This time last year I was stuck overnight in Houston because I missed a flight to Nicaragua. This year I am stuck in Denver after missing a flight to Germany. What kind of bozo misses 2 international flights in 2 consecutive years?
Last year it was completely my fault but this year I was, mostly, innocent. Traffic was really bad through Colorado Springs and most of the way to Castle Rock. We showed up to the airport about 45 minutes before departure. I thought we were going to make it, just by the skin of our teeth.
I am traveling with my 13 year old son. We’re going to Germany to visit the grave site of my grandfather, who was killed in action in the European theater during World War II. My son is named after him so it seems fitting for a young boy coming of age, or close to it. When, exactly, does that happen?
So anyway, we arrive with very little time to spare, especially for an international flight, but I remained confident. We park in short term parking and sprint into the airport. First major obstacle: we are turned away at security. I purchased plane tickets together and when checking in assumed we had electronic boarding passes for both me and my son. Turns out I was wrong. We sprint to the Lufthansa counter and they say it’s too late to issue another boarding pass. Instead we are handed a business card with a smattering of toll free numbers and told to call Lufthansa for assistance.
This was my first big mistake. I should have insisted on speaking with a supervisor at the ticket counter. I think we still had a chance to make the flight.
So I call Lufthansa and, after waiting on hold for about 20 minutes, I explain the situation to a Lufthansa customer service representative who, I’m nearly certain, is speaking to me from Asia. At this point I know we’re not going to make the flight so I begin asking about re-booking options. No problem they say. All we need is the difference between what we originally paid for the flight (~$1200 for 2 tickets) and the cost of booking at that moment. The total would be $5,000 (not exactly, I think it was $5,045 or something like that). I said, “No fucking way” and asked for a supervisor. The supervisor was easier to communicate with but she didn’t really care what I thought of the $5,000 change fee. She was unwilling to compromise in any way and insisted I either fork over 5 Gs or become a “no show” which would mean losing our tickets.
I was furious, of course. I refused to pay and asked for her name so I could specify to Lufthansa officials who was refusing to provide reasonable customer service. They probably could have soaked me for $500. But $5,000? No chance. So, after some eloquent and thoughtful pleasantries before saying good bye, I hung up and walked back to the Lufthansa ticket counter.
Again, I relay our epic saga, pleading for mercy. The Lufthansa agent says “no problem”, takes our passports and returns 5 minutes later with boarding passes for the same direct flight 24 hours later.
I know. Sort of an anticlimactic ending, right?
So, we stayed at a nearby Hampton Inn last night and dined at the Moonlight Cafe where we ordered huge cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes. Here’s my son enjoying his meal (with me in the reflection).
But then this morning something struck me. Is it official policy for Lufthansa (and other airlines) to attempt to gauge customers who call customer service to re-book after missing a flight? If I wasn’t such a cheapskate maybe I would have paid up. Well, I’d never pay $5k but I might have paid as much as $1k. This trip is a big deal for me and my son. Why would such a discrepancy in customer service policy exist? Why would a Lufthansa customer service agent on the phone demand $5,000 when the gate agent is willing to issue next day boarding passes without even asking for a nominal change fee?
Big companies suck. Airlines suck. Air travel sucks.
The benefits of international travel are still worth the hassle … I think. I know my son’s worldview will be greatly enhanced by seeing another corner of the planet. But the value equation is getting worse every year. And recent anti-immigration political fervor won’t help. Fewer international students will be enrolling overseas. Fewer scholars will be teaching overseas. Fewer businessmen will be doing business in “foreign” cultures. Fewer humans will be developing empathy for other humans who look, speak, eat, work and play differently.
Fewer people will travel. That’s bad for all of us.