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Bolivia, Chile and Argentina - Preface

A frustrating start

View The Dyke Hide and Pond Hide, Peterborough March 2023 & Feeling the Funk Food and Fine Wines in France 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.


Bolivia, and the salt flats of Uyuni in particular, has been near the top of my wish-list for some time now. When, in the Autumn of 2022, I am trying to think of somewhere to go the following May, I check to see what Undiscovered Destinations (our favoured tour operator) can offer to Bolivia.

Looking at their High Andes tour, I decide to give La Paz a miss (we were there in 1990), as well as the side trip to Chiquitania, concentrating on the middle section.


Right at the bottom of their Bolivia page, they offer a combination with Chile and Argentina. There is no harm in just taking a look….



When I start to look into it, I decide that we are better off doing a large chunk of that part of the world ‘while we are there’. To cut a long story short, I ask Undiscovered Destinations to create a bespoke trip for me, with elements from their ‘High Andes’ tour to Bolivia, and the Puna and Atacama’ tour of Argentina and Chile to create a private 25-day trip.

This is our pre-planned route

Wednesday 7th December 2022

Having looked at our various options for flights to South America, we settle on British Airways direct flights to Buenos Aires, using that as our hub in South America. At 14 hours, it's a long, long flight, and we contemplate Business Class until we see the price, or Economy Plus until we discover that the armrests don't lift in that cabin.


After much discussion, we settle on buying three seats for the two of us on the right-hand side of the plane so that I can spread my leg out into the middle seat to be able to straighten my poorly knee during the long flight.


According to the BA website, an extra seat 'for comfort' cannot be booked on line, we need to phone them.

The first person I speak to, Richard, has it all covered until I state that I also want to redeem my Avios (frequent flyer) points.

“Oh, that's a different department,” he tells me. “I'll put you through”.

Eventually, a chap called Omar answers the phone in the Executive Club department. He doesn't seem to understand what it is I want. So we go around in circles for several minutes until he grasps the fact that I want to purchase an extra seat AND redeem my points.

He talks me through the process, frequently putting me on hold while he confers with his colleagues, and after 50 minutes on the phone to British Airways, I come away having booked two seats, with the third seat in the middle being on hold. The pricing of this seat, however, has to go to another department, so Omar tells me I have to ring back in three working days to pay for the third seat

Monday 12th December

When calling BA, I choose Option 1 for amending an existing booking. I get a recorded message telling me that as a result of the current weather disruption, they are unable to take my call. I am then unceremoniously cut off.

Tuesday 13th December

The same thing happens when I call today

Wednesday 14th December 2022

As it is now seven days since Omar put a hold on the extra seat (which is how long airlines will normally hold a seat for you), I take a different approach when I phone BA: I choose option Two for a 'New Booking'.

The call is answered almost immediately (sadly this is a reflection on how most companies treat potential new clients as opposed to valuing their existing customers). I explain the situation, and Ashish puts me on hold.

When he returns some minutes later (by which time I have been driven mad by the horrendous distorted muzak), he confirms that the seat is on hold, but it has to go to another department for pricing. “Yes, I know, that is what Oman told me last week, and that is why I am phoning today”.

Although Ashish refuses to acknowledge the fact, and just keeps repeating that “the seat is on hold, but it needs to go to another department for pricing”, it is pretty obvious that Omar (or someone in the pricing department) did not do what he said he was going to do last week.

Ashish, however, informs me that I don't have to ring them back, I should get an email within 48 hours detailing the cost, and all I have to do is to accept via return email, and they'll take the payment from the credit card they hold on file.

I am not holding my breath.

Friday 16th December

The 48 hours came and went today, and guess what? No email from BA. As today is a Friday, I shall give them until Monday.

Monday 19th December

It takes a little longer for the phone to be answered today, and the girl who does pick up almost immediately interrupts and tells me that she needs to transfer me to another department, sternly insisting that I am not making a new booking, I am amending an existing booking – and anyway, she is 'still in training'. (it sounds like she could do with a little more training in pleasantness)

I wait a while to be put through, some 25 minutes in total, and finally, a girl with a very Indian accent and a very English name (Michelle) takes on my problem. Once I have explained everything to her, she, like everyone else so far, puts me on hold for some considerable time. I am beginning to realise that a customer buying a second seat 'for comfort' is not an everyday occurrence.

Michelle explains that the seat booking is still with the pricing department, but because of the current weather/strike disruptions, they have had an unprecedented amount of calls, and at the moment they are only dealing with passengers whose flights are leaving in the next 72 hours. Meanwhile, she assures me that the seat will continue to be held for me.

Although patience and I are uneasy bedfellows, I shall step back and just wait until we get an email to confirm the price. “Don't sweat the small stuff, Grete”.

Friday 3rd February

Feeling that I have been more than patient at this stage, I ring British Airways customer service again, and get through to a very helpful lady called Nuruneesa, who fully appreciates my frustration, and does her very best to help me.

Unlike the previous staff members I have spoken to, Nuruneesa takes ownership of my problem, and contacts the pricing department herself, hanging on until they are able to verbally give her the cost of the extra seat.

