British Airways Baggage Refund & a Trip to Svalbard

Friday, 27 July 2018

I’m a firm believer on travelling only with carry ons, avoiding the hassles of checked baggage. A recent experience with British Airways underlines why that’s a good idea. No, they didn’t lose my baggage, but extracting a baggage money refund from them after a flight cancellation was a major operation.

▲ British Airways line up at Terminal 5, London Heathrow.

1. 13 April I booked flights from London to Oslo and back, Maureen and I were on our way to Svalbard, Norway’s north-of-the-Arctic-Circle island group. It cost ₤350 for the air fares (expensive!), ₤99.80 government taxes and ₤120 for checked baggage (₤30 for a bag each, each way) (all those Arctic boot, Gore-Tex, cold weather gear).
2. 20 April I broke my ankle, Svalbard trip cancelled
3. 17 May I cancel the flights, 24 May the British Airways flight goes without us.

I’ve lost the whole ₤350 for the air fare, it’s totally non-refundable. I do get the government taxes back except British Airways (despite banking ₤350) also takes ₤30 out as a refund charge so I only get ₤69.80, which arrives 4 days later. The ₤120 baggage charge is totally refundable.

4. Except it doesn’t arrive. I try cancelling it again online, nothing happens.
5. 25 June I phone British Airways, the usual put on hold, listen to music story. Eventually I get through to a human being and she agrees it should have been refunded, no idea why it hadn’t gone through, the refund would be processed immediately.
6. Except it doesn’t happen.
7. 17 July – now 2 months after I originally cancelled the flights – I phone BA again. Hold, music, wait as usual, once again I get through and once again she … agrees … no idea … process immediately.
8. This time it does arrive, 9 days later.

So what’s the answer – apart from not flying British Airways? If you need a refund then keep hassling them, if I hadn’t they clearly would never have bothered processing the refund. But if your ticketing doesn’t include free checked baggage then don’t pay for it until the last moment. Not at the airport, that’s going to cost you a lot more, but – and I’m quoting the BA website here – ‘You can pay online at any time before you check in.’

▲ Clearly I am not going to be allowed to forget missing that Svalbard trip. In England in the summer no respectable ‘country house’ is worth its National Trust listing if it doesn’t feature opera in the garden. Last Saturday night we were at a performance of Candide at West Green House, about an hour’s drive out of London. The backdrop to the stage was a series of vintage maps and what is that island, front-centre-top? Yes Svalbard!

I’m going to try again for the Svalbard trip in 2019 – I was going to be a guest lecturer on the Lindblad Expeditions voyage on the National Geographic Explorer. I’ve been rescheduled so you can join me 6-16 June.