Posts Tagged ‘Lufthansa’

Amazing what a difference a day makes… On Saturday night we were all kept awake by the noise from the square below us and from other people in the rooms around ours, but on Sunday night the hotel and square were pretty quiet and we all slept reasonably well (although we’re all looking forward to our beds at home tonight).

We woke up around 7:45 and slowly started pulling ourselves out of bed and started getting ready. A few last minute changes to how things were packed and we were ready to go. By 9am we were heading downstairs to checkout and settle up the bill. While I went to pay, Marie and Caitlin went to the store next door to get some yogurt and juice (no such luck… the store doesn’t open until 9:30am). Speaking of that store, last night we were in one of Madrid’s large department stores (Corte D’Ingles or something like that) and were thinking of buying a multi-pack of small bottle of fortified wines to use up our allotment of alcohol we can bring back to Canada… Turns out it was the last one and there was a woman who was quite agitated about getting it… Eventually we decided we didn’t want it after all so Marie went looking around the store to see if the woman who also wanted it was still there… She was and was very grateful to Marie for tracking her down to give it to her. The funny thing is she was the owner of the store next to hotel… What are the chances of doing a good deed for someone and having them turn out to be one of about 10 (out of well over 1 million in the city) you’ve interacted with in the whole city… We recognized the woman by the bright red shirt with distinctive yellow lettering she was wearing – she didn’t recognize us when we went into her store but it’s all good.

Back to our trip back to Victoria. We shouldered our packs and hiked the short distance to Plaza del Sol then made our way to the platform for a train heading to Nuevos Ministerios where we could transfer to the C-1 train that would take us to the airport. When we got to Ministerios, we found the platform for the train with no trouble at all (very well signed with clear instructions how to get to the airport). We had about 20 minutes to wait for the train to arrive so Marie and Caitlin scarfed some train station pastries while we waited. The train arrived almost exactly as scheduled and we piled on for the short (20 minutes or so) ride to the airport. In all a very civilized and economical way to get to the Madrid airport – cost was 2.55 euros each person and in total took about an hour from the time we arrived at the train station to the time we arrived at the airport Terminal 4. They only caveat would be to check the schedule online if possible as we were lucky and timed the trains just right (blind luck) – otherwise we could have been waiting over 1/2 an hour for the C-1 to arrive at Nuevos Ministerios.

Once at the airport we found our way from the train platform to the departures level and ultimately the shuttle for the other terminals. One confusing thing they do (that other airports handled better) is alerting fliers to the fact the your flight is really there but departs from a different terminal. When we looked at the departures board, our flight wasn’t on it. We knew from our paperwork that we’d be flying out of Terminal 2 but the poor German women who was also looking at the board was a bit panicked that her flight didn’t seem to exist. We explained the situation to her and she followed to the right terminal and the check-in counters.

At the check-in counters, the normal chaos was well underway. Some people were checking in using the electronic kiosks (which seemed to only work for about 1 out of every 2 people). They had one person checking in the decent sized line of people who for one reason or another couldn’t check-in electronically… For us that was our problem. We were unable to check-in electronically either online or at the airport due to some glitch in communication between Air Canada and the Lufthansa who was operating the flight… It’s kind of a pain in the butt in an era where getting a guaranteed seat is a luxury you have to pay for… In our case we had to take what we were given with respect to seats (a process accompanied by much sighing from the woman helping us and a discussion with her supervisor that seemed to have a lot to do with us (based on the number of times Canada and Canadians occurred in their conversation). Finally we were given our boarding passes (we’re sitting together from Madrid to Munich, Caitlin and Marie are sitting together from Munich to Vancouver and we’re all over the plane for the flight from Vancouver to Victoria). Now that we had our boarding passes, we were free to head for our gate. Total time from hotel to check-in: just over 2 hours…

Cleared security with few issues (the canned sardines in Marie’s pack caused them to open her pack and do a more thorough search but otherwise it was all routine) and found the gate with no trouble and had enough time to grab something to drink and a muffin before it was time to board the plane. This flight was on an Airbus A321 and appeared to be a very new place. It’s very open in the cabin compartment (lives up to its Airbus moniker) and is quite spacious in terms of head room and seats/leg room. Although the seats are a bit hard, I found it to be the most comfortable plane of all this trip. They fed us a decent lunch of chicken with a bit of tomato sauce and pasta and were reasonably free with the drinks… The only downside was the flight was a bit bumpy and you definitely feel the movement a bit more in the back of the plane than near the wing where we’ve been trying to sit for all our other flights.

