British Airways, An English Tragedy Far Stranger (And Scarier) Than Fiction

Taken from the Daily Telegraph's picture galleries. Would have taken pictures if I wasn't out of my mind just then.

My dealings with British Airways, from start to finish, had all the trappings of the most sensational of Shakespearean tragedy. Emotionally-charged confrontations? Check. Dire circumstances? Check. Carelessly broken promises? Check. Epic, nail-biting quests across oceans in order to reclaim rightful property? Check, check, check. However, the scariest thing of all as that this tangled mess has its basis in cold, hard reality, something that should outrage anyone with the remotest sense of fair play.

It all started when I arrived in Heathrow to meet my family in London. I waited at the baggage carousel for a good 45 minutes, my anxiety growing by the second as I squinted over each suitcase, trying to identify my own. I’d already stopped two or three officials, asking them to check my baggage tag in vain. Each told me something different. “Wait and see, love”, “I don’t know if it’s here, miss. Check customer service”. Finally, fearing the worst, I reluctantly leave the carousel to do as he tells me, check customer service. The line is about two football fields long, swarming with angry energy and people loudly lamenting that they had connecting flights to catch, Lord knew if their baggage was already in Istanbul by this time. Sirens began to sound in my already spinning head. I call my mother for the billionth time to moan about the lines and all my stuff (my laptop with my resume was in the suitcase) and she wisely tells me to get out if I knew what was good for me. I up and leave on the Picadilly line from Terminal 5, just before darkness descends upon the thousands of unfortunates inside. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, here’s what I’m referring to. Yes, I was this close to being one of them. Heathrow Fiasco

Dressed in borrowed clothes the next day, I awake to the news that no flights are allowed in or out. Pitiful scenes, just like the one above, fill the screen. My dad and I take the Tube back to Terminal 5 to try our luck. After going through a somewhat drawn out screening, I was allowed to go into the baggage room and check every bag there. It was pandemonium, hundreds of suitcases haphazardly piled on top of the other with barely any rhyme or reason. A lady was floating around amidst the clutter, trying to categorize it with a vague sense of purpose. She too had no answers as to where the luggage from the BA flight from New York yesterday could possibly be. Perhaps they were still unloading from the aircraft? Who knew? It took 20 more frustrating minutes for me to realize that my suitcase was not among the baggage carcasses clogging up the arrival hall. I had to subdue my obsessive inclination to search all day and make a report.

We constantly examine the online baggage tracer for our remaining time in London, hoping that the whole affair would resolve itself before we left for Spain in a few days. It was third time lucky, as we finally get some news. Guess where my bag was? Not in Heathrow, not in JFK, in Dublin! As I’d been fool enough to be late for check-in (I fully admit my own culpability tinges the matter ever so slightly), they had to put my baggage on the next available flight to Heathrow. And as the airport had gone into hibernation, no flights could land. All because of a few inches of snow, that had actually stopped accumulating much after the first day! We heard that Heathrow was quite the laughingstock among the Scandinavians, who probably have to deal with blizzards and the like all the time. I hoped like hell that they were bloody ashamed.

To top it all of, next to none of the calls we made to them amounted to actual conversations. We were either blankwalled with a tinny answering machine or foisted onto a call centre in India, where they knew even less about my luggage’s fate than I did. By the time someone who sounded like he might actually be in London finally deemed us worthy of a few moments notice, my mother was done with pleasantries. Following a tense, angry exchange, we managed to gather that the flight from Dublin had indeed arrived, but there was no way of knowing (someone should take a shot for each time they say this) whether the baggage was on the plane. Given the endless piles of baggage already at the airport, they were obviously going to take ages to verify this for us. We knew by then that I was going to have to survive two weeks in Spain without any of my own clothing. We had to resign ourselves to giving them the address of my aunt, who lives in London, so they could send it to her should they ever actually find it. Then, the really bad part of my story begins.

The two weeks went by without any news from them. I was basically scouring stores for any scrap of clothing that appealed, toiletries and other bare necessities. Weirdly, it made me feel homeless. I pestered my mum every now and then for updates. She called my Aunt Carol, checked online, but to no avail. Towards the final lap of our journey, when I was beginning to think I was never going to see my stuff ever again, she suddenly came into my room and told me what the bastards had actually done to it. They found it, but apparently hadn’t bothered with reading our explicit instructions or with calling one of the many numbers we left for them. Instead, they quietly snuck it on a plane back to JFK and washed their hands off us, so they thought, for good.

When I got to JFK, I could hardly be blamed for rushing to Baggage Services as directed, glowing with the idea of actually possessing things once again. My elation died down when I arrived in their holding compartment and thoroughly searched it, only to find that my suitcase was still nowhere to be seen. I had to make yet another report, this time with JFK, who informed me that Heathrow hadn’t even bothered letting them know that it had arrived, as is standard protocol. I went to my hotel fuming, wondering where it could possibly have been if that was the only baggage service for BA there.

The next day, I called them multiple times again before someone answered. I asked if they’ve found it, and the woman on the other end threw me another shockbomb: they sent it to my apartment in Charlottesville, VA at 7am on the day I arrived! Yet again, they hadn’t cared to find out that I wasn’t going to be back till 7:16pm on the next day, which meant that it would have been outside for three full days by the time I got home. Now, I live right next to some dodgy railroad and a neighbor that we’ve suspected of dealing drugs for a while now. There was no end to the possible occurrences that have befallen it within that span of time. I had literally chased my bag across the Atlantic, only to run the risk of having it stolen right outside my front door. The very thought made me homicidal, sadistically so.

It was no thanks to British Airways or to the morons at Fedex who left it out there that my bag was miraculously untouched. Of course, I found some very noticeable damages to my property. My zipper is stuck in its combination lock and refuses to respond to the pin number. My laptop screen is cracked and indented like an eggshell:

 

As with every real tragedy, however, this has its own form of catharsis as well, its own little lesson of the day. From my experience, and those of the poor people sprawled on Heathrow’s floor under ratty foil blankets, realize one thing: British Airways does not give a shit. To them, the very idea of customer service is as alien a concept as an iPod would be to a caveman. In fact, I sometimes wonder if they are very much more developed than neanderthals, considering that they apparently thought my suitcase had as much material value as a cheap birthday card from Hallmark and assumed they could just slip it under the door or something. However, they are pretty dangerous idiots, if so. They don’t just screw up their reputation, they screw up your plans, your belongings and even your mental health. I can’t even begin to describe how stressed out I was at having no resume or clothes, how difficult it is to deal with suddenly having no possessions of your own. Let’s not even begin to speculate on the thousands stranded in the airport indefinitely. Worse still, they are completely apathetic to your plight and remorseless to the very end, never admitting to be at fault possibly even under torture (might still like to try that out someday though, =P). In short, don’t give them the time of the day, because trust me, they won’t give it to you. Oh, and er, arrive early for check in, yeah? *blushes*

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