Because I´m really a chicken when it comes to tickets in "fly or die" fare classes, I arrived at STR (via rail) at 11, three hours prior to departure. First thing I noticed at the departures screen was "4U 2980 to Saloniki expected 1600". Wow, great way to start my short trip. I then scanned the arrivals board and found that the inbound 4U from LIS, scheduled for 13something was indicated with an ETA of 1550. A quick calulation led me to realise that the plane had not even left LIS yet; plus a ground time of a mere ten minutes seemed to be just a TINY bit optimistic.
Having concluded that that our delay was bound to grow to 3 hours plus, I consulted my OAG and found an OA flight STR-SKG leaving at 1310. With that information and my prior calculations on hand I headed to the 4U office in terminal 4 and asked whether it was possibly to be rebooked onto OA.
The ladies there played dumb: the flight will positively leave at 1600 or maybe even earlier, we don´t care whether you´ll miss your train connexion to Macedonia, no there´s no risk the flight will be cancelled due to curfew or the crew becoming illegal. They basically made clear "we´re low cost and you suck". Not that I´d realistically expected anything else; but I have to say I´m not at all satisfied how the whole affair was handled (I´ll elaborate a bit in my overall conclusion).
Anyway, I proceded to the check-in counter to queue (can´t really call it "queuing" since it was just me) and waited until 1200. And waited, and waited. Hey guys, even when the departure is delayed, check-in opens at 1200, ja? At 1215 it finally happened, I got boarding pass 001 after being asked twice "You really don´t want to check any baggage?". I answered "yes". What I didn´t say was "I sure as hell won´t wait at the baggage claim when the plane is delayed as much as it is. If you have a problem with my three pieces of handluggage, you have to go come and wrestle them from my dead cold fingers."
At least I got a food voucher nominally worth 5 EUR. Why I´m writing "nominally"? Well, I spent it at the airport restaurant with a nice view on the apron, got me a piece of cake and an orange juice: considering I had to pay another 1 EUR cash, the true purchasing power of that voucher was more in the 2.50 EUR region
From there, I spotted D-AHOI, a former HX Jumbolino now with EW
Boarding was set for 1600, and when I leisurely strolled to the gate shortly after that, of course no 4U staff was visible. But then, it was highly improbable we´d be boarding an airplane that was probably somewhere over central France at that time: the ETA for the LIS flight had meanwhile been changed to 1630.
That flight finally landed at 1645. In the meantime, the 4U staff had arrived at 1615, promising boarding would start "in 10 or 15 minutes". I guess now is the appropriate time to tell you a bit about the mix of passengers who were by now waiting at the gate: 91 including three infants, no biz travellers, 80-90% (ethnic) Greeks, most of the short-tempered, hot-headed and growing more and more pissed-off. Before you ask, yes it was funny to quietly sit there and watch the near-tumultuous scenes...
In the end we got to enter the "Johannes Gutenberg" at 1715 and departed at 1744, or three hours 45 minutes late.
The crew explained (partly in the apology via the PA, partly to me upon asking in the galley) the delay´s cause as follows: the night rotation to Istanbul´s Asian airport SAW, leaving STR 22ish and arriving back 6ish had been diverted to IST (=Europe), resulting in the pax being bussed from SAW to IST. Presto, you´re running 3 hours late.
The flight itself was normal. Some comments on the routing, which led us meticulously around Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia-Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia: STR, Munich, Triest, Split, Adriatic Sea, Corfu, Northern Greece, SKG.
Friday, November 28, 2003:
Today was the day of my side trip to Macedonia. There are to trains daily from Salonica to Macedonia, one going in the morning to "Lublijana" and one in the evening to Belgrade. Consequently, the returns are in the evening and morning, respectively. I opted for the morning (0800) departure/evening (2200)arrival. Pondering whether to spend the day at Gevgelija, the first Macedonian village just behind the border or at Skopje, the capital, located another two hours to the North, I went for the former: I thought if the return train doesn´t run as scheduled, it´s easier to get back from Gevgelija than from Skopje. How right I was...
There´s just nothing at Gevgelija; if you´re interested, check out
Having arrived at 0900, even walking very slowly, I had basically seen eveything by 1100. OK, change money, buy stamps, write postcards (the world needs to know my landmark visit to country number 50 ) - another hour. So, seven hours to kill at Gevgelija´s lovely train station. Well. Thankfully I had anticipated exactly that scenario and packed enough reading material. However, once you´ve waited for seven hours at the train station in the middle of Macedonian nowhere, you don´t care that much about your ICE running half an hour late in Germany...
At 1800, I asked whether my train was running on time. The horrid answer: no, it´s not. The engine is broken, the train is stranded somewhere in Serbia with no spare parts in sight, five to six hours delay, minimum.