We landed right on schedule at 2:45 and were scheduled to depart again at 3:20 so we needed to hustle to our next flight… But not to worry – it was delayed until 4:00 pm which left us time to hit the duty free to pick up some cigars (very expensive butI  got some hand-rolled Domincans and another bottle of port – a 10 year old Tawny this time – for those nights when I feel like playing a cultured sort of guy for a couple of hours…). When we got to the gate around 3:20 an announcement was made to say that no further information would be provided about our flight (which was quite visibly missing a plane at this point) until 4pm (our adjusted departure time)… Hmmm… At least it gave me time to get a couple of posts up on the blog…

At 4pm they came over the P.A. to say that the plane would be ready for boarding at around 4:45pm and would depart at approximately 5:15pm… Guess it could have been worse… although we are going to miss our connecting flight in Vancouver as we will be arriving right around the time it’s supposed to depart.

Boarding the plane turned out to be a fun experience as Caitlin went ahead of both of us and went through with no trouble but when Marie tried to board the plane, they quite brusquely I might add told her to go to the other gate person (no explanation just grabbed her passport and boarding pass and said “you go here”. This then happened to me when I tried to board. The woman did explain (in response to my question of what exactly the problem was) mentioned something about our tickets being group tickets… Which was strange given that I bought my ticket with cash while Caitlin and Marie booked their tickets (on a separate booking number) with RBC rewards points… They took a fair bit of time to sort the issue out (it seemed to be that the woman – remember she of the many sighs – had mixed up the names and passport numbers when she checked us in at Madrid. Eventually we had to get Caitlin to come back (she wisely waited for us at the top of the boarding tube) because there was something wrong with her boarding pass as well (but somehow they missed it when they checked her in). So now Caitlin is heading backwards through the boarding queue (by this time there’s virtually no one left to board as everyone else is on the place)… Where one the staff (other than the one who told her to come back) snaps at her for going out of the boarding area and snatches up her boarding pass… Lufthansa definitely needs to work on their customer service – pleases and thank-you’s and I’m sorries go along ways when your plane is delayed by almost 2 hours and your colleagues screwed up…

It was eventually resolved (and the woman who finally fixed the problem was decently apologetic and polite)… When we boarded the plane (dead last) there was another issue as the cabin crew were looking for the guy in 25D to move back to 39F to allow a dad to sit together with his wife and two young kids… Unfortunately I was the guy in 25D and we were hoping to change with someone so Marie and Caitlin and I could sit together… Unfortunately neither of the two guys flying solo who could have moved wanted to give up their aisle seats so I’m stuck in the 39th row sandwiched between a guy who is bundled up in a heavy jacket (which along with his stringy hair, swarthy skin and general air of oddness makes him look disturbingly like the guy most likely to release a weaponized form of anthrax into the plane’s air system) and a heavyset Iranian dude (got his life story after I figured I’d strike up a conversation with him even though he’s part of the reason I’m sitting between two dudes instead of beside my hot wife) who has a habit of getting up every half hour or so and then literally thumping back down in his seat (I’d hate to be the guy behind him). He also likes to pull the blanket up right over his head (it’s actually quite disconcerting as you’re constantly wondering what exactly he’s doing under there… and it sort of makes him look like one of the hobbits or someone who died…) and he sighs a lot. I see Marie and Caitlin occasionally when they go to the bathroom or get up to walk around… I was happy to give the dad my seat in 25D (which was a pretty sweet aisle seat in a separate section of the plane) but kind of miffed that the other two dudes weren’t interested at all… The cabin crew has been very apologetic that they couldn’t get Marie and Caitlin and I together and have been very appreciative that I gave up my seat for the other guy… Although I’d appreciate it if they didn’t show their appreciation by pouring heavy on the drinks – that gin and tonic almost put me under the table…

We’ve been flying for 8 hours of our scheduled 10 and they’re just turning the lights back on (I think I slept for 15 minutes for one stretch and maybe 45 minutes for the other) and getting ready to serve us our dinner. At least the food’s been decent on this trip and they’ve been good about coming around with snacks and water or juice to keep everyone hydrated…

