01 Feb The Fuster Cluck: British Airways 777-200 Equipment Change
British Airways fudged up… royally (British pun intended)! Instead of flying a 3-Class 777 between London (Gatwick) and Tampa, Florida, they changed their minds on the day of the flight with a last minute equipment change and decided to fly the route with a 4-Class 777 – leaving over 30 passengers without seats – including my wife.
I booked this flight for one reason – it is the only non-stop flight between London and Tampa. We had to get home to Tampa… today… this is our story.
First, a Little Back Story…
My wife and I had just spent 6 wonderful nights in Europe to celebrate the end of 2016 and the coming of the New Year 2017! So far so good!
Our travel experience consisted of some solid and relatively stress-free travel…
- Wildly Inefficient American Airlines Checked Bag Policy
- Review: American Airlines 767-300 Business Class MIA-MXP – Pretty Good!
- 2 Nights in Milan at the Park Hyatt
- Thoughts on My First Ryanair Flight
- 3 Nights in London at the Andaz Liverpool, and
- 1 Night in London at the London Edition
Onto the BA 777 Equipment Change…
Online Check-In Process
About 23 hours before our scheduled departure from London Gatwick (headed to Tampa, FL) I whipped out my mobile and proceeded to check my wife and I into our flight. The process went just as planned and we had our mobile boarding passes in-hand (aka in our Apple Wallet).
Commute to Gatwick
Since the flight was international and we were checking a bag, we planned to arrive with plenty of time to spare. In that spirit, we hopped on the Gatwick Express train 30 minutes earlier than our concierge suggested to create some buffer room. This was especially necessary since the Express train operators went on strike during the busy holiday travel season…
AYP Tip of the Day – ALWAYS budget time for “what could go wrong” situations! You never know when the the travel gods are going to drop a giant pile of you-know-what on top of your perfectly planned itinerary…
On the way to Gatwick, I checked my British Airways app and noticed something strange… my seat assignment had changed!?
“Bogus”, I thought, since I paid 25£ for that preferred seat and it seemed I was being shortchanged. I then checked my wife’s app and her seat (also a preferred seat) remained unchanged… interesting.
We arrive at Gatwick at 10:10am (a nice 2.5 hours before departure) and find an BA representative to speak to. As I began my “WTF Seat Assignment Change” speech, the agent stopped me.
The Bad News – Equipment Change!?
Apparently there was an equipment change. Instead of the typical 3-Class 777 (including Economy, Premium Economy, and Business classes), BA would be flying our route with a 4-Class 777 (including the additional First Class cabin). That meant an extra first class cabin, creating less space and FEWER (HT: Fred M in the comments section) seats in the economy cabin. For those of you into numbers – over 30 passengers to be booted off.
We were on separate record locators for the flight, which added some complexity. I booked direct on BA, redeeming Arrival Miles, while my wife was booked through American Express. Meaning our tickets were not “linked”, and risked being separated. Because of the changes, we had both been bumped from our originally reserved seats, leaving me in the back of the plane and my wife not on the plane at all… on standby.
Not cool, British Airways…
What happened next, you ask? Well we could either say a prayer, cross our fingers, and hope that my wife was assigned a seat (assuming 30 others accepted BA’s compensation incentive and volunteered to be re-routed)… or we could be proactive and attempt to reroute.
Our Plan of Attack
We chose to take action, take matters into our own hands!
Remember, 30+ passengers would need to complete the same process, so it became a race against the other passengers to grab available seats on other routings and airlines!
The first BA agent I talked to knew nothing and was no help. Actually, worse than no help – she was working against us – since she wasted our precious time that was ticking away.
By now it was 11:00… 1hr and 40min until our original departure
My wife and I decided to split up and try our luck with different agents. I headed to the check-in area while she stood in line at the backed up ticketing/sales desk.
