When Good Days Go Bad…

February 17, 2009

A friend and I were traveling to Copenhagen and Amsterdam for President’s Day and on a 3-day trip to Europe, every minute on the ground or in the air matters.  Which is why it troubled me when things went wrong…

On the flight from Washington to Amsterdam last Thursday, I had dozed off when my friend woke me up, asking why we were going in circles.  Sure enough, the map showed us flying over the Chesapeake Bay, at about 9500 feet, around and around.  The monitor started showing the Amsterdam arrivals video and that we were 70 miles from our destination.

For awhile, the pilot turned Channel 9 off, then made the announcement that we were heading back to Washington-Dulles after we burned off some fuel.  Apparently the cabin would not pressurize and we could not fly above 10,000 feet.

Once things were settled, the captain turned Channel 9 back on, which was fascinating to hear the FAA towers and how they dealt with a diverted flight, and deferred to the captain, even in a non-emergency situation.  Kudos to the crew for letting us listen in as it was reassuring to hear the captain tell the ground that it was “not an emergency situation”.

The second we turned onto the taxiway, I got on my cell phone to my travel agent and to the 1K Desk. We were going to miss our connection to Copenhagen, and wanted to rebook.  Options were available on the late flights through London and Frankfurt.  We chose London because, the only available seats through Frankfurt were in First and they wouldn’t book us into them (understandable).

The service director understood our concerns and asked us to discreetly claim our bags to deplane–she did not want other passengers making the same requests, which I could understand.

We then headed to the Red Carpet Club to reticket onto the London flight, which is where things went wrong.  There, the agent told us we could not be separated from our bags and sent us back to the Amsterdam flight where we met a surprised Customer Service Director.  She was great to us and asked us what we preferred, which was flying through London since it got us to our destination three hours earlier.  She went into the computer to print our new boarding cards, only to discover that the Red Carpet agent has canceled the re-route through London.  So back onto the Amsterdam-bound plane we went.

The ground personnel at Schiphol were efficient, if not entirely helpful, and gave us a 15 Euro voucher for lunch. But we were re-booked onto a KLM flight, which meant that when my bags did not arrive in Copenhagen, the line of accountability fell apart.

The lesson here, I guess,  is to be prepared and be flexible, know your rights, and be assertive–but not too demanding–and eventually even irregular operations will end up with a decent resolution!