She eventually comes back to me with a price of £741, which I consider to be more than reasonable compared with what our actual seats cost (£1,149). I guess as the seat will not have any luggage allowance, nor will it require food on the trip, or accrue any extra weight for the airline to carry, the cost is less than that for a passenger.

Nuruneesa is unable to put the payment through herself but takes my card details to pass on to the pricing department. After all the hassle so far, I will not fully relax until we get that all-important email confirmation. Watch this space.

I check the bank account every day for the next week or so, but no payment to British Airways has gone through.

Monday 13th February

This afternoon we receive an email from BA stating that they need to talk to us about our booking. Really? You don’t say!


As we are currently on holiday in France, where I don’t have access to all my previous information, they will have to wait until we get back home again. They’ve made us wait long enough to sort this out.

Saturday 18th February

Today I speak to a person who calls herself Nicole, explaining that we have received an email and giving her our reference number. After going through the security questions, she asks how she can help. I explain again that we have received an email, so the situation should be noted on our file, but briefly clarify that just over two weeks ago, Nuruneesa gave me a price of £741 for a comfort seat, took my payment details but that nothing has come out of my account as yet, so I am assuming that it hasn’t gone through.

Nicole looks on the system and confirms that they did have the details, but for protection reasons, they are unable to store the debit card’s security number for any length of time. In other words, BA was too slow to take the payment from the card before that period expired.

She takes my details again, and puts me on hold for what seems like an unreasonably long period of time, to check that everything is in place so that I “don’t have to phone them back every time”. Her words, not mine.

She finishes the conversation by saying that we should receive a confirmation email shortly. I have heard that before and will believe it when I see it.

Tuesday 21st February

Miracles never cease, I notice this morning that the money has gone out of my account to British Airways, and when I see an email in the inbox later, I am elated.

Not for long, however, as there is no indication in the email as to what that extra cost is for, and no confirmation of an extra seat booked.


Groan. David tells me to be patient and give them a chance to send out another email with confirmation of the seat reservation, so I give it over a week before I contact them again.

Wednesday 1st March

After spending some considerable time on BA’s website, I finally find an email form for them (no actual email address, just a web form). I briefly outline the situation, press send, and am delighted when I receive a reply within a couple of hours. That delight soon turns to frustration, anger, and disappointment, as BA once again wash their hands of my query, passing me back to the telephone. What is wrong with BA?


At the end of the email is a questionnaire to fill it. I don’t hold back.

"I have been going around in circles, being passed from one department to another, no-one willing to take ownership of my query. After seven phone calls and now an email, I am at my wits end, all I want is someone to confirm that the money you have taken from my account is to pay for a comfort seat. How difficult can it be??????? I used to think British Airways was a top level airline, but now I am extremely disappointed with the total lack of customer service. Your organisation is a total shambles."

I also reply to the email with my disappointment and frustration, and later Tweet BA.


Friday 3rd March

I get a reply from Linda, asking me to direct mail them as much details as possible, and they will try and sort it for me.


I do as asked, and get the following automated response. It seems that unless your request falls within one of their pre-selected ‘boxes’ of criteria, they don't want to know. I am at my wit's end now!


I reply to their tweet, voicing my frustration, but am not holding my breath. This really should not be so difficult!


Monday 6th March

I get another reply today asking for more information before they can assist with my query. This one is actually signed off by a real person – unless, of course, their Automated Reply System is called Imogen. Apart from the travel date, I already gave them all that info in my previous reply, and surely they can find the travel date by looking up my booking reference.


Tuesday 7th March

Despite wanting to tell them how totally incompetent they are, I keep my cool and just reply with all the information they have requested, adding a simplified explanation of the issue at the bottom.


I immediately get another automated reply asking for the same information AGAIN. I am now going pretty bald from where I am tearing my hair out.


A small note at the bottom suggests that as soon as I reply to the message they will “connect me to an agent who will assist”. Rather than type it all in again, I simply state that all the info can be found above.


Again I am not holding my breath.


Thursday 9th March

OMG. Miracles never cease. I receive the following direct message this morning.


It has taken me SEVEN phone calls totalling 2 hours, 44 minutes, and 37 seconds, TWO emails, THREE Tweets, and FIVE direct messages on Twitter over THREE months and TWO days to get this simple reply.

Thank you, Chris.

A few hours later, I get another direct message on Twitter, asking me to complete a survey. There is only one problem - there is no survey attached. How much more proof of their incompetence will British Airways provide me with?


Monday 13th March

Today I receive another reply from British Airways, this time via email to our Hotmail account.


I can now finally rest easily – I just hope all this palaver is worth it!


Posted by Grete Howard 10:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged flight planning ba twitter british_airways shambles frustration undiscovered_destinations ud private_trip comfort_seat incompetence

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This sounds more like a Budget airline than British Airlines. I am a very patient person but even I would have been furious

by Larry Sampson

Larry, I know, right? I would still do it again though for a long haul flight, as the extra space was worth all the hassle.

by Grete Howard

BA have really gone downhill in recent years - say I, having just an hour ago booked a flight with them 🙄

by ToonSarah

I would still travel with them again, in fact, we are, later in the year. Where are you off to?

by Grete Howard

Dear travellerspoint.com admin, Great post!

by Carrol Jervois

My gosh, what a hassle for an extra seat. I wouldn't be that patient!!!

by Ils1976

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