Personal Experience: Flying Around Europe
My name is Irina, and I’m responsible for the Media Section of our Swiss Travel Market BD website. Today I would like to share my experience, Flying Around Europe.
Lately, Travel Media websites constantly report occasional problems at airports around Europe. We also reported on Swiss announced cancellations. In addition, the shortage of ground staff and airlines facing a shortage of cabin crew are becoming a significant problem all around Europe.
I want to share the Odessias ordeal my family had this past weekend. I hope my story serves as a cautionary story of what is possible and probable this summer at the airports around Europe, including Switzerland.
My family received an invitation to attend my brother’s wedding in Skopje, North Macedonia. So as a planned event we would not miss, I bought our tickets from the Swiss Air website two and a half months in advance. The plan was simple; As a wedding was to take place on Friday 24th June, we arranged to fly from Zurich via Vienna to Skopje Thursday night 23rd June. So give us a chance to arrive at a decent time, have Friday morning at our disposal and be ready for the wedding on Friday at noon.
So, my partner and I took Friday as a day off from work, and my daughter took the last joker day of the year.
Our one-way trip to our final destinations lasted 29 hours with cancellations and delays and ended with lost luggage at the end. As a result, we missed the wedding.
Along the way, we met some of the nicest people who helped us with a big smiles on their faces and some of the worst cases of customer service I have experienced in my 40 years of active travelling.
Everything started on Thursday 23rd June, in the late afternoon. After arrival at the airport early, a couple of hours before the flights, with check-in done online 24 hours in advance, first we were shifted from the A wing of the Zurich Airport to the D wing, only by the announcement that the Gate had changed. A big storm appeared in Zurich, so the airport was shut down for a couple of hours; still no information on how long the flight will be delayed. During the whole waiting time, there was no representative from the company; at some point, someone appeared at the Gate and told us that the plane had left Vienna and landed in Stuttgart because of the storm and soon is expected to come. Already 23h, actively waiting for more than 5 hours, we had received emails vouchers for food, which at this point, not a single store or restaurant at the airport was open.
Finally, we saw people picking up their belongings and heading somewhere without any announcement. Then, finally, we had to go to a new Gate at the B wing and board the plane that landed there.
We arrived at the Gate and scanned our boarding passes, the first people already had done that, and as taken by bus to board the plane, we were in the second group, entering the bus. After 10-15 min on the bus, the lights at the Gate we used were in complete darkness, and no one was telling us anything, just sitting in a bus that was not moving. Finally, after ten more minutes, a very young man ( by its looks not more than 20 years old) came and told us to leave the bus, as the flight was cancelled and we would not fly to Vienna this night.
The Zurich airport closed at midnight, and the plane did not get permission to fly that night. No public announcements, just this young gentleman with no experience handling more than 200 angry and tired passengers.
So we were all learning from each other what next. I felt sorry for the person given a task to handle the situation, as he was rude, but I could guess out of fear and ignorance.
We have already reached 24th June, after midnight, and we are being sent to the A-wing service airport desk again without any announcements.
We were told to wait at the service desk to give us a taxi or hotel vouchers. However, info comes later that there are no hotel vouchers, as all hotels around the airport are packed. So, if we want to go to the hotel, we need to find a hotel, and eventually, the airline will refund us.
As my family lives close to Zurich, we decide to get a taxi voucher and head home to rest, as trains are not running until morning.
Our only information is that email will come at some point, and we will be informed what to do—no time when the next flight may be.
After an hour and a half of waiting for a taxi, as there were probably people from more flights waiting for the same service, we finally got home at around 2:30 am.
I woke up at 4 am, stressed that maybe we would miss the flight and saw that they booked us to fly from Zurich to Vienna at 12:30 ( noon) and after Vienna Skopje at 22:45.
Of course, this was not acceptable, the wedding was at 5 pm, so what is the point of travelling if we can not make the event for which we are travelling?
So I spent almost 3 hours calling the Swiss Customer Service to find a solution to get to our destination on time. This was a memorable experience; the line dropped more than six times. Every call starts with 5 min of prerecorded messages, of press 1,2,3,4,5; please wait until your call is being diverted to an agent; your call is being recorded for quality purposes and so on.
As I have more than 20 years of experience in the travel industry, I tried to give them ready solutions. I gave them information on which connections to check, but I was receiving conflicting information. As these agents were not adequately trained, during one call, I even got an answer to do whatever I wanted after I told someone named Peter, who is based in the Philippines, that I would like to know his final answer on advice on what to do next.
My partner woke up around 7 am from all the noise I made around the house being on the phone.
