Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Will Never Fly Air France - Or Will I?

Genre: Travel

Since yesterday, a bunch of people have been sharing this blog post by a disgruntled passenger about his experience with Air France in Paris, with comments like "Never ever fly Air France!" Is it really as terrible as he makes it sound? What should you do if you get stuck in a similar situation?

Short response: As a rule of thumb, never ever fly Air France through Charles De Gaullea living manifestation of hell on Earth. That will drastically reduce the probability of getting into a situation similar to this guy.

But then, what if it still happens? Will you end up with a "horror story" worth the outrage? Not if you do the following-

The guy in that blog was angry that he was informed of his flight's delay by an electronic display board, not a human being. Don't do this. In today's highly automated airline industry, an information screen can be trusted to have more accurate information than random airline employees.

If the airline staff says the aircraft is having technical issues, don't expect they will divulge more details. Either because they themselves don't have more information, or because the extra information is of no use to the passengers. For example- if the airline staff said that the hydraulic pump controlling starboard MLG is malfunctioning, you would be left wondering- what I am supposed to do with this piece of information?

Don't expect that the airline can always arrange an alternate plane to fly you. Flying a plane is not like driving a bus, that if one bus breaks down, bring any other bus and get going. There are fleet restrictions and pilot availability issues. For example, in that Paris incident, more than half of Air France's fleet is narrowbody aircraft that cannot fly from Paris to Mumbai. Then there are a bunch of Airbus A380s that can fly Paris-India, but the Indian government has banned them from operating into India. That leaves you with A330, A340 and B777 planes. Were any of them readily available to fly? Even if you find a plane ready to go, are there pilots and cabin crew available who are on duty and have experience operating a flight to Mumbai?

By all means, request, but don't expect that the airline will always put you on an alternate flight. For instance, for that guy stuck in Paris, are there alternate flights from Paris to Mumbai? No! The only Paris-Mumbai connection is 5 days a week Air France flight. Could they put him on a one-stop flight to Mumbai on some other airline? Maybe they could, but it is not always possible. 

If the airline staff says there is no alternate flight to put you on, do not insist "did you check properly?" They refused you because they probably already know there is no other flight where they can put you and don't need to check. It's their damn daily job. If someone asks you a casual question about your line of work, do you always check monitors or make calls even if you know the answer?

If you don't get a transit visa, don't get angry at the airline. They have no say in it. It's the immigration officers' decision whether to give someone a transit visa or not. Ideally, considering it was a cancelled flight, they should give it, but they are within their rights to refuse a visa

Try asking for access to the airline's lounge, but be prepared that they may refuse since the lounges have limited space and are for paying Business/First class passengers. However, if you really wanted to go to a lounge, you pay for a Day Pass and get access. United Club and American Airlines Admiral's Club at CDG both give access to anyone with a $50 day pass.  

Don't go hungry simply because the airline did not provide you enough free food vouchers. You are in an international airport. If you get hungry, you go and buy your own food. Starving yourself over a delay is not worth it.

Ask for a hotel for overnight stay. But if the airline cannot provide one, be prepared to sleep in the terminal. Most airports have portable beds, bedsheets and blankets for overnight delays. Be happy if you get one. It could have been worse. 

All said and done, that blog wasn't the first time this has happened, won't be the last time. Air travel has its bit of uncertainties. When you travel, be mentally prepared for it. This is what you should do if stuck in a similar situation-
  • Don't shout or overwhelm the gate agents. Many times they really don't much beyond that a flight is delayed, and nobody likes handling 200 shouting passengers. If you approach them politely, they will do everything they can to find an alternative for you.
  • If you are enrolled in a frequent flier program (if not, why are you not? It takes 5 minutes to join and is free! Do it now!) go to that airline or alliance's lounge. They may not give you entry on an Economy Class ticket, but the staff there has same access to the system as the gate agent and are not being overwhelmed by 200 people, so they can check up alternatives for you.
  • Use the meal vouchers provided by the airline to get whatever food you can, and buy more if you need. You can easily spend a few hours at restaurants rather than crowding around the gate. If you have special needs (vegetarian, no-beef etc) always carry your own snacks for emergency. Don't rely on an airport in a foreign country to provide you enough food choices to satisfy your dietary preferences.
  • If you want to relax, have shower, charge your phones, use internet and get some food and drinks, buy a one day pass to an airline lounge. Yes, it costs money, but it will be worth it, see below
  • Once you are back home, contact the airline and ask for refund and compensation. Europe has strict Air Passenger Rights Law that all European airlines have to abide. Quoting from the article- "If you are denied boarding, your flight is cancelled or arrives more than 3 hours late on arrival at the final destination stated on your ticket, you may be entitled to compensation of €250 - 600". For flights over 3,500km, for example Paris-Mumbai like in this case, the airline will have to pay you 600 Euro compensation. This will easily cover all the food and lounge access expenses you had to do at the airport.
  • And lastly, Do not write passive aggressive Open Letters to the CEO. Instead, contact the airline- call them, email them, post on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Believe it or not, engaging the airline directly gives some amazing results.
In conclusion-
What this guy mentioned in his blog is hyperbole and what actually happened could happen on any airline, its not Air France specific.
Air France is not an airline worth flying, but not because THIS incident happened. Even without this, they have a pathetic passenger comfort and safety record. So if you have been flying AF in spite of knowing this, no need to change it because THIS happened.

Bon Voyage!


  1. Wow! What an amazing response. I wonder if the original guy wrote such a long letter to get views on his blog!

    Above is sarcasm if somebody doesn't understand it.

    I have read the original post and yours as well. And I can equally refute some of your points. For example how subtly you have avoided that the original guy was offered only 200Eur in compensation versus 600Eur to somebody else on the same flight.

