Never ever bmi – A flight cancellation and its outcome

People travelling a lot are always able to tell a story, also when it comes to the actual transportation process. It comes as no surprise that many airlines are treating their customers like paying cattle and the service aboard is a very good indicator how airlines are seeing its passengers. However things can become even more insolent than a sticky sandwich unkindly thrown on your tray table. For example in February 2011 the airline British Midland International (bmi) gave proof how they are appreciating the people paying their salaries.

It is the 5th of February 2011 and short past 16 o’clock. As always I am arriving at Berlin’s Tegel airport with Prussian punctualness, this time looking forward to travel via London Heathrow to Delhi. Despite having flown a lot it is the first time that I am flying via Europe’s center and pivotal point of all things called aviation activity. I checked in, entered the security area and waited for the British Midland International (bmi) carrier included in my ticket to bring me to London to the actual long-haul flight to India. bmi came late from London already. The flight was scheduled to depart at 18:05, now it’s already 18:50, actually we should have been on the way to London already, but now passengers are finally allowed to board the aircraft. Having passed the cockpit people could easily notice the worry lines in the not amused appearing faces of crew and ground staff. It takes another hour of waiting inside the aircraft and funnily there are other people and couples aboard that want to fly to the same destination: Delhi.

When travelling via a big hub such as Heathrow, then usually a transfer time of 2 hours is sufficient enough to forward the baggage to the connecting long-haul aircraft, also it’s enough time to make it through the passport control. But now even those 2 hours are shrinking by every ticking of the second hand; things are getting tight. I am noticing how one of the cargo hatches opens and our baggage gets unloaded. Although the flight attendants are still promising that in a few seconds only we will start, unloading baggage is an unmistakable sign that today nothing will happen anymore… It took another quarter of an hour though until the pilot appeared in front and cancelled the flight with a big orchestrated “Sorry!” since a technical problem still persists that already appeared when they took off in London. In a reverse conclusion that means, with every last seat taken by those English party tourists we Berliners love so much, bmi sent an airplane to Berlin that was already not in correct technical condition…

Meanwhile it is later than 21 o’clock. The incompetent cabin crew behaves like a swarm of put up chicken and is merely capable to answer all those questions how and when this journey will go on. Fortunately I knew what to do, but all other people had to obtain their information from the cabin crew that replied an in-your-face manner; even native English would not have been able to identify most of the words that came across the cabin crews’ lips. Only the Tegel-based ground staff not belonging to bmi was able to inform all other passengers. Inside the terminal building Lufthansa agents were already waiting for the stranded passengers to book them on a new flight, but reaching the original long-haul flight to Delhi was now not possible anymore as on that day no other flight to London was available. Hence the journey started 24h later and since bmi didn’t really prove its core capabilities I’ve chosen a flight leaving Berlin earlier than 18:05.

The flight the day after left Berlin on time. Funnily I had the honour to fly with the very same English party tourists that arrived the day before on the defective airplane; the only difference: over night their cheap perfume aura has gone and got fully replaced by alcohol flavoured exhalations. Having arrived London Heathrow I had to contact Air India to obtain a proper boarding pass. It is just wonderful how our fellow citizens with the dot on its forehead are already queuing up at a transfer desk that is yet off duty. No bmi official feels responsible when being asked for catering vouchers. Like in an authority you get send from counter A to agent B to finally find out in the end, that the agent in charge is not on duty today. Quote: “Hey, what do you expect?! It’s Sunday today!” – After 5 hours of waiting finally the Air India agent turned up and opens the ticket counter. It takes no second and all Indians around flock to that poor overextended man. However, I got the boarding pass and with a delay of 24 hours I arrived to Delhi.

Actually my journey should have started in Sikkim, the Indian part of Himalaya, but the defective British Midland International airplane made me missing my transportation chain in India. India isn’t a village of 500 souls and all means of transportation are all too often taken to the last seat. There is no chance to (re-)book such a transportation chain again with a lead time of less than 24 hours only. India isn’t a Hence it’s been about damage limitation and changing travel itinerary, the journey started in Calcutta and lead me through Northern India.

After having returned from India I wanted bmi to compensate the damages caused by their flight cancellation; damages like a shortened vacation, quite some extra expenses and pretty much discomfort. bmi has no office in Germany hence I contacted the head quarter in England. I sent them several emails asking for compensation, then several official claims by fax with transmission protocol and finally even a registered letter. I got no answer at all. That sad code of practice is an airline standard confirms my legal insurance ARAG. If airlines ever answer, then only to official lawyer enquiries continues the insurance consultant. Hence I lawyered up and even that lawyer couldn’t figure out a German bmi-office. A local address in Germany is needed to pursue a claim judicially and furthermore important for potentially connected measures of execution. With a delay of more than 4 months from my first claim notification, the lawyer got an answer. bmi hides behind the usual generic empty phrase that the cancellation was a matter of unexpected flight safety shortcomings and happened to protect the passengers. Now it doesn’t play a role anymore that the very same airplane left London (fully booked!) already defective and that in London bmi could have reacted on that technical shortcoming.

To boot bmi alleges that a technical defect is an “extraordinary circumstance” and according to European Union regulations airlines are not required to compensate such-like cancellations. That is a bald lie, as:

[…] according to the decisions of the European Court of Justice (legal case C-549/07, December 22th 2008,) and Germany’s Federal High Court of Justice (BGH) (legal case Xa ZR 76/07, November 12th 2009) extraordinary circumstances do not include technical issues. The German BGH even extends its judgment by adding that this is decision is even effective if the airline is always carrying out all maintenance work according to specification, within time limits and at highest accuracy. […]

As gesture of goodwill the bmi-agent in charge, that is Nigel R. Klee (Customer Relations Executive), offered a discount of 50 GBP for my next flight with bmi in the next twelve months. A temporary voucher for an airline that just blew up my vacation plans, that caused me extra costs as well as organisational stress. Things couldn’t be more ironic, could they?

Actually now an English lawyer should go after my claim, that means filing a lawsuit for damage compensation against bmi in Great Britain; also an English lawyer then could execute the court’s decision. Many airlines are proceeding like that, are not having an office or branch in Germany, hence they cannot be called to account by a German attorney. In case of circumstances they leave their passengers, the people paying their salaries, out in the rain and ignore them. Only tough people are able to take action against the incapable. Well, in that case nothing but a moral win is possible though since the compensation flat rate of 250 Euro (respectively 600 Euros for long-haul and very delayed flights) doesn’t really cover the expenses for arrival and stay in Britain as the British court procedure very often demand personal attendance.

bmi blew up my travel plans, cut down my vacation time, did not care about catering vouchers, was not able to care about its passengers on the evening of the flight cancellation. It ignored several claims demanding compensation for damages, answered only a lawyer and finally backed out using a bald lie. If a natural person would show such behaviour then it wouldn’t take much time and that individual would declared as socially incompatible and psychotic.

NEVER EVER bmi…! That is something I am recommending warmly to everyone reading these lines. If becoming reality or not, in the face of such-like potential annoyances, discomfort and extra expenses a ticket price advantage of 20 Euro doesn’t really balance everything. Companies being driven by such a philosophy need to be punished by the market, that means us, the ones paying.