Airline compensation policies, the price you must pay and social media copycats: watch-outs of the week

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use

15 May 2023 - 13:59
By Wendy Knowler
An elderly passenger who paid extra for a 'premium economy' seat on a long-haul flight had to make do with a standard economy seat because her booked seat was sold to someone else. Stock photo.
Image:ír Chalabala An elderly passenger who paid extra for a 'premium economy' seat on a long-haul flight had to make do with a standard economy seat because her booked seat was sold to someone else. Stock photo.

Flying long haul on an EU-based airline? It pays to be clued up on their compensation policies

Imagine paying extra for a “premium economy” seat on a British Airways (BA) flight and then, as you’re about to board the plane, you’re told you’ll have to make do with a standard economy seat because your booked seat was sold to someone else.

That’s what happened to 80-year-old Patricia Power last July on her return BA flight from London to Cape Town. To make matters worse, she wasn’t refunded the fare difference.

Power first shared her plight with me three months ago. Having had a double hip replacement, her family had helped her upgrade her seats on both legs of her long-haul journey to premium economy to make her more comfortable.

All went well on her outbound flight, but she was denied access to the expensive seat when she flew home.

“Needless to say, I was very disappointed,” she told me.

“The captain heard about it and emerged from the cockpit to apologise to me.”

Back home, she approached Flight Centre’s Constantia branch, which had made her booking, and was told it was out of their hands and she must contact the airline directly.

She did, but did not receive a response.

Flight Centre told me it had no record of any contact from Power but undertook to engage with BA about her refund.

The airline’s response was shocking.

“British Airways states Power was not downgraded from premium economy class to economy class on that flight.

“All feedback and records indicate Mrs Power had travelled in premium economy class on both legs of her trip. The only other means of further investigating this matter would be for Mrs Power to provide us with her boarding pass.”

Sadly, Power couldn’t find her six-month-old boarding pass at the time. And then she did. Printed across the top were the words: “Involuntary downgrade due to oversales”. Eureka.

That reminded me of the compensation policies of airlines based in the EU. Because Power flew out of a UK airport, she was entitled to compensation laid down by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, which in her case, given the distance involved, amounted to 75% of what she paid for that premium economy return ticket.

It seems this compensation is awarded on a “You don’t ask, you don’t get” basis in most cases.

Power’s downgrade was not noted on BA’s system, as it occurred at the time of check-in, Flight Centre told me.

With her boarding pass as proof of that, she was required to apply for compensation directly from the London-based airline, Flight Centre told her.

Power did that in early March and last week she let me know that had received R9,116 from BA as compensation for denying her the bigger, more comfortable seat which she’d booked and paid extra for.

“It took a bit longer as there was one delay after another,” she said. “Eventually I said if they did not deposit the funds by end of  business on Friday, I was going back to you to deal with them. That worked a charm. Within a day the money was in my bank account. Many thanks!”

The price you see is not always the price you’re entitled to pay

Who wouldn’t want to score a pack of chicken that usually sells for about R250 for only 8c?

That was the price a Woolworths’ chicken supplier put on a bulk pack of 24 chicken pieces, by mistake, clearly, and it made its way to the Tygervalley store where it was picked up by a man who presented it triumphantly to a cashier and handed over a 20c coin as payment.

This while videoing the encounter. Because, the price you see is the price you pay, he said.


“The price you see is the price you pay” is the slogan the government coined when it introduced VAT 32 years ago to replace general sales tax. It was intended to get the message across to consumers that it was illegal for retailers to display a VAT-inclusive price and then add another 14% VAT at the till.

It doesn’t mean you’re entitled to demand an item for the price it’s marked at — not if the price is an “obvious error”.

The Consumer Protection Act protects retailers from having to honour such obviously wrong prices, and 8c for R250 worth of chicken is about as obvious a mistake as it gets.

The management of that Woolworths’ store would have been well within its rights to refuse to sell that pack at the ridiculous price, but chose to honour it instead.

Bottom line: that man got lucky as he wasn’t legally entitled to pay 8c for all that chicken.

A 'dealer' or 'delivery' fee is not illegal

Dominic was furious when a car dealership added a few thousand rand to his car finance deal as a “dealer fee”.

“I found out the National Credit Regulator (NCR) said this fee can’t be added to the price of the car,” he said.

“So many people are unaware of these illegal costs and are paying more than they should for cars. I hope this can help other people realise they are being totally ripped off.”

Ask for the fee to be broken down, and then negotiate a lower amount. Hard

Sadly, in January the NCR lost its long battle to outlaw the padding of car finance contracts with an “on-the-road” fee, also referred to as a delivery fee or dealer fee.

A Pretoria high court judgment ended five years of legal uncertainty over this contentious issue.

It remains common practice — and a perfectly legal one — for motor dealerships to bloat the principal vehicle debt with such fees, comprising the cost of a pre-delivery check, valet, and even gifts for the new owner such as flowers and bows, with the justification that the add-on amounts are the cost of “preparing” vehicles for sale. But that doesn’t mean you can’t push back.

Ask for the fee to be broken down, and then negotiate a lower amount. Hard.

Passing off someone else’s social media post is not OK

You can say whatever you want to about someone, or a business, in a post as long as it is true, in the public interest and is not defamatory. But stealing someone else’s post and passing it off as yours is definitely not on. A woman I’ll call Tammy e-mailed me last week about this issue. 

“I want to know what recourse I have if someone plagiarises and reposts an idea of mine on social media?” she began.

“I came up with an idea of starting an organising business and made a post about it on a neighbours’ Facebook group in KwaZulu-Natal. A member of that group used my post virtually word-for-word and posted it to another Facebook group as her own idea.”

Tammy sent me screenshots of the two posts which confirmed, without a shadow of doubt, that the second woman had copied her story word for word.

“I feel sick to my stomach that someone would do that, as it took so much for me to make that post and be vulnerable enough to put myself out there.

“We are in the same area so she would also be taking potential clients away from me, which is also why I am so upset.”

Verlie Oosthuizen, who heads law firm Shepstone & Wylie’s social media department, said while what the copycat poster had done was illegal, “going the legal route is not going to be helpful, especially in this case because money is tight and legal costs are prohibitive”.

“I recommend the woman DM [direct message] the other one and ask her to remove her post.

“I would not name and shame her on social media,” Oosthuizen said, “because it will descend into madness quickly and will not help anyone — but that’s not to say that is not an option.”

Tammy approached the other woman, who blamed her sister for the theft of her post.

Then she made the administrator of the other Facebook group aware of what had happened, and they responded by muting the other woman and removing her from the group.

So many people are hustling for income, but stealing someone else’s idea as blatantly as this is not the way to do it.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: or on Twitter: @wendyknowler.

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