British Airways Bank Holiday chaos as thousands of travellers spend hours on phone trying to salvage plans

Helena Horton
Many people had their Bank Holiday weekend disrupted - AP

British Airways was accused of "ruining" the bank holiday weekend as thousands of holidaymakers attempted to salvage their travel plans in the wake of the planned pilots' strike.

Passengers vented their fury at the airline on Sunday as some claimed they spent up to four hours on the phone trying to contact the airline's customer services department to cancel or reschedule their booked flights. 

Exasperated traveller Ben Pywell told the BBC he called British Airways on more than 200 occasions without success, while others demanded compensation for having to rearrange holidays and family celebrations.

Ellie Kormis, from Surrey, spent almost £2,000 rebooking flights for her family holiday to Greece - only to be told her original flights hadn't been cancelled.

She told the BBC: "You're left in a situation where you can't speak to anyone - and you fear you'll either lose your holiday or be left out of pocket."

Jon Sopel, the BBC's North America editor, was also among those caught up in the chaos, tweeting: "Dear British Airways.

"This morning you wrote saying our flight was cancelled from Washington, and that we needed to rebook. We rebooked. Now you’ve written to say our flight is not cancelled after all. So what the ..... are we meant to do now?" 

The airline was told on social media it had "ruined" the bank holidayover its handing of the planned pilots' strike, which the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said would take place on September 9, 10 and 27.

The airline's customer services line became jammed as passengers were mistakenly emailed about cancellations to flights on days strike action was not planned for.

No online link was provided for people to rebook their flights online, meaning customers had to make contact directly.

In the 24 hours after the airline sent emails on Friday, BA said it received close to 40,000 calls.

Anger over the planned strike continued to simmer on Sunday, which came as British Airways marked its centenary.

Visitors to the airline's Twitter page were treated to a display of animated balloons.

Travel expert Simon Calder said: "British Airways: on the airline's 100th birthday, thousands of prospective passengers are stressed, upset and out-of-pocket as a result of BA's botched communication about the impending pilots' strike."

British Airways is now braced to receive a series of financial claims as travellers demanded to be compensated for rearranging their travel plans. Adam French, consumer rights expert at Which?, said the issue had caused "a lot of confusion and anxiety".

"It is vital that the airline ensures that any customer who was initially informed that their flight was cancelled and has booked an alternative flight is not left out of pocket," he said.

A British Airways spokesperson told The Telegraph that all those who had rebooked flights after the email error were eligible for a refund.

She added that customers should keep all records and receipts for the refund process.

Rival airline Virgin Atlantic were seemingly quick to spot an opportunity among frustrated passengers as the company intervened in the matter.

The firm wrote on its social media page: "Has British Airways cancelled your flight on the 9, 10 or 27th September due to their pilot strike? We’d love to help keep your travel plans on track."

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) claimed on Friday that strike action was a "last resort" borne out of "enormous frustration" with airline management.

The union also suggested further walkouts could yet be announced.

It came after BA pilots have rejected a pay increase worth 11.5 per cent over three years, that would take a captain's pay to over £200,000 a year, which the airline put forward in July.

BA has told passengers affected by the confusion that they can request a full refund, rebook their flights for another time in the next 355 days, or use the value of the fare to fly to a different destination.