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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

British Airways under fire for cancelling cheap tickets to Dubai

Thousands affected after glitch sells tickets at knock-off prices in error

British Airways has been forced to cancel cheap flights after pricing error. Courtesy British Airways
British Airways has been forced to cancel cheap flights after pricing error. Courtesy British Airways

Travellers who snapped up cheap British Airways (BA) to Dubai have been left disgusted after their flights were cancelled when the airline said a computer glitch meant prices had been incorrectly displayed. Some tickets were going for only £200 return due to the error. More than 2,000 people were able to access the knock-off flights available via travel agencies to Dubai and Tel Aviv.

BA said that such incidences were rare and under contract law it had no obligation to honour them. It added that customers had been offered a full refund and offered those affected a £100 (Dh490) voucher. But to some this was scant consolation having already booked non-refundable hotels and excursions and the airline has come under fire.

Adele Walton had been due to fly from Manchester via London Heathrow to Dubai on December 21, 2018, before returning on the 2nd of January 2019. When the flights were bought they were £289 (Dh1,400) per person.

“We could have booked an alternative carrier on the same dates, but with a longer layover for around £50 (Dh242) more per person. We thought it was a special airfare or flash sale,” she told The National.

Ms Walton had booked and paid in full, and received e-ticket numbers. Now she is facing the prospect of shelling out over £800 (Dh3,900) a seat. “We are in the travel trade ourselves and cannot believe BA’s actions on this. It is wrong on so many levels, the seats should be honoured. Our flights were live for five days, then they just cancelled them when they realised their airfare loading error.”

Steve Williams resorted to rebooking flights with Virgin Atlantic to Dubai after BA cancelled his booking. He said he was “disgusted at the horrific customer service” and would send an £800 invoice to BA CEO Alex Cruz

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Guy Anker, deputy editor of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "BA's slogan is 'To Fly, To Serve', but in this case it's refusing to fly these passengers and is refusing to serve their best interests.

"They've bought these tickets in good faith at a believable price - it's not as though the tickets cost £5, which would clearly have been a glitch. Many have budgeted accordingly and booked accommodation and now face big fees to go ahead with their holiday."

An advisor at Friendly Flying said consumers should file an independent complaint but conceded that BA regulations appeared to protect the airline. She also added that BA was under no obligation to give the £100 gift voucher it offered.

Sukhi Bansi spent £218 (Dh1,600) per person to fly to Dubai with BA. A week later she was told by BA that her tickets were invalid, but only after she had spent £2,500 (Dh12,175) on non-refundable hotel bookings. The same flights were now £565(Dh2,750) per person she said.

Samantha Barker described it as “appalling that a week after booking and paying for our flights to Dubai (BA) has cancelled them. Not good service. Took our money and sent confirmation of our flights.”

The International Air Transport Association refused to comment. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority said that it was “a straightforward contract law situation,” but as regulator it fell outside its realms. Which? The UK consumer association also said they were not in a position to comment.

At least five travel agents are believed to have been affected by the issue. Ali Shah, head of Travel Up, told the BBC at least 2,000 of his customers had been caught up in the debacle. "It's very cruel for the customers because they have booked these flights in good faith and expected it to be honoured. But I can also understand British Airways' position, it's a human error,” he said.

Net Flights and Carlton Leisure are two of the companies Mr Shah mentions.

Know your rights

In the UK, the rights you have as a consumer generally depend on whether you have paid for the item yet or not.

If you are informed of a mistake in pricing in a shop before you buy the item, you do not have the right to purchase it at the lower price, said Citizens Advice, an independent network of charities.

You can ask the retailer to honour that lower price, but it does not have to by law. However, if you have already bought it – and the store sells it to you at a lower cost in error – they are only legally entitled to ask you to pay more if you spoke about the price first, and they ended up charging you less.

If you are shopping online your rights depends on whether a contract exists between you and the retailer. And depending on the terms and conditions of the company, a 'contract' exists once you have either paid for an item or they have sent it to you.

If a contract exists, the company cannot usually cancel the order – even if they realise they sold it at the wrong price. If you do not have a contract already, they can legally cancel your order.

In the UAE, a store is obliged to display the price accurately. Federal Law No 24 of 2006 states that businesses must ensure that advertising or labelling is not misleading and items offered for sale must be priced accurately.

This means that the price offered and the price charged for an item must be the same, said Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets.

The consumer should be offered an item at the advertised price and any stores that contravene these laws can be reported to the consumer protection section of the Department of Economic Development, with supporting evidence.

Offering illusory prices in order to deceive customers in the UAE can result in a jail sentence or a fine not exceeding Dh20,000.