This British Airways Glitch Got Someone Removed From An Aer Lingus Flight

Filed Under: Aer Lingus, British Airways

A Twitter user shared a story with me that I think is worth highlighting for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s a pitiful example of airline customer service. Second of all, it’s a good reminder that it’s important to manage your flight reservations and make sure everything is in order (it shouldn’t have to be that way, but that could have prevented this situation as well).

Why a customer was kicked off an Aer Lingus flight after boarding

You can read the full email that the customer sent to Aer Lingus and British Airways below, though let me try to sum it up as succinctly as possible. The passenger redeemed British Airways Avios to fly in Aer Lingus business class from Boston to Dublin about three weeks before departure. He received a confirmation number, and the Avios were deducted from his account.

He checked in, was issued a boarding pass, checked his bag, and was allowed to board. However, after boarding he was informed that his ticket wasn’t valid and that he’d have to deplane. Aer Lingus refused to do anything to help, and British Airways only refunded the Avios he redeemed, and told him to contact customer relations for compensation.

The British Airways & Aer Lingus glitch

There’s an occassional glitch when redeeming British Airways Avios on Aer Lingus, which is worth pointing out in hopes or preventing a similar situation in the future.

Specifically, when you book an award ticket using British Airways Avios on Aer Lingus, sometimes they’ll go through the process of making your reservation and deducting Avios, only for the ticket to not actually be valid.

I dealt with this myself a couple of months ago. I made a booking on Aer Lingus using Avios, and my Avios were deducted. However, I didn’t see an e-ticket number. I waited about a day, figuring it might take a while for the ticket to issue. I then contacted Aer Lingus to see if they could see my reservation, and they had no record of it.

Then I called British Airways, and they told me that there had been a glitch, and that my ticket was never actually issued, and there wasn’t actually an award seat available (even though there was definitely a seat available when I first made the reservation). I feel like I could have probably escalated this a bit further since they had already deducted the Avios, but I wasn’t 100% committed to the ticket, so just let it go.

I don’t want to say that this happens all the time, but it certainly happens with some frequency.

The part that I find bizarre here is that Aer Lingus let the passenger check-in, check his bags, etc. For the situations I had heard of previously, Aer Lingus had no record of the tickets.

This is clearly an IT glitch, and British Airways needs to do something to fix this. I put this on British Airways because customers are making bookings through them. If there’s an issue with the booking and it doesn’t actually ticket, it should be on British Airways to communicate with the customer and tell them there’s a problem.

What could the passenger have done differently?

Let me start by saying that the blame here falls squarely on the airlines. It’s outrageous that the passenger had the Avios deducted and had a reservation and was even allowed to check-in, only to be denied boarding after being on the plane. How humiliating to be taken off a plane after having already boarded.

However, this is a good time to post a reminder that whenever you make a reservation, be sure you have an e-ticket number. I’m not talking about the 5-6 digit alphanumeric confirmation code, but rather the 13 digit numeric number. Sometimes it takes a few hours after you make a booking for a ticket to issue, so you may not get this instantly. However, without an e-ticket number you’re not going to be allowed to board a plane.

The passenger acknowledged that he realized after the fact that he didn’t have an e-ticket number and the taxes on the ticket were also never charged. Again, it’s still the fault of the airlines, though if he had realized there was no e-ticket number, he could have dealt with this situation earlier.

Bottom line

Airlines should do better when it comes to communicating with passengers when there’s a glitch. While I was familiar with the British Airways and Aer Lingus award glitch, I find this situation especially strange, since the passenger was able to check in without an e-ticket number. I hope British Airways works to fix this issue. But it’s also a good reminder to take charge of your own reservation and always make sure you have an e-ticket number.

  1. How can you issue a boarding pass without a ticket number? What then changed after boarding that they realised their error?!?

  2. I’ve literally never looked for one. I’ve always assumed the alphanumeric code was confirmation enough.

    Just another layer of stress to add to the ordeal. =/

  3. Horrific and unacceptable behaviour by the airlines — I hope BA and Aer Lingus compensate him for the stress they put him through!!

