Old Aug 3, 2012, 10:59 PM
AngryInSeattle AngryInSeattle is offline
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 1
Default A horrible Lufthansa experience

Imagine you are vacationing abroad with your loved one. You are on a tight budget but are having a great time. Then tragedy strikes. Your loved one suffers an accident which results in a broken leg, surgery and hospitalization. Unfamiliar with the language or how things work in a foreign country, you find yourself alone, anxious and stressed as you deal with doctors, hospital administrators, medical insurance and travel arrangements.

At times like this, small acts of kindness and courtesy are of great significance. And acts of cold indifference can be devastating.

I am sad to say that our experience with Lufthansa was one of cold indifference.

When it became clear that my wife's hospitalization in Germany would prevent us from flying home on the scheduled date , I contacted Lufthansa Customer Service. I spoke with a very pleasant and reassuring man who said it was not a problem; he would clear our flights off of the reservation so we didn't appear as "no shows" and when we knew the date my wife could fly Lufthansa would re-book the flights--waiving the $250.00 re-booking fees (though, he advised me, we would have to pay any fare difference). He also advised me to have my wife's doctor fax the medical report in to the Lufthansa Medical Office. The reason for this, I was given to believe, was that upon verifying my wife's injury, Lufthansa would consider upgrading her to Business Class as a courtesy at no additional cost.

I travel by air quite a bit in the United States and this is the type of conscientious customer service that I often see U.S. airlines display.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t real.

I had my wife’s doctor fax a synopsis to Lufthansa as instructed. That process took multiple attempts before anyone at Lufthansa would acknowledge receipt of the document. It seemed each time I called about submitting the medical report I received a different set of instructions, but I was eventually able to reach someone who could confirm receipt and note it on our reservation.

As soon as we were given my wife's release date from the hospital, I called Lufthansa Reservations to book our flight home. I reached a call center in Cape Town, South Africa. The person I spoke to informed me that since they now had the medical information they were going to require that my wife and I fly First Class. We would not be allowed to fly otherwise. The cost for two First Class seats would be $10,000.00, plus $250.00 per seat in re-booking fees. I was stunned, as this completely contradicted what I had been originally told by Lufthansa. When I explained this to the representative, his response was “I’m sorry, but those are the rules.”

The medical information, which I had been given to understand was for the purpose of possibly receiving a compassionate upgrade for my wife, was now being used as a means of excluding her from flying altogether unless we purchased seats far beyond what we could afford. (I should make clear that my wife's injury was not serious. She suffered a fracture in her fibula and had two temporary screws put into her ankle. The lower part of her leg--from below the knee down--was in a cast and she is mobile on crutches.).
By this time I had come to realize that each time I called Lufthansa I received different information. The application of rules and policies seems to vary wildly from representative to representative. So I waited a few hours and called back. This time my call was answered by a very nice representative in Canada named Jenny. Jenny was extremely helpful. She said she understood what we were going through, having flown to Europe once with a broken leg herself. She found us bulkhead seats in Economy class and said that the extra leg room of the bulkhead row should be sufficient for my wife's needs. We purchased the tickets for seats 24D and 24E and paid the $304.10 fare difference. We were not charged any re-booking fees.

We were all set. Or so we thought...

When we arrived at the Munich airport, we checked in for our flight with no problems. Our seat assignments remained 24D and 24E. I decided to inquire at the Ticket counter if their might be an unsold Business Class seat available that we could upgrade my wife to at a reasonable price. When traveling in the U.S. I am sometimes able to inexpensively upgrade to Business or First Class at the last minute. Although we felt the Economy bulkhead row seat would work for my wife, we wanted the option of considering the purchase of a Business Class seat to provide additional comfort for her. One the first leg of our return, from Munich to Frankfurt, she sat in a seat that was equivalent to the bulkhead row seat on the Frankfurt to Seattle flight and it worked for her just fine.

When I posed my inquiry about an upgrade to the Lufthansa representative, she took our tickets, read the computer screen for a little while and then went away for several minutes. When she returned, she told me, "Your wife will not be allowed to fly unless you purchase a Business Class ticket for her." Once again, we were stunned. We had already purchased our seats, paid the fare difference, and checked-in. Now we were being told again, this time at the last moment, that we could not fly home unless we purchased a Business Class seat for $2,000.00. To add insult to injury, the represented said there would also be a $250.00 re-booking fee. After a lengthy period of arguing with the representative and her supervisor, they agreed to waive the re-booking fee but would not budge otherwise. And so, under great duress and faced with the threat of being stranded at the airport, we purchased the $2,000.00 Business Class ticket for my wife.

As we boarded the plane, I explained to the flight attendant in my wife’s section that I would be coming up periodically during the flight to check on my wife. I suggested that if there were any unsold Business Class seats, it might be easier for all of us if I were allow to sit in one during the flight. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but that is against the rules.”

On the flight itself, the Lufthansa staff were very professional and courteous. I sat in the bulkhead row seat that we had purchased from Jenny in Canada. My wife sat in the Business Class seat we had been forced to purchase at the Munich airport. I visited her periodically during the flight. Although the Business Class seat was certainly more comfortable, the bulkhead seat would have worked for my wife. I counted at least 4 unused Business Class seats, including one directly behind my wife.

Our overall experience with Lufthansa's Customer Service (including Reservations and Ticketing) is that it is extremely inconsistent. Each representative (and their supervisor) seems to make wildly different interpretations of what can and cannot be done. This often seems to be based more on the attitude of the representative than anything else. A conscientious representative like Jenny in Canada was a wonderful advocate for the customer, but the norm that I encountered was indifference bordering on hostility. My wife and I were in a vulnerable position and Lufthansa exploited us and made our attempts to get home a living hell. When it is said and done, we feel that we were essentially extorted by Lufthansa into purchasing a Business Class ticket, at a price we could not afford, and after we had already purchased our bulkhead row seats and thus had entered into a contract with Lufthansa.

Based on the amount of confusion, stress, frustration and duress placed upon us by Lufthansa, I contacted their Customer Relations department after our return and requested a refund of the $2,000.00. After several weeks and repeated messages on my behalf they finally responded and essentially said that Jenny (the nice representative in Toronto) had been at fault and it was wrong of me to have called back after the representative in Cape Town told me we would have to purchase two First Class tickets at $10,000.00! As a gesture, they agreed to send me $200.00 in gift certificates. Wow.

I travel a lot but obviously will never fly Lufthansa again. I have told, and will continue to tell, as many people as possible about how horribly we were treated by Lufthansa.

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