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Lufthansa / Unfairly offloaded and humiliated, then made to pay extra for tickets

Jul 16, 2015
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I had a terrible experience with LH in May 2015. I was offloaded without information and then insulted and humiliated by the staff, before being forced to pay exorbitant airfares to make alternative travel arrangements.


I will describe my experience first. I complained on 4th June, and still no response.

On 28th May, I departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport Terminal 1, New York City, USA, with my family (comprising my wife and two small children), en route to Bangalore, India. Our flight number was LH0754 and the Reference Number ZPCYLV (Ticket Number: [protected])

At JFK Airport, we were checked in all the way to Bangalore, and issued boarding passes for both sectors, i.e., JFK to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Bangalore. (Boarding pass copied are attached).

After an uneventful flight, we arrived at Frankfurt airport at around 11:10 AM the next morning, and immediately proceeded to the departure gate C16, from where the Frankfurt to Bangalore flight was to take off. We arrived at the gate at around 11:35 AM, after clearing security.

At the gate, we were told that due to a global software outage, all boarding was indefinitely delayed. We went to the counter and showed our boarding passes, and the same information was again given, along with the assurance that when the problem was resolved, boarding will be announced. With this information, we settled down to wait, along with other passengers.

Frankfurt airport is large, and gate C16 is designed in a way that passengers approach the gate down a corridor on the left. While there is a waiting area in front of the gate, there are also seats on the corridor, which is separated from the waiting area by a wall, and from where one cannot see the gate. Since the waiting area was extremely crowded and there were no seats left, and since my children were very tired after the long flight from JFK, we settled down with our bags on the seats in the corridor.

Repeatedly we heard clear announcements about the software outage and that all boarding was indefinitely delayed.

At 12:35 PM, I went to the gate to check, and found that no progress had been made. The lady at the counter again confirmed to me that once the problem was resolved, boarding will be announced. I went back to my seat, which was right next to the gate, but from where we could not see the gate. But we were assured of announcements, and were not worried. How wrong we were!

At 1:05 PM, when my wife went to check, she got the shock – boarding was already complete and the gates were closed! She immediately called me and we ran to the gate with our bags.

At the gate, the same ladies told us very rudely that they could do nothing as the gates had been closed and our seats had been given to some other passengers. Our bags had been offloaded and they were unable to help. It seems Lufthansa was in a desperate hurry to sell our seats to someone else and make more money.

I was standing at the gate with my tired family, and the airline staff showed absolutely no sympathy or understanding. When I asked about the announcements of delay and that no announcements for boarding were made, they shrugged and said that they did not need to make any announcements and that others who were in front of the gate had already boarded.

This was while the flight delay announcements were being made continuously!

I showed them our boarding passes and demanded why we were not paged for, since we were clearly registered to travel to Bangalore. Again, no satisfactory response was given, and the staff spoke to each other in German and shrugged saying they could not do anything.

My wife requested them to reconsider, since we could see the aircraft still parked in front of us. At this stage one lady (tall, with dark complexion and dark hair) screamed at her, “what part of what I said don’t you understand? The gate is closed. Are you stupid?”

In spite of this insult, my wife requested again, to which this lady said “I can’t have this discussion any more” and turned her back to us and walked away!

In my 20 years of international flying, I have never experienced such rude, insensitive and insulting behaviour from any airline staff. I felt humiliated and deeply upset, and my children started to cry. The other staff members looked on impassively.

I wonder if the ladies at the counter would have behaved the same way if the colour of my skin was white. This behaviour, so shockingly unacceptable and incorrect, appeared racist to me.

At 1:12 PM, I received an SMS stating that the flight will now depart at 1:20 PM. If I had received this message earlier, I could have come to the gate on time. This is another clear indication on the callousness on part of the airline, which cost us dearly. A screenshot of the message is attached, clearly showing the time of receipt as AFTER the gates had closed.

After a lot of requesting, one lady informed us that we should check with the Lufthansa Service Centre, to see other options. She mentioned that Lufthansa will put us on the next available flight to India. Again, we were wrong to believe any assurance from Lufthansa staff.

As we ran to the Service Centre, the monitor screens were still showing our flight as “Boarding”. Please note that this is around 1:20 PM. And the screen does not show “Final Call” or “Gate Closed”. In our hurry we ran past without questioning the staff at the gate as to how they sold our valid tickets to others while Boarding was still officially going on.