  4. This happened to me in Feb, but the issue was resolved fortunately.
    I had booked 2pax LHR-JNB return with Avios (and using an Amex 241 as it happens), then a couple of weeks later added legs JNB-CPT and return, again with Avios via the BAEC call centre, and they were folded into the same booking. There was a slight kerfuffle at LHR on checkin, because they couldn’t issue our boarding cards for the JNB-CPT leg off the bat. With a couple of phone calls however it got sorted. We thought nothing of it until arriving at CPT to come home a week later. We were sent to customer services and it transpired that our CPT-JNB was not ticketed (but we had seat numbers, everything else looked fine etc). Because it was a reward flight the staff at CPT (who were brilliant) had to call BAEC (same number as the general public it seems!) and after around 45mins, it got sorted. However we were sweating a bit as we had to make that flight in order to pick up the JNB-LHR later. As a welcome touch, when we got to the gate at CPT we were reissued boarding passes in business for that leg. As I was thinking it through, the following came to mind:
    1. I don’t think the original issue at LHR was unrelated
    2. I remember that when I added the extra local legs, the uplift in taxes never appeared on my Amex statement (at the time I remember thinking what a bonus, but in retrospect this was the root of the problem)
    3. Indeed, what the staff at CPT told me was that a booking like mine “shouldn’t be possible” and “we don’t know how the call centre could’ve added the extra legs but not reticketed and still have what appeared to be a ‘valid’ booking”
    4. In the future I agree, check very carefully all your ticket numbers for all legs. This issue seems to be related to reward bookings only.

  5. @Ben – Hi, this was my story.

    During boarding for Biz class they had two employees taking boarding passes, one who was scanning them as normal and another who was visually checking boarding passes and ripping the barcode side off (presumably to be scanned later) and giving customers back their boarding pass stubs. I was “stubbed” and I suspect that the subsequent scanning of the boarding pass showed them the issue. Had I been scanned and not stubbed, they most certainly wouldn’t have let me board.

  6. @Kenneth

    Hi, this was my story. Thanks for your concern, I of course share your sentiments on this situation. Aer Lingus execs have been in touch with me via email and seem open to compensating me for this. Remains to be seen what that means outside of reimbursing my hotel/taxi expenses for the additional night in Boston.

  7. British Airways is hot garbage. Their leadership should be embarrassed at how they’ve turned a once-proud airline into a total laughingstock that makes American/Delta/United look like five-star airlines in comparison. Hilarious business class, nearly worthless loyalty points and some of the worst customer service in the industry, even including low-cost carriers.

    I will never set foot on this trash airline.

  8. I agree with you. For peace of mind, I always make sure I have the actual e-ticket number whenever I book award and paid flights.
    Back in 2011 I booked a ticket with PLUNA. I had a confirmation code and saw that the credit card transaction went through; but for some reason they never gave me an e-ticket number. I only realized this at the check-in counter when they couldn’t check me in. I had to call Chase and have him speak with one of the PLUNA agents at the ticketing counter to get everything straightened out. Ever since then, I always make sure I have that e-ticket number.
    As for this case, I have no idea how aer lingus gave him a boarding pass without an eticket number.

  9. Not clear at all how he was accepted without a ticket, but it’s the operating carriers responsibility nor do we know exactly what the issue was with the ticketing carrier
    If he was accepted by Aer Lingus then refused he could try to claim under eu261

  10. @Ben It should have been caught at check in but BPs (much like PNRs) can be issued without underlying tickets. This happened to someone on UA last year (made it all the way to the gate before being denied boarding).

  11. @sexy_kitten7

    Yep, exactly. Aer Lingus staff who checked me in didn’t catch the lack of ticket number, and at boarding they had staff expediting business class boarding. I happened to be waved over to the expediter who was ripping boarding passes and giving back stubs. Had I been scanned by the other agent they would’ve caught the issue before boarding.

  12. I’ll also note that one of the things that really, REALLY upset me about this incident was that Aer Lingus staff did nothing to help me. They disingenuously asked if there was anything they could do, when I asked what that might be, they said they could help me get my bags to a cab so I could get a hotel. No attempt to get me ticketed so I could stay on the flight, no attempt to get me on the next flight, no offer to pay for accommodation, and no acceptance of responsibility. Just instructions to “take it up with BA”.

