I figure since I joined as a member, I might as well post a trip report. I flew yesterday from AMS to Stuttgart (STR) on KL, and back today from AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA with LH. The first leg of the trip was pretty much par for the course, back the trip back included my worst-ever experience with LH.
I was on the 13:50 KL 1873 flight to STR, and I called the KLM telephone check-in from the office before setting off to the airport. Checked in quickly and efficiently, although KLM now charge 70 eurocents a minute for calling their phone check-in. It used to be a normal domestic call. I would like to use the internet check-in, but that only works with e-tickets. For various reasons we don't have e-tickets yet (there seem to be too many restrictions on them), so that option does not work. I could use the check-in machines or check-in at the lounge, but then I'd have to be at the airport sooner. So telephone check-in remains for now the best option. I parked my car at the airport and went to the security check for Schengen flights. As usual, the tourists were there in enormous numbers, but as I have Privium pass (biometric iris-scan) went through the fast lane. Saves huge amounts of time.
Went up the stairs to the crown lounge, got my boarding card whiled away the time until my flight showed up as boarding. That was my cue to start the trek to gate B5, which is a long, long way from the lounge. By the time I got there (and I walk fast), the first bus had left and they were paging the last passengers. A few minutes later the second bus with all three of us left for the plane. The plane itself was a Fokker 70 (PH-KZG) operated by KLM cityhopper. They have a one-class config with 2-3 seating. The flight was not very full (I'd guess about 60%), so there was no-one sitting next to me. I was in 2A. These seats are definitely more comfortable than the new "Europe Select" seats in the 737's, which are very narrow and somehow end up hurting my neck if I try to lean back or sleep. But they're not as good as business class seats on other airlines.
Shortly after take-off, still on the initial climb, I saw two US Airways planes parked in what I guess is a maintenance area. Those could have been F70's or F100's. I'm not an expert on plane types, so I can't rule out MD-80's either. Flight to STR was uneventful. I took some nice photos of FRa from the air (I'll see if I can post them somewhere) and we landed 20 minutes ahead of schedule at 14:45 at STR. In-flight service consisted of a newspaper at boarding time (took my usual Wall Street Journal), two drinks, brownies and a sandwich. I declined the sandwich, as I really don't like the KLM Cityhopper sandwiches, but the small packet of brownies kept me occupied for a few seconds.
Went to a meeting with a colleague who had driven over from FRa, and he drove me back there too. I was scheduled to fly back on the last flight of the day from FRa on LH 4684, but a change of plans caused me to get an earlier flight, LH46xx at 12:35pm. My secretary told me I the flight was entirely full, so I had been waitlisted. The next available flight would be KL 1768 at 15:45, but I was not too keen on waiting that long. The business class check-in at FRa is on a massive scale, and the lines were pretty long. More open desks would have helped. Only first class check-in was short, but since I'm only FTL on M&M, I do not qualify for F-class check-in. So I waited in line, trying to find out if I'd be booked yet on the flight. I tried to call LH telephone check-in, who would have saved me the wait, but they said they could not do anything as long as I was on the wait list. Just before my turn came up at the counter, my secretary called and said I'd been booked in Y for the flight. At the counter, the agent put in a request for getting me to C (which was my original ticket was for), but by the time she printed my boarding pass I'd already been moved up. So far, so good.
I was running a bit short on time, I rushed to gate B4. First a hefty walk from the check-in to the B-gates, then interminable security. They seemed to be very much on their toes today, so it took quite a while. I got through eventually, and went to B4, which is a bus gate situated on the upper level. At the gate, a flight for Brussels was boarding, and no sign of AMS whatsoever. The agents at the counter were mobbed several layers deep by passengers, so there was no way of getting any info from them. I went back down, looked at the monitors, and they showed that AMS was not boarding, and had no gate assigned even. This was about 25 minutes before scheduled departure. So I found a quite gate and asked the agents there what was going on. They told me the gate would still be B4, and that I should rush, because the flight was scheduled to depart so soon. Back up I went, still no sign of the AMS flight there. After some waiting, I managed to ask an agent about my flight, who said it would board here and that I should wait. Should be soon.
OK. I waited. Made some phone calls, got some stuff done, waited some more. After about half an hour waiting at the gate, the BRU flight was gone, and they were now boarding yet another flight. I think it was Turin. Still no AMS. I overheard someone who'd just inquired at the desk that it would be another half hour at least before AMS would board. So I went over to grill them some more, but others were doing this for me already. When asked why they didn't make at least an announcement to enlighten the stranded passengers, the guy at the desk said "Wir haben selber keine Ahnung," which means "we don't have a clue ourselves." Grrrrrrreat.
