Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The WORST experience with Lufthansa

I'm back from my week-long trip to Istanbul! It's all in all an interesting trip, and I'll write about bits and pieces here in the coming post. The reason I can only write about those later is because the notes (my 'offline blog'; I only brought my ipad with me and I don't have a keyboard for it, so I wrote everything on paper) I wrote during the trip are in my luggage, and my luggage still hasn't been sent back. It's been more than 24 hours already, and the whole experience is what prompted me to write this post - the worst experience with Lufthansa.

* This is a rant post, with lots of details to document what happened. Skip if you think you will be bored.*

I've always quite liked Lufthansa. I can't say I'm a super loyal customer - I've flown with the airline for 3-4 times only, but every time until this had been good. Their flight attendants are friendly, the seats are spacious enough (for me), and the only downside has to be the lack of entertainment on board, but I don't really mind it as I usually read or take naps. The food's not always good but this happens with other airlines too, though I do think they should learn from other airlines and provide special meals to meet different dietary requirements - what they do now is mostly to provide meatless food on short haul flights, which is understandable, but it's still not as good as other airlines which provide meals which are low-carb, low-sodium, vegan, etc. 

Anyway, I digress. The unpleasant experience with Lufthansa started when we tried to check in online for the inbound flight. The flight on our ticket leaves Istanbul at 4pm, but after checking in we found that it's changed to 3pm. We thought the flight time must have been changed, so we used the website's flight status tool to check that flight again, but it said 4pm, and 3pm only showed on the checked-in page. It is quite unnerving, as one hour means a lot when you are travelling, and if the flight's for 3pm then we needed to leave the city centre around noon, meaning we would only have the early morning left. Anyway, after checking repeatedly we decided to stick to the original time - 4pm, as both our ticket and the website's schedule advertise that. 

When we arrived at the airport at 3:20pm, we were told that check-in was closed - 45 minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart. We were told to go to the ticket office to have our tickets changed. The staff had no attempt to help us solve the problem in other ways; it was only when I told her that we already checked in did she reluctantly print our boarding pass for us, and she kept on saying we really have to rush or they won't wait for us. I was puzzled at that point - there were still 40 minutes before the departure time, and I couldn't see how we wouldn't be able to make it. Anyway, we rushed - like she suggested, and arrived at the gate at 3:35pm, to find that the gate's full of people who were still waiting for security check. We queued up, and only at 3:55pm, five minutes before the scheduled departure time, were passengers (including priority passengers) allowed to start boarding. I simply can't understand how they can squeeze everybody in within five minutes - and of course they could not. When all passengers were seated, it was already well past 4:20pm, and the plane took off after 4:30pm, at least 30 minutes after its advertised departure time. Of course, delays are 'common', but if that is the case then when passengers arrive at 3:15pm they should be allowed to get their boarding pass, right? To ask them simply to change their tickets without looking into the situation properly isn't something I expect from an airline like Lufthansa. I have to say that I expect something different when I fly with Lufthansa - for my London-Istanbul flight, there is actually a direct route option with Ryanair, which is of course a lot cheaper. I only chose Lufthansa because of my past good experience with the airline, and the 'full services' advertised which contrast with those provided by budget airlines. With Lufthansa, I actually have to change at Munich, which is a waste of time and a hassle. 

Anyway, so we got on the plane to Munich. On the flight we asked about our connecting flight, of which the scheduled departure time is only 45 minutes away from the scheduled arrival time of our flight, and we were assured that there would be ground staff at Munich directing us to the gate promptly. (They never appeared.) Before leaving the aircraft, we asked another attendant again and were asked to rush to the gate. It was actually only 10 minutes away from the scheduled departure time then, and we were quite sure we wouldn't be able to make it, but we thought we would still give it a go as that flight might be delayed as well. We were not in luck; when we arrived there was no staff at the gate, only us and a fellow passenger missing the flight with us. We were all sweating like crazy as there were lots of stairs from the aircraft to the gate - and we all ran with our hand luggage! 

