Compensation Clinic: Lufthansa Pilot Strike Irregularities Causing Downgrade, Senator Hotline Not Available

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This weeks Compensation Clinic comes from one of our readers who had a bad experience during the Lufthansa Pilot Strike, resulting in a downgrade which his travel agency was able to fix after the service hotline didn’t answer repeatedly.

The reader is a Senator member with Lufthansa Miles&More and flew on an upgraded Economy Class ticket from New York to Frankfurt (and onward to Vienna).

The Lufthansa pilot strikes have taken a toll on the company and tested the patience of their customer almost to the point of exhaustion.

It came at no surprise when during one of these strikes our reader Phil sent me an email asking what the best course of action is since he wasn’t able to reach the Senator service hotline after his flight got cancelled and Lufthansa automatically re-booked and downgraded him onto another flight.

Here is the translated correspondence as the original was in German:

Hi Sebastian,

I need your help with a situation involving Lufthansa. I’m currently in NYC and supposed to return to Vienna in two days from now. I had a reservation for a LH flight and used miles to upgrade JFK-FRA to Business Class but this flight is now cancelled. I got a call which went to my mailbox telling me I’m now rebooked on the Austrian Airlines flight but when I checked the booking it has been changed to Economy.

The Senator Hotline doesn’t answer the phone, I tried multiple times and they wont pick up. I’m in NYC for work and really don’t have time to deal with all this. Do you have any suggestion how to handle this?

To make matters worse, the miles I used to upgrade will expire this quarter otherwise I’d be more flexible and maybe even accept the direct flight but this is really my last chance to use it for an upgrade and have a nice flight with it.

It has been well documented that it’s almost impossible to get through to Lufthansa during these strikes and have reservations rectified, even if you’re a status customer such as Senator. It just makes everything even more frustrating for the customer affected.

I replied to the reader with the following:

Hi Phil,

this is a very common situation we heard a lot in recent weeks. If you have a confirmed upgrade with Lufthansa then they are required to rebook you into the same class of service. They are not entitled to downgrade you without compensation, no matter if they try to say that during strike this is allowed because that’s absolutely not the case.

Of course in order to be rebooked into Business Class there needs to be a flight that has Business available.

If you have no time to deal with the matter right now yourself I suggest to contact a Travel Agent or service provider who offers sort of an emergency service (I recommended two agencies to him). These will charge you for the service though and it won’t be cheap.

Please let us know how it went.

Keep in mind this took place early December and since then I haven’t heard back from the reader. Friday he sent me a mail saying the Lufthansa replied after two months since sending them an online feedback with receipts of expenses related to the matter.

Here the translation of the Lufthansa Customer Relations Feedback:

… Thank you for your feedback and our sincere apologies for the inconvenience you experienced while traveling with us on November 29th 2016.

We also apologize for not being able to respond properly to your several phone calls due to the extensive call volume during the strike period as our call centers were exhausted by the number of passengers trying to reach the reservation center.

Of course we will completely cover your phone expenses of 163,90 EUR per your Vodafone bill. We will also reimburse you for the 200,00 EUR fee as levied by your travel agency for the emergency services rendered, even though this is on a goodwill basis only as we usually don’t cover such expenses.

We have already initiated a wire transfer in the amount of 363,90 EUR to your specified bank account and you should be able to see this wire in your account in a few days. …

The reader mentioned that one of the travel agencies I recommended was able to both rebook him onto another Lufthansa flight and also recover his upgrade. They charged a 200,00 EUR fee for this which I think is reasonable considering it was done expediently and it was an outside customer.

Lufthansa did not offer even a cent beyond the expenses or even a mileage credit as compensation.

Conclusion

The way that Lufthansa deals with the fallout of these strikes is at times outrageous and I have seen the phone bill of our reader, he tried to reach them for over two hours. Usually I recommend to use Skype to contact airlines but depending on your wifi connection this can also bite you in the rear. I can’t count how many times I had Skype calls drop after extensive wait times and it was all for nothing.

I give Lufthansa a little bit of credit for eventually covering the expenses the reader incurred in order to recover his upgrade. The fact that no compensation was offered at all is something I don’t agree with however after he invested hours into this disastrous transaction. In the end the decision to consult a professional travel service was much less stressful and ended with a positive result for the same cost as trying to deal with the airline.

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