Letter of Complaint to Willy Walsh, chief executive of British Airways

I’m a great believer in our duty to complain and have written a blog about it:


Every organisation that cares about improving its perforamce should make it easy to complain, but often it isn’t—itself a cause for complaint.

I wrote the complaint below to Willie Walsh, the chief executive of British Airways, after I’d found it impossible to make a complaint through the British Airways website. I’ve failed in my duty do far as I’ve haven’t sent it to Walsh, but it occurs to me—and others—that it may be more effective to complain through social media, as your complaint is (at least in theory) shared with the world—so potentially lowering the reputation of the organisation you are complaining about, prompting others to share similar complaints, and perhaps making the organisation take the complaint more seriously than they would otherwise do.

So here goes.

(I must make clear that I use the pretentious and undeserved letters after my name only when writing references and complaints. I’m not sure if it has any effect. I should perhaps try a randomised trial.)


Dear Mr Walsh,

I’m sure that as the chief executive of British Airways you are keen to know about the experiences of your customers, particularly those that offer an opportunity for British Airways to improve its performance.

About an hour ago I rang British Airways to inquire about two tickets that have been bought for me by an Indian travel agent for my wife and I to fly business class from London to Bengaluru and back again. These have cost £4600 each, which seems an extraordinary amount, and, much to my surprise, they seem to be non-refundable.

I was ringing to inquire whether the tickets really were non-refundable or whether at least I could use the money to buy other tickets on British Airways, but after waiting 25 minutes for an answer I gave up.

I decided that it was my duty to complain, so I went to the website to make a complaint. I don’t know if you have tried to do this, but I suggest you try. You’ll find that you are caught in a Kafkaesque circle that always brings you back to where you start.

I simply couldn’t work out how to complain through the website, which was my choice. So I decided to telephone, but when I did so I was told that lines were so busy that I would have to ring later.

I’ve been flying regularly on British Airways for 40 years and have flown six times on British Airways in the past month. I’ve even a few times reached the heights of being a silver person, although for the past three years I’ve been downgraded to bronze. You can imagine that this recent experience does not endear me to British Airways, although it might console you to know that I found the whole thing so absurd that I began to laugh.

But I thought that you’d want to know of my experience.

Best wishes


Professor Richard Smith CBE, FMedSci, FRCPE, FRCGP, FFPHM, FRCSE


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