The Brussels Dilemma: what should I do with my unwanted ticket?

Buyer’s remorse comes in many forms. My current regret arose from sheer carelessness when booking a flight. And after spending an hour in two separate conversations with the British Airways call centre in South Africa (the first was inexplicably terminated 30 minutes in), I am left with The Brussels Dilemma.

This philosophical quandary is nothing to do with deciding whether to include a diminutive spherical vegetable with Christmas dinner. Instead, it involves the merits (or otherwise) of gaming the situation to limit the damage caused by the errant purchase of a flight ticket.

The background: as you know, a strike by members of the PCS union working for UK Border Force begins on Friday 23 December at six airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Birmingham and Cardiff. I wanted to be able to assess the effects first hand. So I came up with a cunning plan to fly into Heathrow – the busiest airport in the UK – on the first European arrival on Friday morning.

British Airways flight BA389 is due to arrive from Brussels at 6.55am, by which time I predict any problems at passport control will have become apparent: around 50 long-haul flights are scheduled to touch down at Heathrow before that.

So I searched online at ba.com for the first departure from the Belgian capital on 23 December, and was glad to see availability at €108 (£94) one way. Or so I thought. I cheerfully clicked through and paid for the ticket. Only on Monday, when I went online to check that all was tickety-boo, did I discover that the airline’s system had diverted me to a day earlier.

I had booked a flight that I didn’t want and didn’t need. How did I get it wrong by 24 hours? I replicated the booking process to find out. I discovered that after you click for a Brussels-London flight on 23 December, the flights offered are for the day before.

Ahead of the strike, BA had taken all arrivals at Heathrow on the affected days off sale.

I failed when buying to spot the small print reading: “We don’t fly that route on the dates you’ve chosen. Instead we’re showing you flights on other dates that you might find suitable.”

Mea culpa. I should have checked every detail carefully before hitting the “buy now” button.

The dilemma is: what do I do now, barely 24 hours before the flight is due to depart?

Cancelling will trigger a 25 per cent refund, leaving me £70 down for my error.

Is there an alternative? Yes. British Airways and tens of thousands of its passengers are experiencing serious disarray following a systems failure on Monday night, which triggered dozens of flight cancellations.

There is a non-zero chance that BA389 might be grounded, or perhaps delayed to the point where I can claim all my money back.

Accept a fraction of my original payment, or hold out in the hope of a modest full refund? That is The Brussels Dilemma.

British Airways could solve the problem very easily. It is currently selling the very same flight for £482, which means that my seat is worth about five times what I paid for it. In a fully rational world, BA would contact me and everyone else who paid less than £100 for the flight and offer to buy it back at face value – with a £50 voucher attached.

Aviation and rational behaviour remain distant strangers, so instead I must choose whether to cancel or take the chance of recouping the cost of my mistake. Which would you choose?

Philosophically, there is no contest. From a purely selfish perspective, holding on to the seat is a valid strategy. But in a season of goodwill it is unjustifiable in terms of public good. Empty seats on planes are always wasteful. And were I to pretend still to want the trip, it could mean British Airways turns away someone who is desperate to fly.

I have reluctantly cancelled, and learnt my lesson: always read every detail of your trip before you book. Let’s see if I made the right call.

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