AYP Tip – Whenever “ish” goes down at the airport – like a cancelled flight or Equipment Change such as this – talk to an agent as soon as you possibly can! Stand in line, Tweet at the airline, call the airline – do whatever you can to reach someone who can rebook you on another flight!
The next agent I found was overwhelmed. She said she would help me but was running around assisting 5 customers at once. The chances that she could offer a solution were slim…
Finally, her frantic helpfulness fell on me, as she offered up…
A Couple Alternative Options:
Option 1 – Virgin Atlantic London (Heathrow) to Miami 1:15pm… and a 4 HOUR taxi to Tampa!?
No go. We were at Gatwick, THAT flight was from Heathrow. By now if that were the only flaw, it might have worked, but a 4 hour taxi!? Huh? Pretty sure that BA buddy American Airlines flies MIA-TPA and could help us out… But that wasn’t offered.
Option 2 – A 4:40pm British Airways Heathrow to Boston, connecting to Tampa arriving just before midnight.
Again, we were at Gatwick!? Seriously, British Airways? Is this the best that you can come up with!? The airport change combined with a late arrival made this option just as undesirable as the first!
Then, it happened… I get a call from my wife, who steps up with the game on the line!
*Ice Water in Her Veins*
My wife delivers a clutch game-winning performance! While standing in line at the sales/ticket desk she managed to find the 1:00pm Virgin Atlantic flight —– from London Gatwick to Orlando, FL – a reasonable easy 1 hour drive to Tampa!
We just caught the ideal flight, departing from the airport we were currently standing in, only 20 minutes after our original departure time of 12:40pm AND the last 2 seats on the plane!
Shout out to the ticket agents who made Mallory’s plan happen! Wish I remembered their names… but if they are reading, they know who they are!
A Dash to Virgin Atlantic
The flight was not the original non-stop to TPA that we had hoped, but it would get us to Tampa at a reasonable hour, and that’s all we needed! Except one last little problem… it was now 12:10pm and the Virgin Atlantic plane doors closed 40 minutes prior to departure (i.e we had 10 minutes or risk missing the check-in)! Virgin is located in the South Terminal, but we were standing at the BA ticket sales desk in the North Terminal… with that damn checked bag that we need to deal with!
RUN! We ran from British Airways in the North to Virgin Atlantic in the South! We arrived gasping for air, but were ticketed and checked-in for the flight.. Checked baggage and all! It was just a few minutes to spare…
Side note – as of January 25th, these airlines switched places within the North and South terminals. British Airways now operates out of the, while Virgin Atlantic operates out of the North…
Security, check! Boarding, check! Middle Seat 46E in the back of the plane, check… at least we were headed home…
5:10pm Touch-down Orlando (Tampa’s ugly twin sister)
We landed in Orlando, breezed through US Customs (thanks to Global Entry), and headed straight to the British Airways counter.
And the saga continues…
Of course when we arrived at the counter, there were no British Airways agents in sight… so we tracked down another airport employee, who paged the BA staff on duty.
Eventually a representative did appear, but through some sort of miscommunication, she assumed we were looking for a flight for the 95 mile journey from Orlando to Tampa.
15 minutes later it was clear that ground transportation would be the only viable option, and we had a car reserved and ready to go home!
A Silver Lining
Showtime uploaded an early season premiere of our favorite show ‘Homeland’ which we were able to enjoy in the back of the Lincoln! Things are looking up people!
Equipment changes stink. The 777 swap made by British Airways severely altered our trip home and put us at risk of not making it home at all.
I am thankful of the extra time we allotted on the front end, as well as the impressive flight routing performed by the better smarter, savvier half of AcCounting Your Points!
I am also thankful for Showtime, Claire Danes, and the greatness that is ‘Homeland’!
Has a last minute equipment change ever thrown your travel plans into a tailspin!?
UPDATE: The airport experience was hectic, leaving no time to finalize compensation for the inconvenience, but eventually I was able to follow up with British Airways and receive 257 pounds each. A fair amount of compensation in my opinion!