Should British Airways Have Deleted This Sassy Tweet?

Filed Under: British Airways

British Airways called out a customer in a Tweet that has since been deleted, but I actually think it was kind of refreshing, and they were in the right?

I couldn’t imagine working in Twitter customer service

Let me start by saying that I feel bad for people who work in Twitter customer service, especially for airlines. I feel sorry for them for a couple of reasons:

  • Companies have created ridiculous “success” metrics based around response times rather than the quality of responses, so the priority is on responding to everything quickly
  • People (including me!) just like to whine on Twitter, so many of the “complaints” that people have aren’t actually complaints where they’re looking for a resolution, but rather they just want to vent

You need to sign your passport

For some background on what’s to come, when you have a passport, it’s pretty standard that you need to sign it in order for it to be valid. So in order to fly with that passport, it needs to be signed as well. It can be easy to forget about the signature requirement, and with my last passport I only realized I needed to sign it when an airline agent told me to.

Now, a lot of airline agents may not notice the lack of a signature, but that’s hardly a defense when it is noticed. It’s like when you see people arguing with the TSA about how their oversized liquid should be allowed through, because they’ve traveled with it so many times before.

Sassy Angela vs. Stubborn Sharon

That brings us to a Twitter user who was flying British Airways, and who was angry that she was asked to sign her passport.

FFS. @british_airways flight is 25 mins late because the first officer was stuck in traffic to the airport. Despite that, gate staff refused to let me on the flight because my passport wasn’t signed.

So instead we held up the queue for another 5 mins while I practiced my sig.

Alrighty, so:

  • What does the first officer being late have to do with the validity (or lack thereof) of your passport?
  • You need to practice your signature for five minutes?!

She continued:

Then, with the weight of tutting behind me, I scribbled any old shite in my passport. So now for the next 9.75 years I have a sig that looks nothing like mine in my passport. Thanks @british_airways, that’s not improved security in any way while storing up future problems for me.

Wait, after practicing her signature for five minutes she “scribbled any old shite” in her passport? What was she doing for the five minutes?!

She goes on and on and on, about how she’s now going to fly KLM, because “it’s more useful to have status on that airline now.”

What’s most remarkable is how British Airways initially responded to her complaint. In a Tweet that has since been deleted, British Airways responded as follows:

I’m sorry you felt embarrassed at how my colleague dealt with you. However, there are times when we have to accept responsibility for our own actions. If you’d signed your passport when you received it, this wouldn’t have become an issue. Angela.

LOL! Spot on, Angela.

The passenger responded to that with:

Way to reply to customers who spent *literally thousands of pounds* with you every year.

Just booked my next flight to London with KLM.

After the initial Tweet was deleted, Angela did Tweet again, as follows:

We’re not sure how we can help, Sharon. We understand by the time you reached the departure gate our staff noticed that your new passport wasn’t signed. This is a legal requirement and should have taken a couple of seconds. It’s not clear why it took longer and aggravated I’m pleased your passport is now signed. You’ll not have this issue to deal with anymore. Thanks, Angela.

Then Sharon responded as follows:

I’ll never have to deal with an issue that has literally never come up, but I WILL have to deal with a bunch of unrelated issues because my passport has a signature that looks nothing like mine, having been forced by your employee to scribble something in a rush. Yeah, thanks.

And lastly one more comment from Angela:

Hi, Sharon, ideally you should sign your new passport as soon as you receive it. As the passport holder, you may add your signature at any point before you depart from the UK. My colleague was exercising the law and not trying to be difficult. Angela

For those keeping track, I think the score is now:

  • Angela: 3
  • Sharon: 0

Of course I agree with Sharon that the signature requirement is stupid, and It doesn’t in any way enhance safety. But it’s also a legal requirement. She suggests the agent should have just told her to sign it before the next flight, but that’s not how it works.

Where do you stand on this — was Angela or Sharon in the right? Are there times where a bit of sass is refreshing, even from an official airline Twitter account?

(Tip of the hat to The Flight Detective)

Comments
  1. British Airways should be proud of their responses – there’s no need for them to delete any of them. In addition to being illegal, Sharon’s expectation is unreasonable because the airline risks very significant fines (in the thousands) for transporting a passenger without a signed passport.