Aaaaaargh! Stranded! No way I´d spend the night at that station! Only solution (-> no busses, no way to walk back to the next Greek village [Idoumeni] and take a bus from there): Taxi. I was really lucky:
- I found a taxi driver whose brother-in-law had a visa for Greece and whose cousin´s friend had a car with insurance for Greece.
- Despite being chauffeured around the darker corners of Gevgelija (from brother to cousin to whatever etc...), I did not end up with my throat cut (except financially) and my body thrown into the Vardar river.
- I could convince the Greek immigration officer was passport was not forged, despite my name containing a letter "which I haven´t seen before and which doesn´t exist" ( ß ).
- I arrived at Salonica despite my chauffeur having an apparent seath wish and driving like an idiot through 75 kilometres of torrential rain.
Arrived at SKG three hours to departure, only to be told about another delay, this time "only" 1.5 hours.
Received the boarding pass, first time (for me) out of Germany 4U used only the reusable plastic boarding passes: both at Istanbul and at CDG they use normal ones. So, same procedure as every flight, I had to find some place to photocopy the card to keep my log complete.
Also, there is a Caravelle at SKG, grown over by plants and left at a field just outside the airport perimeter to rot. Could it be this one?
Again the flight itself was just normal for the 106 pax (including two infants). The routing avoided ex-Yugoslavia again, but was completely different: SKG, Sofia, left turn over the Danube, another left turn over the South Carpathian Mountains, Arad, Budapest, Salzburg, Munich, STR. Got a great view of Munich (Budapest was unfortunately only visible from the right side, and I was sitting left), I believe I was able to make out the Olympic Stadium. Also, just before Salzburg we overflew three lakes, which, upon checking my atlas, might have been the Lakes Traun, Atter and Mond.
I´m considering never to fly 4U again. Three out of six flights I took with them were delayed, two of them substantially.
You say I can´t blame them about the fog at Istanbul? Maybe I can: could it be that IST (from which 4U switched to SAW for cost reasons) is better equipped to handle rough weather? Don´t know, but obviously the plane could land at IST when it could at SAW. Makes you wonder.
Plus, when you have delay-prone airports or flights, adjust the a/c´s rotation appropriately. It´s not acceptable an aircraft starts the day at 0600 with a 3 hour delay backlog.
The handling of the delay and subsequent treatment of the passengers affected was unprofessional:
- They knew about the delay in the night before. They could (and should) have contacted the passengers of the following LIS and SKG flights.
- Additionally, with a delay that massive, and with so much time to re-adjust, alternative transportation should have been arranged: get a back-up plane (be it from LH or EW or wherever) and/or rebook passengers to other airlines. It´s fine to hide behind the shield "low cost" when it comes to on-board service, seat pitch and the like, but in this field a low-cost airline should act just like a normal airline. (Apparently the EU shares this my view.)
- Passengers already waiting at the airport should be continuously kept informed about the current delay status - which has not happened in this case.
I´m going to write a letter to 4U consumer relations about these points, depending on the answer I´ll consider 4U for future trips, or not.
So, that´s it, thanks for reading my report. I´m afraid it has become a little larger than I originally had intended. And that even without any "exotic" airline, -craft or -port being involved
As always, please don´t hesitate to come forward with questions, suggestions, criticism, praise etc...
Godbless From Sweden, joined Apr 2000, 2752 posts, RR: 17 Reply 2, posted (10 years 1 week 6 hours ago) and read 2035 times:
nanana, jetzt aber hier nicht anfangen zu streiten...
Well done report.
I have flown on D-AKNI and D-AKNH three times each by now. And except that I had a delay of 65 minutes on my very first flight (CGN-MAD), caused by a lavatory being fixed, every single flight was on time.
Have a look at my tour: Germanwings To Madrid
TriStar500 From Germany, joined Nov 1999, 4690 posts, RR: 45 Reply 3, posted (10 years 1 week 5 hours ago) and read 2027 times:
A great report with lots of unusual experiences I don't want to necessarily go through myself.
It is unfortunate that your experiences with 4U have been relatively rough so far, and I can understand if you would decide to never fly them again.
However, I think it would probably be your loss, because many of the shortcomings could have happened to you on any other carrier.
Regarding the delays, it is true that LCCs do schedule less buffer time between their rotations; however, there usually is some buffer at least once a day plus a larger one every few days, which usually coincides with a maintenance visit.
Under unfortunate conditions like an airport diversion, this buffer will not be sufficient. But can we expect an airline to schedule in 3 hours of buffer time just to compensate for a statistically rather unlikely airport diversion every 100 flights or so? I don't think that the benefits would offset the economic losses of such a long buffer time, which the aircraft could spend flying and thus, make money.
