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Trying to get to Italy on Lufthansa ruined the start of our ski holiday.

We were lucky to get there a day later (on Air Canada and Alitalia).

Here's the sad story:                                                                                                           By Ed Pollock

Our travel agency, Ultimate Destinations organized an escorted seniors' group ski trip to Italy, every winter from 2004 to 20012.
In 2007, our trip to Italy had been planned and ticketed on flights scheduled to leave Toronto Friday March 2nd, 2007 at suppertime, arriving in Frankfurt early Saturday morning and leaving Frankfurt three hours later for the final flight to Verona Italy.  Arrangements had been made for the 2-hour private bus transfer from Verona to the ski resort hotel in the Alps in Moena. 
Two of our group were booked on Lufthansa - myself, Edward Pollock, the tour escort and author of this report and John Gallagher, who had been on all but one of my previous trips. The others were booked on Air Canada.
John and I were booked on Lufthansa Flight 471, scheduled to depart from Toronto Friday, March 2nd at 5:30 pm, to arrive in Frankfurt at 7:25 am Saturday morning, to connect with Lufthansa Flight 3944 leaving Frankfurt at 10:25 am, scheduled to arrive in Verona Italy at 11:50 am. 
The entire trip package, including flights, ground transfers and accommodation was sold to clients by Ultimate Destination travel agency and booked and prepaid with Manditours International Inc. Richmond Hill ON. However, Mandi Tours did not issue the Lufthansa flight tickets. Mandi Tours booked the flights with Voyages Intair TR, who issued the tickets for the flights. 

Both of us, Ed Pollock and John Gallagher checked by telephone prior to leaving for the airport Friday and were told the flight from Toronto was scheduled to leave on time. We arrived at the airport separately, about three hours prior to flight time, checked in our luggage in and both of us were told at the check-in that the flight was scheduled to leave on time.

We proceeded to the departure lounge separately and at that point met up with each other.  We noted that the information at the departure lounge notice boards still showed that the flight was scheduled to leave on time.  But when it came time to depart, the two Lufthansa staff members at the gate informed those who asked, that the plane was on its way from Montreal and had been delayed, but should be arriving shortly.  The notice boards continued to show departure times right up until that departure time had passed, after which they changed to a later departure time. This scenario continued to repeat itself all evening, including the Lufthansa gate employees' insistences that the plane was on its way from Montreal. 
One of the passengers used the public telephone at Pearson airport to call Lufthansa's information number. The passenger was told that the aircraft that was supposed to be coming from Montreal was experiencing problems and had to return to Montreal  airport.  The passenger was told that the aircraft was originally scheduled to arrive in Toronto the previous day, but had to stop in Montreal because of the weather in Toronto. The aircraft had waited on the ground for the weather in Toronto to clear, and had kept the engines running on the ground, hoping to be able to continue to Toronto and this may have been the reason the plane was experiencing equipment difficulty. 
But the Lufthansa gate staff at Pearson continued to tell people that the plane was on its way from Montreal and the notice boards continued to show a later and later time right up until 11:30 pm when an announcement was finally made that the flight had been cancelled and passengers would have to pick up their luggage. It was later on when there was another announcement telling  passengers which carousel would have their luggage.  No announcement was made to tell passengers what to do other than to pick up their luggage.  It took more than an hour for all the luggage to finally reach the carousel.
Passengers had no idea what they should do. Many had travelled a long way to reach Pearson airport and the Lufthansa check-in desk was being mobbed by them as they tried to arrange hotel accommodation for those who required it.  No attempt was offered or being made to contact anyone at the passengers' points of arrival to make alternative arrangements or adjustments for transfers or accommodation missed because of the flight cancellation per IATA's requirements.
By the time Pollock and Gallagher finally got their luggage and returned to the Lufthansa check-in area, there was not one Lufthansa employee there (or anyone else, for that matter).  So Ed Pollock and John Gallagher arranged their own transportation to their homes in Oakville and Milton respectively.
Ed Pollock, the tour escort tried to get in touch with transfer people who were to meet them in Verona, but it was impossible to reach them before they reached Verona airport to wait for the two passengers who were not going to arrive.
When Ed Pollock called Lufthansa the next morning, he was first connected to the Lufthansa's U.S. phone service. The person there had no information and said he could not confirm Pollock and Gallagher on the Saturday flight.  Later on the Lufthansa phone help desk in Canada said the same thing, but suggested that they would be confirmed at the airport. 
Just to be on the safe side, before leaving for the airport, Ed Pollock got on the computer and checked seats available on flights from Toronto connecting with flights to Verona Italy leaving Saturday March 3rd arriving Sunday March 4th, 2007 and took the printout with him to the airport.

On arrival at the airport, Pollock and Gallagher were told they could not be confirmed on the Lufthansa flight and their luggage could not be checked in because there were no seats available, because there was only one aircraft and there were too many people left over from the previous day's flights that had been cancelled. This was surprising news, since Lufthansa should have had more than enough time from the previous day to arrange for aircraft to make sure they could accommodate all the people that had been left over from the previous day's flight that had been cancelled due to equipment problems (not the weather). 

