Friday, June 7, 2013

Disastrous return from France

And so it was time to return to London.

First off though, my return from Paris was rather more of a ruckus than I ever intended it to be. My taxi arrived thirty minutes late and I thought I would miss my flight. I arrived on time but in attempting to check into my flight from the cab on the way there I suspected something was going wrong. I wasn't able to get my boarding pass.

When I finally arrived at the airport and attempted to print my pass there, again, I was met with errors. When assisted by Air France hostesses and attendants I was finally told the reason why: I was put on standby for my flight.

Despite buying the ticket in advance, even arriving at the airport an hour and a half early, I was put on standby. I haven't been more furious in a long time.

The staff were all incredibly friendly during this entire transaction, so I get the impression this happens a lot (they clearly oversold the flight). The woman who told me I was put on standby said politely that next time it would probably be a good idea if I checked in as soon as possible (which is 30 hours ahead of time).

I did the math. 30 hours before my flight I was asleep because that would have put me squarely at 4am. 24 hours before my flight I was listening to the keynote speaker at CHI. I suppose I could have ripped myself away from networking, meeting with colleagues, or talking with lecturers during the conference in order to remember enough to check into my flight, but sorry...as a business person these aren't the sorts of things that always cross my mind. This actually made me slightly more mad about the situation rather than resolving it. I didn't let her know my train of thought though.

What I did get, in compensation for this "inconvenience" made me even more uncomfortable though.

After being told that I was put on standby, and then a little later, that I was indeed getting bumped to the next flight (which was a rather awful 3 hours later, though thank goodness it wasn't a day later or sometime even later than that), I was also given a few more things:

  • a voucher good for a complete meal for anywhere in the airport (this included an appetizer or dessert, entree, and drink (nonalcoholic)) of my choice
  • a choice between 350euros credit for Air France that I could use towards any flight or 250euros in cash
I decided to go with the cash of course, since I didn't want to have anything to do with an airline that would screw me over once again. Why would I continue supporting that?

But I couldn't help thinking that I was being bought off to keep my silence. And as it was, I wasn't keeping silent. I definitely broadcast my situation to the interwebs (as I'm doing now as well).

And...and this is the real kicker...the 250euros is almost double what I actually paid for the roundtrip of flights. It's awkwardly more.

Why would an airline company do this? What's the point? Why inconvenience your customers, make them angry, and know that you will do this? Isn't this a losing proposition? Certainly they've lost my future business - unless I have absolutely no other choice I will never fly with them again.

So I collected my euros and ate my free meal and waited the three hours at my gate.

...unfortunately this is not where the misfortune ended.

As I said I sat there for a solid 2+ hours. In this time I was constantly checking my phone for any work-related emails (since that's what I would have been doing had I actually caught my real flight back - doing work from home, where I had foolishly left my laptop thinking I would be back on time) and reading my book inbetween emails.

About 15 minutes before we were to board I decided to take a restroom break and to buy myself a small snack. After returning I noticed there was absolutely no one at my gate. Like no one. Not even an attendant at the desk. What the deuce?

There was a small crowd of people crowded at the desk staring at something so I went and took a look.

In very small font across the electronic board, behind the desk, it said that our gate for the flight had been moved.

No verbal announcements had been made, no attendants had bothered telling us who were sitting at the gate that this had happened. It just did. And we were expected to have noticed that it happened. Motherducker.

And the new gate? All the way across the terminal on the other side. I guess I should have just been thankful it was still in the same terminal at all. Could have been on the other side of the airport. Or in a different airport, for all this airline was worth.

So we all ran like a little group of quailings to the new gate. And saw everyone lined up for boarding in the most convoluted and loopy fashion I've ever seen. It was ridiculous.

And we were still half an hour late to start boarding. Who are these people? Who designed this system? That person should not only be fired but burned at the stake. Potentially lynched first (I joke, of course).

Since we were standing so long waiting for something to happen I naturally got into conversations with the people around me, all of us venting our frustration. Turns out I had it fairly easy in comparison to some of the others. The guy behind me was returning home to Norwich from Hong Kong and he'd been delayed a total of 19 hours overall across his journey because of this airline. Through various delays, being put on standby, just other stuff he was basically supposed to have landed and been home the day before and just...well, wasn't. He never made it. And through no fault of his own.

Pretty sure we all had the same thoughts about this airline by the end.

We did eventually land in London. 45 minutes delayed. I really don't know how this airline survives.

I got home 5+ hours later than I originally planned. My day was wasted (well, I suppose I got some email done by phone and read through 2/3 of my book...so...something was done, as life always goes on), but this was certainly not the way I expected.

Air France I will never fly with you again. This doesn't even begin to describe ridiculous. It was unbelieveable. I'm not even mad anymore just amazed at the disorganization. The funny thing is, the staff is some of the friendliest I've ever met. All great people, horribly disorganized company.

And that was that.

Funny side story: after telling my boss about this entire fiasco the only thing she said to me: I wish someone would give me an opportunity to do absolutely nothing for three hours. It sounds like heaven.

Fair enough. That's one way of looking at it. Trying to see the other perspective. Still never flying with Air France ever again if I can avoid it.

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