At the Service Centre, the staff was aggressive and told me that this was our fault that we missed the flight. When I pointed out that no announcements were made in spite of assurances, and nobody had paged for us, the lady at the counter said she was not sure why.

She then checked our tickets and made the next shocking disclosure – that we could be accommodated only on other Lufthansa flights, and since all were booked, we had no alternatives available. When I asked why we were not given seats on other airline partners, she said it was not possible. Again, as a frequent traveller I found this odd, since as a part of Star Alliance, Lufthansa should have that ability to do so. As well as the concern for distraught passengers with small children to try and help.

However, no such options were offered to us. The lady, Ms.Brown was kind enough to find that the next available option for us was a late evening Air India connection to Delhi. She connected us to a travel desk, which informed us that we would have to buy the tickets at available rates. When we asked for an adjustment against the fare paid already, our request was refused.

Since I had two anguished children and we were tired after a long trans-Atlantic flight, I relented and we paid for the tickets. And then separately booked for a Delhi – Bangalore flight in the evening. The total cost of this was huge and we were not prepared for this. This further added to our distress.

We finally boarded the Air India flight 9:15 PM, eight hours after our scheduled departure and finally reached Bangalore at 12:10 AM on 31st May. Almost 24 hours after our scheduled arrival with Lufthansa.

Due to this delay, my family and I faced tremendous problems, emotional distress as well as huge financial burdens:

1. Emotional trauma. Due to rude and insensitive behaviour of Lufthansa ground staff, my children are deeply impacted by the experience, seeing their parents’ humiliation and helplessness, and feeling insecure in a foreign airport. They are still disturbed and feel discriminated against, racially.

2. Financial impact. Due to the non-cooperation of the Lufthansa staff to put us on another flight, we had to bear all the expenses of flying back from Frankfurt to Bangalore. This includes not just the airfare, but also ground transport as we had to step out of the Delhi airport for refreshments as well as excess baggage charges for the Delhi – Bangalore domestic sector. The above costs are to the tune of Euro 4000.

3. Business cost. Due to the delay in arrival in Bangalore, I missed two very important business meetings scheduled for Saturday, 30th May. One meeting was to plan a large foreign contract, and my failure to attend this meeting has resulted in a loss of business for my company to the tune of Euro 45, 000.

And I have some very key questions for Lufthansa, for which I need answers:

1. Why was the boarding not announced, when the flight delay was being announced?

2. Why were we not paged for, since we had already checked in and were waiting close by? Why the haste to give our seats to someone else? What kind of unscrupulous and unethical behaviour is this?

3. Why was the message for 1:20 PM departure received by us only at 1:12 PM, after the gates had already closed?

4. Why did Lufthansa staff at gate C16 behave with us in such rude and demeaning manner, to humiliate and insult us? This was most shocking for an airline of such repute, and was clearly racially motivated and completely unacceptable.

5. Why did Lufthansa Service Centre not accommodate us on a different flight and make us pay for the Frankfurt – Delhi – Bangalore trip? Has Lufthansa lost the basic sense of fairness and customer service, when the flight was missed due to its own lapses?

Lufthansa's response was to brush it aside and offer nothing but lame excuses and processes.

I wrote back on 9th June with the following questions:

It is extremely disconcerting that you are trying to pass off the blame of this entire fiasco, orchestrated by your untrained and indecent ground staff on us, for being "late to the gate”. I find this preposterous and false. How were we late to the gate when we were there before the flight delay message arrived on my phone? How were we late to the gate when the screen on top of the gate was showing the flight as “boarding”?

And how can you attempt to sidestep the crucial matter - that we were already checked in from NYC to Bangalore, had valid boarding passes which we showed the staff at the gate, and were waiting less than 10 feet away, waiting for announcements of boarding which were not done? While the carrier can announce flight delays repeatedly, why did it not announce boarding commencement and final calls, like every other professional and competent airline anywhere in the world? And your staff knew we were waiting to board, and we must have been listed as already checked in in your records. Why were we not paged for?

How could Lufthansa be so callous about passengers flying with them? Please do not pass the blame to us.

As for the SMS reaching me AFTER the gate had closed apparently, you say that it "took slightly longer than usual to provide accurate up-to-date information”. So, whose fault is that? You, as the party responsible for our safety and travel, need to ensure that passengers are communicated on latest status in time. I blame your carrier for this miscommunication, for which we missed our flight. I have not received any other update since then, no email or any intimation of delay or status. The only message sent was incorrect and caused me this unwanted trouble and trauma to my family. Please do not pass the blame to technology.

