I am somewhat of an airline snob, holding top-tier status with Air New Zealand, and generally avoiding non-Star Alliance carriers. Recently we had to fly British Airways, and had a problem with damaged luggage. But to their credit, even though I have no status with them, they dealt with the situation promptly, and turned around a bad experience. Well done British Airways.
I have been Air New Zealand Gold or Elite for the last 5 years or so. This provides certain benefits when I travel with Air New Zealand – some free upgrades, discounted upgrades, extra baggage, free seat selection, priority boarding, etc. The most important things I get are priority check-in, priority baggage, lounge access, and often fast track security and immigration.
This means I am also Star Alliance Gold, so I get some benefits when flying on any other airline in the Star Alliance group. None of the on-board benefits like upgrades, but priority check-in, security, lounge access, etc still apply.
If you only take one flight a year, none of this really matters. If you fly a lot, this makes a big difference, and you get grumpy when you can’t get it. My company policy is economy class for the ‘little people’ like me. It makes shitty US airlines just a little bit more bearable when you get a few extra benefits.
As a result, I always look for Star Alliance options when flying, and will pay a moderate premium to do so. If there’s an Air New Zealand-operated direct flight, I probably won’t even look at other options.
What if There’s No Star Alliance Option?
Star Alliance is a big network, but they don’t fly everywhere. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, and have to fly with one of the other networks. That’s what happened recently when I needed to find a flight from Edinburgh to London. The only options were British Airways, or the discount carriers like EasyJet and RyanAir.
This always makes me a bit uncomfortable. You start looking at weird routing options, to see if there’s any way around it. You dread the idea of getting stuck in monster queues at check-in or security. You wonder what the airport Wi-Fi will be like, and how much is it going to cost to get something to eat & drink when you’re stuck in the hell-hole that is the typical post-security ‘shopping and dining experience.’
Eventually you give in, accept that it’s just a short flight, and you’ll cope. So you book the flight, in this case with BA. BA has been getting some bad press recently, related to some of their cost-cutting measures. I wasn’t too worried about that: you don’t expect a full meal on a 1-hour flight.
In-Flight Experience: No Problems
Check-in was straightforward, with no delays. Security was fine, it was slow for everyone going through Edinburgh. I was a little bit lost when I got through security. Normally I head to the lounge, for some peace and quiet, but instead I had to hang around the gate. But it wasn’t too bad, and we got on the plane.
Flight was fine, no problems. Only annoyance was at Gatwick end where we had to take a bus from the plane to the terminal. This always adds annoying delays, but it’s not BA’s fault: It’s Gatwick’s design.
The problems occurred when we picked up our luggage. Anna couldn’t extend the handle on her suitcase. Makes it a bit difficult to wheel it along, and we had a fair bit of walking and changing modes of transport to get to our destination.
There were some marks on the outside of the bag, but it wasn’t until we unpacked it we saw what had happened:
The bag had taken a heavy blow, bending the handle and the tubes it slides in. Not the sort of thing that you could easily repair either. The tubing was crushed, making the bag a write-off.
You Won’t Believe What Happened Next
I was wondering what we should do about it. Make a claim on travel insurance? Complain to BA, and get sympathy but not much else? Or just write it off: It wasn’t a super-expensive suitcase.
On a whim, I thought I’d check out BA’s policies. Turns out they have an online form for making a claim about problems with a flight, including damaged luggage. We filled it in, not expecting much.
Surprise! They got back to us very promptly, and said “That sucks. How about we send you this Samsonite bag as a replacement?”
It’s not the top of the line bag, but it’s a more than reasonable replacement for our damaged bag. It was sent to us in San Francisco quickly, and is now in the closet, ready for our next trip.
I’m very pleased with this quick turnaround. It took something that could have been a bad experience, and turned it into a positive one. That’s a text-book example of how to treat your customers well.
In the short-term, I will probably still continue to fly Star Alliance flights, because United is my company’s ‘preferred’ airline, and Air New Zealand is my best option for flights back to New Zealand. But it’s good to see that you don’t have to be flying business, or hold top-tier status in order to get good treatment. I will be happy to fly them again in future for intra-Europe flights. Sadly US domestic options will continue to be mostly rubbish.