Apparently they’re trying to rebook our flight from Vancouver to Victoria and will let us know what they’re able to do but one way or another we’re going to be getting home a bit later than we expected (we hope)… If it wasn’t for Ladybug, we could care less if they screwed up all our flights and took a week to sort it out… But we miss her and Caitlin and Marie are really excited to see her so getting home sooner rather than later would be a nice thing… Not to mention that when we land my watch is going to be telling me that it’s 7pm while my body will be telling me that it’s 4am…

We arrived at Vancouver International Airport around 7pm… right about the time our flight was scheduled to leave. We cleared customs without any hassles… No wonder you here so many stories of people exceeding their customs limits and getting away with it. I suspect that a lot of the customs screening is going on behind the scenes with sniffer dogs and x-ray machines and whatnot because we have not been subject to any kind of detailed inspection or questioning on any of the trips we’ve done. I think the last time we went through a detailed customs inspection was in 1996 when Marie and I traveled to Mexico – we got pulled out of the line up and they searched our bags carefully when we arrived in Mexico City.

After clearing customs we were told to head to the Air Canada counter to see about getting on a different plane to Victoria. The Air Canada staffed took our passports and now useless boarding passes and clicked and clacked away at her machine before concluding that we were not booked onto any flights for tonight and all the flights were full so too bad so sad go see Lufthansa and see what they can do about putting us up for the night in Vancouver… So downstairs we go to the Lufthansa counter where the woman clicks and clacks for a few minutes and says, wait a minute “you’re booked on the 11:45pm flight to Victoria tonight.” So she gives us a $45 meal voucher (enough for a decent meal at White Spot so not a bad gesture) and sends us back to Air Canada to check in and drop off our bags (which had to be picked up by us before clearing customs). How in the world Lufthansa can know we’re booked on an Air Canada flight but Air Canada doesn’t know that is beyond me…

With Lufthansa’s less than stellar customer service and a bunch of clerical screwups on this flight, we’re seriously considering them dropping them down a few rungs on our preferred airline list – like after Wizz Air and that no-name airline we saw in Rome a couple of years ago that painted their name over another airline’s name…

We grabbed a bite to eat at the Whitespot courtesy of Lufthansa and tried to play some cards but we’re all so tired we kept forgetting whose turn it was. After that we had to go back through security and were making jokes about what they would take issue with in our carry-ons after they’ve made it through a whacking great lot of European airports in the last 7 days… The tin of soap raised some suspicions and I got randomly selected for a body scan and Marie got randomly selected to have her bag and contents swabbed but other than that it was smooth sailing.

It’s now 11:20pm and we’re sitting in the gate area waiting to board our flight. We could have moved up to a flight that’s just about to leave but our luggage would still be on the later flight so we’re taking our chances (and given that a plane that was supposed to fly to Victoria is still sitting on the tarmac with maintenance people swarming all over it it’s actually a bit of a chance) with the flight we’re scheduled to take… I’ll post this up for now and finish the story tomorrow along with some final observations of the trip, etc.

If there really is a hell, we have found it… Lufthansa flight 9432 from Vancouver to Prague… And it all started so innocently.

After grabbing a couple of cookies from Starbucks and hustling back to the boarding gate it was time to board our plane. Stepping onto the plane (a spiffy new Airbus A320 if I recall correctly) noticed that is one of the first planes we’ve flown on that had a true “first class” section – us economy class peons didn’t even get to walk through it – but we could glimpse its hallowed halls as we boarded. I have issues with the whole class distinction thing at the best of times but the class distinctions in flying really get my goat… As Marie pointed out, if they spread that extra square footage around for all the passengers we’d all be more comfortable. But I digress. Back to the flight.

We boarded. The plane was really new. The seats seemed comfortable enough (an illusion that would be shattered in the hours to come), the entertainment system excellent (like iPads mounted on the back of the seat in front of you) and the selection of movies first rate… With stereotypical German efficiency, we started moving exactly on time and all seemed well. We settled in to our various entertainments (I started watching Captain America – The Winter Soldier, Marie started a documentary on grizzly bears, Caitlin started watching Broadchurch – the original British series that was the inspiration for the Grace Point series that filmed in Victoria this winter) and waited for dinner… drinks.

