 24 hours.

Oh, said the young woman, in that case it wasn't our fault, but we'd still have to come back in a couple of hours to see if there were any spare seats.

At the appointed time, we joined a dozen other angry customers, four of them going to weddings, one the putative best man, all wanting answers.

What was going to happen if we didn't get seats? Who would pay for overnight accommodation? Would we be able to get on the first flight in the morning?

The response was not encouraging. Maybe, said BA, our travel insurance would meet any costs. The early flights to Rome were busy. Better to wait and see. In the end, we did get seats. But the best man didn't.

Adding insult to injury, the flight was an hour late and the delay was worsened by BA's policy of allowing free-for-all boarding which created chaos.

We chose to fly BA because Alitalia was being racked by strikes over privatisation plans. But in hindsight, I think I'd prefer Italian volatility over British arrogance.

- Jim Eagles

- NZ Herald

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