    ….really? Makes Aer Lingus seem heartless but in reality it shows that their ground staff is powerless or incompetent or both. Also possibly heartless.

  13. If this was on a certain well known air travel forum, this would be followed by dozens of posts from people telling the passenger it was all his fault, that he shouldn’t complain and that he was probably trying to defraud BA.

  14. Yet another example, not just BA, if all the airlines having a double standard. Customers get penalized and charged for mistakes, cancellations, and changes. Yet airlines are able to just wash their hands of any errors on their part with no penalties or proper compensation unless the government chimes in with regulations. The mistake fares issue is a perfect example. And now this. And they wonder why there is no love or loyalty amidst their massive profits of the past few years? Southwest is more and more, despite the lack of first class, looking better and better for domestic. They tend to make the field a bit more level for all.

  15. This is outrageous. The system for airline ticketing is still so antiquated and the burden shouldn’t be on the customer to follow up and make sure there is an eTicket number after being given the alphanumeric “confirmation code” (PNR), which is a misnomer. Given that this happened out of Boston, maybe try filing a complaint with the US DOT? Not sure if anything would come from that but I’d still try it–you were forcibly removed after boarding and weren’t compensated!

  16. Spend enough time on Flyertalk and you’ll see loads of stories of ticketing problems. The unusual part here is that the customer made it on to the plane and was told to leave.

    The most common situation is that it is a reward ticket booked on an airline that is a partner with the reward program’s primary airline. Things sometimes go wrong when a PNR is split or there is a schedule change.

    I spend my FT time on the Air Canada forum. There is a great thread there about due diligence on a reward ticket.

  17. Wouldn’t it be possible to avoid the glitch by simply transferring Avios from a BA Avios account to your Aer Lingus Avios account? Then tickets could be booked directly with Aer Lingus.

  18. The opposite happened to me in 2012. I had booked a ba ticket via travel agent and cancelled it in a day and rebooked on lufthansa paying only the differential. Somehow BA reservations seemed to retain my cancelled ticket and i even earned miles for a flight I did not take. BA IT systems are fantastically unreliable.

  19. Not having a ticket number doesn’t necessarily disqualify one from boarding, in my personal experience.

    Last summer, I had a one-way DL J award BNE-CAN-PEK-CDG with the first two segments on CZ and the last on AF. CAN-PEK was cancelled, so I was rebooked on AF CAN-CDG. A ticket number couldn’t be issued because it was a DL award, so the CZ staff had to endorse the ticket to AF on paper. No ticket number. I even checked the reservation on the AF website using the PNR and the ticket number was never made available.

    When I attempted to board, the gate agent had to fiddle with her computer and some paperwork before I was let on board.

    When the flight record posted on my SM account, the ticket number was just listed as Not Available and still is to this day.

  20. This happened to me and my wife with an award flight on Alaska that was booked with Avios. We checked in at the airport and the agent printed boarding passes for us with seat assignments. Of course we were then denied boarding at the gate. The Alaska agents were pointing fingers at us and British Airways while at the same time saying the agent who checked us in was “new” and should have known. How no one from British Airways or Alaska saw there might be an issue in the 4 months between booking and the actual flight is beyond me. Perhaps if the airline’s system issues a PNR, seat assignment and boarding pass, but there is no ticket number, that ought to send up a red flag internally. We ended up losing a day of our vacation in Hawaii because of their ineptitude.

  21. @Ben

    Airlines do have to capability to print boarding passes without a ticket attached to them (They will always have a PNR attached to them though). Personally, the most recent one I got was a gate pass at ORD for the Flagship Lounge Event (See here: What I’m surprised about though is how check-in didn’t catch it. Yes, the agent CAN print the boarding pass without a ticket, I don’t know why he/she didn’t question or look into it. In the comments, the passenger who had the issue said the agent was just tearing the stub away, to be scanned later and this is why the gate agent didn’t catch it before boarding,

  22. Yet another reason to avoid BA. Bad hard product, bad soft product (especially the food), bad airport (LHR), bad customer service and bad IT (remember last summer’s IT meltdown). A hot mess.