We decided to go to the airport and figure out our next moves.
By 8.30 am, three of us are on the train and on the way to the airport.
Swiss Customer Service Desk at the Zurich Airport
And here is the positive part of my story. We go to the counter of Swiss airlines at departures at the Zurich airport and find three ladies helping a long line of passengers.
By now, it’s our turn, and this wonderful human being with a smile on her face, a calm voice, and a lot of patience hears me out. I was probably ranting by now, still recovering after the telephone customer service experience.
But this wonderful lady named Mirijam Enseroth made my day; she ultimately heard all my suggestions and thanked me for giving her ready information about possible flights and connections. She empathised with our previous troubles and did her best to accommodate our needs. So in less than 20 min my daughter and I were booked for the first fight in Zagreb, leaving at 11:15 and after getting a connected flight to Skopje with arrival at 15h. We were so happy; we were going to make the wedding on time and celebrate with the family; My partner was booked on the next direct flight from Zurich to Skopje, departing at 17h and arriving at 19h, but still will make part of the celebration. The luggage had to be sorted, as it was still booked from the night before.
Once again, great experience from the Supervisor of the Swiss desk. Thank you, Mr P Menar. Bags were checked on the new flights, and new name tags on my daughter’s name, as previously, were connected to my partner’s ticket.
As we split, my daughter and I went to the Gate at the C wing of the airport and waited for the flight to Zagreb. Again, a new boarding time was announced, which was 12:30 instead of 11:15. Once again, no airline company rep at the Gate, and some young girl, informed me that I had to land in Zagreb, where I would receive more info. Apparently, at the Gate, they do not have access to the system, and they do not know if the plain in Zagreb will wait or not.
Zagreb – Vienna – Skopje
My story wanted to focus on the services in Zurich, so I will shortly tell you how my story ended.
With a delay, we flew to Zagreb and arrived just 10 min after our flight for Skopje left. The local customer service desk/ transfer desk had already booked us for the next flight to Vienna, leaving after 4 and 1/2 hours. They gave us food vouchers, with which you could not have a proper meal. Also, they could not print our boarding passes from Vienna to Skopje, as the system had some problems.
I was close to a breakdown; by now, I knew that I had missed my brother’s wedding, and there was no flight to take me back to Zurich, at least to go back home.
At 18:45, with no delay, we left for Vienna. In Vienna, e had to wait 20 minutes for the system to start functioning to receive our boarding passes, and after two gate changes, we flew to Skopje without delay.
To top it off, my luggage never arrived. My statement and report of missing luggage took another 30 minutes. I finally reached my family’s home on Saturday morning at 3:30 am. My brother’s wedding ended a few hours before I arrived, and with my 13-year-old girl, we flew back to Zurich on Sunday with no delays.
What did we learn from this experience?
The industry is in deep crisis. The problems are so deep and on so many levels that it will probably take years and not months for things to return to normal.
There is an apparent HR crisis; qualified people are not available to perform the services required by the industry. However, even if new employees are hired, I am confident that young people can be trained and qualified to complete all the tasks; it will take a long time.
The Corona crisis caused the industry to suffer. In the first place, trained professionals were laid off, and now it is hard to get those people back, so hiring inexperienced and untrained personnel is the second-best option. However, those new hires can cause more harm than good to the company if not carefully chosen.
And everything does not have to be so black.
Things will flow much more smoothly if airlines pay more attention to the attitude of their employees while hiring.
From my long and negatively memorable adventure, I earnestly remember two people. Those beautiful souls gave me hope and relaxed me, giving me confidence that everything was going to be ok. They were based at the Swiss Customer support desk, and the Supervisor was dealing with my luggage. If I had any power, I would give them a raise and make them an employee of the month.
People are the most crucial factor in any service industry. A friendly attitude toward a customer or passenger does not cost anything. Remember, this is a two-way street. Any person who is trying to assist you should not be rudely disrespected.
People are often willing to overlook incompetence caused by unskilled employees as long as they are polite and helpful.
I hope those who read my story till the very end, for your next trip, will arm yourselves with a lot of patience and positive thinking, expect the worst this summer, and be happy if that does not happen to you.
Rember that a kind word opens still doors and melts hearts.
And my final advice to all planning to travel this summer:
I’m grateful that after all, I managed to see my family even for a short period of time.
Chose direct flights if available. Avoid connecting flights by any means. Paying more for a direct flight with being well worth it.
I wish you all good summer travels and calm skies!
And also please leave a comment if you find this text helpful. I will highly appreciate it.
