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What exactly is going wrong with BA?

JENNY and Neil Morgan had planned the holiday of a lifetime to South America this November.

The couple, in their 60s, splashed out thousands of pounds on British Airways flights to Lima, the capital of Peru. Their tour would take in the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu in the Andes, the picturesque beaches of Uruguay and, finally, the birthplace of tango dancing, Buenos Aires in Argentina.

But in April, the Morgans plans began to unravel when they logged on to the BA website to find their flights had been cancelled and the airline hadn t told them.

Grounded: The airline cancelled flights without warning

Grounded: The airline cancelled flights without warning

When they contacted BA, it said it had stopped servicing the route to Lima altogether a month earlier.

The Morgans were offered three choices: a full refund; a flight from London to Madrid and then another from Madrid to Lima with BA s sister company, Iberia adding at least five hours to their journey; or splitting the journey over two days, with an overnight stay in Madrid.

They didn t fancy flying 18 hours in one day, but BA refused to pay for the cost of a 200 hotel if they chose to split the journey in two.

Despite its blunders, BA offered just 20,000 Avios points as compensation the equivalent of a return flight from London to Prague.

The airline also refused to allow the couple, from South-West London, to use their Avios points to upgrade to business class, explaining that its loyalty scheme doesn t work with Iberia flights.

We thought BA would feel guilty for letting us down, but we ve been left with the impression that it couldn t care less, says Jenny Morgan. British Airways isn t the airline it used to be.

After Money Mail intervened, BA allowed the Morgans to use Avios points to upgrade their flights.

BOSS WHO CAME TO CUT COSTS

At THE centre of British Airways customer service issues is its boss, Alex Cruz. He was brought in from budget airline Vueling in April 2016 to slash costs and help BA compete with Ryanair and EasyJet.

But the 51-year-old, from Bilbao, Spain, has had to fight off suggestions

he has turned BA into a budget airline by ditching free food and reducing leg space. The father of four, who lives in London, started his career at American

Airlines in 1990 and became chair and chief executive of Vueling in 2009.

After May s IT meltdown, he said: We apologise profusely for the hardship that customers of ours have had to go through.

The couple are among a growing number of loyal BA customers complaining of slipping standards.

Over the past year, the airline has scrapped complimentary meals on short-haul flights, cut leg room to make way for more seats on some planes and suffered an IT meltdown that saw around 75,000 passengers flights cancelled or delayed.

The airline appeared on Money Mail s Wooden Spoon shortlist for poor customer service for the first time in January this year, and readers now routinely complain of inadequate compensation when something goes wrong.

Passengers gripe that they are paying for a top-of-the-range experience with BA, but getting the sort of service they associate with budget carriers. Even regular first-class fliers, such as Queen guitarist Brian May, complain of poor value for money in Mr May s case, because the view from his window seat was obstructed.

Despite the complaints, BA still charges considerably more than rivals on the same routes.

A direct flight from Heathrow to Faro, Portugal, for two adults and two children on August 25 would cost 178 with Monarch, but 456 with BA 278 more. Flights from Gatwick to Orlando would be 746 with Thomas Cook Airlines and 4,526 with BA 3,780 more.

The company rakes in huge profits, making 662 million in the first six months of the year, up 17.4 pc on the same period in 2016.

Frank Brehany, an independent travel expert, says: Customers will look at the IT problems, the removal of free food and endless disputes with staff and see a company belt-tightening in the face of competition from budget airlines.

If you are paying a premium, you absolutely have the right to expect a good service. This should serve as a wake-up call for the management. If they listen to customers, they can be the great brand they were.

David and Carol Cole have been left out of pocket by BA, after their flight from Nice to London in May last year was cancelled due to strikes by French air traffic controllers.

The couple, from Hambrook, West Sussex, couldn t get through to BA over the phone, so were forced to book new flights on its website.

BA has refused to refund the 451 cost, saying that the Coles should have rebooked by phone. It offered to refund the 93 they paid towards their first flights and throw in 17,000 Avios points (enough to fly from London to Helsinki and back).