  2. There has to be more to this story, something we don’t know about the passenger. Not knowing about the signature is one thing, but taking 5 minutes to “practice” and then actually just using scribbles, perhaps the flyer had a condition or something that hasn’t been made public yet (i.e. Parkinson’s, etc)

  3. If you have a look at her twitter she looks like a barrel of laughs. Lots of moaning and swearing. She is a writer for an organization that, ‘provides compelling content to help you manage your intranet and digital communications programs.’
    Just don’t ask her to sign anything!

  4. Team Angela!

    “[Sharon] WILL have to deal with a bunch of unrelated issues because my passport has a signature that looks nothing like mine.”

    What issues would that be? I can’t remember any event in my life when my signature on a document was compared to the one in my passport.

  5. Sharon might not have been required to sign her passport if (a) she is aged 11 or under or if (b) she cannot sign because of a disability. In the latter case, her passport should have been marked clearly “the holder is not required to sign”.

    The policy for this is fairly clear (the UK is in general fantastic about documenting the policies their government offices follow and making those policies available). See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/118600/applicants-unable-to-write.pdf , passport policies for applications unable to write.

    If Sharon is unable to write — for example, if after five minutes of practice she is unable to scrawl a signature in a way she considers acceptable; or if she has a neurological condition such as dysgraphia or other learning disabilities — she should have been accommodated by HM Passport Office at the time of her application and they should have marked “THE HOLDER IS NOT REQUIRED TO SIGN” then.

    Certain disabilities, such as stuttering, face blindness (prosopagnosia), and poor handwriting (dysgraphia), can be embarrassing and people who otherwise navigate the world with ease may feel ashamed about their disability.

    While I don’t know for sure that dysgraphia was the problem here, it’s POSSIBLE that Sharon has an undiagnosed or undisclosed disability and is uncomfortable discussing it. It’s POSSIBLE that the airline customer service agent could have shown empathy. They could for example have reached out in private and helped explain that if there is a problem with disability, the airline can help her coordinate with the Passport Office to have her passport reissued with a notice indicating that she is unable to sign her name, and that there is no shame or judgment here.

  6. I have every sympathy with Angela and none with Sharon however signing passports is a new requirement in the EU, the previous generations of passport were absolutely not to be signed and contained a scanned signature so a lot of people are not signing them across Europe until asked to.

    FWIW UK passports are still standard EU ones and even when they turn blue that will be the only change and they will remain in line with all previous standards – and much to the horror of the Brexiters, the blue ones are being printed in France!

  7. Angela is my new travel hero! Though in a separate tweet, Sharon is apparently legally blind, so maybe she legit never knew? ‍♂️

  8. I’ve never heard of having to sign a passport. My passport has always had a digital copy of my signature there. It’s a lot more secure

  9. I heart Angela. Sharon acted like an entitled brat.

    If she didn’t know she didn’t need to sign her new passport that is either a failure of herself to not read the material that came with it, or if she is blind and it wasn’t in braille of the UK to not put it in braille.

    Even so the BA person wasn’t doing it for shits and giggles, she was following the law. Asking for special treatment for not particular reason other than being yourself is literally the definition of entitlement. I am sad for Sharon as she will continue to struggle in life. I am also sad for those who have to deal with Sharon and teach her these valuable life lessons.

  10. @ Phil Duncan: excuse me, but since when? I have an EU passport my entire live und it had always to be signed. And I have to sign, when I apply for it. So there is no way I could have a passport without Signature. I don’t know, how that is even possible.

  11. I never knew my passport needed to be signed until pointed out by an agent as well but it wasn’t a big deal and I certainly didn’t need to practice my signature (laughs). Perhaps education in the UK is like the US, today’s lovely crop of kids don’t know how to write in cursive at all, so maybe it’s a generational thing.

  12. @Lara S

    The passport in question was a Republic of Ireland one not a United Kingdom one.

    @ Betty – there is no such thing as an EU passport. Passports are issued by national governments and not the EU.

    There has been a change in how the signature is done. My first passport issued in 1990 I had to manually sign it. The next two issued in 2000 and 2020 there is a copy of my signature on the photo page copied from the application form.

    That has now changed so that you need to manually sign the passport again.