And this is when things started to go downhill. Dinner was interesting – a chicken and polenta dish with a bun, a teeny tiny little salad Dinnerand a brownie-like dessert square. I’m no expert but I always thought polenta was supposed to have a cornbread-like consistency not an oatmeal-like one. And I’m not sure that the Asian-influenced sauce for the chicken was a good match for the polenta-like substance. And broccoli at 39,000 ft seems like a bad digestive decision. The worst part, though, by far was the Warsteiner beer (a solid 3 on my 10 point rating scale, a middle of the road 3 from Caitlin and a “that’s disgusting” from Marie). The Germans do a lot of things well… Warsteiner is not one of them.

After dinner, Marie and Caitlin decided to go for a “walk” to stretch their legs. Whereupon Marie’s foot was literally run over (has the bruise to prove it) by the flight attendant pushing her drink cart… No apology even. And then, to make matters even worse, the flight attendants coming around later offering cognac or Bailey’s missed Marie (at least they came down her side of the plane, they didn’t even offer it to our side of the plane). Marie was willing to overlook the crushed foot but being snubbed on a glass a free Bailey’s was too much. Lufthansa had two strikes and we weren’t even out of Canadian air space yet. I particularly loved the realization that there were 4 washrooms on board for the hundreds of economy class peons such as us… All in the middle of the plane… The line-up for the loos stayed 5-6 deep for almost an hour after dinner…

Then it was time to sleep. Ummm… No… Not going to happen. Those comfortable-seeming seats? Not. Especially when the people in front of you recline… Literally into your lap… I could not work on the blog during the flight because neither my 11″ macbook air or an iPad would fit on the tray table when the dude in front of me reclined… And while we’re on the topic of reclining… It’s sort of like backing up your car. Look behind you first and then go slowly. Or take the approach practiced by the dude in front of me… remember that cheesy 70s movie about a cross-country race where one guy rips off his rearview mirror and proclaims “what is in ah behind me is not ah my problem”? Yeah. Same guy.

Between uncomfortable seats, no room to take a full breath let alone shift position, a crying kid (he was actually really good but he did cry and that’s never a good thing), a guy with one of those really gurgly, phlegmy coughs – you know the ones that sound like the guy’s drowning in his own snot, a couple who kept opening their blind to discover that yes, the sun really is still shining, and the incessant roar of the engines, the air conditioner and the gates of hell beckoning you in, we did not sleep well. But at least they would be feeding us breakfast!

Ah. Breakfast. The most important meal of the day. Unless you’re Lufthansa then it’s an opportunity to desecrate the simplest of all morning repasts – bacon and eggs. Breakfast The bacon was fine (it’s pretty hard to screw up bacon after all) but the eggs… oh god! the eggs… I had to double check mine because those sure looked like a couple of mould spots to me (turned out it was just the dehydrated parsley they added for colour). I should have assumed it was mould and passed. I have never (even after years of eating dehydrated eggs while backpacking) experienced eggs with this texture… I think they might actually have been the left over polenta from earlier mixed with a binding agent… like glue… To this was added another roll with some butter and jam (interesting combo) and a small yogurt… It was best to just shovel the food in and try not to taste it… At least I only had to taste my once…

After breakfast, we watched the remaining flight time tick down. And that’s when I noticed that Marie was bouncing in her seat. I’ve known Marie a long time and that means one of two things – she’s either got to pee really badly or she’s not feeling well… There was no line-up for the bathroom so it had to be the latter – that and the incredible green tinge to her complexion… Looking around frantically for a barf bag, we discovered that Lufthansa is so confident in their flying that they don’t supply them… or maybe that’s only for the first class passengers. Fortunately there was a plastic bag in the seat back and kudos to Marie – she managed to puke up her dinner and breakfast into a tiny little plastic bag without spilling a drop or drawing the attention of a single other passenger. It was an Oscar worthy performance. And the award for best stealth puke on a crowded international flight goes to – Marie Doherty!  Caitlin would like to point out that it wasn’t very stealthy for her as Marie was basically puking in her lap… It was only the complete lack of another puke bag that kept Caitlin’s breakfast where it belonged. Marie was not a happy camper and it is a testament to her good nature and even temper that she didn’t punch out a flight attendant or first-class passenger while exiting the plane… Marie’s only comment on what shall henceforth be known as “the Munich pukefest” was “what a waste of a perfectly good chai tea latte”.

