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Lufthansa / poor customer service

1 Germany Review updated:
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Dear Sir or Madam,

Circumstances have prevented me from writing earlier regarding the events of last weekend, the 16th & 17th August 2008, at Houston Airport.

My wife & I were booked on the 15.25 Lufthansa flight LH441 from Houston to Frankfurt. As I recall, we were ushered on board with no significant delay. But then, having taxied out to the runway, the aircraft was returned to the terminal with a technical fault. Apparently, the brakes were not functioning correctly. Although we were disappointed not to be able to take off, we appreciated the captain’s concerns, and were at first content to wait patiently for a solution to the problem.

I should now point out that my wife and I had had a late breakfast, and no lunch, expecting to eat shortly after take-off. However, we now had to wait in the plane for some four hours, with very sparse information from the captain. During this time, we were given a packet of Pretzels, a glass of water, and a glass of cola. Eventually, we saw that the luggage was being removed from the hold, and some time after that, we were instructed to leave the plane, collect our luggage again, and present ourselves at the Lufthansa desk in the terminal.

For some reason, it took over an hour for any luggage to appear on the carrousel, and as luck would have it, my wife’s and my luggage appeared at the very end. And so, already weary, we made our way to the end of a long line, stretching some way around the terminal to the Lufthansa desk. By now it was approximately 9pm, and everyone’s nerves were becoming frayed. The occasional Lufthansa staff member was seen marching purposefully up and down the line, but no more information was forthcoming. Now rumours started to circulate regarding our fate. We understood from others in the line, that we would be given a room for the night, and would have to return the next day.

Sure enough, about 10.40pm, we arrived at the counter, where we were offered profuse apologies for the delay. Here, for the first time, we were able to vent our feelings, saying that to begin with, there had been sparse information, and secondly, we were now extremely tired and hungry, and had had nothing to eat or drink since we left the plane. The lady explained that the kitchen was ‘unfortunately closed’. Why then, were we not given a meal on the plane? Apparently, ‘for safety reasons’!

Nevertheless, the plane was scheduled to leave at 11.30am the next day. We were offered a hotel room for the night, given a dinner and breakfast voucher, and told to call in at 8am to check that the 11.30 take-off was still anticipated. We were now to go to Terminal E, where we would be picked up by a courtesy bus. Another twenty minute wait followed, before the promised bus arrived. Apparently, the driver had been waiting at Terminal D! The driver from the Days Hotel must be congratulated for lifting everyone’s spirits, and we duly arrived at the hotel, where we had the first meal since breakfast, at 11.45pm. We retired to bed at 1am.

Having risen at 7am on the Sunday, we called Lufthansa at 8, and were told that the plane was indeed leaving at 11.30. We should be back at the airport by around 9.30. In fact, we had another wait for the courtesy bus, and were at the airport by about 10am, to find a similar mass of humanity to the one we had left the day before. The departure time of 11.30 came and went without any information from Lufthansa. We now stood in the queue until around 17.30. During this time, one lady, who I believe was one of the airport staff, and not Lufthansa, listened patiently to everyone’s complaint, but said she could do nothing, and was unsure as to what was happening.
Virtually everyone took it upon themselves to extricate themselves from the dilemma, and find alternative routes to their destination; several disappeared towards the Emirates desk. Meanwhile, while other long-suffering passengers guarded our luggage, we enquired of British Airways if there were seats available to Germany via London. Yes, there were seats, but we needed permission from Lufthansa before we could fly with BA. There was no alternative to waiting our turn at the Lufthansa desk.

When, at last we reached the Lufthansa desk, we were amazed at the seeming lack of concern of some of the staff. Apparently, the plane was now scheduled to leave at 11pm, entailing another five hour wait. When we complained that we would rather leave on the BA flight at 8pm, we were told there were no seats available on that flight! After remonstrating for a while, that we had just spoken to the BA staff regarding seat availability, a senior Lufthansa staff member had a whispered word with our informant, and two BA seats were suddenly available to us.So ended our sojourn at Houston Airport.

