Wednesday, November 28, 2012

And I thought Lufthansa was supposed to be the best airline

We've been planning this trip to Europe for awhile. We haven't been to Germany to visit Torsten's parents for 3.5 years or to London to visit Torsten's best friend for 4.5 years (!). We have never been to France together (though I was there 2.5 years ago for my host sister's wedding). So! Since we haven't been to Europe in so long, and we don't know when we'll be going back, we wanted to cram everything in. So we opted for 10 days, of course including Christmas, with Torsten's parents, then three days in France with my host family, then five days in London.

Once we'd selected our itinerary we started booking flights. First we booked the transatlantic flight, direct to London from Denver. Then we futzed around with EasyJet, RyanAir, etc., reviewing prices and itineraries, and decided to fly Lufthansa for two legs of the internal journey because they offered a direct flight from Frankfurt to Toulouse, even though it cost more than our other options.

So, on one itinerary we booked our flight from London to Frankfurt and our flight from Frankfurt to Toulouse, with Lufthansa. We paid significantly more than we would have paid for an alternative itinerary on RyanAir, because Callum will be traveling on our laps and we wanted to avoid a layover. So you can imagine how incredibly delighted we were to receive an email a few months after we'd booked saying that there had been a change to our itinerary. I assumed that since it was just a casual email, it meant our departure time had changed by five minutes. Except, haha, not so much. What it ACTUALLY meant was that our direct flight from Frankfurt to Toulouse had been canceled and we had been rerouted through Munich (which, by the way, is in the WRONG DIRECTION) on a flight that departed two hours later, with a two-hour layover, followed by an additional two-hour flight.

So basically, we'd gone from a quick, direct flight to a travel schedule that will take up our entire day of a very tightly planned trip with minimal time in each destination to begin with, with a toddler on our laps who is NOT used to layovers and will NOT be impressed when we get off the first plane only to get back on another one. And they'd casually informed us of this in an email with no apology or offer of compensation of any kind.

At that point I checked out the RyanAir itinerary that we'd originally considered booking, only to discover that it was no longer available, basically meaning that we had no other options. We had to fly Lufthansa, because we'd paid them lots of money at a time when we did have options, and now that they had taken away the direct flight that was the reason we gave them all our money, we didn't have options anymore.

So I called them up to discuss compensation. I thought, given the circumstances and the extra money that we had paid them for a service they were no longer offering, it might be reasonable for them to offer: 1) an upgrade, 2) a voucher or partial refund, or 3) a seat for Callum, since having a toddler on our laps would be the most agonizing part of the whole extended trip (note that we did buy Callum a seat for the transatlantic flight, because we are not masochists and when you are traveling for a full day, you need a place to set your child down occasionally).

Turned out that Lufthansa is impenetrable. They take 10 business days to respond to emails, and you can't contact their customer relations department by phone. Also their customer relations department is only willing to deal with travelers who are upset AFTER the travel has occurred. This was infuriating to me because we wouldn't BE upset during the travel if they had been willing to deal with us beforehand. But they would rather saddle us with a crappy trip and deal with the fallout later. So I had to speak with the reservations line, as they are the only department who will talk to passengers before their travel dates. And everyone I spoke to at the reservations department was not just useless but actually downright rude. They didn't see what the problem was. They thought I was making outrageous demands. They were bound and determined to prove their point and not give an inch. (At one point when I said something about a five-hour delay, the woman I was speaking to snottily corrected me to say "it's four hours and fifty minutes." OKAY THEN. NOW I FEEL BETTER, THANKS.)

Anyway, all Lufthansa would offer us was the option to cancel our flight (not a possibility since the other airlines' options were no longer available) or switch to another flight (also not direct). And they were downright nasty. And it was uniform! It was clear that they had been TRAINED to be nasty, that they were not interested in customer service or customer satisfaction but simply in standing their ground and getting me off the phone. And I was extremely polite. It was not a nasty, screaming argument. I was friendly, I said that I understood that this wasn't their fault and that I was hoping we could work together to find a solution. I had no reason to be nasty because I genuinely believed that they would help me find a solution.

Well. They didn't. And a complaint filed online about the rude service resulted only in an email saying that I could talk to customer relations once I had completed my travel, and perhaps receive a coupon for 20% off a future flight. And a complaint on social media only resulted in them resubmitting the same complaint to the reservations department and us receiving the same response.

