This Christmas, we decided to take a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Europe for the holidays. We had a great time – don’t get me wrong. We saw all kinds of cool places, but the vacation was overshadowed by a horrendous experience with Air France and Lufthansa and both airlines’ refusal to offer any semblance of customer service. We’ve been home for over a month now and are still fighting with both airlines to receive the customer service that we deserve. Here’s the sad, infuriating saga of my family’s luggage-less vacation.
The seven people on the trip came over in three separate waves. My mom and sister came a week earlier. I flew solo and met them in Milan. My dad, brother, and brother’s girlfriend, Jill, flew over together last. They were scheduled (and had confirmed seats together) to fly from Windsor to Toronto to Paris to Munich. When they got to the Windsor airport, they were told that they didn’t have seats on the first flight. They spent nearly two hours at the Air Canada desk while a customer service agent moved mountains to get them onto the full flight. He told them that he could see that the segment had been cancelled by someone from Lufthansa, but had no way of knowing how or why it had happened. Eventually, all three of them made it on the plane and got to Toronto.
Their flight from Toronto was delayed, and their seat assignments had mysteriously disappeared, so they ended up scattered all over the plane instead of sitting together for the overseas flight. Due to the delay, they missed their Lufthansa connection in Paris and were rebooked on an Air France flight for the last leg of their trip. Somewhere between Lufthansa and Air France, their luggage disappeared. And I mean disappeared. I’ve had mine “lost” before, but it’s always been a simple matter of having the airline load it on the next flight out and it’s been delivered within 24 hours.
Not so this time. We began our saga in the Munich airport where they waited an hour for their flight’s luggage to come out on the belt. Theirs never did, so we went to the lost baggage desk. They insisted that they’d have to check with Lufthansa on the theory that their bags probably came in on the flight they were scheduled to be on, which is in a different terminal (apparently phones don’t exist at the Munich airport so a simple phone call couldn’t be placed) so we walked across the entire airport. Upside: There was a bustling Christmas market in the center of the airport so at least we got to see that since our afternoon in Munich had been scrapped.
The Lufthansa baggage office is on the other side of security, so the three suitcase-less travelers got handwritten passes to get them through security and went through the screening line while we sat outside with their carry-ons. They found themselves in a 40-minute long line at the baggage desk and were finally sent away empty-handed. Since their final flight was on Air France, Lufthansa said it was their responsibility so this entire exercise had been pointless.
We trudged back across the airport and finally found a guy at the first desk we visited who took pity on us and opened a lost baggage claim. We left the airport, sans luggage for three people, five hours after they originally landed. We spent the next several days racking up expensive international phone bills calling Air France’s baggage service. They were absolutely unwilling to help us. We were hung up on two separate times (I promise we weren’t yelling or being belligerent) because they said something to the effect of, “I’m busy and can’t help you. Goodbye.” What else a person manning the baggage service hotline could be tied up with is beyond me. Twice we got through to agents who promised to do some digging and call us back. They never did.
Despite the fact that all three bags were barcoded, neither Air France nor Lufthansa could find them or even tell us where the last place they were scanned was. My dad, Jamie, and Jill couldn’t even buy changes of clothes because everything was closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and St. Stephen’s Day. Even Vienna didn’t appear to have anything but tourist shops open on the day after Christmas. My dad and brother finally managed to snag some underwear at a Polish gas station on day three of the trip.
We road tripped around, calling every day (my mom’s phone bill had $90 in international call charges, almost all of which were accumulated on the phone with the airlines). We called Air France’s baggage service. We called the Munich airport’s baggage service. After a couple of days, I suggested calling Lufthansa since they had a role in all of this too. They promised to follow up and call us back. They never did.
On December 27th – four days after the luggage was lost – we got fantastic news. Two of the bags had been located and could be delivered to an address of our choice. We were leaving Krakow early the next morning and heading to Prague, so we gave them the address of our Prague hotel and rejoiced that we’d at least get two of the bags in time to use them. At this point, there had been no sign of my dad’s suitcase at all, so we were pretty sure we’d never see it again.
We arrived at our Prague hotel, anxious to see the long lost suitcases that had been delivered only to find out that no bags had been brought. We called the Prague airport. They had never even seen or been notified of any bag delivery for us. We called Munich’s baggage desk with no luck. (By this point, my mom had memorized the phone numbers for every contact we’d ever had with the airlines.) We called Air France’s baggage service again. It turned out that the bags they claimed to have found the day before had still not been located. Someone had completely made up the fact that they were being sent to Prague for us for some bizarre reason I cannot understand. This may be the most infuriating part of the entire incident. Lying and saying that the luggage was found and would be delivered is a whole magnitude of deception beyond saying you’ll follow up and call back and then not doing so.
Since neither Air France nor Lufthansa was willing to do anything, we turned to Air Canada. They had operated the first leg of the journey and were the last airline we knew for sure had handled the baggage. They couldn’t do anything for us either, though they at least didn’t hang up on us, which at this point in the saga felt like winning a prize. At this point, we had three separate major international airlines looking (or pretending to look) for our luggage.