    The standards for passports are set by IATA not the EU.

  13. What makes customer service such a difficult job is that the customer is not always right and you end up having to deal with difficult customers who are factually incorrect and yet feel 100% justified in their complaint. Of course, this goes the other way too, when the customer is right and the service agent is incorrect.

    In this case, Angela is correct that the act of having to sign the passport was not only a legal requirement but should have taken about 3 seconds. The point of a signature is that its something you can do quickly. I’m baffled by the argument that it needed to take 5 minutes to practice the signature.

  14. You get a passport and you sign it. End of story.

    Making BA “responsible” for her lack of awareness, intelligence or respect of having citizenship, and fulfilling her obligation, is just dumb.

  15. I’ve had cashiers not accept my credit card bcuz it was not signed. It took me 3 seconds to sign it.

  16. Oops, when I was writing my above comment about the possibility of showing empathy for a person who might have an undisclosed disability, I had not yet seen this person’s Twitter message where she says “I’m quite considerably blind.”

    I also didn’t realize the relevant passport was Irish and not UK issued — I don’t know what the DFA’s rules are for whether or not the signature requirement may be waived for someone with a disability. It would not have helped for BA to offer to reach out to HM Passport Office on her behalf since the person would have needed to contact a different country to ask them to waive the signature requirement.

    It does seem like it’s not unreasonable for her to be upset. It’s also not unreasonable for the BA CS rep to be unaware of her undisclosed disability and not thinking at all about the need to apply extraordinary empathy and guess that the person’s strident complaints are related to an undisclosed disability.

    But BA could have done a bit better here, by assuming the absolute most generous interpretation (this person who is yelling at me must be hurting about something they are not telling me) and being as kind as possible. That didn’t quite happen here, and it is not at all the BA rep’s fault, but they could have had a better conversation and it’s too bad that they didn’t.

  17. The signature requirement is stupid as he.., but since it’s issued by a government agency, is it any wonder.

  18. This was handled badly by both sides. BA is not a govt agency and I am not sure why any single BA employee would want to act as some kind of govt agent since there is no requirement to verify a signature in a passport. In fact, any scribble would do. The BA employee should have simply said, when you get inside the terminal remember to sign your passport.

  19. Serious question. Has anyone had any issue anywhere with a signature comparison? My signature is almost never the same and really just doctor (which I’m not) scribble. Any checks I ever have written, credit cards I have signed, driver license, passport. Signature is always different and I have never had an issue.

  20. A few years ago, we were in line at border control at FRA and overhead the agent scold someone for not having signed their passport. Fortunately, the agent exercised his discretion to permit the person to sign the passport. When we got to the front of the line he explained that he could have at least fined them for the omission.

  21. Another moronic passenger

    You have to sign on page 3 of Irish passports. You also need to sign a U.K. one

    The staff were giving her a gentle , polite reminder.

    Why does she feel it’s acceptable to use profanities, albeit abbreviated ? FFS and AF.

    She runs a digital comms company and thinks it’s acceptable to open a tweet to BA with “ for f..s sake “

    Am sure she would like it if I approached her company using profanities

    Moron

  22. I wonder why BA didn’t let the other passengers proceed while Sharon practiced her signature?

  23. Completely agree with the passenger on this one.

    Ha just kidding. It’s the law.
    Smart idea… Why don’t we all stop moaning when these people are just doing their job ensuring safety. Comply with the rules and you’ll get to the places you want.

  24. It is natural for people to initially deny responsibility for something they did wrong and someone called them out on (e.g., getting honked at in traffic). The first officer thing may be her way of saying the flight is already late, why enforce this right now.

    I do agree BA is correct and all the passenger did was dig herself into a deeper hole.

    It is like calling out a bartender or server when you pay for your meal using an unsigned credit card. Many will ignore it but the good ones will ask for an ID and then suggest you sign it. I know some people won’t sign credit cards and instead write something like “ask for id” but technically that isn’t allowed.

    I think a few too many here are stretching to defend the passenger.

  25. “thousands of pounds”- Sharon, I think you’re exaggerating how much a basic economy tickets costs there.

  26. I was about to jump into conclusions but them seems that Sharon has some degree of eyesight impairment. Not sure if gate agents noticed that, tough situation to judge.