So. We did a bunch more research and decided to drive instead of fly. We calculated that with the hour-long drive to the airport, the slog through security, the advance waiting time, the layover, the two flights, and then the wait on the other end for our luggage and the drive from the airport to my host family's house, we'd be looking at about 8-9 hours of travel. The drive is 11 hours, and much more comfortable and scenic, and plus it goes through Paris where we have good friends that we can meet for lunch.

So I priced out rental cars and then called up Lufthansa to find out how much of a refund I could expect if we canceled the Frankfurt-Toulouse leg of our trip (since we still needed the London-Frankfurt leg of the trip that, remember, was on the same itinerary). And AHAHAHAHA apparently, according to them, I can only cancel the entire trip, including the portion that was unaffected by their schedule change, or not cancel at all.

With the trip in three weeks, you can imagine what the cost of a one-way ticket from London to Frankfurt is. And if we don't get a partial refund for the Frankfurt-Toulouse leg of the trip, then the cost of the rental car will be beyond our budget. So basically, if they won't give us a partial refund then we are totally stuck.

In other words, Lufthansa's attitude seems to be: you pay us a premium for a specific service. We will stop  offering that service and keep your money. But don't worry, you can either cancel EVERY service you've booked with us, or switch to a different, equally unacceptable service.

COOL DEAL. I thought Lufthansa had a reputation as one of the nicest, most customer-oriented airlines. But after this happened we started talking to people and discovered that almost everyone who has ever flown Lufthansa has a similar nightmare story. It really seems to be a pervasive, top-down attitude that is spread to everyone who works for that company. Contrast this to the story a friend of mine told me about Delta: they changed her departure time, on the same flight and everything, by A FEW MINUTES and offered her a choice of miles or an upgrade to compensate for the inconvenience. THAT is the kind of response I would expect from an airline.

Anyway, after much insisting on my part on the phone, the reservations woman reluctantly told me that she would send a request to the ticket office and I should call back in 24-48 hours to find out if they would make an exception for me and grant a partial refund, and if so, how much that refund would be. Given how AWESOME their customer service has been thus far, I'm not too optimistic that she actually sent such a request, or that if I call back, whoever I talk to will be at all useful.

Also, if they do offer a partial refund, somehow I'm guessing it won't exceed $20.

Update: My $20 guess was close. They actually offered a $48 refund. (AND I had to spend $10 calling a UK toll line at 74 cents per minute to be given this information.) And they continue to offer the worst customer service I've ever encountered. They seem to genuinely believe that I'm insane to be upset, and they strive to convey this belief in the most supercilious manner possible. The party line is that they are legally bound to find a way of getting me to my final destination, and they have done so, and their obligation ends there so why on earth would they do anything further? I'm calling their PR office to see if they can offer an answer to that question. When that doesn't pan out, and it inevitably will not, I'm done. I give up. The airline wins. I mean, the majority of their passengers seem to hate them, but they seem to call that a win, so congratulations to them. Not that I'm bitter.


  1. I hate airline issues. I went through this whole clustercuss with United/Continental last spring and even though they provided a travel voucher (after my post/rant appeared on Reddit) I would never consider using it. Ugh, what a freaking mess.

    I'm sorry.


  2. I'm kiiiiind of going out on a limb and guessing they don't have a department like mine, where the sole focus is Customer Experience? No?

  3. Yikes- what a mess. I hope that they give you a nice refund, but unfortunately I'm sure (based on your experience so far) that they are going to continue to suck. :-(

  4. You should consider sending this in to the Consumerist! That's horrible.

  5. Lufthansa lost my luggage, and when I called to check on it, I discovered that the people that answer their lost-luggage phone number only speak German. Fabulous! Fortunately I was able to find someone that spoke German to call on my behalf, but stil...

  6. This is making me furious, especially the updates via Twitter. $48?? Toll calls? Are you kidding me? Worst customer service ever.

  7. This is freaking ridiculous. I hope you at least get some compensation when you have to call them AGAIN, after the trip. I also hope Callum cuts you a break and is a dream toddler, because flying with kiddos is the suck.

  8. I had the exact same thing happen to me with United Airlines.

  9. Always had good experiences with them. Even with cancellations and changes in flights.

  10. I had similar issues with Delta, they just dont care