Many of you have already heard my tale of woe, but as the scandal continues to evolve, I need to do a little rooftop shouting or my head will explode. Let's take it from the top shall we?
Big Barcelona trip. Couldn't be more excited. Always wanted to go, didn't know what I would get to. Until! I found a great fare with British Airways and all the other pieces fell into place after accordingly. So I land in Barcelona around 22:00 local time. My luggage does not. I go to the counter, I fill out my paperwork, they give me a number to call and nothing else. No ETA, no temporary toothbrush, no cheap, airline socks.
So I give this phone number a try. Repeatedly. While the representatives on the other end of the line are very friendly, there are not altogether useful. They are not able to tell me when my baggage will arrive, only that it hasn't arrived yet, which I could already deduce by the smell of the clothes that had been on my person far longer than The Gap ever intended. What am I supposed to do? I ask them. "British Airways will reimburse you for the clothes and toiletries you need to buy until your baggage arrives, just save your receipts," the woman tells me. I feel I should repeat that promise for emphasis:
"BRITISH AIRWAYS WILL REIMBURSE YOU FOR THE CLOTHES AND TOILETRIES YOU NEED TO BUY UNTIL YOUR BAGGAGE ARRIVES..."
Well that's a relief, I think. At least there's the consolation that I won't have to find out the hard way how tough Spain's vagrancy statutes are because the police mistake me for a homeless man who hasn't showered in 2 months. There's just the small task of the shopping. Now at this point a person who loves to shop, possibly a woman, would think "Jackpot! Shopping spree on British Airways dime! Which way to the Prada store?" Not me. While I do enjoy shopping, it's only when I have no reservations about whether I can afford it that I will actually allow myself to live it up. Despite the verbal vow of the unnamed British Airways representative, I didn't trust the situation. It felt like a trap. Unfortunately, if I wanted to wear clothes during my vacation, I had little choice but to go buy them.
You might be thinking, You were on vacation in Europe. You were going to be buying clothes anyway. Absolutely true, I would have. However, I would have bought one or two items as they struck my fancy throughout the natural progression of the trip. We would have gone about our sightseeing and if a shop next door happened to display a shirt that called my name, sure I probably would have picked it up. There's a big difference between casual shopping and necessity shopping. I lost an entire day, my friends. Underwear, undershirts, button-downs, t-shirts, a pair of casual paints, a pair of dress pants, socks, a belt, deodorant, soap, and on and on. Think about literally every single thing you would need to buy to achieve the mere basic status of being able to walk down the street. Now factor in that you're dealing with European sizes so you have to try on every single piece. Oh and it's also January so you're going to need layers. Also, you're going to an event that requires you dress up a little so now you're into dress shoes, shirts, and a tie. It's not about finding stuff you like, it's about finding stuff that simply, suitably covers your ass. It's going to take all damn day, and that's if you're not picky about style. Is this still sounding fun to anyone? As I felt the bill escalating, I actually began to feel sympathy for British Airways so I honestly wasted even more time trying to find the cheapest options possible. I can tell this story is running a bit long so let me skip ahead and tell you why I say "wasted"...
The f_ckers stiffed me.
Yep. I wish I were kidding. I came home and, being the upstanding accountant that I am, I put together an impeccable presentation of my receipts. For those of you familiar with the wonderful world of petty cash, this was a real thing of beauty, the kind you laminate and hang on the wall as an example of how to do it. The total was in the neighborhood of $1,300 USD. At first glance, sure, I can see how that would seem really high. Remember though, we're talking about every stitch of clothing you would need for five days of sightseeing in a foreign land. Undies, pants, shirts, socks, belt, shoes (explanation above). AND you're purchasing it all in Euros, but since it's on your credit card, the actual financial responsibility comes to you in US Dollars so you've got inflation due to the exchange rate. I think you'll agree that it's actually pretty conservative. If you don't contact me on the side and I'll go over it with you one receipt at a time and you'll understand. But I digress...
Fast forward about three weeks. I get an e-mail from the good folks at British Airways, a Ms. Roberta Lance to be precise. On my best day, I could not adequately capture the beautifully simplistic cruelty of her e-mail so I will paste it below:
Dear Mr. Kumpart,
We go to great lengths to look after our customers' belongings at British Airways, and this certainly includes getting every single piece of luggage to the right place at the right time. This is small comfort, I know, after the situation we put you in following your own flight.
And of course you needed some essentials to tide you over. The figure you gave us does seem disproportionately high given the time you were without your bag, so I cannot agree to pay the entire amount. However, I am happy to offer you $200 and I'm arranging to send you a check for this amount.
I hope that this will not come as too much of a disappointment and that you'll be joining us again on a British Airways flight again soon.
