British Airlines Pregnant with Toddler = Not so fun

We are just back from a short jaunt to London and Paris... my last travel before Baby 2 arrives! The trip was fantastic, but the fight back was made way more difficult than necessary by a few heartless British Airlines Employees. Here's a copy of my letter to the company describing the experience. A bit long, but there was just so much insane behavior to describe...

I am writing to share my shocking and disheartening experience on a recent flight from Paris to Seattle through Heathrow airport. My trip was on August 17, on flights BA 309 and BA 49.

I traveled alone, 8 months pregnant, with a 16 month old toddler. With the terror alert and security changes, I knew that it would be a long, potentially difficult flight. I am used to long flights with my son, having taken three round-trip international trips on BA alone within the last year, and did everything I could in advance to make my trip easier.

Before the flight, I carefully reviewed the security regulations posted on both the British Airways website and the BAA website. I used easy to inspect carry-on bags that were smaller than the size restrictions allowed. I had two bags, as allowed: one per traveler. I also carefully reviewed the guidelines regarding what could be carried on board. I did not anticipate that BA employees would use the changing security regulations plus their authority to take their frustrations out on passengers and avoid doing work that would normally be a part of their jobs.

My troubles began at the checkin desk in Paris. The BA agent required that I check my stroller through to Seattle “for security reasons.” I explained that “Pushchairs … are permitted but must be x-ray screened,” and asked her to review the regulations. She refused. I asked to see the written policy. She refused. I asked to speak to a supervisor. She refused, but disappeared for a long time said her supervisor had confirmed that the stroller must be checked to the US. I explained that I am not, at 8 months pregnant, capable of carrying my toddler through the long distances at Heathrow Airport and asked that special assistance be provided. She refused. Finally, I asked for her name and her supervisor’s name. She refused, but gave me the stroller back. Because she took the stroller from me early on, I had to juggle, entertain, and keep my toddler safe and at arm’s length during this 20+ minute checkin ordeal.

Seeing my stroller returned, a couple of nearby passengers said congratulations. This was when things took a turn for the worse. The agent clearly felt that she had lost face, and immediately asked to inspect my carry on. She gave me a small plastic bag, barely big enough to hold a sandwich and soda, and told me that was the only carry-on I would be allowed. When I pointed out that my carry-ons were below the size limitations she said “it’s not about size, you must have things in there that are not essential, and they need to be removed.” She then proceeded to have me show her each item in my carry-ons; for each one, telling me whether it was “essential” to my journey.

Here is what she confiscated:

- Two packets of oral rehydration salts that my doctor told me to mix with water on the flight to prevent dehydration. Dehydration, especially when combined with stress or exhaustion can cause contractions and even early labor. Each packet was very small, roughly the size of a credit card.

- My carry on bags. This left everything that didn’t fit in her bag loose (I repacked them in plastic diaper disposal bags). The plastic bags were a continuing inconvenience. The bag your agent supplied ripped in Heathrow, scattering my travel documents, cash, credit cards, cell phone and other essentials across the airport floor. Each trip through security or any checkpoint was prolonged while I dug around for the item being requested. My items spilled into the overhead bin, so that retrieving diapers and other items during flight meant climbing up on another passenger’s seat and searching around in the bin.

- Baby food was allowed, if it was not sweet. She took a toddler’s fruit and oatmeal bar.

- Baby toys: two finger puppets and books were allowed, but not nesting boxes.

Here’s what she tried to remove, but gave up on after I again asked to speak to a supervisor:

- Diapers, baby food and baby milk beyond what would be used on the Paris to London flight. She commented that it was not her problem if I was unable to get more in Heathrow. Not having diapers from London to Seattle would have been disgusting, but not having enough food and milk was terrifying as I have never, on any BA flight (including this one) been able to get food for my son beyond what was on my meal tray. For example, on my outbound flight, I was limited to only ½ cup of milk, with the BA flight staff explaining that otherwise there might not be enough for coffee. What a horrible position for an agent to willfully put a mother in.

At one point, the agent produced a copy of the Aug 15 regulations for carry on baggage. When I pointed out that my items were allowed under the guidelines, she claimed that the regulations had changed that morning and that she did not yet have a printout of the new regulations. I have checked both the BA and BAA websites and there have been no updates (as of this writing) beyond the August 15th regulations. I have attached a printout of the August 15 regulations for your reference.

None of the removed items was disallowed according to regulations. None of them was bulky. It seems as if this agent used the new security regulations to make things uncomfortable for me after loosing face on the stroller issue. She not only inconvenienced and caused undue stress for me, but delayed the other passengers in line who she should have been checking in.

Worse than this, the aisle seats that I had booked and reconfirmed disappeared, and I had window seats for my entire journey. This made things exceptionally difficult. Pregnant women need to use the restroom frequently. It was difficult to keep my toddler in the small, confined space by the window. Once the baby cot was installed, it was impossible to get in and out of my seat without climbing on my aisle-mates seats (a real challenge while carrying a toddler). The flight crew was unsympathetic and I was unable to move.

I wish I could give you the name of the agent I spoke with in Paris. She wore no name badge and though I asked for her name or identification number at least four separate times she refused to give me any information. This was extremely unprofessional.

I wish this was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, another BA staff member used “security regulations” as an excuse to make his job easier (and my travel much more difficult). When I arrived at the jetway in Heathrow airport, my stroller was checked. A crew member explained “I’m sorry, security doesn’t let us bring strollers on board anymore, there are no exceptions.” I accepted that answer believing that it applied to everyone on the flight. You can only imagine my shock and dismay when, upon arrival in Seattle, I saw several strollers being unloaded. The steward I spoke with didn’t want to be bothered with my stroller, and didn’t care that taking it would leave me, 8 months pregnant and exhausted, carrying my baby through customs and baggage claim until the stroller arrived.

To add insult to injury, my stroller arrived damaged and the waterproof bag containing my former carry-on items arrived two days late with the contents soaking wet and beginning to mold.

In summary, I am very disappointed with the behavior, lack of professionalism and uncaring attitude of BA staff. Far from helping a lone pregnant traveler with a toddler, they purposefully made things unnecessarily difficult. I hope that BA will be able to track down and address this issue with the agent in Paris. Fair compensation for the unfair and uncaring treatment I received would be a flight voucher towards a future flight for myself and my son on British Airways.
Update: British Airlines Response to My Letter of Complaint

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