The story so far…
British Airways buggered up their flight from London to Beijing by overbooking it, downgraded my ticket, promised to refund the difference in fare (they have not yet) and gave me £75 compensation in the form of a BA Visa card which they are trying to foist on people.
However, most cash machines only dispense £10 and £20 notes, not £5. So British Airways, in attempting a bit of good PR have created bad PR for themselves by giving alleged compensation in a form where they accidentally but actually screw people for £5. Now read on…
As a Scot brought up among Jews, £5 is £5. I would have been happy with £70 compensation, which I could have accessed. But I am pissed-off if they are allegedly giving me £5 which cannot be accessed.
So, yesterday, having had no response to a message I sent to their Customer Relations Dept via the BA website ten days before, I blogged about it and their Twitter team @British_Airways sent me a message:
Hi John, sorry to read of your disappointing flight. Here is a link to our compensation card info.
All very jolly. Except it just says you get your money by using an ATM. That will be the ATMs which cannot dispense £75 then… Their next attempt was:
You can use the card at a retailer for the residual balance.
Sure enough, if you plough through their Compensation Card Info, you can indeed, use your card to pay at selected retailers displaying a Visa Electron sign. Even if you find a retailer visibly displaying this sign, it involves a terrible rigmarole of using another plastic card in addition to using the BA plastic card but making sure you use the BA one first.
At this point yesterday, I was just interested to see what hoops individuals at BA would contort themselves through in order not to sort out the problem and give me my £5.
What retailer? I replied. Why should I? What if I just want the money?
I got no reply to this, but my Facebook friend comedian Sameena Zehra told me:
BA have been crap for years. What really irritates me is the ‘One World’ concept, so that you can buy a Quantas flight (as I did when I went to Adelaide in March) but find out that one of the flights is operated by British Airways. and then they have different luggage allowances, check in procedures and their attitude is ‘Tough shit – you should have booked a different flight’. Arse.
My Facebook friend Aileen Kane told me: “Cash machines in Scotland give out fivers now! Worth checking…” but it seemed a long way to go from London to get my extra £5.
Pursued further, BA’s Twitter twits then tweeted:
Sorry you’re having difficulty withdrawing your cash, John. Please call Customer Relations on 0844 493 0787.
I decided to see how much worse they could bugger up their customer PR. So I called.
“You can get £5 notes through-the-wall from Barclays Bank and Lloyds Bank,” I was told.
“I have tried that,” I replied. “Their machines don’t dispense £5 notes.”
“Yes they do,” I was told.
“Righto,” I replied.
So, with the same sense of adventure that built the British Empire, I went down to my high street.
I tried (again) Barclays, Lloyds, NatWest, HSBC, Halifax, Santander and Nationwide. None of their machines dispensed £5 notes. I even, humorously, went in to the Lloyds and Barclays branches and told them British Airways said their machines dispense £5 notes. “No they don’t,” replied one bank…. “British Airways are idiots,” replied the other bank.
I had to agree.
At home, there was an e-mail waiting from comedian Ian Fox saying: “I just got 2 fivers out of a Tesco cash machine.”
Unfortunately, this was in Manchester.
There was a second e-mail from Ian. It said: “You know I did think right after tweeting that That’s probably not going to help. I think I was right.”
But life is cheaper in Glasgow. I understand you can get someone killed for £5. If I could get my extra £5, I would put out a contract for a hit on the entire PR Dept at British Airways. Though it might cost £10 in Glasgow.
But Tesco may be the furrow to plough. Sadly, this morning, I am currently far from a Tesco. (Who would have thought such a thing was possible?)
Last night, comedian Martin Soan suggested Tesco probably do issue £5 notes because they would not want to lose the custom of someone wanting to buy £3.99 of lager.
“Why wouldn’t they just use their card?” his wife Vivienne asked.
“I know the mentality of someone wanting to buy £3.99 of lager,” said Martin.
And he told me his own British Airways story.
“My brother was out in Greece” he said, “and I’d never been out of the country before. I was only 18 or 19. My girlfriend encouraged me to go out there with her. But she made it abundantly clear – after seeing my excessive behaviour in the genre of drug-taking – that I must not take any drugs with me on the flight.
“Of course, I completely ignored her and took about five tabs of ‘Orange Sunshine’, which was the best acid you could buy at the time – about twice the strength of other types of LSD. It was infamously very powerful acid indeed.
“I was working as a Punch & Judy man at the time, calling myself The Greatest Show on Legs. Being a Punch & Judy man, I could accommodate – embarrassing though it is to say – a large mass at the back of my throat.”
(Background info: The swazzle which creates the voice of Mr Punch is two bits of silver held together by a piece of cotton thread. It is put in the back of the performer’s throat. When he wants to speak as Mr Punch, he presses the base of his tongue against the swazzle and directs all the air from his windpipe through the swazzle.)
“So,” Martin told me, “I had this ability to hold and manipulate things at the back of my mouth, top of my throat. The night before the flight, I chewed-up a load of chewing gum and lay the five tabs of acid in the resulting tiny ‘pudding’ of chewing gum. I waited for it to go hard, then shaved it down with a Stanley knife, making it into a small saucer shape – roughly swazzle size. If any Customs man caused problems, I could swallow it.
“In the morning, I had the thing in the back of my throat, leaving the country for the first time, going off to Greece which had very draconian laws against drugs. I was nervous.
“In the departure lounge, I took it out and had a drink, then put it back in my mouth. We get on the British Airways plane. A little later, the pilot announces we’re flying over Paris at so-many-thousand feet. I am nervous. I absent-mindedly think What’s that in my mouth? and feel this bit of what feels like plastic in my mouth. What’s that? I think. I put it between my teeth and pull. I see this vaguely orange saliva-ey thing on the end of forefinger and thumb and think Oh fuck! and then swallow the whole lot – five tabs of Orange Sunshine acid – out of shock.
“I spent the next hour ordering whisky from the flight attendant and trying to ‘come down’ but events started overtaking me and I had some very interesting conversations with my girlfriend who was sitting next to me.
“You promised you wouldn’t take drugs, she said. Everything’s OK, I told her. Why are you drinking so much whisky? she asked. I thought Why do I have to be stuck in a Social Security office with 150 of the ugliest and weirdest people I have ever seen in my life? Things like that. Then Oh! I know why! Because I’m not in a Social Security office; I’ve taken some acid and I’m on a plane.
“I remember the British Airways stewardess struggling to understand this man behaving rather strangely It was about 1971.
“At one point I thought I’ve just got to say something to appear normal. It’s going to seem weird if I don’t talk. People were murmuring all around me, then the plane hit this pocket of air and we dropped maybe 50 feet. Everybody went Ooh! and shut up. Total silence. But I immediately launched into some loud nonsensical monologue and everyone looked round at me.
“When I got off the plane, the blast of Greek heat hit me and sent me doolally. I completely lost control. I was convinced we were in Ireland and there was some trouble with the tarmac, so I wanted to lie on it to protect it. I was aware people were looking at me oddly but didn’t know why. I then started running to the terminal building and managed to run through the Customs and out the other side before any staff had arrived there.
“Then I panicked and went back through. I had nothing to declare and I wanted to prove it. They accepted that.
“The girlfriend was not pleased. She had this restrained anger about her the whole holiday. When we got back to Britain, she wrote me a horrendous letter. Quite deservedly. End of relationship. I’ve never seen her since.”
“So,” I asked Martin, “British Airways are a bunch of drug smugglers who ruined your relationship?”
“You want to say that?” asked Martin.
“Well,” I replied, “it would be quite jolly and would it make a good blog heading.”
“Oh,” said Martin. “OK.”