After that, it was time to make our way through the Munich airport to find our departure gate for the flight to Prague. We cleared customs without a hitch, made our way back through security (where my camera gear was quite heavily scrutinized – turn it on, show the screen worked, open up both ends of each lens, etc.) and then through the maze of twists and turns to our gate. Where Marie and Caitlin promptly stretched out and fell asleep… I just sweated. It appears that the Munich airport was built in anticipation of a prolonged period of global cooling… Air conditioning was not an option apparently. Normally a delayed flight is cause for groans… In Marie’s case, I think she actually cheered a little… But all good things must come to an end and soon we were boarding for our last flight of the day. The good news is that it was only a 30 minute flight (for some reason we thought it was a 70 minute flight) and all went smoothly…

We touched down in Prague. Picked up our luggage (it was actually on the carousel before we got there – a first in all our flying experiences) and grabbed a taxi for our pension. We settled in (translation, crashed on the beds for a power nap) and then dragged ourselves up and out for something to eat… We didn’t make it out for long… Jet lag, no sleep, nausea… it was all Marie could do to walk a couple of blocks, plop down in a seat, eat a bit and then make it back to the room where Caitlin and Marie promptly crashed (at 8pm local time) while I went back out to take few pictures and explore a bit… But I didn’t make it much longer.

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And so it begins…

Marie was only 45 minutes late leaving work and only had to spend the whole drive to Sidney on the phone and make one call from the 1KD 1570airport for work so all things considered it was a pretty decent start.

We weren’t able to check in online at all (we thought we’d try again despite last night’s failure) so we made sure we were at the airport
by 3:30 in hopes we could get seats together – or at least closer together than we are now… Nope. Turns out that it wasn’t just us that couldn’t check in but the Air Canada ticket agent couldn’t check us in either. They could check our luggage through to Prague but we’ll have to go to the Lufthansa counter at the Vancouver Airport in order to check in for the next legs of our trip. The good news, though, was that because of delays at the Vancouver Airport (apparently they’re down to one runway or something due to “pavement issues”) they wanted to put us on an earlier flight that had been delayed. So instead of leaving at 5pm we will be flying out at 4:05 pm… Yeah… No.

The delayed flight (our new early flight… try to keep up) landed, deplaned and boarded without trouble… We plopped down into our seats at about 4:05 and just as we were buckling up the pilot came over the intercom to inform us that we wouldn’t be leaving at 4:05… no sir… we will be taking off at 5:25… so we’re sitting on the tarmac in a completely full plane with the air conditioner running at hurricane force (I’m sure if WorkSafe put a decibel metre in the cabin right now it would be significantly above allowable noise levels) waiting for permission to take off… None of this would be a big deal… after all, we’re on holidays mon… but we have a connecting flight at 6:40 (although that is likely to be significantly delayed as well apparently) and we need to check in… So it looks like we’ll be touching down around 6pm, dashing to the Lufthansa counter to check in (trying in vain probably to get seats close to one another) and then sprinting to the gate to make our connection… And hoping that our flight to Munich isn’t delayed too badly or we’ll miss our flight to Prague (we only have 1.5 hrs connecting time in Munich).

So far, not a particularly auspicious start… It sounds as if the issue is the airport’s but at this point I’m not giving any love to Air Canada either…

Well that was interesting. We took off as scheduled and made the 13 minute flight without incident, landing in Vancouver at about 5:45pm. We checked in with one of the Air Canada folks on the Vancouver side of things who said that we didn’t need to go to the Lufthansa counter to get our boarding passes – we could just go straight to the gate and they’d take care of us there. And for whatever reason, our flight to Munich was not delayed (nor were most of the flights we saw on the departures board) so maybe the delay was only affecting Air Canada flights… Hmmm… In any case, we had just enough time to get to the boarding gate, check-in (where the very helpful ticketing agent was able to get us three seats together for the flight to Munich after all… a little too near the back of the plane for our liking but more on that later) and grab something to drink from Starbucks. Thus far, no one has been able to explain why we were unable to check in online for our flights – it wasn’t a timing issue apparently and we should have been able to check-in online… The best answer we got was something to the effect that “Lufthansa and Air Canada just have these issues sometimes.”

So it all worked out in the end. But I will take this opportunity to point out that had we followed Marie’s “plan” and got to the airport around 4pm like she wanted to, we would have been on our regularly scheduled flight to Vancouver (we took the last 3 seats on the early flight which was actually a delayed flight which ended up being later than our regularly scheduled flight – try following that one!) which was also significantly delayed and would most likely have missed our flight to Munich… I’m not saying “I told you so” but…