Then you mention that "Lufthansa condemns any incidents of racist or bigoted behaviour”. I hope it does. I have been checking internet sites and sources, and there are numerous such complaints about your staff misbehaving with guests, often on racial basis. I would like to know what steps are being taken over this. My wife and I can identify the lady in question as we were most disgusted by her, as my small children stood shocked and hurt by her rude and uncouth behaviour towards their parents. So, I will not allow you to brush this off under the carpet but would want an update on the action taken by the airport. We will be happy to collaborate with the authorities, if needed.

You claim to be surprised that we were told that our seats were given to other passengers, while the flight had empty seats. Trust me, we were surprised as well. Shocked and angry that your ground staff was so callously dealing with us, announcing that they had offloaded our luggage as well, while the flight status was still showing boarding and the aircraft was waiting on the tarmac. Was is greed for money Mr.Tickle? To sell the same seats to another passenger, to make profits twice? It seems like that to me. And since you are surprised and admit that the flight had empty seats, empty seats that were denied to us, I am again concerned as to why you are claiming that this is not your responsibility and we should not be compensated for this. Please do not pass the blame to ignorance and confusion.

Your email is no solution or solace to passengers who have faced the brunt of your bad behaviour and unhelpful attitude. You mention that your "Customer Relations do not have access to the booking records of Star Alliance flights on the date in question”. This is a complete lie. It was your Customer Relations that informed us of the Air India flight available in the evening, it was your Customer Relations that connected us to the travel agency through whom we were forced to make the bookings. And Air India, for your information, is a part of Star Alliance.

Clearly, your Customer Relations knew of next flight, and of available seats, but chose not to provide us with them. They chose not to help us, and wash their hands off our case even as we stood in front them, pleading for help. What kind of pathetic customer service and uncivil attitude and behaviour can I attribute this to? So, again, please do not blame lack of information for your Customer Relations team’s actions.

Finally, throughout the mail, you take a tone of helplessness. That you are unable to do more, due to restrictions. Mr.Tickle, even if I believe you, these are restrictions you have placed on yourself, and Lufthansa and you are hiding behind them in spite of my legitimate complaints and demands. You have the power to remedy and compensate to the point possible, and it is again disappointing that you are choosing not to do so. The excuse of restrictions are flimsy, and completely unacceptable.

You say that you can process a refund. What would that mount to? I have real costs and real concerns on this side, and I hope that this can match up to the same.

I repeat my concerns, and demand better answers than you have provided, since they have not satisfied me in any fashion and not helped address the pain and trauma caused to my family and me. These are:
1) While we were waiting less than 10 feet away from the gate for over an hour, why were no announcements made for flight boarding to inform us of the changed status? Why were we not paged for since our names must have been on the passenger manifest of checked-in guests?
2) Why were we offloaded while boarding was still going on, and why were our seats sold to others if the flight had empty seats?
3) Why did Lufthansa ground staff not put us on the next available flight at the cost to the carrier? Why did they find out the next available flight and then connect us to an external party instead of booking us on the same flight at no extra cost?
4) Why did Lufthansa ground staff behave so rudely with us, insulting my wife in front of her family, and why did the other staff members present at the gate not correct her?
5) Why is Lufthansa refusing to take responsibility for its failure to provide safe and timely carriage to a paying passenger and trying to pass of the blame to all others? Where is this great company’s sense of pride and responsibility? How is it that Lufthansa cares so little about passenger welfare and also its reputation?

Till date, no response to this, at all.



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A  30th of Jul, 2015 by 
Agree Disagree 0 Votes
I am sure you should proceed to complain at the highest levels in Lufthansa and approach European civil aviation (or german) authorities for this treatment. Although, in my experience racist attitudes are much more prevalent in Europe and Asia in general (including India, or especially India) and you have almost no expecation of the level of courtesy ( although that is too strong a word) you would experience in the US (unfortunately, that itself is not saying much).

As for Lufthansa, my experience as a paying passenger has almost always been bad. However, for the last 20 years we mostly travel on Airline staff tickets and the treatment, though uneven, is, in fact, slightly better in most places (with exceptions of course). Our limited experience with Lufthansa has been good on these standby tickets than paid tickets. Unfortunate, but true.
A  14th of Feb, 2016 by 
Agree Disagree 0 Votes
I totally agree this airline is full of crap and is racist big time. The staff are a bunch of liers and made my family issue new tickets for a fault of their own. Boycott this airline it's ridiculous!!!

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