I'd been waiting there for 40 minutes by this point, and not a single announcement had been made. I went back down again to go look for a lounge, but it turned out the nearest one was at gate B48, which would have meant going through immigration. This added a big unknown time factor to a trip down there, and I decided against it as my flight could board at any time. Just to make sure, I went to another quiet gate with four LH agents working it to see if they could find out more in the computer. When I arrived at their gate, they kept talking amongst themselves for a while without even acknowledging my presence, not even a quick smile to indicate they'd seen me and would be with me in a short time. Very annoying and unprofessional.
Eventually they told me the flight would still board at B4. There was not much to do. This is the part of the B-pier that sits before passport control, and it's small. A few shops, and that's it. I went through the shops a few times, not buying anything. Eventually I went back up to B4, and they were juggling Gothenburg. I saw a passenger asking a passing, unformed LH employee something, who snapped back "I don't have time, I'm a flight attendant." Jeeez.
Back at the gate, it now seems the excuse was two-fold: there were eight flights to process at gates B3/B4 (essentially the same one, using the same exit to the buses) within a very short period of time, and they were completely overstretched. Bad planning mistake. Second excuse was that there weren't enough employees around to man all the gates, as they were in a staff meeting! They assured me this was not normal. I should hope not.
Meanwhile, they were now trying to board Barcelona and Graz at neighboring gates, but there were some issues with that too. Finally, at around the time my flight was scheduled to land at AMS did they start to board. I waited for the line to diminish, and ended up on the second bus to the plane. Overall, a truly horrific experience. Delays can and do happen, that's just part of travel I'm afraid. But this was very poorly handled by LH. If they'd just said up front that it would take that long, I could have gone to the lounge and waited there. And because they did not make any announcements about the delays and the latest status, they were constantly mobbed at their desks by people desperate to find out more. I heard many sarcastic comments about the vaunted German Pünktlichkeit.
Bus took me to the plane, which was a B737-300, D-ABXY named after the city of Hof. I had seat 2A in C class. There is a seat 2B, but that's one of those unusable narrow mini-seats. My neighbor in 2C was comfortably far away. At least LH still has a halfway decent C class. KLM only flies F70's on its Cityhopper service to FRa, which means they've completely given up on premium business travel on this route. As I mentioned before, there is no C class on F70's. Once we were in the air, which was very shortly after boarding, the pilot did his usual routine, apologizing for the delay, and said that the delay was due to "lack of ground staff, which surprised us too, but there was nothing we could do about it."
Food was pretty good given that it was a short flight. I got two mini-sandwiches, one with smoked ham and some vegetable (which I removed), the other with some fishy stuff and relish (none of which I ate). There was a packet of two small Italian-style breadsticks with sesame seeds (not real grissini), a fruity cupcake and two chocolate pralines in a box. Not bad overall and certainly better than KLM.
We landed on 22-04, which does not happen very often, and then taxied the short distance to gate B19, which meant a very very long walk back to my car. At this point, that was just a fitting end to the trip. I could have driven faster from FRa to AMS. I also played my usual game of trying to get on board a flight without having my ID checked. I succeed again at FRa, but not AMS. When issuing my boarding card in the lounge, the KL agent asked for my passport. In FRa, nobody ever asked me for any ID at any point. The closest thing I showed to an ID was my Miles & More FTL card. I've managed to board flights without any ID checks at FRa, STR, HAJ, HAM, MXP and AMS, and possibly some others I have forgotten.
An average KLM experience on the outbound flight, with a fairly disastrous inbound flight on LH. Still, given the choice, I'd fly LH to FRa again. I've flown LH many times, and it's usually not this bad, so I'm willing to cut them some slack (even though I am tempted to write a letter of complaint to them (i.e. just send them a copy of this ). And the LH service to FRa is simply much better than KL, who only use F70's now. No real C class, and seats that aren't as comfortable. Besides, I have had many bad experiences with KL too. If you fly an airline often enough, you'll end up with your fair share of delays and mishaps. But when these happen, a good organization will be able to handle them in a way that minimizes customer dissatisfaction, and LH screwed up big time on that today, and some of the LH employees' attitude made it even worse.