British Airways is currently embroiled in a public row with a well-known barrister in the UK whom the airline kicked off a flight after an argument ensued about a downgrade in the QC’s party.
The lawyer and his family were en route to Italy and had their nanny with them on the same booking to care for the children but due to an overbooking situation, British Airways decided to downgrade the lady’s seat to Economy and only notified the passengers about it at the boarding gate.
From media reports, the situation must have then gotten out of hand and another argument ensued once the passengers were on board to the point of the captain demanding the removal of the entire party.
In an interview with the Daily Mail the passenger outlines the situation and (rightfully) blames British Airways for the situation.
A high-flying barrister and his family were escorted from a British Airways flight by armed police after arguing with cabin crew when they refused to let the children’s nanny join them in business class.
Charles Banner, QC, 41 left the plane accompanied by his two children, aged 1 and 4, their mother, Tetyana Nesterchuk, and their nanny as officers looked on.
The family found themselves grounded after boarding BA flight 2578 from Heathrow Airport to Turin last Thursday for a week-long skiing holiday.
Matters became heated after Mr Banner was informed that the children’s nanny had only been allocated a seat in economy when he arrived at the boarding gate.
Mr Banner paid for business class tickets, but his nanny had been downgraded because BA oversold the flight.
When he asked cabin crew if she could join them in business class, because he and the children’s mother wanted to work during the two-hour flight, Mr Banner claims BA plane staff were ‘rude’ with one commenting: ‘You wish.’
The debate raged as the plane started moving from the stand, prompting the pilot to turn it around and insist that he would only fly until Mr Banner and his family had been removed. The flight was delayed by 90 minutes.
Mr Banner, 41 told MailOnline: ‘If BA had told me that the nanny could not sit with us in business then we would not have traveled and could have got a later flight. But they only told us that when we got to the boarding gate.
‘I behaved perfectly but I was challenging the cabin crew because it was the right thing to do. The pettiness and vindictiveness of the staff caused this. I was being very polite about the whole thing.’
He added: ‘It was a very upsetting event for all of the family and the way we were treated was appalling and in contrast to over 15 years of pleasant experiences on BA flights as a regular customer.’
Mr Banner claimed that even though there was a spare seat close to him in business class, cabin crew staff insisted that nanny could still not sit in it and help look after his children, prompting him to inform them that he had made an official complaint about their conduct while still on the plane.
‘We kept asking for an explanation and the cabin crew kept telling us again and again in response that we would be compensated, repeatedly gaslighting us by ignoring our request for an explanation as to why the spare seat could not be used.’
He added: ‘I indicated to the cabin crew that I had made a complaint about their behavior to BA. Rather than apologise, the cabin crew then asked the pilot not to fly either the two kids aged 4 and 1, their mother, the nanny or myself, which was a gross over-reaction to our understandable upset at how we had been treated – most likely to provide the cabin crew with cover against the complaint that I indicated I had made about their behaviour.’
After leaving the plane, Mr Banner says that he was forced to book into a hotel close to Heathrow because of his young children, as it was getting late. The family then took a taxi to Gatwick Airport the following day and booked new flights to Turin with Easy Jet. †
Mr Banner said: ‘In accordance with standard protocol in a situation where passengers leave a plane and return landside, the police escorted our family back through immigration. They made clear that this was just standard protocol and that no offense had been alleged or committed.’
A spokesman for BA said: ‘We do not tolerate disruptive behavior and the safety of our customers and crew is our top priority.’
There’s a whole mix of situations here. The Daily Mail article is full of personal and professional photos of Mr. Banner which might be nice for illustrative purposes but really don’t contribute anything to the matter.
For one, airlines downgrade and even deny boarding to passengers every day. That’s a common procedure due to the industry standard of overbooking flights. One can argue about how ethical this is even with compensation schedules in place. If you try to cancel or change a flight yourself you’re usually told no or be charged a hefty fee. The airline is allowed to do so for peanuts, maximizing their profits.
Apparently, the passengers were only told about the situation at the gate. I think it would have been reasonable to get this done at check-in or page them at the lounge and possibly alternative arrangements can be made. Leaving this until boarding always causes bad situations, not only here.
The situation then escalated because the passenger said there was a spare seat available and he asked for the downgraded companion to be moved back to Business Class (same seat as Economy either way). I’m not sure if he referred to the empty middle seat which is really the only difference in European Business Class. These are not “seats” in the sense that they can be occupied. They’re essentially just space. Why would BA downgrade a passenger and pay compensation when there was in fact a functioning (non-defective) seat available after all?
The whole thing escalated into an argument to the point where the pilot got involved and ordered the removal of the passengers. I wouldn’t put it beyond the realm of possibility that the surly attitude of many BA crew members has also contributed to the situation. Although at the same time the pictures in the Daily Mail don’t exactly cry Nice Guy either and most attorneys are by nature a confrontational and argumentative breed. It just comes with the job.
Either way, the result was that all were kicked off the flight and instead of being in Italy 2 hours later they’d have to trek over to another airport, stay at a hotel and fly EasyJet the next day. Does EasyJet have Business Class? It’d have probably been better to just let it go and just get compensated later on. What exactly is the nanny supposed to do during the flight?
I think this just escalated by all involved parties pushing each other to breaking point with the result that the passenger had no flight and the airline incurred a delay plus bad press.
Just this month British Airways new CEO vowed to restore the airline to old glory. Not sure if this is the right way.
Email From BA’s Boss: “To our loyal customers”
Trying to avoid BA entirely in the future is certainly not a bad idea but probably difficult being based in London and having a lot of business travel. It’s really a shell of the great airline it once used to be, thinking about when Concorde was still around. Good old times!
Maybe this wouldn’t have caused such a media stir hadn’t the lead passenger been a QC and the person affected by the downgrade wasn’t his nanny, paired with some elitist behavior. Do I think it’s elitist that he expects the staff he paid Business Class for gets her Biz seat? no. Should he have handled it another way and dealt with compensation later? Yes. It’s a two hour short-haul flight in BA’s crappy European Business Class. Not a long haul to Asia in International configuration. But of course once people hear someone having money, power and can afford to travel with a nanny everything gets ripped out of context for the sake of jealousy and sensationalism.
British Airways has kicked a passenger and his party off a flight from London to Turin after an argument broke out about why the lead passenger’s childcare staff was downgraded to Economy Class. The pilot eventually requested the removal of the whole family before leaving Heathrow with 90 minutes delay.
This wasn’t a great outcome for anyone. British Airways handled the situation badly. Downgrading a passenger is bad enough but breaking up a party is even worse. I wonder if the lead passenger has BAEC status? If the PNR belonged to a Gold (OW Emerald) member then it shouldn’t have been touched for a downgrade, to begin with. Happens every day though and there’s very little you can do about it other than refusing to fly or filing a lawsuit for monetary compensation later if necessary.
Maybe it’s time to look into legislation on whether carriers should still be allowed to oversell cabins.