When nearly everyone else had been checked in and confirmed on Lufthansa or other flights, Ed Pollock approached the one lady that everyone else working for Lufthansa seemed to have to come to in order to get anything done, and showed her the printout which showed that seats were available on an Air Canada flight to Rome connecting with an Alitilia flight to Verona. She immediately went on her computer and booked John Gallagher and Ed Pollock on the flights and filled out the ticket forms. No one offered to or said they would call the hotel in Italy to change the transfer arrival time in Verona
If Ed Pollock had not had the information on the Air Canada flight to Italy along with the Alitalia flight to Verona, it was almost certain Ed Pollock and John Gallagher would have lost the second day of their six day's skiing vacation, and who knows when Lufthansa would have been able to get them there?
Pollock and Gallagher had just enough time to check in their luggage and board the Air Canada flight to Rome.  They arrived in Rome on Sunday morning, and had a five hour wait for the flight to Verona. They went to the Lufthansa desk in Rome, and the manager there immediately confirmed that in circumstances when a flight had been delayed or cancelled due to equipment problems, the airline was responsible to notify the destination of the change, and he did so immediately without question and was very pleasant about it, unlike the Lufthansa manager at Toronto Pearson, who provided no help whatsoever.
Ed Pollock called Mandi Tours from Pearson to tell them the Lufthansa flight the night before had been cancelled and there were problems getting seats on the Saturday flight.  He was not able to reach them again by the time arrangements had been made for the Air Canada flight. So Mandi Tours did not know Pollock and Gallagher were not on the Saturday Lufthansa flight and consequently were unable change the arrangements for the transfer from the airport to the hotel again. So two transfers were missed  - one on Saturday and again on Sunday. 
After having a meal during the long wait between flights at the Fiumicino airport in Rome, Pollock and Gallagher were met after the flight to Verona by the twice previously delayed transfer driver and driven to their hotel in Moena, Val di Fassa. In Moena, they met up with the other members of their group who had left Toronto on the Friday evening on their Air Canada flight and had arrived at the ski resort a little late but had not missed out on any days of their six-day ski vacation.
The return flights on Lufthansa at the end of the ski vacation were uneventful. 
The value of the ski vacation, which cost more than $3,000.00 and  had been shortened and reduced nearly 17% - as well as resulting in significant additional out-of-pocket expenses due to Lufthansa's inability to deliver the services contracted for and their refusal to accept any responsibility for not being unable to deal with the problem in a satisfactory manner prompted this report.
The situation was not just a problem that could not have been avoided, if Lufthansa had been "on the ball". The problem began when the aircraft that should have been in Toronto was not there - almost a whole day after the aircraft ended up in the wrong place.  This led to the flight cancellation. Then to make matters worse, another whole day later Lufthansa still faced a the now bigger problem of accommodating all the passengers. If Lufthansa was a little guy with only a few aircraft, this might be understandable. But Lufthansa is not a little guy.  The situation that Lufthansa found itself in is not unique in the air transport industry. It happens often. But Lufthansa did not deal with it satisfactorily. 

Various parties involved were contacted both verbally (whenever possible) and in writing. Below are excerpts of four of the pertinent documents:  

1. Letter from: Susan Ippolito, Office Manager, Manditours International Inc. Richmond Hill Ontario

Addressed to: Intair, Montreal Quebec,  Attn: Customer Service. Dated March 9, 2007

Re: Claim - Record Locator KAUAOB - Pollock/Edward Mr. and Gallagher/John Mr. 

These 2 passengers were booked on a ski package in Moena, Italy, which included transfers and accommodations which was all prepaid 3 weeks prior to clients arrival. The transfers were from Verona airport to the ski resort. Travel time is approximately 3 to 4 hours one way. Unfortunately they had problems with their flights, which caused cancellations and delays for their arrival, and new charges were incurred because of this.

The flight on the 2nd of March was cancelled for these clients,  causing them to miss their connection in Frankfurt on the 3rd of March to Verona, where the transfer company was scheduled to pick them up at 12:30pm on the 3rd of March and the passengers did not show.

The passengers were not protected on the Lufthansa flight the next day, the 3rd of March which was overbooked so they were re-booked again on flight AC890 & AZ1491 through Rome to arrive on the 4th of March. - one day plus another 4 hours late. The transfer company waited at the airport on the 3rd from 12:30pm to a later flight which arrived at 18:40pm, charging 18.00 each hour, totaling 108.00 . The clients did not show up until the next day, the 4th of March, on a flight which arrived later than expected, which means they were charged again for a full transfer service of  250.00 plus waiting time, one way. Also these passengers missed 1 night of accommodation and one day of skiing with their  private ski guide booked for 6 days, and they missed one day of that as well.

These passengers originally were to arrive on the same day at the same time as the rest of their group, who had arrived the day originally scheduled. Their transfer one way was priced at a cost of 250.00 . But with all of the cancellations and delays that occurred, the new costs that were incurred to the passengers over and above what they have already pre paid is a total of 1140.00 .

