Magazine article The Spectator

BA Stands for Bloody Awful

Magazine article The Spectator

BA Stands for Bloody Awful

Article excerpt

THE more devices we have to make life easier, the more they entangle and impede us. One gets new examples all the time. It happened that I recently needed to travel to Berlin. I needed, in fact, to go to that historic city on Sunday, 13 October, give a lecture there on the Monday morning, and fly straight home. Once the journey would have taken days; now it takes two hours.

But progress, of course, does not move in quite such straight lines as that superficial observation suggests.

By evil chance it happened that on 26 September, the very day on which I thought of going to a travel agent and buying a ticket, there appeared on my email screen an advertisement for British Airways, bright in colour and cheery in tone, welcoming me - me, by name - to its New Improved Schedule, and inviting me to book online. Naturally, I was flattered.

They know me there! I am dealing with friends! The hope, alas, was sadly premature. For when I had typed in what I wanted - flying out at 12.45 on the 13th back came a message to say that I was booked, and charged, to fly out at 9.30 on the 6th - a date in any case impossible for me, as at that very moment I was due to present a set of accounts at a meeting of old members of Balliol.

Now, I may not be one of the world's great IT wizards, but I usually do a lot better than that: wrong day and wrong time? Surely not. However, said I to myself in my innocence, no great harm done; I'll simply ring BA and get it put right. Perhaps there will be a little good-natured chaff at my expense, but there it is. So I rang at once and tried to book another flight, for the right dates. It turns out, however, that booking online is a dangerous business and may be a very expensive one. BA can and will charge for a slip, and it does. My credit card was now charged for two trips to Berlin.

I never actually got a ticket for the right dates. The only one BA sent me was, sure enough, to go out on the 6th. I quite thought I might, on arrival at Heathrow, be charged for a third ticket; though in the event that did not happen. But there was, of course, the frustrating business of trying to get a response from BA: the old story of a butterfly versus a mammoth (the smart money is never on the butterfly). The telephone calls: five times I was played light classical music and informed of a 15 per cent reduction on flights to Dubai. The emails: seven separate but identical automated replies, from different bits of BA, informing me that `The sending address for this email is an automated account. This message should not be replied to. …

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