Forget the pound of flesh, how about an ounce of customer service?
(attrib. William Shakespeare)
Some journeys start off badly but get better. Others start off OK but get worse. This one is the latter!
Once again Colin, my partner-in-crime at ARX, and I were heading off to this year’s Frankfurt Pro Light & Sound exhibition.
The current Qantas code-sharing tie-up with Emirates had caused a re-scheduling of our normal flight to Frankfurt, stopping at Dubai now instead of Singapore. The plane was late leaving Melbourne, so we were delayed on the tarmac while someone found the keys or some jumper leads. Whatever. By the time it had all been sorted out and we took off, it was at least an hour later and I was sound asleep.
When we arrived at Dubai some 14 hours later, the pilot announced we had well and truly missed our Emirates connection to Frankfurt. Luckily as we left the plane a handful of Emirates staff met us and started handing out boarding passes for all the transit passengers.
“Going to Frankfurt?” one of them asked us. We agreed, and she handed us boarding passes to Venice! Not quite the destination we had in mind.
“Hang on,” we said, “we’re going to Frankfurt, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” she replied, “but we don’t have any other flights to Frankfurt today, so you’re going to Venice, which is on the way. There’ll be boarding passes for a Frankfurt flight from Venice waiting at for you when you get there.”
Taking her at her word, we shuffled off to the Venice flight, stopping only at a Duty Free store to grab a couple of bottles of cognac and Baileys, our traditional jetlag cures.
“I’ve never been to Venice,” said Col, settling into his seat with a glass of red. “I wouldn’t mind seeing the place.”
“I’ve been there a couple of times,” I replied, “and you’re not going to see much of it from the airport! As the crow flies it’s about 5 k away, but as the train or road goes it’s more like 20 k.
Venice is sinking fast enough without having 300 tonne planes landing on it every half hour!”
“Couldn’t we get a car and have a quick look around?”
“No cars in Venice at all!” I said. “It’s a bit like Tijuana – you have to park your car and walk across or get a gondola. The train is the best; just step out of the station and you’ll fall into the Grand Canal if you’re not careful!”
When we arrived at Venice’s Marco Polo airport, however, the arrivals hall was totally empty. Shiny marble as far as the eye could see, totally unspoiled by any sight of Emirates staff helpfully thrusting boarding passes for Frankfurt at us.
What to do? We were well and truly on our own, in a foreign country that we’re not supposed to be in, without any knowledge of what airline or flight we’re supposed to be on, and hoping that someone, somewhere, knew what was happening. As the bard himself would put it, we were ‘f***ked and far from home!’
On the plus side though, we could just see the tower of the Piazza San Marco on the horizon!
“Let’s go back to the plane and ask them,” suggested Col.
Uh oh – no luck with that idea. All the doors leading back to the plane were one-way doors, meant for people to walk down to the arrivals area, not back.
And then we saw it, hidden downstairs in a corner: A small sign that said ‘I passeggeri in transito’ (Transit Passengers), and an x-ray bag scanner with someone official standing next to it.
We rushed over, and somehow convinced the guy, who spoke a tiny bit of English, that we were in transit to Frankfurt.
“Boarding pass?” he asked, holding his hand out.
“Ah, well, we don’t have any yet.”
“Hmm, no Boarding Pass.” He looked sad, then brightened up. “What airline?”
“Ah, well, we don’t know that either.”
He looked sad again. “But you have a booking?” He smiled hopefully.
“Oh yes, yes, of course.” We smiled and nodded our heads madly like two bobble-head dogs in a car back window.
He breathed a sigh of relief “OK, that will be fine.” He put our hand luggage through the x-ray scanner, showed our passports to a very dapper looking official behind a door, who nodded and closed the door, then walked us through the back way into the departures hall.
He shook our hands, wished us a good trip, and disappeared back the way we came. Probably thinking ‘At last – they’re someone else’s responsibility now!’
We walked up to the Departures board. The only flights to Frankfurt were Lufthansa ones. One in about half an hour at 1.30pm, and another at 6.30pm. Both were leaving from Gate 13.
Hoping that one of the flights was ours, we rushed over to the gate, pushed our way to the front of the queue, and explained our predicament to the Duty Officer. She picked up the phone and said “I will call Emirates for you” then unleashed a stream of rapid fire Italian.
She put down the phone and said “Yes, they know who you are, and they will bring the boarding passes over. Please wait here.”
We waited at the counter.
After about 10 minutes she picked up the phone again and zapped some more high speed Italian down the phone. “They say they are still coming.”
“Do you think we’ll be on this plane?” asked Col.
“I don’t think so,” she replied.
By now the passengers at the gate were boarding the plane, so we had missed the flight and were looking at a 4-hour wait to board the next one.
“At least we can wait in the Emirates lounge,” said Col, looking forwards to a couple more glasses of red.
Ten minutes later our Lufthansa Duty Officer exasperatedly picked up the phone to call Emirates for a third time, and this time her voice had a much harder edge to it. When she finished she rolled her eyes and said to us “Sorry – they are not coming. They say you have to go over to the Emirates desk. Follow me and I will take you there.”
She led us through security again, out to the Emirates check-in counter, where the two staff now said that they couldn’t issue the passes! They could authorise them, but we had to go to a Lufthansa counter to get them issued.
But first they had to find our luggage.
Aaagh – our luggage! With all the fuss we had completely forgotten about it. “Let’s just hope someone in baggage handling knows all about it,” I murmured to Col.
“It’s going to be a smelly few days if they haven’t!” he replied.
The Duty Officer looked like she was fit to burst and give them a piece of her mind, but took a deep breath, pointed to where the Lufthansa counter was and then said goodbye to us. We thanked her profusely for all her help, and waited for the Emirates staff while they leisurely tapped away on their keyboards. Finally they said it was sorted out, and we could go to the Lufthansa counter.
Once there, we explained our situation to the girl on duty. She typed something into the computer and said, “Yes, the authorisations are here. Now, where would you like to sit?”
Within a couple of minutes we had our passes in our hands, and were heading through security for hopefully the last time.
“Let’s find the lounge,” said Col thirstily, once we were through.
No lounge for us. The only one we could find was a generic lounge that only accepted Gold Qantas Club members, which neither of us was. Too tired to argue, we shrugged our shoulders, and then drowned our sorrows in a couple of 8 Euro beers in a nearby bar. Then, having drained our beers and our supply of Euros, we headed down to the departure gate and tried to stay awake until the flight was called. We didn’t want to miss this one!
After we finally made our way onto the plane, six hours later than we had anticipated, I managed to sleep all the way to Frankfurt. Imagine our surprise when after all the problems, our bags were some of the first ones off the baggage carousel! Within an hour of landing we were in our hotel room, freshly showered and dressed.
“What about some beer and sausage in the Old Town?” I said to Col. He looked at his watch.
“Bit late,” he said. “It’s 9.30 at night. Looks like it’ll be a pizza and a good nights sleep!”
Footnote. The service we received from Lufthansa was excellent. They went out of their way to help us and did their best to make the journey a pleasant one. Emirates on the other hand could not have cared less. Their customer service in Venice was non-existent. If it had all been up to them we would still be wandering around the airport!