David, 70, a retired computer engineer, says: I fought their offer for a year because we only want our money back. But, in the end, I had to accept it. We have flown with BA for years, but now I don t want to fly with them again.

In January, BA scrapped the complimentary food and drink it used to offer on most short-haul flights. Customers who want refreshments must now pay for Marks & Spencer goods.

Barbara and Keith Workman, 70 and 73, booked a flight to Cyprus to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. They chose BA partly because they liked the idea of a free meal and drink. The couple, from Lincolnshire, received an email in May, stating that their booking had been amended and they were no longer getting a free meal.

Attached to the email was the new, paid-for Marks & Spencer menu. And it wasn t cheap: a smoked British bacon roll ( 4.75), a packet of salt and vinegar crisps ( 1.10) and a 330ml can of Heineken ( 4) will set you back 9.85.

Barbara says: British Airways has gone downhill badly. That was probably the last time we will be able to fly, due to ill-health, and it has been spoilt.

I know the food was free, but that is what we were promised when we booked, and then we were told we could not have it any more.

Hollie Thrasher, a 25-year-old law student from London, was offered just 38 in compensation last month when BA damaged her new 120 Linea suitcase on a flight to Miami.

When Hollie and her mother, Lynne, 54, collected the suitcase from the baggage carousel in the U.S., the front compartment was badly ripped. Hollie was told the most she d get in compensation was $50 (around 40) not nearly enough for a like-for-like replacement. Someone at BA sent me a link to a suitcase they believed to be similar to the one I had, but it wasn t at all, says Hollie.

It was the wrong size, didn t have as many wheels and was a quarter of the price. Unable to find a suitable replacement for $50, she was forced to wrap a band around her broken case for the flight home.

I can t afford 120 for a new case, especially when I wasn t responsible for damaging it, she adds.

Sue and Chris Whitehead, 43 and 47, were among the 75,000 people whose flights were cancelled in BA s IT crash over the May bank holiday. The debacle grounded 726 flights and could cost the airline up to 58 million in compensation.

Sue and Chris turned up at Heathrow with their children Isobel, nine, and Daisy, six to find their flight to Asturias, northern Spain, was cancelled. It took the couple 36 hours to get through to someone at BA customer services.

When they did, they were immediately refunded 220 for the flights, but were told to claim separately for the 1,000 they had spent on hotels, car rental and advance booking for activities such as canoeing and caving.

They had to wait three weeks for a response, only to be told they would have to claim through Iberia, one of BA s sister airlines.

Under EU rules, it is the flight operator, Iberia, that is liable to pay compensation, even though the Whiteheads booked with BA.

Sue, owner of a management consultancy, says: I am disgusted with the way BA has treated us. I would never fly with them again if that s the way they treat loyal customers.

A BA spokesman says: We re very sorry for the disruption over the May bank holiday weekend. It is each airline s responsibility to handle compensation claims, and we correctly referred our customer s complaint to the operating carrier, Iberia.

The airline blamed a computer malfunction for failing to let Jenny and Neil Morgan know that it had stopped offering flights to Lima.

Its spokesman says: We have been in touch with Mrs Morgan to apologise and offer a gesture of goodwill. We have offered a full refund of the flights, or to rebook with an alternative carrier.

It has also apologised to Mr Cole for the cancellation of his flight.

We are refunding the Avios and cash he paid for his original tickets, says the spokesman. Had Mr Cole called us, we would have been able to rebook his flights for free.

Because he made alternative arrangements independently, we are unable to refund the new tickets.

Money Mail asked why Hollie Thrasher had been given so little recompense for her damaged suitcase. BA said: We have offered to review the payment on receipt of proof of purchase.

The airline s spokesman says: British Airways provides choice and value for all customers. Our customers tell us they want low fares. Being more efficient, through measures such as increasing the number of seats in economy cabins on some aircraft and changing our catering product for short-haul economy customers, enables us to offer more low fares and allows us to invest in our customers.

We don t always get everything right, but we listen to customers so we can meet changing preferences.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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