We then ran to Lufthansa's service centre at the airport. We queued up, and there were four staff members at the counters, some chatting casually. The guy who was running with us approached one of the counter staff who did not appear to be working, and asked about our flight, but he was told that she was not working there, only supervising another staff member. We all went to that counter and asked about the connecting flight, as it was well past the boarding time of our connecting flight at that time. We were served by a 'supervisor' at the counter, and were told casually that our connecting flight had gone, and we had to take the next flight to London Heathrow instead of the original London City Airport. We asked this staff member why no one told us the flight was already gone when we enquired, and her reply was 'Who should tell you that?'. Now, tell me, what kind of response is that? Let me stress that her English is far from broken - so it's not because she isn't good at expressing herself in English. (And if that is the case, she probably shouldn't be doing that job at all.) We got no apology for all the things which happened till this moment, even upon request. This 'supervisor''s attitude was arrogant; she looked annoyed when we tried to explain the situation to her, and kept on frowning throughout. 

You know what's ironic? At the gate I saw this huge poster: 

Smooth connections? Smooth my arse. 

Eventually we were booked on the next flight to Heathrow, which was about an hour away. I asked about the arrangement of our checked-in luggage (the other gentleman did not have any checked-in luggage), and we were assured that it would be on the same plane we were newly assigned. However, when we arrived at Heathrow, much later than we had expected, we found our luggage missing, and were told that it would not be sent back until the next day - that is today. And of course, at the time of writing (almost 9pm) it is still nowhere in sight, and I have not received a single call. 

Earlier today, around 3pm, I made a call to Lufthansa's baggage tracking centre to ask about my luggage. The guy who talked to me spoke with a heavy accent I suspect to be Indian. He informed me the luggage would be flown back to London City Airport around 7:10pm tonight, but declined to answer when I asked if it would be sent back to us tonight. Now, I don't understand how with its frequent flights from Munich to London, that they have to wait till this evening flight to send my luggage back, when it had arrived at Munich before 6pm yesterday. Anyway, I suppose some companies are particularly inefficient, and Lufthansa is sadly one of them. I explained to the cs rep that I waited at home all day today for the luggage, and I cannot do the same tomorrow, but was told that there's nothing he could do. I asked to speak to a supervisor who could handle the case and give me a proper answer, and I was assured that 'there is no supervisor of his who I can speak to'. Is he the CEO of Lufthansa then? Surely the CEO of Lufthansa isn't Indian - let me know if I'm wrong. 

This is what's happened so far. We filed two complaints to Lufthansa, and we're waiting for their reply (and our luggage). I will update this post when something happens - let's hope something does happen or I'll have to write those lengthy complaint letters again! All I can say is that with this experience, the good image of Lufthansa in my heart's completely shattered. The airline is not only incomparable to its counterparts such as Cathay Pacific and British Airways, but is in fact no different from (or worse than) budget airlines which fly directly to the same destination at a fraction of the price.

Update 28 July:
No sign of the luggage. Called Lufthansa's baggage centre and courier for several times, got wrong numbers repeatedly. Baggage centre said it's passed on to courier company, courier company said they haven't received anything. Brilliant. LUFTHANSA SUCKS BIG TIME, END OF STORY.

Update 29 July 11:30am:
No sign of luggage. It's the third day already. Called baggage centre and courier again, of course, all calls are charged on top of the normal call charges, I think we've been charged at least 20 quid by now already. Turned out baggage centre was giving us wrong information about the whereabouts of our luggage - it's in London City Airport but they told us it's at Heathrow and gave  us the wrong number for the courier. Courier's number never worked. Wonder if it will actually arrive. Oh god, I'm really disappointed and frustrated. Most of the stuff I bought in Istanbul's in that luggage!!! Found lots of similar complaints online with other airlines (budget ones mainly) - are we just unlucky? What airline should I fly with next time...???

Update 29 July 8:30pm:
Wow, I'm so impressed (sense the sarcasm there?) - my luggage has been delivered, at long last! Of course, after being thrown around for a few days everything inside's a mess, but at least I've got my luggage back. But this doesn't mean it's finished - far from that. This is definitely the worst experience I've had with any airline, and the fact that it's Lufthansa makes me all the more disappointed. Their customer service sucks big time, customers are left feeling humiliated and helpless. Honestly, I can't think of a reason why I have to fly with this airline again. 

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