  23. I know this sort of ticketing issue happens with other airlines, but it sure seems like BA tends to have a disproportionate number of occurrences of this issue.

  24. I read about this kind of case on flyertalk forum last night. Apparently a confirmed award ticket without ticket number happened quite a lot. BA said the CVV provided “dropped off” from their system after 7 days. BA will send an email for the pax to ask for the cvv again. I dont know why it takes them more than 7 days to charge the cc.

  25. Similar happened to me when trying to book EI BOS-DUB and JFK-DUB using Avios. But the BA agent caught the error before I hung up the phone. She claimed that this is a known issue. I asked that she escalate this which she said she would. But this is clearly an issue they have not fixed. And yes, classic BA they offer zero help other than saying contact the customer service black hole.

  26. @John

    That’s a pretty hysterical statement. BA standards have definitely fallen in recent years but I would still take them over any of the legacy US carriers, and fwiw my customer service interactions with them are usually better than with any US airline I know of.

    This situation is ridiculous however. I cannot believe the check-in agent didn’t even question the lack of an actual ticket number. Also, while BA needs to fix this error, it strikes me that Aer Lingus simply telling the passenger to contact BA was avoiding any responsibility and that is shameful, especially given they are both IAG airlines.

  27. @TomT the issue you mention is slightly different. When you add a sector to an existing booking that then needs ticketing, BAEC will update the booking, take the Avios but the ticketing is done separately at a later stage. This is usually prioritised based on how close to departure you are which puts advance bookings to the bottom of the list. However, BA’s systems will only hold the security code for your payment card for about 4 weeks. After that they have to manually input it again, which means they can’t process the ticket until they contact the customer again to get their details. In most cases this is a call followed by an email that they’ve tried to contact you. And that’s it! No further attempts are made until you get to the airport and the check in staff realise that you haven’t been ticketed!

  28. So, here is my story…
    It happened to me last night.
    Booked a TK flight with UA miles last week, it was issued, i even got a ticket number (!) on the email confirmation, it showed up on my UA app, so I thought, all good to go. Last night, I was just tinkering around with my UA app, noticed the booking just disappear….couldn’t pull it up on either…so called them and it turns out, although there was a ticket number, thanks to a glitch, TK didn’t see it so cancelled my booking!! I’m so lucky I spotted this error, otherwise I would have showed up at the airport and be denied boarding…
    So moral of the story: you can never be too careful! Even having a ticket number didn’t help in this case

  29. After reading this post, I quickly checked if I have a ticket number for my reward flight on Cathay Pacific redeemed with Alaska Miles. On Cathay website, I can see my booking using 6-letter reference code but there is no E-ticket number. On Alaska website, I can see there is a ticket number (I think it is issued by Alaska Airline).

    Is this okay? The ticket number is issued by Alaska Airline, not Cathay. So Cathay wouldn’t display it on the website?

  30. @Jane

    The issuing carrier (Alaska in your case) issues the ticket number. While there is a Cathay PNR for your itinerary that is separate from your Alaska PNR, you do not get separate ticket numbers for each airline. The ticket number(s) Alaska gave you is your ticket number, and Cathay should be able to find/honor your itinerary with that #.

  31. @Jane
    You should be fine. the 6 digit code can vary between airlines when you book with one for another but as long as AN e-ticket number exists you’re good.

  32. Wow. I have never flown BA but after everything I read about them on this blog, I have literally zero desire to ever set foot on one of their planes, ever.

  33. I had literally the exact opposite thing happen. Booked 2 biz class tickets using Avios on Aer Lingus. Tickets issued, flew the filghts, Avios never deducted. Waited a while to see if the missed deduction got caught in an audit. Nothing ever happened and I used the Avios again. No problems ever.

  34. Carlos hit the jackpot.

    Lucky is spot on with this. Its the airlines fault. Yet, on ANY booking I never DON’T go to operating airlines website with my PNR to examine the reservation and ticket in their system (with Avios usually AA, sometimes QF). I sure as hell would do that if I was transiting an ocean with my family or some other important event.