    Regarding the signature, not sure if Sharon uses her passport as documents, in my field is the primary document accepted for doing business with clients,

  27. I live in the USA. United States Passports say “NOT VALID UNTIL SIGNED” right under the signature line. They can deny you boarding for not having a valid passport.

  28. @Keith

    I had to look it up and I’m in the US. It is a meme (of which I’m not well versed in)

    “Karen is a mocking slang term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman. Especially as featured in memes, Karen is generally stereotyped as having a blonde bob haircut, asking to speak to retail and restaurant managers to voice complaints or make demands, and being a nagging, often divorced mother from Generation X.”

  29. This is ridiculous.

    Yes, signing shouldn’t take more than a second and the passenger shouldn’t make a fuss. If they had some disability then it would say in the passport that they don’t need to sign.

    The bigger issue here though, is employees of a company, employed to serve the customer, giving terrible service.

    1. There is a way or explaining something nicely so the customer isn’t offended.

    2. The customer is paying the wages, like it or lump it. You need to serve and please them.

    3. The job is not law enforcement, it’s customer service. Leave the passport checks to immigration; who are trained in such matters.

    The comment about the first officer is actually on point; BA are in the business of selling flights, and as such are expected to provide on time departures (amongst other things). Their priority should be providing the best service in exchange for customers money. Leave the admin to immigration!

    The BA agent at the airport sounds like they are in the wrong job. If they like telling people what to do so much, even the police is the wrong career, such dictator like behaviour only belongs in the military. Meanwhile, whilst working for BA they should focus on keeping the customer happy.

  30. In civilized countries such as Germany, you sign the document when you request a new passport, it is scanned and printed on the passport. No need to sign it after you receive it…

  31. Me: *Hands credit card to pay for something*

    Clerk: “Sir, I’m sorry. Without a signature on the card you could be anyone. A complete fraud. We cannot possibly accept this form of payment without foolproof verification.”

    Me: *gets a pen, draws three loopty-loops on plastic without saying a word*

    Clerk: “Perfect! Our security system is bulletproof and you are now able to buy anything you’d like with this card.”

    Me: ….

  32. Lenneal says:
    January 8, 2020 at 1:22 pm

    This was handled badly by both sides. BA is not a govt agency and I am not sure why any single BA employee would want to act as some kind of govt agent since there is no requirement to verify a signature in a passport. In fact, any scribble would do. The BA employee should have simply said, when you get inside the terminal remember to sign your passport.

    +++++++++++++++++++

    Airlines can be fined if they land a passenger with invalid documents and yes someone not having signed their passport (and who does not have a recognised exemption from signing) could be seen as not having valid documents.

    Germany had a right bee in its bonnet a couple of years ago with people not having signed their passport (or there being a signature on the photo page) with people being sent to the back of the queue to do it.

    But this incident is her fault. it is her passport and she is responsible for complying with the rules. The check-in agent spotted it and instead of thanking him and being gracious and stepping asidee to do it and let other people be checked-in she went off on one and then decided to have a twitter rant.

  33. @callum

    I’ve never heard of having to sign a passport.

    That’s because you always hide under your shell and ignore the outside world.
    News flash! Many nationality requires you to sign your passport.

    I do agree that requiring signature is frivolous. But it is still the law. Digitally printed doesn’t make it more or less secure. Signature is an obsolete security relic of the last century. Why do you think immigration collects your fingerprints?

  34. Max says:
    January 8, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    In civilized countries such as Germany, you sign the document when you request a new passport, it is scanned and printed on the passport. No need to sign it after you receive it…

    ++++++++

    The rules have changed. In all sorts of civilised countries like the Republic of Ireland and the UK (and as far as I can tell the USA) you now have to physically sign the passport upon receipt and signatures are no longer scanned and printed.

  35. @Max
    The rules have changed: new passports need a manual signature, whether you’re in a “civilised” EU country or just a condescending one.

    @Lenneal
    “BA is not a govt agency and I am not sure why any single BA employee would want to act as some kind of govt agent”

    Unfortunately the government has turned them into surrogate govt agents: they are required to do document checks before permitting a passenger to board. If they fail to do that, or get it wrong, they face big fines (and, if they’ve brought someone to the UK without the correct papers, they also have to pay the cost of sending them back home).

