British Airways used to be one of the best airlines into Africa. It still is, except that you can’t get a seat in advance!

I’m not sure if it was the subway bombing of 7-7 or if it was just a technological coincidence, but that was when British Airways began to deny preassigned seating. The policy was initially to only cover economy, the great bulk of its service, but EWT’s experience is that even business and first-class travelers can’t get seats.

The policy is that 24 hours prior to departure, you can go on-line to obtain your seats. But even that doesn’t seem to work.

Twenty-four hours before my 10:20a departure from London to Nairobi, August 25, would have been any time after 4:20a in the morning my time. I was already driving to O’Hare, but my wife tried for me on-line and received the message, “Sorry, on-line check-in is not available for this flight.”

Or for any other, in our experience.

At O’Hare, my American flight to London automatically checked me into the connecting flight down to Nairobi. And gave me a random seat! American pleaded forgiveness, but they were unable to do anything about it.

Still, couldn’t get online. Called BA in the U.S. and spoke with person after person, but they insisted that because American had checked me in, American had to check me out! And American said, no, it’s BA! So I called London. London said I wasn’t checked in, and I wouldn’t be able to check in until I reached there!

So now I’m in London and go to surrender the seemingly useless boarding pass that American gave me, and the BA rep shouts, “Don’t do that!” as I begin to tear it up with vengeance. “It’s perfectly good!”

“Can I change me seat?” I asked now sheepishly.

She didn’t know. It wasn’t a yes, and it wasn’t a no, and I was in Heathrow. After a few phone calls (yes, the antiquated phone call even as she was standing in front of an IBM blue terminal), I finally got a better seat, mainly because the flight was so poorly booked.

No wonder why.