Letters – February, 21 2005

Letters – February, 21 2005

Stumbling Out of the Gate

I recently flew on Etihad, the new Arab Emirates airline from Dammamm (Saudi Arabia) to London via Abu Dhabi. It was a catalogue of disasters. The flight to Abu Dhabi was three hours late taking off, and on the connecting flight to London, the food was frighteningly foul, the in-flight entertainment was non-existent, the cabin was noisy and the staff were indifferent.

On the return flight from London the food was worse, the staff were rude and there was no proper check-in desk at Heathrow. Arriving at Abu Dhabi, I had to wait in the terminal for over five hours because the connecting flight to Bahrain was four hours late.

When I related this failure to Etihad by email, their reply explained that they were “short of aircraft.” More seriously, their reply also contained an e-virus.

Never again.
S. Duffin

The Best Place on Earth?

As a subscriber of your magazine, I would like to share with my fellow readers a few stories about Air France, which claims to “make the sky the best place on earth”:

1) I flew with one of their frequent flyer programme partners, Middle East Airlines, from Beirut to Dubai on August 14, 2004. (flight ME 426), and back on August 16, 2004 (Dubai to Beirut on flight ME 427). My flight back to Beirut was credited to my FFP a few days after the flight but my flight from Beirut to Dubai was never credited. I sent my ticket and boarding pass to Air France by mail to have the missing flight credited. It has never been done. Despite two other letters, they never credited my flight. Actually, they never even bothered replying to me.

2) I have accrued several thousand miles with them last year (as well as the previous year) as you can see from a sample of my monthly statements. I inquired several times, again sending letters to both their head office, frequent flyer address in France and in the UK where I was based, about their top-tier frequent flyer card, club 2000. Again, they never even bothered sending me any reply. Having to fly with them on a very regular basis and often speaking with some of their ground staff or in-flight crew members, most of them were puzzled and shocked by the behavior of their company.

3) This is where it is ending. This week I had to fly:
January 24, Geneva to Paris (2-hour meeting in downtown Paris)
January 24, Paris to Stuttgart
January 25, Stuttgart to Geneva via Paris

Because of a delay on the Stuttgart to Paris flight, I missed my connecting flight from Paris to Geneva. When I went to the Transfer Desk, the first thing the ground staff member did was to tear up my Paris to Geneva boarding pass.

I was told this was common policy in order to prevent delayed passengers from holding any proof of their bad experience with the airline. Lovely start. I managed to get it back. I am attaching a copy of it, taped (!). Then, when asked about putting me on a Swiss flight that was delayed, I was told they would not do it. I asked why they had not put me on a direct flight between Stuttgart and Geneva, as they had known that the Stuttgart to Paris flight was going to be delayed. I was told that it would have cost too much to the company, as they would have had to pay Lufthansa or Swiss for this flight. My only option was therefore to accept what I was being offered: a hotel room for the night and a seat on a flight to Geneva the next day. Without even asking at what time I wanted to leave Paris, the ground staff who had tried to take from me my original boarding pass gave me a new one for a flight boarding at 6:20 the next morning. Lovely as it was already 9 p.m.! Then I was given a voucher for the Sofitel Charles de Gaulle airport which I though was a 4-star hotel. This hotel has a specific floor, the 7th floor, dedicated to unlucky passenger like myself who fly Air France and that the airline will not carry to their point of destination in time. My room on the 7th floor was furnished with a bed that was one of the oldest I ever had to sleep in. It was so un-firm that I have had a backache since having to sleep in it. I was told these beds were not standard beds but the ones that were in the regular rooms year ago. And it showed. And I felt it. All night long. To add insult to injury, there was a five-page Sofitel leaflet about the new “MyBed: softness + support + sleeping like baby”. But apart from this leaflet and the “I Wish This Thing Would Not Be The One I Have To Spend The Night In” bed, the room had nothing but stains, town-down wallpaper, dirty windows, basic bathroom amenities (1 bar of soap and shampoo and again another leaflet called SO Bath and what the brand new Sofitel bathroom amenities could have been).

