Do I have a story for you! But first, for all of you who would simply like some practical air travel advice:
TL;DR — Never book with a third party and always arrive early.
If you would like a little more detail, here is my cautionary tale…
When traveling internationally a lot can go wrong — missed connections, unexpected illness, etc.. However, one thing you probably don’t prepare yourself in advance for is the following message from a ticketing agent — Sorry, but your connecting flight has been cancelled.
Let me start from the beginning. About six months ago, my boyfriend and I began to plan a Germany vacation over the winter holidays. We eagerly researched itineraries and settled on a plan that would allow us to spend some time in the capital city, Berlin, as well as the state of Bavaria, in the south. We booked most everything in the summer (except for a few train tickets, which were not available that far in advance) and we crossed our fingers that the pandemic situation would lighten up, which it did (somewhat). So, after all of my planning and checking (and re-checking) in on the situation, you can imagine my surprise when the ticketing agent said, “Sorry, but your connecting flight from Dublin to Frankfurt has been cancelled.”
At first, I didn’t react because CLEARLY this had to be a mistake. The agent quickly excused himself and said that he would speak with his manager. Great! A manager! The manager will sort this out! Then, I found the manager before me, and she repeated the message that my connecting flight had been cancelled. Didn’t I get the message?? No! In fact, I had not gotten the message. And, no! The message was not buried in my spam folder.
I showed the original ticketing agent my spam folder and he laughed because there was but one email sitting there — a class action lawsuit for Zoom users that he had also received — lol. While I admit that I found it odd that I was unable to check in online, NEVER EVER did I think that this meant that my connecting flight was CANCELLED.
The manager asked me whether I had booked with a third party, and I confirmed that I had booked the ticket with my bank. The tables have turned — now it was the bank’s fault for not alerting me to the flight cancellation and now their responsibility to assist me with the rebooking. But, still, I wondered — why hadn’t I gotten the message? And, when was it cancelled anyway? When I asked the ticketing agent, she could not determine when the flight was cancelled and she said that the message should have come directly from the bank. This made sense and, in fact, a few months prior, I had received a notification about a minor adjustment in my itinerary that came directly from the bank — but why hadn’t they alerted me to the flight cancellation??
Still standing by the ticket counter, I called up my bank. I quickly explained my situation to the representative on the other end of the phone. I was then transferred and put on hold, before another consult handed down the bad news — Sorry, we can’t put you on another flight this evening. It takes us 24-48 hours to make ticket changes. I was absolutely dumbfounded, truly at a loss for words. I’m standing at the airport with a flight leaving in under two hours and I’m being told that this could take two days to be resolved. I was indignant. I handed the phone to the ticketing agent.
At least, it happened to be in my good fortune that the ticketing agent was lovely and competent. Over the phone, the bank representative kept insisting that it was the airline’s responsibility to rebook me, as they cancelled the flight. While this makes some sense (and the airline did try to help me rebook), I was bothered that the bank representative would not even acknowledge that they failed to convey the cancellation message. The ticketing agent, in any case, pushed back, highlighted the bank’s inability to take action, and insisted that they accommodate me. The ticketing agent and the bank representative engaged in a tense back and forth that ended with me hanging up, as the bank representative wouldn’t budge. I really couldn’t believe how downhill it all went!
The very wonderful ticketing agent (I wish I remembered her name so I could leave a good review) persisted in her attempt to rebook me, but there were zero connecting flights going to Frankfurt, Germany within 24 hours. Delays for me could mean another expensive and time-consuming COVID test to satisfy border-crossing requirements. Not to mention, any delay at this point would mean that I would have to miss engagements in Frankfurt as well as my transport from there to the next city. Tears may or may not have been shed.
Taking pity on me, the ticketing agent booked me on a flight that terminated in Berlin (a six-hour car ride from Frankfurt), still connecting from my original flight to Dublin. With under an hour before my flight departure, the agent used her special pass to whisk me through security and take me straight to my gate where the flight was already boarding.
Before the plane took off, I used my remaining time with cell connection to figure out how to get from Berlin to Frankfurt. Although Germany’s train system is robust, I would still need to switch trains at least twice, travel for half a day, and pay close to $200 to make it to the Frankfurt hotel. Not wanting to put myself through this, I just bit the bullet and bought a last-minute plane ticket from Berlin to Frankfurt. Boo hoo, ho hum, and, yeah, I will complain to the bank. Why wasn’t I EVER alerted about my flight cancellation!? This whole situation has been uber-upsetting.
There are two morals to this story:
- Always book flights directly through the carrier. Third parties may be cheaper, but they are usually limited in their ability to help you out of a tight situation. I have been a fan of Expedia, Orbitz, and other such services, however, I do not need another bad experience to know that they are not always worth it.
- Always arrive at the airport early — you just do not know what will await you when you arrive! While I was going through my ordeal by the ticket counter, I witnessed not one, but two men miss the same Boston to Dublin flight that I was on. In both of their situations, they had arrived at the airport early to get a COVID test, however, in both instances the wait to receive the test was so long (it literally took hours) that they missed the check-in window and were forced to stay in Boston for one more night — I felt so incredibly sorry for them!
Welp, dear Reader, I just became a cautionary tale. While my journey was long, expensive, and disruptive to my travel plans, at least I made it to Germany in one piece. Which, let’s be honest, is an incredibly low bar to set for oneself — well, at least I didn’t die….
Gute Reise! Happy travels!
P.S. More on Germany to come in subsequent posts.