After two days of traveling, thanks to my crazy routing SAN-IAH-ORD (Overnight) ORD-LGA, JFK-GVA (9 hour layover to see the city) it was time to finally head to Frankfurt, my final destination. Everything seemed in order and before my fight I headed to the Swiss Business class lounge for a drink and snack before my flight. At boarding time, I headed to my gate and awaited departure.
Boarding commenced exactly on time and business class passengers started to board the bus which was going to take us to our remote gate. The gate agent had almost finished boarding business class passengers when boarding was abruptly halted. An announcement was made that our flight was going to be delayed due to “missing crew members” and the gate agent frantically started making phone calls. About 10 minutes later, passengers on the bus were asked to disembark and wait in the gate area. I asked if I could return to the lounge and the agent said she did not know because she was unaware of how long the delay was going to be. After 20 minutes, questions still unanswered, I headed to the lounge to see if I could be rebooked on a later flight.
When I arrived at the lounge, I explained to the woman working the front desk the situation. She told me she would see what she could do and would keep me informed about the status of my current flight. Not even 5 minutes after my arrival, the agent called me back to the desk and apologized because every flight between GVA and FRA was full/overbooked and there was no way I could get between the two cities tonight, not even in economy. She then assured me she would keep me updated about my current flight. Another 5 minutes passed and she rushed over to me and said, “Mr. Horan I’m very sorry but your flight has been canceled!
Clearly, I was ecstatic to hear this! I had been traveling for more than 48 hours (my fault) and now my flight was cancelled due to a missing crew member! I asked her if she would rebook me and she apologized again and told me that I would have to collect my bags from baggage claim, re-clear customs, go upstairs (airside) and be rebooked by the Swiss/Lufthansa customer service desk. There was nothing she could do or anyone could do airside! Rubbish, I thought! Never before have I had to return airside to be rebooked, nor collect my luggage. I knew this was a bad sign and I would be spending the night in Geneva.
Gathering my luggage and being rebooked took over 2.5 hours! In fact, it took over 45 minutes just for Swiss to deliver our bags from the plane! Standing around waiting for our bags was not a pleasant site, as many people were upset because they had now missed connections in Frankfurt and were still in the dark about rebooking options.
As soon as I received my bag, I rushed upstairs to the rebooking desk, hoping that just MAYBE there was a way to be rebooked via Munich or Zurich. To my much disappointment, Lufthansa had cancelled three other flights that afternoon, so flights were all booked and the line of people waiting to be rebooked was extremely long and not moving very quickly. In the Business Class line there were at least 12 people ahead of me, and in the economy class line there was at least 50 people waiting. It was going to be a long wait….
Part of the cue of people waiting to be rebooked
I waited and waited, then waited some more. People were grumbling, some were cursing in different languages because the line moved extremely slowly. If this wasn’t bad enough, customer service agents from check-in continued to cut the line with passengers who needed to pay for “extra fees” so they could board their flight—adding to the wait for us on the cancelled flight.
It was finally my turn, I was delighted and exhausted; by this point I had been in line for almost 2 hours! Yes, that’s right 2 hours to be rebooked in the business class line! My options were presented to me by a crass middle age Swiss man: Fly via Munich at 11pm, arrive around midnight, spend the night in Munich and depart for Frankfurt at 6am the next morning or spend the night in Geneva and fly out at 1130am the next day. Clearly not looking forward to either option, I chose to spend the night in Geneva and depart the next morning.
Since I was flying in Europe and I know the laws and passenger rights, I also asked the gentleman about my 250 euro compensation under EU regulation 261/2004. He laughed at me and said, “why don’t you sue Lufthansa if you want your compensation, I’m only allowed to give you a hotel and rebook you on another flight.” I then received my ticket, went downstairs to information, where they assigned me to a hotel and gave me instructions on where to catch the shuttle.
I didn’t take off to Frankfurt that night, instead I enjoyed a night of rest at the Sterling Hotel, where I honestly got to my room and collapsed. I was exhausted and the nearly 3 hour wait to be rebooked was less than exhilarating! Can someone explain to me why Swiss Airlines/Lufthansa does not have a customer service desk Airside and why Swiss Club agents cannot rebook individuals? Seems like a very inefficient system!
Readers, remember if you experience delays or cancellations in Europe or on an airline based in the EU, they have VERY strict laws/guidelines they must follow and compensation is compulsory. Any delay of 3 hours or more can result in compensation up to €600. Instructions on how to file a complaint and your rights can be found here.