British Airways pays out to Bangor teen left with no luggage in US
A Northern Ireland teenager has won a protracted battle with British Airways - with a little help from the Belfast Telegraph.
John Pritchard from Bangor was on his first trip abroad when his luggage went missing at Heathrow Airport during a major BA computer crash in May.
The airline denied any responsibility and 19-year-old John, who was travelling alone, was forced to fly to the United States with another carrier, but without any belongings.
His bag containing clothes and football equipment worth £1,300-£1,400 still hasn't been recovered.
After a dispute lasting weeks - and the intervention of this newspaper in support of John - the airline has agreed to pay him compensation for the considerable hardship he faced as a young, inexperienced traveller.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, John's mother Paula McKeown (48) said the ordeal had resulted in "many tears and countless sleepless nights" for both her and her football coach son, who is spending the summer across the Atlantic.
"I have been trying to locate John's bag on his behalf because he is on the other side of the world, but it has proved impossible," she explained.
"BA hasn't been helpful and the whole thing has been one of the most stressful experiences of my life.
"I've been in tears many times over this, as has John. But now he's just angry at how we've been treated.
"It has been horrendous. John is an only child and he and I are very close.
"I could hear how upset he was every time we spoke on the phone and that was upsetting me."
She added: "All he had when he got to America were the clothes he was wearing and his football boots. For some reason I'd told him to put them in his hand luggage; it's a good thing too, because he needs them to do his job."
John, who is employed by Challenger Sport and has been a coach since he was 16, is teaching football at summer camps all over America.
"He was flying with British Airways the whole way and when he checked in at Belfast City Airport he was told he had to pick up his bag in Miami, his first stop in America," she said.
"John was really nervous about the trip and was in contact with me that whole time from Heathrow, and it was only after a couple of hours that he learned his flight had been cancelled.
"He later phoned me in tears to say he'd been told to leave the airport. He was in a state of panic."
Paula said the former Bangor Tech pupil finally found a hotel an hour away from the airport, and bought a ticket for the Tube. His employer subsequently booked him a flight from Heathrow with another carrier.
But when John returned the following day to catch his replacement flight, the community care worker said BA refused to give him his bag ahead of the journey.
"He was really worried when he phoned me before getting on the plane and I told him to leave it to me to sort out," she said.
Paula added that following the traumatic experience John has vowed to "never fly with BA again".
A spokeswoman for British Airways said it was "very sorry for the very difficult experience" John had.
"We have been in touch with him to offer our sincere apologies and to organise refunds and compensation," she added.
"Following the disruption experienced that weekend in May, we have put additional resource into our customer relations teams, and thousands of payments have already been made to customers who have completed their claims.
"We are processing claims as quickly as possible, and thank our customers for their patience."