I've been getting a lot of emails from people telling me of their difficulties during this Coronavirus crisis. A lot of them are from British nationals struggling to get back to this country. On Wednesday on my show I talked to Peter in Peru who was having great difficulties. I'm hoping he got back on a flight today. Earlier this evening I got this email from Ian Horrocks. I asked him if I could share it on here. Naturally, he is furious with BA and I have huge sympathy with him. I suspect all airlines are being deluged, but to apparently deliberately sell him a ticket which they must have known couldn't be used is qute appalling. If anyone from British Airways reads this and would like to make contact with Ian to make it right, feel free to get in touch.
The purpose of posting this is not to have a go at BA, it is to highlight the diffulties being encountered by hundreds of thousands of British people all over the world, who will be going through similar agonies.
Anyway, I'll now hand over to Ian...
I have just got back from Thailand, and wanted to detail some of my thoughts. My position was far less serious than many, but wanted to get it down, partly as a calming measure, but also to remind myself in the forthcoming battles to get some of the money back. Keep up your excellent work, and please, stay safe.
I am sure you are getting thousands of emails at the moment, but if you can find the time to read this, it hopefully sums up the plight of many, and details the appalling actions of British Airways. Here is my rant.
The following details the problems we had getting back to the UK. I will start by saying we are two of the lucky ones, with many hundreds of thousands of UK nationals stranded, and effectively abandoned by both the UK government and the airlines.
My wife and myself have just got back from Thailand. There are many thousands more UK nationals unable to get a flight out of the country, and effectively stranded.
Many months ago, we booked a holiday to Thailand, leaving on the 28th February, flying with British Airways, and due to return on the 31st March. At the time we left, although the coronavirus was an issue, there was no suggestion that it was going to get as bad as it has, or as quickly.
In mid-March we received an email from BA telling us that the flight was fine, which gave us some degree of reassurance.
Within a day or so, on the 16th March I checked to see if the flight was ok and was shocked to see that it had been cancelled, even though I had heard nothing from BA. I then went to their site and was surprised to see that changes could not be made online, and that you had to ring. It was impossible to get through to anyone. I then contacted them on Twitter as it was impossible via the website, only to be told that they would do nothing to help, and I had to contact the agent booked through. This was ridiculous. Like many others, I could not get through to the agent, and some people had the problem that the company they booked through had gone bust.
I thought the best thing to do was to try and book another flight and sort out any refund later. Unlike many, I was lucky enough to be able to do this.
I therefore mistakenly put my trust in BA again. There were no direct flights at all available from Bangkok to London, so they offered me a flight via Hong Kong. Not cheap, but under the circumstances, I had little option. I therefore booked a return from Bangkok to London via Hong Kong, leaving on Sunday, 29th March.
Shortly after, when looking online I discovered that the HK Government had already decided to close the airport to transit passengers, so BA had sold me a ticket that was impossible to use.
Back to the drawing board. I found a flight with Eva Air going from Bangkok to London also on the Sunday. I managed to get two tickets on this flight. The following morning, Wednesday, 25th, Taiwan, where the flight was originating was starting to cancel flights, so there was a good chance this would also be cancelled, and I was unwilling to take the chance.
That day, Thai Airways announced they were starting to suspend all flights with those going to Europe stopping on the 1st April. This added to everyone’s panic. Many who were travelling after that date were now scrambling to get flights. The Thai Government were also talking about restricting traffic and bringing in curfews. Hotels were starting to close, and many shops would only allow people in wearing masks, but these could not be bought anywhere.
Thinking there was a good chance that our Sunday flight would also be cancelled, I decided to try Thai Airways. There were no seats left at all in economy up until the time they were stopping all flights, and only six premium seats available. I was lucky enough to have a decent credit limit, although with the number of flights purchased, this was going down rapidly. I managed to get us two tickets for the flight in the early hours of Friday 27th.
We intended to leave on the afternoon of the 26th, so time for a final meal and drinks with friends.
An hour later, the Thai Government announced that as from midnight, no foreigners were going to be allowed into the country, without exception. The announcement also said that from midnight, further restrictions were being imposed throughout the country. I spoke to a local who I have known for some years who said this may include roadblocks, and restrictions on travel throughout the country, particularly for foreigners, who were being blamed for the significant increase in the number of cases over the preceding week. This confirmed my view that our flight for Sunday may not be leaving, and even if it was, would we be able to get to the airport.
As we were four hours outside Bangkok, we decided it best to leave immediately, so we checked out of the hotel, and made our way to Bangkok, where we stayed overnight at an airport hotel. Everyone we spoke to was worried, as the situation was continually changing, and people knew they could be stranded.
We met doctors and nurses who were unable to get back to the UK, where their services were drastically needed. Others from 18 years olds on their first trip abroad to an 80-year-old couple, one of whom was in a wheelchair, were all unable to get home. The sense of fear and frustration was palpable, with many thinking they may not see their families for many months, if ever.
I had been constantly reassuring my wife that if we could not get back, all would be fine, and we’d work things out, whilst deep down thinking the total opposite, and to be honest, starting to get scared. Many are putting on brave faces, to try and allay their fears, and those of their friends and family.
When our flight took off, you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. The relief was evident. It was definitely time for a drink.
I am not an angry person, or someone who gets stressed, but I do not recall feeling such anger in my life. The actions of some airlines is appalling, but the majority of my anger is directed at British Airways. They clearly do not have any consideration for their customers. They are happy to fly people out, but as soon as there is a problem that affects their profit, they simply abandon them. We were just two of many who this has happened to.
Some of their emails would be amusing if the situation was not so critical.
We were not informed by BA until the 25th March that our flight for the 31st had been cancelled. This pathetic email simply said we could rebook at a later date. The email regarding our flight via Hong Kong was even more laughable. The flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong was cancelled, but not the leg from Hong Kong to London. There was no joined up thinking.
Also, like many others we emailed the embassy in Bangkok. All we got back was an automated reply from London saying we should return to the UK as soon as possible. This provided no reassurance, help, or guidance at all.
I will repeat, we are two of the lucky ones, but there are many many others who I cannot begin to imagine what they are now going through. Will the insurance companies honour medical insurance, what do they do when hotels close, what happens when their money runs out? As time goes on, we will hear more horror stories of people effectively abandoned by airlines, and by the government.
I do not think it is an over exaggeration to say that the actions of British Airways and some other airlines is both irresponsible and immoral. I firmly believe that as a result of their action in abandoning people that many UK nationals will die, sometimes alone, in a strange country, having been unable to be near to family and loved ones.
If ever there was a time when decisions should not be based upon profit, this is it.British Airways, our so-called national carrier could have been flying out planes to a range of locations throughout the world, and flying people back home. Why have they not. Their profit for 2018 was just over £3 billion. Surely a small proportion of this could have gone to helping the people who made this for them.