Regarding an early information of the passengers concerning their delayed departure time, you won't see that with "normal" carriers, too - at least I have never experienced such and never heard of that. So although this would be a very "nice to have" feature, it is not a sign of unprofessionalism on behalf of 4U. At least not IMO, but I am always ready and willing to learn if other airlines I haven't flown so far do handle this differently.
Concerning the backup plane, well, I am sure you know that this is one of the reasons why 4U permitted you to fly to SKG for cheap - they don't provide excess capacity they might only need once in a while and which sits idle most of the time. Would you want to pay 50 or 70 Euro more for the provision of a backup plane which is only need once a day or even less?
When it comes to critizing the capability of SAW to handle bead weather conditions, I cannot give you an answer, however, I am sure that 4U would not fly to an airport if the risk of a diversion would be unacceptable. They'd be shooting their own foot this way.
Anyway, don't take my comments all too hard, I just want to soften some of your rather harsh criticism against 4U, although I can understand that you were a little peeved while writing this excellent report.
Homer: Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!
FLIEGER67 From Ethiopia, joined Sep 2003, 4758 posts, RR: 56 Reply 5, posted (10 years 6 days 17 hours ago) and read 1949 times:
interesting report, but sad to read about your latest 4U experience.
I fly them in early October STR/FCO/STR, nothing special happened.
Like TriStar500 i´ve had some examples on other airlines:
AF called me 1 hour prior to departure that my flight was cancelled, at this time I was rebooked by the Airport Agent to another flight.
Yes, information but too late.
AZ give me the information that I was rebooked from an 1 pm departure to an 6 am departure the same day as I want to change for an earlier flight at about 10 am.
No information to me and so one.
Come on, give them another chance and if there is an answer to your 4U Customer relations letter, send us a notice whats going on.
Airsicknessbag From Germany, joined Aug 2000, 4723 posts, RR: 36 Reply 6, posted (10 years 6 days 3 hours ago) and read 1907 times:
Well well, finally some controversy. Hey, I like that, I earn my living with controversies
>>>So, how much have you actualy paid to get your ass hauled over safely from Germany to Greece and back?
Does it matter? Now, it does not. My 48 EUR ticket is an integral part of 4U´s yield management, just like the highest fare of 640 EUR. I won´t bow my head in obedience and say "yes massa, whatever you say" - no Sir, that´s not the way cookie crumbles.
Plus, 4U were kind enough to not only haul my ass but all other body parts as well, and even on the same flights, thank God.
>>>and you still believe that a LCC would transfer you on a HCC such as OA for free because of a few hours delay?
Yes. Like I said, I´m aware a low-frills airline (sometimes) offers lower prices than a "normal" airline, in exchange for inconveniences like secondary airports, no free meals, no assigned seats, no FF programme. Fine. Caring for your passengers (customers!) when something goes wrong is NOT a frill, but an essential (like safety).
What would 4U have done, had I been on that SKG-STR flight on Thursday? My last train from STR to my place would have been gone. "Sorry, we´re no-frills, you´re positively fucked", would that have been the reaction? I´m afraid yes, judging from this experience. If you portray yourself as the Mercedes of low-cost, you must avoid such a Ryanair-ization.
Now, on to a nicer task, addressing TriStar500´s points.
>>>Concerning the backup plane, well, I am sure you know that this is one of the reasons why 4U permitted you to fly to SKG for cheap - they don't provide excess capacity they might only need once in a while and which sits idle most of the time. Would you want to pay 50 or 70 Euro more for the provision of a backup plane which is only need once a day or even less?
No. I´m not asking for a back-up plane sitting idle all. I´m asking for some creativity in extreme cases like this one (mind you, I´m not talking a one hour delay): e.g. recently 4U did a MUC-DTM flight for EW/LH, which means a) 4U does have some free capacity, and b) 4U/EW/LH are on sufficiently good terms to exchange a/c.
>>>Regarding the delays, it is true that LCCs do schedule less buffer time between their rotations; however, there usually is some buffer at least once a day plus a larger one every few days, which usually coincides with a maintenance visit.
With 4U STR, this is not really the case. Once the two planes leave STR at like 0700 or so, they won´t have more than half an hour ground time until they return for the night stop. Throw in a thrice weekly night rotation to SAW, and you get a very tight schedule. In German penal law, there´s the figure of "bedingter Vorsatz"...
>>>if there is an answer to your 4U Customer relations letter, send us a notice whats going on.
OK, deal. My experiences so far with 4U customer relations´ reactions to letters: once no response, once a response which looked like straight from Babelfish and didn´t make any sense at all.