At no time did Air France apologize for the delay. Let’s not even talk about compensation, financial or mileage. I ended up this trip in the middle seat. What else would you expect when paying full fare? An upgrade (the business class was almost empty)? Definitely not on Air France.

I shall not even bother contacting Air France’s CFO, who heads a major U.S. corporation with responsibility over more than 130 countries (Europe, Africa and Middle East region).

But this time I have finally understood: fly as much as you want with us, spend as many thousands of euros every month with us, we shall treat you the old way, just like in the ’70s and ’80s, as “usage / usage” but definitely not as a customer.
Name Withheld Upon Request

Better Late Than Never

[This letter refers to a letter published earlier from reader Mark Terry. –Ed.]

I do not know if you wrote the reply yourself or not, but your name and face are still on the magazine so the responsibility is yours. In years of reading your magazine, I do not ever recall you writing so defensively. I have no way of knowing your reasoning, but when someone takes such a defensive stand, there is a reason, and generally it is not good. Mr. Terry may not have furnished full and complete documentation for all his comments, but he was not as far off base as you, in a somewhat whining fashion, tried to make him appear. In the interest of time and space, I will address only a few main points.

You do not want to take a “side.” No one is asking you to rail on the airlines unjustifiably; however, there is a saying for “not taking a side.” It is, “playing both sides from the middle.” Maybe I missed something through the years, but I always thought you were working somewhat as an advocate for the poor slob who is taken advantage of by the airline industry, not just publishing a Dear Abby newsletter on how to get more miles.

You hung your hat on the fact that your wonderful research is absolute “fact.” It may well be, but you can not deny it is simply a spit in the ocean. This is analogous to a presidential poll of 1,500 people. Your research results are based on fact that could and would change at any minute. And would you bet your life that your charade of calling for award travel did not leak to the airlines?

How can you refer to an award level (20,000/25,000 miles) that has been the standard fare for 15-plus years as a “discount?” These levels came to be because of competition, not the goodness of the airline’s heart. Today anyone can accrue miles for anything, from taking out a mortgage to sending flowers. The airlines are selling these miles willy-nilly because it is profitable; however, they are not facing the responsibility that some day some people will try to redeem some of their miles. Forcing people to use the now available, approximately double, “standard” award levels is another knee jerk bandaid to gut some of these miles.

If you want facts, I can relate a few. They pertain to my personal experiences over many years as a 1K (until this year), million-mile flier on United Airlines.

Fact: In the past five-plus years I have not been able to get ANY “saver” awards, either domestic or international. I have gone to the extent of checking every single flight on every single day for a month on either side of my preferred date. I have attempted to get award flights 11 months in advance, a week in advance and everything in between. I have tried different departure cities and different destination cities. Nothing has worked, and I am talking about a good number of flights in this time period.

Fact: Approximately 10 years ago I was told directly by a high-level United employee that the number of award flights they actually make available to Australia from the U. S. in first class is “zero” even though it is listed as viable.

Fact: On a particular flight out of a particular airport there was only ever “one” seat set aside for award travel and was not adjusted because of unsold seats. That speaks for itself. How many more of these? And you insinuate the airlines are not playing games.

I could bore you to death for hours with my personal tales of woe, but obviously it would serve no purpose. Whether you want to admit it in print or not, in general the airline industry in this country has been treating its customers like snot for longer than I care to remember. I have flown on many foreign airlines for almost as many miles as I have flown U. S. airlines, so I have some knowledge with which to make comparisons. I could also bore you with all the incredibly nice experiences, and there were many, from many of these foreign airlines.

Using your logic, a burglar should be viewed as “good,” not “abysmal” because of all the people he did not burglarize. The airlines should add you to their PR staff. You have just done a better job in one editorial reply, than they, collectively, have done for years. And I think you owe Mr. Terry an apology.
Doug Buffington

Randy replies:

Doug, sorry to get you so worked up. My take on Terry’s comments (and he’s been a longtime friend of this magazine) was the facts often left out. It’s not the middle we seek – rather, to ask and actually answer the question. While many have relied on a single person’s angst that they can’t get any free tickets, it does leave that perplexing question: How then, could the airlines give more than 20 million free awards a year away if no one claims to ever have gotten them? Rest assured, you pay my salary, not the industry.

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