Sometimes you have good travel days when everything goes right. Sometimes you have bad travel days when everything goes to shit. That was my weekend.
The plan was to head to Berlin for the long early May bank holiday weekend. So a few weeks ago, I headed off to check prices on both BA and Lufthansa and the German carrier were around £100 cheaper for the more conveniently timed flights.
Outbound would be a non-stop flight with Eurowings (Lufthansa’s low cost carrier) who’d I not flown before, and then on the way home there would actually be a 40 minute connection in Munich, but the overall journey time would still be under four four hours.
A couple of weeks later though, I got an email confirmation showing that for some reason, the direct flight had been cancelled and I was rebooked to travel via Frankfurt with a 45 minute connection. I’ve written quite a bit about how awful Frankfurt airport is to connect through, so it was with a somewhat resigned sense of fate that I rocked up to Heathrow airport on Saturday.
Security at Terminal 2 was a breeze with no-one in the queue at all. I did need to suggest to the security lady that she might not want to unwrap the double-bagged gun oil (it leaks everywhere).
So popped into the Senator lounge and sure enough my 13.30 flight to Frankfurt was late. Boarding was meant to be at 13.00, and it wasn’t until 13.20 that we got a push notification saying that the flight was going from A17. Wandering down there, myself and a few others got to an empty gate. Nothing showing on the screens and a couple of bored Menzies staff. And no aircraft.
Around 14.00 it slowly taxied to the gate.
Boarding started around 14.30 and it wasn’t until 15.00 that we finally pushed back. I did however very luckily get the magic beep and my 11D exit row aisle turned into 1C.
The flight itself was entirely unremarkable except for the last fifteen minutes as we approached Frankfurt. The purser started reading off a *long* list of connections. Of the perhaps fifteen she read through, I think only two or three had valid connections. Those going to Shanghai were rebooked via Tokyo, arriving the next day. Chicago had to travel tomorrow. And on it went. However nothing for Berlin Tegel.
When we finally did touch down and I was able to turn flight mode off, I was at least pleased to see that I’d been booked on another flight (an hour later). I was able to re-checkin using the app, and pick a better seat. However given we were a good 90 minutes late by this point, still left me less than 45 minutes to get to the gate before departure time.
Being first off, I ran. Firstly to passport control where there was actually no queue. Through customs and then down to the security checkpoint. Again, thankfully no queue at all.
Back airside, I had to get over to pier A (most of the non-Schengen flights land into pier B). That involves taking a couple of small lifts (or stairs) to a long tunnel connecting the two piers. Then back up two small lifts (which one was broken). I took the stairs just as a gaggle of rude Chinese people were coming down.
My gate also happened to be near the end of the concourse – where else would it be? I made it just as priority boarding had started. I got into Tegel an hour later with the end to end journey time roughly three times what I’d originally booked.
The return was no better. In fact, it was arguably worse as Lufthansa had the opportunity to be pro-active and fix things before they became a problem, but more of that in a moment.
So whilst Frankfurt Airport is a bit of a disaster, Munich on the other hand is the model of an efficient, well-run hub airport. Usually.
I got to Tegel airport a bit before my departure time and had some Kaffee und Kuchen in the landside Senator lounge there. Tempting fate and checking the Planefinder app, I noticed that my flight was running roughly 25 minutes late.
Somewhat resignedly I headed down to the gate and passed through security. I checked the later flights using Expertflyer and the next one had a single seat, and the rest for that day were full. I tweeted Lufthansa saying that my flight was going to be late and they were full for the rest of the day, so could they proactively rebook me. Nein.
I asked the lady at the gate. “I don’t work for Lufthansa so I can’t do rebooking”.
We boarded late. We took off late. We landed late. We parked at an apron position.
Six minibuses turned up with a variety of signs for people with connections to Tbilisi, Venice and Split. But not London. There must have been perhaps five or six people on the bus as me making the same connection, including a lovely Canadian lady.
The bus eventually dropped us off, I ran to passport control, through the eGates, and then onwards to the gate, again almost at the end of the concourse. Flight closed.
Being a tad unimpressed, the guy there said that I’d been rebooked, but on standby as it was full and gave me a boarding pass.
Heading back to the Senator lounge I explained my predicament and asked where I was on the waitlist. I was number one, but still didn’t have a seat with an hour to go. Checking Expertflyer there was a BA flight also in an hour with a number of seats free, so I asked to be rebooked on them.
Thankfully this was no problem and the staff there tapped away for a few minutes and a few minutes later my booking reference and boarding pass appeared in the app. I had to put up with 21D, but at least I had a confirmed seat.
All that remained was for me to take the bus from Terminal 2, back to Terminal 1 where BA flew from. The rest of the journey was uneventful – we boarded on time, pushed back late due to air traffic control restrictions, and landed about ten minutes late.
Writing this two days later, I’m less grumpy, but still in two minds about the whole thing. Both flights must have cost Lufthansa a heck of a lot in hotels and rebooking.
Should I have known better? Probably. Thankfully I wasn’t time pressured to get anywhere, but I’m not going to book any connecting flights in Europe again, when direct flights are available with competitors.
I suspect they didn’t make any effort for my connection, due to the number of further flights to London, where as the other destinations probably only had one or two flights a day.
However the lack of proactively doing anything does still grate with me. When you point out that a problem is going to happen, give them steps to avoid it, and they still do nothing about it, then that’s annoying. Very annoying.
Zero points for the Lufthansa Social Media team. Zero points for outsourcing of key ground staff at Tegel.