3X: very prompt reaction to a problem during booking, got phoned right away after my letter arrived and the problem fixed manually.
RE: Airlines informing their pax about delays/rebookings
I was fortunate enough to never before encounter delays like these.
I´ve been rebooked or flying times were changed a couple of times. I was always informed by eMail, phone or writing, by LH, C9, QI, UA, HF and LT.
TriStar500 From Germany, joined Nov 1999, 4690 posts, RR: 45 Reply 7, posted (10 years 6 days 2 hours ago) and read 1900 times:
Good to see that we only have two points left open for discussion.
But let me first stress that I am in no way affiliated with 4U, nor do I feel a special sympathy for this carrier. I am merely commenting from what I have come to learn about airline operations.
I can understand your request for some creativity in times of serious service disruptions. From a purely economc standpoint and without taking possible negative monetary side effects through bad PR into account, I'd say it makes only sense to wet-lease/ dry-lease a replacement aircraft if the benefits (schedule stabilization and nonpayment of passenger compensations plus extra costs for crew and possible ferry flights e.g. to maintenance) outweigh the extra costs incurred by such a deal.
Like you stated in your example about the 4U bird operating the MUCDTM service instead of EW's own equipment, when it makes economic sense to do so, an airline will surely try something "creative". However, it has to make economic sense.
With profit margings within the low-cost and leisure ailine sector being paper-thin, there is unfortunately often no room for creativity. Again, if the passenger is willing to pay a little extra (and I personally would be), there'd be room for some more fail-safe strategies.
Certainly legislation can (and in case of severe passenger service problems, should) interfere and urge the airlines to offer certain service standards. We have to keep in mind, however, that this will result in higher production costs and thus, increased fare levels.
I'd be willing to pay a little extra for more service and security, and I am sure, you do the same. Unfortunately, I am sceptical that this is a common feeling with the general (and uninformed) public.
Homer: Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!
Contact Air From Germany, joined Apr 2001, 1154 posts, RR: 14 Reply 8, posted (10 years 5 days 22 hours ago) and read 1876 times:
very interesting report, I enjoyed reading it ! (Especially your experiences in Macedonia!)
I don't really want to step into the discussion, but I have to say that I agree with many points TriStar500 mentioned. To offer prices like 19 EUR oneway, it is not enaugh for the LCC's just to do without food and lower the seat pitch. An other part of the pricing is the maximization of the efficiency of the fleet which means that the planes are in the air as long and as often possible. Things like divertions are not considered in the schedule.
And I have to say I don't see a (realistic) chance to replace a delayed 4U-plane by a LH/EW-aircraft at STR: The only back-up aircraft which the LH-group may have at STR would be a prop (F50 / ATR) which wouldn't be suitable for this route. And flying an (empty) plane from FRA to STR would take much time and (especially) be too expensive.
When I personally fly on LCC's, I plan my trip with calculating eventually delays (take more time for an onward journey).
Only my point of view, of course, I also accept your opinion.
Leviticus From New Zealand, joined Oct 2007, 0 posts, RR: 0 Reply 11, posted (10 years 1 day 12 hours ago) and read 1749 times:
Very nice report indeed, as usual ! I know how it feels to wait for transportation, was stranded in the Pyrenees for 40 hours waiting for a bus last summer during those French protests.
I see that you have now almost been to every country in Europe, are you going to go to those remaining three too ? I myself have also almost been to every, but I have six left (the Balkans and Russia - Ukraine) but those will be gone in three weeks time. Moldova is nice, I recommend you going there through Romania with Tarom it's pretty cheap (and 15 hours faster than the train). Also read your last report on slipping in to Belarus, I actually went there legally but I was thrown out, literary
Airsicknessbag From Germany, joined Aug 2000, 4723 posts, RR: 36 Reply 12, posted (10 years 15 hours ago) and read 1715 times:
Thanks for your comments.
>>>I see that you have now almost been to every country in Europe, are you going to go to those remaining three too?
I just realized, Leviticus, that I should have listed Bosnia too, haven´t been there yet. But that trip is already booked for January, so I think my slip is excusable.
Sure, some day I´ll also go to Iceland, Moldova and Ukraine. The two latter have recently become more accessible for Germans, it´s now possible to get visa on arrival and without invitation at some border crossings. I have no immediate plans though.
>>>How much did you pay for the taxi? I can imagine that it was more expensive than the two flights.
More or less the same, Patrick: 45 EUR. I´m going to write a letter to Greek Rail and ask them to pay these 45 EUR. I don´t even expect a response, but hey, it´ll cost me just 55 cent for the stamp. (I´m good at handling rail companies: I just got 40 EUR out of German Rail after threatening to sue them But that´s another story...