They are seeking compensation from the airline for the amount of  1140.00  .

I am faxing this letter, which includes the explanation of the charges which I received from Italy for the clients, as well as the breakdown of the extra transfer costs. The transfer costs were sent in Italian but I have translated and explained everything in this letter.

If you require further information from me, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best regards, Susan Ippolito - Office Manager - Richmond Hill Travel a division of Manditours Int'l. Inc.

 

2. Letter from: Sonia Perigny, Interline & Customer Service Manager, Intair, Montreal Quebec

Addressed to: Susan Ippolito, Richmond Hill Travel. Dated March 12, 2007

Reference: Mr Edward Warner Pollock &. Mr John Gallagher PNR: KAUAOB

Your request has been sent to Lufthansa (since the tickets were plated by LH 220) and we will keep you Informed of any development as soon as we hear from them. Please note that notwithstanding the fact we have filed a complaint with the airline concerned, we would like you to know that it can take between three to six months to finalise a claim. 

Yours very truly, Sonia Perigny - Interline & Customer Service Representative

 

3. Letter from: Jini Israni, Lufthansa, Customer Relations North America dated March 13, 2007. 

Addressed to: Sonia Perigny, Interline & Customer Service Manager, Intair, Montreal Quebec

Re: Mr Edward Pollock & Mr John Gallagher

This is in reference to your letter regarding the above mentioned passengers booked on LH471/ 02MAR YYZ FRA and on to VRN. I was sorry to learn that flight LH471 was cancelled on this occasion due to technical difficulties. Please convey our sincere apologies to Mr. Pollock and Mr. Gallagher for all related Inconvenience.

I am sure you can appreciate that despite our best efforts to operate flights according to schedule, there are occasions when unforeseen circumstances, beyond our control, prevent us from doing so. When flights are cancelled our customer service staff will do their utmost to make alternative arrangements so that passengers reach their destination as soon as possible. Hence our mutual clients were rerouted via Rome with AC and AZ on this occasion.

In keeping With all major airlines, Lufthansa is unable to assume responsibility for the consequences of such a flight delay or cancellation. We, therefore, strongly recommend that passengers purchase travel insurance in case of such eventualities. In the event that they are holding such insurance, may I suggest that they contact their insurance company in this regard. We would be pleased to provide them with a letter advising of this flight cancellation to assist them in this endeavour.

Ms Perigny, I regret that my response cannot be in keeping with your request, but trust you will understand our position. We thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely, Lufthansa German Airlines, Jini Israni, Customer Relations North America

 

4. Letter from John Gallagher, Milton Ontario

Addressed to Ed Pollock, Ultimate Destinations, Oakville Ontario. Dated March 14, 2007

Re: Lufthansa Flight LH471 departure scheduled Friday March 2, 2007 - 5:30 pm

I am writing to advise of my frustration with the events of Friday March 2 and Saturday March 3.

I appreciate your help in seeking an adjustment that I feel we are entitled to.

It is my practice to arrive at the airport well in advance of scheduled take off and as suggested / recommended, I arrived at Toronto around 2:00 p.m. My plan was to check in, pass through security and then have a relaxing late lunch in the departure area.

After the time passed when the flight was supposed to leave, the announcements of flight delay started. First approximately 7:00 p.m., then 8:00, and finally 10:00 p.m. before Lufthansa finally cancelled the flight.

The next day, Saturday, I confirmed the flight and was told I was to be on the flight. Again I arrived at 2:00 p.m. Saturday to be told I was on standby. Then after much protesting Bernd J. Rabich, station manager for Lufthansa tried in vain to get us on an Alitalia flight. Eventually we got out on an Air Canada flight to Rome, then 5 hours later an Alitalia to Verona and our transportation to Moena.

The treatment we received by Lufthansa was that of 2nd class citizens. We were left to our own devices and without your (Ed Pollock's) knowledge and info we might still be at Toronto airport.

The trip became the vacation from hell.  Very stressful and upsetting.

My feeling is that we are more than entitled to compensation for our out of pocket expenses, reimbursement for prepaid costs which we did not enjoy. Briefly: Limo expenses: $140.00. Missed Hotel nigh: $250.00. 1 missed day of skiing with guide: $138.00. Extra meal: $37.00. For a Total of $565.00.

I am not sure what additional amount might be deemed acceptable for mental anguish etc. A day of enjoyment that was turned into a day of misery.

But I resent the deplorable manner in which Lufthansa treated all of the passengers by failing to correctly advise of the actual circumstances causing the delay for over 8 hours.

Ed, I want you to know that in no way do I hold you responsible for any of the events. I have for at Ieast 6 years enjoyed skiing, touring and visiting the Dolomites. I hope to return some day.

Yours truly, John Gallagher.  

Footnote: Ed Pollock spoke to Rosso de Gregorio of Mandi tours after returning from the trip and was informed that Mandi Tours paid for the delayed and missed transfers and received no re-imbursement for this considerable expense. Ed Pollock and John Gallagher received no re-imbursement for their additional expenses or losses.

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Last modified:10/27/12.