U.S. travelers, myself included, like to complain about domestic carriers and their customer service, or lack thereof.
In general, the major Asian and European carriers do have better reputations. Lufthansa often ranks near the top of the list. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t have really bad days, as a friend experienced lately.
She and a colleague happened to meet up at a conference in Germany and discovered they were both flying home from Berlin via Munich on the same flights. And, while the phrase “via Frankfurt” does strike fear into many of the toughest travelers, Munich is usually a reasonably user-friendly, if large, airport.
In this case, however, my friend’s colleague, who had checked in online, was told by the Lufthansa agent in Berlin that there was a problem printing her boarding pass. She was told to have Customer Service do it in Munich before going through immigration for the U.S. bound flight. Unfortunately, the colleague didn’t argue the point.
The flight from Berlin to Munich left 20 minutes late for an unannounced reason, which meant that a 55-minute connection became 35 minutes. My friend ran and made it.
On board the plane, however, she wondered what happened to her colleague. After a walk around the economy section of the plane, she realized the other woman wasn’t on the plane, unless she had somehow been upgraded for her trouble.
This, alas, turned out not to have happened. The colleague had missed the plane. As she reported later, upon arrival at the Lufthansa Service Center, which was near passport control, all three agents were helping one person with a problem and told her to “wait your turn.” And then, when she got to a human, they told her, “Sorry, the Los Angeles flight is closed.”
At this point, the only nonstop option was the next day. So, they rerouted her via San Francisco, on a flight leaving four hours later and then connecting to a United flight. This meant she arrived home at midnight instead of 4 p.m. Perhaps, not surprisingly, Lufthansa also turned down her request to consider an upgrade as compensation for an eight-hour delay, despite empty seats on the plane in business class.
I suggested she write Lufthansa and ask for a travel voucher, though at this point she never wants to fly them again.
Could this travel mess have been avoided? Possibly. In this case, the traveler might have been able to push to get a supervisor to deal with the boarding pass issue in Berlin. Airport agents are graded in large part on how quickly they process passengers and get planes off as close to on time as possible, so it seems likely to me that the first agent in Berlin just didn’t want to take the time to fix it.
While I don’t know for sure, my guess is that a United codeshare was involved here, as those seem to create issues for some Lufthansa agents. There apparently would have been no problem issuing boarding passes in Munich, except the originating flight was so late.
Between outdated technology and too few humans at the airport, these kinds of problems aren’t going away. They may be increasing, especially judging by the long and slow lines I see at airport customer service centers.
My advice to travelers — when at all possible, the first time a glitch comes up, try not to leave the desk or counter until it’s fixed. Be polite, but firm.
Janice Hough is a California-based travel agent a travel blogger and a part-time comedy writer. A frequent flier herself, she’s been doing battle with airlines, hotels, and other travel companies for over three decades. Besides writing for Travelers United, Janice has a humor blog at Leftcoastsportsbabe.com (Warning, the political and sports humor therein does not represent the views of anyone but herself.)