A Transit Watchout with British Airways in London

British Airways has several flights a day between Hong Kong and London. That, and the fact that many of its One World stablemate Cathay’s flights to Britain and Europe feed into BA’s regional network means that a lot of travellers from our region will end up connecting onto a BA flight.

For those not familiar with London’s airports it’s worth explaining that there are several. The one most flights from Asia use (including BA and Cathay) is London Heathrow. A second main airport, which like Heathrow is not in London proper, is Gatwick. Cathay used to have flights there and will resume service this September in addition to its Heathrow flights. A third airport is London City, which handles no scheduled Asian flights but like Gatwick has BA flights to both domestic U.K. and other, mostly European, destinations.

I find BA’s booking process to be more complex than it needs to be, pricing individual segments of a journey which can become confusing fast. Often, if booking for example between HK and a BA domestic or regional destination, the connecting flight will be offered from multiple airports. For example, here is a screenshot for a search between Glasgow and Hong Kong:

BA booking screen 2

As you can see, all three options start in Glasgow within an hour of each other and arrive in Hong Kong on the same London-Hong Kong flight. However, each of the feeder flights into London arrives at a different airport.

In this case, flying into Heathrow is slightly cheaper and flying into City or Gatwick cost the same, a bit more. BA’s pricing is very inconsistent so it is often the other way around, while on some days the price difference is significant.

If you book one of these trips you’ll get a message highlighting that you are responsible for the transit cost between airports:

BA booking screen

However, you should also be aware that you are also responsible for the transfer of your luggage as BA refuses to transport luggage between the multiple London airports from which it chooses to operate. So, in the above itinerary as an example, passengers will need to await the luggage at baggage reclaim at Gatwick, then transport it at their own cost to Heathrow where they will need to check it in again.

This can come as quite a surprise. I booked a Glasgow to Hong Kong flight with BA last year and was unaware of this. Given the cost warning highlighted as above, I even checked about luggage transfer knowing I would have a heavy bag, but found no mention of it anywhere. I thus presumed that that meant that I could check it in in Glasgow and not see it again until HK. I thus booked a flight into City instead of Heathrow, thinking it would enable me to have dinner in central London.

At checkin in Glasgow, the ground crew told me they could only check the baggage as far as City and I would have to claim and recheck it. She frostily insisted that “you were told on the website when you booked” – I later went back and checked, and this claim was incorrect. I wrote a letter to BA afterwards asking them to fix this error, but they did not even respond. Looking online one can read many complaints dating back years from passengers caught unaware by this hidden policy.

Indeed, I remember seeing a man, his wife and young children with four or five large suitcases at a European airport shortly before arguing with BA ground staff about what I now realise was exactly this point, with the ground staff telling him he should take a taxi across London and if he hadn’t know he would have to spend that additional money, it was his fault.

So, if planning to transit through London on BA, if in doubt you may first wish to clarify with them whether your baggage can be checked all the way through to your final destination.

Guest Blogger: Christopher R.

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