  35. I find airlines are particularly egregious when something goes wrong on a partner award. I booked my family in Air China First Class using Virgin Atlantic miles, they received ticket numbers but the email confirmation didn’t show ticket class. At check-in, Air China refused to accept that the tickets were in First Class, and seated my family in Economy, despite us showing them the confirmation email showing the large number of miles and fees paid. Maybe had the email not shown ticket numbers they might have even been denied boarding. 7 months later and still neither airline willing to admit any responsibility.

  36. They did not care. The airlines did not care. It was symptomatic of the apathy, vile obscession with profit. It truly was emblematic of the times. They at least did not pull a united whereby us airport rent a cops forcefully removed a Chinese gentleman from his seat while screaming.

  37. This happened with my Aeroplan booking for a BR award ticket.

    I caught the lack of a ticket so called Aeroplan directly and had them call the BR ticketing desk to issue my ticket manually. First Aeroplan agent actually told me (incorrectly) that there were no award spaces for the flight I wanted, which is why it didn’t ticket. HUCA and the second agent called BR and was able to ticket it no problem.

    ALWAYS check your PNR and ticket number with the OPERATING CARRIER(S) to confirm that everything went through fine. E.g. Don’t check with United whether your United Award was ticketed if you’re flying on TK, check directly with TK. That your ticket exists with the airline that’s going to carry you is the only thing that matters.

    @Jane Cathay won’t show you your ticket number in your reservation if you only input your PNR (for presumably security reasons). To confirm, put in the ticket number Alaska sent you on Cathay’s website to confirm the reservation.

  38. Lots of long comments, so I’ll keep it short and sweet from personal experience:

    Aimal was Involuntariey Denied Boarding and is due compensation based upon FAA or Euro laws.

    I received $1200 compensation on a UA Award several years ago that was a similar situation, award never ticketed. I did have to escalate to DOT to get them to act.

    That’s how I learned about managing a reservation, the hard way, but the $1200 was nice compensation and it was GREAT to “sock it to ‘em!”

  39. Air France unilaterally cancelled my delta award ticket from lax to cdg last year after a week despite issuing me an eticket number. And they didn’t tell me they cancelled it. I discovered the error six weeks later. Luckily I am paranoid and monitor every flight because I’ve been screwed over so often. Had I not done so, I would have shown up to the airport over Christmas and been denied boarding.

    It took them 2 months and 30-40 phone calls to reinstate my ticket I had already built and paid for a 3 week vacation around. And yes, I posted about it and everyone on flyertalk let me know it was my fault haha.

  40. This has happened to me twice with award booking:

    1. Years ago booked a SQ flight with Aeroplane miles and while I received email confirmation etc, hubby’s ticket was ticketed but not mine. We only found out at the airport and Aeroplane instructed me to buy a business class ticket with SQ on the spot and they reimbursed me fully. Well done Aeroplane.

    2. Just last month booked SQ flight with Miles and More and couldn’t select seat for my daughter’s ticket, only then realised that she had no e-ticket number. Rung Miles and More and was told that they had the wrong credit card number and just needed me to give them that again – but if I hadn’t tried to select the seat for her I might not have found out – there was no communication from Miles and More to say that they had a problem with my payment.

    I will be checking all e-ticket numbers for my award and paid bookings from now

  41. British Airways’ computer systems have a lot of problems interfacing with non-BA systems. I have this same problem when I booked a hotel with a flight on BA. Paid for everything to BA but Marriott could find no record of payment. They had nonetheless the reservation on their system.

  42. @Lucky

    This is one of the reasons why I take BA’s overly sentimental and highly staged adverts featuring them helping people with a hefty dose of salt.

    Sadly, those of us who have travelled BA regularly do not recognise the airline they feature in the adverts.

    I’ve only ever flown Aer Lingus once so I can’t really comment on them.

    In reference to the earlier article featuring their new Concorde Room. I agree, the Sheraton sums it up nicely, it looked crap! When it comes to lounges, they should consult some of their fellow OneWorld members for advice.

  43. @Culverin John Lewis advert is out. It’s as nonsensical as ever. Maybe that’s what BA was going for!

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