Autor: Irina Pavlova
Chief Editor of the Swiss Travel Market BD
Thank you for reading the article and leaving a comment. YOur kind words are highly appreciated.
We hope you have a wonderful summer and great travels with out any problems
Swiss Travel Market BD Team
Thank you for sharing your story in this article.
This explains so mich. I was wondering what is going on in the Cologne Airport lately.
There are so many delays and it’s practically impossible to count on getting your destination on time.
I hope things will normalize soon.
Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. We sincerely hope this article brings some clarity and helps people navigate their way during times of crisis and travel unexpected happenings. We wish you a great day.
The Swiss Travel Market BD team
O o… voopsto ne bilo zabavno…. zal mi e sto ste go propustile golemiot den…. ne sakam ni da pomislam na razocharuvanjeto i stresot. Pred 10 dena seatra mi imase slicno iskistvo so otkazuvanje na let pa dobivanje na novi desyinacii. A seto toa e gubenje na vreme i energija. I dopolnitelni troshoci za aviokompaniite….
You really did not have fun… I’m sorry, you missed the big day… I do not want to think about the disappointment and stress you had. My sister had a similar experience 10 days ago, iht one flight cancellation and rerouting to other cities. Everything is a big time and energy waste, as well as, extra costs for the airlines. I just realized that is not that uncommon for things like this to happen.
Thank you for your comment and we are very sorry to hear that your system had a similar experience. We all wish that the situation will soon be under control and e can all enjoy carefree and enjoyable summer trips.
(Please excuse this probably too long comment.) Even before the pandemic, I would never plan flights to arrive at a time sensitive destination (i.e. a wedding, a transatlantic cruise) on the day of the event. Even in the best of times, unforeseen things can happen. We had to fly to Athens from Philadelphia in the US and then on to Crete for a conference at which my husband was speaking in September of 2019. We took off an hour late, but I had left 4 hours in Athens for our connecting flight, so I relaxed, enjoyed some wine with dinner and the flight attendants were getting ready to dim the lights, hoping passengers would fall asleep and not be too annoying. However, a few minutes later, there was announcement that medical professionals were needed for the passenger in seat 16C. My husband is a physician, but there seemed to be no lack of medical personnel on our flight. After about 5 minutes, a man wearing a stethoscope strode to the rear of the plane near our seats and I could hear him talking to the medical staff on the ground. I heard the words, “turn around”. I was following our flight path on my seat back video screen. Sure enough, it showed our plane over the Atlantic Ocean making a 180 degree turn. The pilot announced that we had to return to Philadelphia for a critically ill passenger. 15 minutes later, he announced we had to land in Boston because it was closer than Philadelphia and this man was in extremis. After we landed in Boston, and the passenger was removed, we were told we had to fly back to Philadelphia because the airline had no crew in Boston that could fly the plane to Athens and our pilot and crew would “time out” before the flight to Athens could take place. We arrived back at the Philadelphia Airport at midnight and a planeful of passengers lined up to make overnight plans and to be rebooked. We live in Philadelphia, so we didn’t have to join the line and I called American Airlines from my mobile phone. We arrived home at 1:30 a.m. at which time I had to rebook hotels, change our car hire and book new flights from Athens to Crete. The next day’s Athens flight was full, so we booked tickets for 2 days after we should have arrived in Athens. Fortunately, we had scheduled a few days for sightseeing on Crete before my husband’s conference started, so we were still able to be on time for the conference.
Our itinerary also included a flight from Sofia, Bulgaria to Ljubljana, Slovenia. When I went to check in for our flight to Ljubljana online, a news story appeared stating that our airline (Adria Arlines) had gone bankrupt the prior week and had ceased operations. I’ll spare you the scrambling that ensued to change our travel plans. I had never heard of Adria Airlines so before I bought the tickets, I did some research that told me it was the national airline of Slovenia and had been in business for 58 years. These experiences solidified my advice to give yourself an extra day, 2 or 3 if you ABSOLUTELY have to be somewhere at a certain time.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are absolutely correct that planning ahead is crucial for an easy-going travel experience. Any situation faced during travel is easily overcome as soon as e see the smiley faces at the end of our destination. No experience should stop us from creating a new one!
Jas kako ja citav sekoja recenica imav nadez deka ste stignale na svadbata. Navistina traumaticno iskustblvo ste imale.
Definitivno ova leto e haoticno vo avionskata industrija.
Mnogu radosti vi posakuvam i ubavo leto.♥️
Dear Irina, As I was reading the article I had hoped you made it to the wedding. You really had a traumatic experience. Sure this summer is haotic for the air industry. I wish you a lot of joy and I hope yu have a wonderful summer.