We continued on our vacation with three of us missing luggage. We did laundry in the hotel sinks, ironing clothes dry when they didn’t air dry overnight. We almost missed a tour in Prague because the iron drying process took so long. We only got to make our reserved tour because my brother and I loaded ourselves up with everyone’s stuff and ran it through old town Prague to drop it off in the rental car after because ironing the clothes dry took so long. I can only imagine what people thought of the two crazy Americans running around with enough luggage to fill the tailgate of a minivan. We called every day, usually more than once trying desperately for someone at Air France to do something for us. I turned to Twitter to attempt to get some assistance since airline support tends to work pretty quickly via a public social media like that. I received no help there, and ended up being lied to at least once via direct message.
Eventually, my mom posted about her frustration on her Facebook wall and a family friend saw her tale of woe. He’s highly statused with Delta, and offered to call their medallion escalation desk for us. They’re partnered with Air France through an alliance, and they agreed to try to track down the bags for us. We even got a follow-up phone call from them, which neither Air France nor Lufthansa had managed.
As if the luggage saga wasn’t enough, when my dad, brother, and Jill tried to check in online for their return flight home, their itinerary had changed. They were supposed to fly from Munich to Toronto to Windsor, but their boarding passes now listed a flight that was supposed to leave two hours earlier and had an extra connection. We called Lufthansa and apparently they had canceled the Munich to Toronto flight weeks earlier but not bothered to send any notifications – all three of them searched their email history and found nothing. Had they not checked in online the night before, they would’ve shown up at the airport as their new flight was taking off and only then discovered that their reservations had been switched, which would’ve left them totally screwed. Rather than arriving in the evening, they were now scheduled to get home after midnight, and all three of them had to work the next morning.
Then, when they finally made it back to North America, Air Canada canceled their Toronto to Windsor flight, so my dad had to rent a car (at his own expense) to make the 3.5 hour drive after traveling since 1am EST just so he could get to work the next day. To add insult to injury, despite the fact that the flight was canceled and they drove the last leg themselves, Air Canada somehow thinks that my brother used his ticket and refuses to refund that portion of the fare. It seems to me that if someone did use that boarding pass to get on the plane, Air Canada has a pretty big security breach.
In the end, it was Delta that found the bags, even though they had played no role in losing them. My dad, brother, and Jill all went home from Munich without ever seeing their luggage in Europe, but a couple of days later, two of the suitcases were flown in from Amsterdam and delivered to their homes by Delta. My dad’s bag was still unaccounted for and we assumed the worst. Delta came through again though and several days later (six days after they returned home and sixteen days after the bags disappeared) they dropped my dad’s suitcase off at my parents’ front door.
This disaster and horrifyingly bad customer service put a major damper on our vacation. We spent time and effort rewashing clothes every day, we took time out of our vacation to buy replacement clothes, we spent hours on the phone racking up a massive international phone bill, and the Christmas presents that were in the suitcases now have to be shipped overseas to my other brother who lives in Austria at great expense.
In the month since they’ve been home, my dad has spent hours trying to get through to Lufthansa to file for the compensation he, my brother, and Jill are owed. He spends almost every lunch break on hold with Lufthansa’s customer service hoping that he’ll finally get through. My mom has filled out the contact form on the website multiple times and sent emails to their customer service. They refuse to respond to anything. Under EU regulations, the six-hour delay in their arrival in Munich entitles them to several hundred euros each, but the airlines have a reputation of stonewalling passengers who are trying to get what they are owed.
Air France has been equally terrible. We were told that they could buy replacement clothes and have the cost reimbursed by the airline. Rather than going on a shopping spree, we tried to share clothes amongst ourselves as much as possible. For the three people who went their entire ten-day vacation without luggage, we bought two packages of men’s underwear, one package each of men’s and women’s socks, a pair of men’s jeans, a men’s sweater, and a women’s sweater. Air France offered to compensate for the socks and underwear and half of the sweaters and jeans. That’s all they are offering for spending ten days without luggage. This is utterly ridiculous.
I’ve worked in customer service positions before and I’ve been on the receiving end of both good and bad service, but nothing I’ve ever experienced comes remotely close to this level of failure. Mistakes can happen – I’ve had my own luggage lost on more than one occasion – but the utter unwillingness to even lift a finger to correct the mistake from everyone we interacted with at Air France, Lufthansa, and the Munich airport was shameful. We spoke to dozens of people in person and over the phone over the course of this lost luggage saga, and not one of them was willing to do anything to fulfill even the most basic requirements of their jobs. The other day, I was pricing out plane tickets for another vacation this year and caught myself looking at an Air France itinerary before shaking my head and looking at a more expensive option.
We are not asking for anything extraordinary from these airlines. All we want is the compensation that our family is legally entitled to due to the flight delay and lost luggage, and not one person from Lufthansa or Air France will do anything to initiate that process. I’m aware that there are third-party companies that assist with filing for compensation, but we would prefer not to have to pay for a service just because the airlines are stonewalling us.
See some of the fun we still managed to have during our European vacation here:
- Fortress Hohensalzburg: Salzburg’s Top Attraction
- Visiting Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome
- The Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Venice