British Airways Regional Baggage Service
Where to begin, right? Well, I started by e-mailing the smug folks at jolly old British Airways. Not replying directly to Ms. Lance, of course, NO! This is a corporation, you can't do that. You can fill out the e-mail form on their website and hope that it actually reaches someone. So I did. I told them I would like someone to call me to discuss how my claim was "disproportionately high" to being virtually naked for five days in the dead of winter. I invited Ms. Lance to advise me as to how I should have clothed myself for five days on what would have amounted to 135 Euro (generously). That's 27 Euro per day, folks. I wanted someone to explain to me how that was possible, short of Wal-Mart opening a flagship store in downtown Barcelona. Maybe they could create a game show out of it. "How to dress on 27 Euro a Day with British Airways." I should register that title...Anyway, I explained as well in my e-mail that I was conservative in my spending, how I audit reimbursements for a living so I wasn't trying to scam anybody, etc etc.
I began to grow impatient so I sent another e-mail. I hit all the main points again...(Paraphrasing) I bought only the clothes I needed to get by for the FIVE DAYS I went without my bag**. I didn't want these clothes and should not have needed these clothes but for the errors of British Airways. Why should I be responsible for these costs? I did nothing wrong. I packed well and paid my fare. A hundred and thirty-five Euro as an offer of reimbursement is a slap in the face and what's more, it's completely, insultingly arbitrary. If my claim seems high, here's an idea, turn the page! There's a spreadsheet! If you're going to dispute my claim, how about using some supporting sentences after your thesis statement? How about referring me to the magical store where you can clothe yourself from head to toe for 27 Eur a day? I really think this lady looked at the top sheet, scratched her head and went "Hmmm, that seems like a lot. Two hundred is a nice round number. Next!" We're just talking about my clothes, which I'd be happy to send to British Airways by the way. What about the cost of my many cell phone calls to British Airways that afforded me no information other than to say "your bag is still not on its way, we don't know when it will be on its way, and British Airways will reimburse you for the clothes and toiletries you need until it arrives"? Let me ask you this, British Airways, what is my time worth? How much money is "proportionate" to the entire day I lost frantically shopping for clothes I didn't want and shouldn't have needed? How much should I get for the time I lost waiting for my bag when the final delivery of it was four hours late on top of the five days already running? All I am asking for is what is fair and what was promised me. I am not excited to lose any more money paying for attorneys fees to fight this in the legal system, but I am compelled above all else to be treated fairly.
No response. My joke of a check did arrive in the meantime though. It's sitting on my table where it will remain indefinitely. By depositing that mockery of a reimbursement, I feel I would be implying my approval of it.
This morning I decided to call British Airways. Even if I had to wait on hold for an hour and go through six different people, I was determined to speak to a presumably logical human being. Eventually, I did reach someone, in the reservations department. She informed me, by way of cutting me off before I could finish any one sentence by the way, that 1) it may take up to 3 weeks to receive a response to an e-mail, 2) it was not possible to speak with anyone on the phone regarding the matter, that customer service could only be reached by e-mail or fax, and 3) that there was no human name should could give me to address a written letter to, only the general customer service mailbox. Again, this exchanges is so baffling to me, I feel I have to type it bigger, bolder, and in brighter colors in the hopes that this will mystically transform it into something that isn't completely, utterly, and, if you'll pardon the pun, royally f_cked up.
IT WAS NOT POSSIBLE TO SPEAK TO THE BRITISH AIRWAYS CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT.
It begs a question, doesn't it? If there is no existing name of a supervisor and it is not possible to speak to the customer service department, what proof is there that it actually exists at all? I'm not kidding.
So that's where it stands, me shaking my fist at a seemingly infinitely tall, long, and cold wall. I know this won't end well. I know I'll be paying off every red cent of that debt even as every check will burn an ever-deepening hole in my pride and soul. I get that this just the name of the game in the battle of big company vs. little guy. Chances are my e-mails won't even be read all the way through, much less taken seriously. I do understand that the language they speak is the universal language of money. All I can hope is that all the other people that they have screwed and will undoubtedly continue to screw join me in my boycott until the point where they look at their quarterlies and ask themselves the same question I am asking them now, "Where did my money go?"
How long will it be before they reply, if they are gracious enough to reply at all? How long should I wait before pursuing legal avenues? Can a single individual even sue a giant corporation these days? Is it possible or do you have to be part of a class action suit? How much would it cost me to fight for what's right? How much is justice, fairness, and basic decency worth? It's more questions than I can answer, but there is one I can sum up with absolutely certainty.
Will I be "joining them on a British Airways flight again soon?" Not even if the world were exploding and they had the last flight to heaven.
**Among the great void of logic and reason that was Ms. Lance's e-mail, there is one strain that stands out to me as particularly interesting. At no point was I ever given an estimate as to how long it would take before they could get me my bag. They weren't able to tell me anything in that respect until the morning it actually arrived in Barcelona. How was I supposed to know what amount of money was proportionate or "disproportionately high" for the time I was without my bag if I had no idea how long I would be without my bag? Would they have me treat my basic clothing like a croissant and a coffee, shuffling down to the local store each morning to buy my morning underwear and pants? At this point, I can't put anything past them.