    @Phil Duncan

    UK passports have already changed: my new one, issued 4 or 5 weeks ago, has had “European Union” deleted from the front cover, even though we remain in the EU until the end of this month.

    @Michael
    Your expectations of what a mass transport company can or should do strike me as wildly optimistic. The staffing levels alone would bankrupt them.

    Though as someone else wrote, other than checking there was something scribbled there I’ve never had the actual signature itself checked by anyone.

  36. I actually don’t see anything that sassy in Angela’s replies. I think she was reasonable and firm without being rude.

  37. @Vanya Exactly! I want sassy replies! I don’t sense any sass in her first reply or the ones after! I call this a clickbait! Had Angela said “No signature on your passport? No flight for you!” in Soup Nazi voice of course, that would had been sassy! 😉

  38. Hey Ben, take a look into your German passport: We have our signature printed on the photo page! Hence it needs to be given at the time of application and no passport is issued without a signature.

    I’m actually very surprised to learn that other well-developed countries offer an opportunity for such a mistake.

    Sorry for this, but: Sometimes the German solution is really the better one 😉

  39. I can sign with my eyes closed. So what if it looks like crap? I know people like Sharon who are never happy with the way they are treated, but you often get back what you put out.

  40. Forgot to sign my new passport, leaving the USA tsa agent saw and told me to sign before I got on the flight, then sent me through.

  41. @ ChrisC: I know, that there is no EU Passport. I just meant one that was issued in the EU. And I still sign my German passport when I apply for it. That never changed. It was the case in 1990 und is still the case in 2019. Lucky has a German passport himself, so he should know that. There can’t be an unsigned German ID, Passport or drivers License.

  42. 1) Why does any adult need to practice their signature!!
    2) just flew to 4 countries via 7 Airlines and back to US without signing passport. Passport control on arrival pointed it out and were very cool about it.
    3) BA was being bureaucratic. Totally correct in actions and tweets, but bureaucratic nonetheless.

  43. Angela’s first response to be honest is becoming more fine in my eyes as time goes on. People are incredibly quick these days to take to twitter and start bombarding companies with complaints. Sometimes totally justified, but a lot of the times its also people not taking responsibility for their own actions and I am fine with being called out on that if its as ridiculous as this. It took her 5 mins to not get her own signature right. If she has a disability then I still don’t understand this twitter chatter of hers. Angela is handling it fine in all tweets. In the end nothing even happened, she didn’t miss her flight or anything. A storm in a glass of water as they say where I am from.

  44. This pax has no common sense at all. From BA (bad) to KLM (terrible)?? If flying Amsterdam to London, better swim….

  45. Looking at the location on the tweet you’ve shared above, I think I might have seen this happen. Boarding a BA flight LCY-AMS earlier this week one of the group 1 passengers was stopped by the gate attendant. But I was behind so I didn’t see her face. He gave her a pen, they spoke for a moment and he gave her a bit of paper. She had a few attempts at her signature. A big loud chap who was ahead of me in the queue was pretty much shouting at her to hurry up while she did it. The gate attendant held the queue up, not the woman herself. She signed the passport and moved on. It was a minute at most, nowhere near five minutes. The gate attendant wouldn’t let her move aside, and the guy behind was not subtle in his displeasure. The flight was late already. I can understand why she felt it was badly handled and she was put on the spot.

    This has prompted me to look at my passport. Mine isn’t signed either and I’ve been using it every week for three years. And I was on the same flight so I’m not sure why they made an example of this poor woman. It wasn’t unreasonable to complain about it. And BA’s tweet is a shocking way to speak to a customer…. presumably a very regular customer if she was boarding in Group 1!

  46. The nice Paul says:
    January 8, 2020 at 3:35 pm

    The changes to the UK passport be they the removal of European Union or they turn blue are purely cosmetic. All other features will remain exactly the same.

  47. Unfortunately this is what happens when standards are not upheld. It becomes, “I’ve never been told before,” “they didn’t make me do this before/last time,” “I’ve always done it this way,” “It’s never been a problem before.” People try to be the exception to the rule and then cry foul, get all 2 and 8 when there scheme fails. Take accountability.

    You go Angela!

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