To summarize our complaint, it would seem Lufthansa staff are in many cases poorly trained to cope with those cases where a large number of people are delayed for several hours. To begin with, passengers need regular updates on the situation. Even where there is no news, passengers need to know. Secondly, a system must be in place whereby passengers are given regular refreshments. Perhaps they could also be given queue numbers so that they can be allowed to sit elsewhere, and be called when needed. The staff must be prepared to listen patiently and show concern when the passengers become agitated. The staff should not be confrontational.

Lastly, I had intended to bring to your attention two concerns on our flight from Germany. Because there was one entertainment system available for all passengers, we were required to watch three films, the first of which was for children only, and the last too violent, in my opinion, for children, or, indeed, for me! Secondly, because the food, consisting of either of two dishes, was always served from the front, those of us at the back had no choice when the food arrived. We did mention this point to the attendant, but were offered a rather confusing and unsatisfactory explanation!

In all, we were totally dissatisfied with Lufthansa’s service. We had expected far better from such a prestigious airline. I only hope that you might learn from our experiences, and that the above will serve to improve matters in the future.

Yours faithfully,

Malcolm Phillips

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  • Ja
      16th of Oct, 2008
    0 Votes

    Well, well...I agree wholeheartedly, since my husband and I also were to take flight 441 to Frankfurt October 15. We drove four and a half hours to get to IAH Houston. Weather delayed the plane's arrival; we were boarded about 4 PM. The captain eventually announced an apparent indicator malfunction for the flaps. Juice and water were served.

    My husband saw a pickup truck (!) and later a Lufthansa service vehicle take mechanics and tools to the plane wing, where they worked...and worked... Flight attendants were friendly but knew little. One told some passengers the malfunction had been noticed as the plane landed, after circling due to bad weather.

    After around 2 1/2 hours on board, we were deplaned to wait at the gate. The mechanical problem was never solved. Finally Lufthansa staff announced the flight was cancelled, by which time we had waited with no meal for 3 1/2 or 4 hours. I was first told the cancellation was due to the bad weather! I said that was impossible; everyone had heard the captain say there was a technical problem and we had seen the mechanics at work. We were also told Lufthansa could not give hotel or meal vouchers. There was such an angry protest that a supervisor, "Tanya" (maybe Tania?) came to the gate. Next we were told passengers could call reservations and book a flight the next day--however, no hotel rooms could be found in the city; staff said they had called several. Tanya announced she personally would guarantee anyone able to find an available hotel room that the cost would be reimbursed if the original receipts were sent in. She also agreed the airline would reimburse the cost of dinner. I was given a Houston address on North Terminal Road when I insisted on an address to which I could submit our hotel receipt. Today a phone number I found online for this address was not a working number.

    It took over an hour to recover our two checked suitcases. We discovered today (October 16) that some items inside were damp, undoubtedly due to the slow unloading after the flight was cancelled.

    The storm, which had alternately intensified and abated during this whole time, had flooded area streets. Our parking lot shuttle was over an hour late and we still had no hotel room. We finally decided to drive back toward home and try to find a hotel along the way. Other commitments made it impossible to try to book a flight the next day. When my husband called reservations, he was told there were no seats available for the next two days, anyway.

    We tried stopping at two or three motels in the Houston area as we left the city, but they were full. We were told all hotels were filled with Hurricane Ike refugees and FEMA personnel in town. Along I-10, we tried calling ahead for hotels, but they were also full. Exhausted and hungry, since we felt we could not stop for dinner so late at night if we wanted to locate a hotel room, we at last found a vacancy outside of San Antonio at 3 AM.

    Today I have sent an e-mail complaint to Lufthansa and a request for a correct address in order to send in our hotel receipt. A call to Lufthansa's 800 number resulted in no more than the mailing address in East Meadow, New York for Customer Service, which we were already given at the airport. Who knows if this address is the right place to send the receipt?

    Thanks to Malcolm, we're beginning to believe Lufthansa has become lax in its aircraft maintenance. We are equally convinced they will do everything possible to delay admitting responsibility for a cancelled flight. After all, taking care of passengers in that case affects their bottom line. I don't want to fly Lufthansa again.

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