Saturday, January 08, 2011

Frankfurt Airport Insolent Gate Changes and Other Blues

Frankly I am not impressed with the much lauded and supposed German efficiency. For one thing, the Frankfurt airport hub is given to a nasty habit- they arbitrarily change departure gates after you have been assigned your gate and do not make public service announcements of any kind. So, say you go to the gate that has been clearly printed on your boarding pass, and then sit and wait for your flight. You may be reading a book and yawning and then slowly you begin to realize that something is wrong. There is no queue or crowd of any sort gathering, and around you there are just some non-descript sleepy people resembling skid row homeless winos who are just getting another peaceful snooze. “ Hey! What’s up?! Where is my flight?” The gate is closed, there is no name of any flight there! The inside hall is dark. Hey, what’s going on? There are no service personnel anywhere in sight. You start running around like crazy until you find some people in uniform. Hey, I was supposed to leave on flight 123! Where is it?” “ I am not sure, please check with the information desk”. “Where is the information desk? “ It is outside the security”. “Outside the security?” You mean now I need to basically leave the departure area? “ That’s right! You should have checked the board. There is the board, go and look up your flight number”. I go to the board and cannot find it. I run out of the departure area and find the information desk with a long line in front of it – I stand in the line. When I get to the end of it, they tell me- your flight is gone! What do you mean it is gone!?”” It went on to its destination!” “But I was at the goddamn gate waiting for it! WTF!!!! “ Here is my gate number!” “It had changed!” Well, why didn’t you announce it? Why didn’t you call my name?’ We don’t announce those things here in Frankfurt! Oh thanks a lot.”

Even in Bangkok, a supposedly lazy and inefficient airport, if you are not at your gate, they will announce and look for you so that you don’t miss your flight. They will also do so in the US. “Passenger so and so, please come to the departure gate this and that, blah, blah, blah.” Not in Germany. You are now screwed. So,what should I do? Try and get on the next flight! Get into that line overthere. When I see the line, it seems to be over two hundred meters long moving slower than a snail. Literally. People are basically camping out on the floor, and the Lufthansa people are giving sandwiches and water to the people. I end up standing in like ( or sitting and lying in that line) for six long hours! I have made some good friends in it who have had the same problem. Lufthansa arbitrarily changes departure gates with no PSA of any kind except that you are supposed to be watching the electronic board for any gate changes. You see, it is your responsibility. Well, after 6 long hours in the line, they give me a hotel and a food coupon and I end up spending a white Christmas in Germany after a friendly immigration officer stamps me in. The snow is falling heavily, there are decorations everywhere, the people are really nice and friendly. My fellow flight-missers and I ride a bus shuttle, stand in yet another line, and I are having a nice buffet while watching a winter wonderland outside through the huge windows of our four star hotel. Well, at least they took some responsibility for their actions and put us up at the hotel. But why pay all this money if you can just announce the gate change on the radio.

But it ain’t over yet. After having gone through the security- another monumental task, we find out that the flight has been canceled because of bad weather. Off we go into Germany again and spend another 5-7 hours in lines. Another day at the airport and another night at, now, a five star hotel. Not a bad deal actually, and they call me from work to my international roaming number and tell me that I am being paid for all this time, as it is not my fault. Again, it is all very nice, and I am happy to have made all these new friends among fellow plane – abandonees and new flight-missers.

On the third day, I finally get the flight, but what about my bag? Oh, it is still at the airport they say and will most definitely be on your flight. Well, it is not true. It only arrived 11 days later. Gratefully, I must say, that Lufthansa gave me $50 to buy some clothes and toiletries in case it arrives late. But the whole thing was no picnic nonetheless. Getting through to them by phone was nearly impossible.

In the end it all worked out but I am still surprised at this:

1) Why don’t such organized people as Germans have some kind of good system of announcing gate changes and catching up on missing passengers with boarding passes who are faithfully waiting for their flights and now useless gates? Like other civilized nations do. Why do they put the burden of watching for gate changes on you? Is it your job? You have the gate number given to you by THEM. So, wouldn’t it be nice to have the courtesy of them telling you that it has been changed? It will save them a lot of money if they have that system and it will save the passengers a lot of grief.

2) Why don’t they have a nice info booth in the departure area? If anything goes wrong, you now need to leave and go out so that you would have to go through the ordeal of having yourself patted and having your bags gutted once again?

3) Why do they tell you sweet lies about your baggage being on the plane (been done to me twice) and when you arrive it is not there?

Not very efficient, Germany! Shape up!

Another thing! In the US, you have all these power outlets for your laptop and often, a free WI FI. In Frankfurt, these are very hard to find and the only place they have them is at some beer counter which is packed with people. I found an outlet at my table in a café and plugged my laptop in and a waitress immediately appeared and started telling me off. Now, WTF again! Makes you kind of appreciate the US for once.

Anyway, at least they got my bag to me in the end, paid for my hotel and food and gave me some money to tide me over with some cheap clothes- luckily I was in a country that had them on sale. Germans are responsible, I admit, but as far as passenger service efficiency at the airport, they have a long way to go.

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