On my last trip to Europe, my United Airlines flight from Dulles to Newark was canceled because of thunderstorms. That meant that my traveling partner and I would miss our onward flight to Madrid, Spain. I called the United Airlines reservations number after our flight had been canceled to see what they could do.
I was connected with an angel. And, my new flight was a dream.
By this time it was late, about 8:30 p.m. at Dulles. This agent knew enough that when departing flights were canceled because of thunderstorms, incoming flights also would be delayed. So, she checked into two Lufthansa flights that were previously overbooked that offered connections to Madrid. One was routed via Frankfurt, leaving at 9:30 p.m., and the other through Munich, departing at 10 p.m.
Seats were available on the flight to Frankfurt, but the agent couldn’t find a connecting flight. So, she checked the Munich flight and managed to change our tickets from United to Lufthansa with a connecting flight via Munich to Madrid. We would arrive at 5:30 in the afternoon rather than 11 in the morning, but we would be in Europe.
We got the two record locator numbers for the flights and the ticket numbers and were told to sprint for the Lufthansa gates a subway ride and a long concourse away. We asked whether we could grab my partner’s suitcase that was just outside the door on the luggage cart that had been downloaded from the canceled United Express flight. The answer was a quick, “No.”
Prior to the cancellation of the flight, I had implored the reservationists to change our reservations to the Lufthansa flights because I could see disaster on its way. The answer was, “No.” I spoke with the gate agents asking the same question with the same response, “No.”
So, in the end, we left my partner’s bag and raced to the Lufthansa gate. Along the way, I called the rental car company, AutoEurope, and told them of the change in plans. They adjusted my reservations with no charge and I was set. I called the office of a friend who had planned to meet us in Madrid Airport and notified them that we would be arriving late. Everything was set.
When we got to the Lufthansa flight, we never heard the word no. Not one person associated with the flight used that word; not the agents, not the ramp agents, not the flight attendants, no one. It was as if that word was banned by their customer service manual.
The gate agent took our checked luggage information and told us that she would do everything she could to make sure it got on the flight or the flight the next day. My partner asked for a window seat and the agent told her that she had been given the best seat available, an aisle seat, and I had the same. She assured us that we would have a pleasant flight and would be surprised when we got on board.
When we boarded the flight and walked down the aisle we found, to our dismay, that our seats were in the absolutely last row on the Airbus A330. Plus we were in the middle section. However, I soon discovered that these seats were excellent. We had an empty seat between us and our last row backed up against the galley, not the lavatories.
We both settled into our seats for the flight to Munich. The plane appeared new. The video systems worked perfectly. And the pillow and blankets were set on each seat, ready for dream time.
Then the flight attendants came down the aisle with face towelettes — the same towelettes that I used to get in Business Class on American Airlines. They offered everyone starter soft drinks, water, coffee and tea.
Next, our meal was served with bottomless wine and beer (don’t expect that on American, US Airways or United). And finally, flight attendants were wheeling a coffee cart down the aisle with coffee and tea as well as Cognac and Bailey’s Irish Cream for the after-dinner service.
Wow! I remember service like this from a decade and a half ago. Maybe I haven’t been privy to this kind of service because I have been flying on US airlines in recent years. But, believe me, the Lufthansa service and the crew’s attitude to customer service make any small difference in airfare between Lufthansa and any US airline worth it.
I guess good service isn’t completely dead, yet. Once our original flight was canceled, my United telephone agent sprung into action and figured out a solution (though, it would have been easier to have done all of this earlier in the process). The Lufthansa crew never uttered the word, “No.” Obviously, they have been trained this way as opposed to United Airlines’ service personnel. And the Lufthansa service brought fond memories of when flying was a joy and helpfulness was natural.
I have recently flown on Air France and most of the US transatlantic carriers without finding much in terms of service. Though the crew on these flights want to do the right thing, management has pared down their tools, even their meal items, with a focus on saving money rather than a focus on customer service.
On the other hand, oriental airlines such as All Nipon Airlines and Singapore Airlines have wonderful service reputations. Virgin Atlantic has always been a standout. Emirates Airlines and Etihad seem to be putting customer service first. Swiss (owned by Lufthansa) has always been known for great service.
On your next trip, realize that a seat is not a seat is not a seat. There are amazing differences in customer service and flight amenities. But, it takes a bit of work to dig them out. Once you find them, never let them go and keep flying that airline.
BTW: The bag arrived in Madrid the next day, but was not reconnected with us by the handling agent until 12 days later.