    You might be an ultra practical guy and might manage such situations. But not everybody is like you.
    You might have traveled n number of times but again some are the first timers.
    According to you 'have this chalta hai attitude all the time and try to be happy'. Well you might stick to the same but others are different.

  2. Are you kidding me Anonymous? The above blogpost is a very pragmatic response to the open letter which btw has worse sarcasm than your first line, man someone gotta teach that guy to come to the point and not bother being sarcastic if he can't manage it. But that aside - what he received in compensation is something that he could have written a post about and I would agree, but many of the pain points mentioned by him really did not make sense to me like having the ground staff personally tell you that your flight is delayed. Please, that's asking for too much. And he was not a first time traveler i'm sure as is evident from the post as well. It is one thing pointing out the legitimate lack of customer service and whole another thing trying to prove everything about the airline and its process is nonsense.

  3. Some of the points from main blog (latest updates) were gracefully missed by this 'review':

    Was our Visa applied for at the CDG Airport, if so do you have any paper work for the same where it says the Visa has been rejected?

    On humanitarian grounds why was Mr. S. Mishra not put on another flight to India when you did the same for another passenger flying Business Class? Even if there was no other passenger accommodated as I mentioned, couldn't you plainly on humanitarian grounds, have accommodated him on another aircraft? I hope you do understand the severity of a person flying back home to conduct the last rites of his/her father.

    Why was the ground staff unable to provide more than one wheelchair for 4 elderly passengers? Especially considering the fact that CDG is the home airport of Air France.

    Since you seem to agree that these were exceptional circumstances and the passengers were made to sleep on the floor, why was no access to the lounge provided? According to AirFrance the only solution was for these passengers to spend 30 hours at the airport the way they did? Without their main luggage (which was refused since it was already checked in). Without a shower and without a change of clothes?

    Jo who flew with us and was very well provided a Hotel Accommodation, was offered 800 Euro in Travel Credit or 600 Euro in Cash, whereas others haven’t been offered the same? On what basis do you calculate the compensation provided to a customer, especially when all of us flew aboard the same aircraft in even worse circumstances?

    1. I am not going to argue since you don't seem to have read my responses properly at all
      - I clearly explained why it is not always possible to accommodate a person on another flight "on humanitarian grounds"
      - Not sure if you have ever gone to the lounges at CDG? None of them have beds to sleep, so AF giving them bedsheets and blankets was in fact BETTER than giving lounge access to sit all night on couches
      - Compensation is clearly decided by Passenger Rights law applicable across Europe. Again, go read the post and click on the link I provided.

  4. Believe it or not, engaging the airline directly gives some amazing results. ????

    I have had issues with Air France before. When you call them, they promise to return your call. They never do. When you write to them, you never hear a thing. When they owe you compensation, you fill out forms and hand them in without ever getting a reaction.

    BTW, I have platinum status on their frequent flyer program. Doesn't make a difference. They're as arrogant to me as they are to anyone else. I'm not French, but I don't think their fellow citizens get any better treatment.

    Why am I still traveling with Air France? Because they're cheap. Definitely a whole lot cheaper than those few airlines that take costumer satisfaction seriously.

    1. There, your last line answers it. In spite of knowing Air France has pathetic customer service, you continue to fly them because they are cheap, so when you get left high and dry, don't complain.

  5. Seriously, Wanderer? Are you stupid?

    "We ask them for directions to their lounge. At first, they seem perplexed and then comes another one of those cold, illogical and insensitive replies, we’re told the Air France Lounge is only for Business Class passengers and they can’t allow us to stay there"

    Which is technically true. However, if you really wanted to go to a lounge, you pay for a Day Pass and get access. United Club and American Airlines Admiral's Club at CDG both give access to anyone with a $50 day pass.

    When the AF has wronged the passenger delaying the flight and causing him hardship, why would he be the one to pay and access lounge? He wasn't asking for comfort in a place he shouldn't have been.

    Sorry, very few of your responses makes sense but don't think others do.

    1. Not sure if you have ever gone to the lounges at CDG? None of them have beds to sleep, so AF giving them bedsheets and blankets was in fact BETTER than giving lounge access to sit all night on couches.

  6. Its a well known fact that French are racist and having experienced it first hand I would go with the guy who underwent this ordeal than the armchair critic who is trying to nitpick.

  7. Mr Wanderer, would it be acceptable to Govt of France or people of France if the same treatment was provided to them by say Air India at Mumbai Int'l Airport? You answer this question and you get how wrong you are.

    1. Hahaha! I think you have never traveled on Air India or faced a long delay at an Indian airport. The way Indian government treats passengers is way worse than what Air France did. Try it out once.

    2. Speaking of Air India, one should speak to Indian travellers to Middle East and North America. While Air India passengers to North America including myself have a very high opinion of their service to US/Canada, Indian passengers to Middle East despise AI.

      And we are speaking of people of the same country served by the same flag carrier but on different international sectors. :-) Racism?

  8. Dear Mr Blueindian,
    That was an objective and well researched post. I tried posting my opinion and experiences to the original blog by Mr Jay but given the barge of comments my comments were probably not registering.

    Well, as a frequent traveller both in North American sector as well as in NA-India routes I have had my fair share of cancellations, delays and missed flights. I have see such insensitive and at times cold reactions by airlines ranging from American, United Airlines, Air Canada to European ones.

    Yes the airlines can do better, but then airline industry is not one of the best ethical ones. Well, back home what sort of customer care can we expect from Indian Railways if its long distance train gets cancelled. It has happened to me once and all they would offer is a full refund and suggest me to take an alternate train in general class.

    I don't think this particular experience is driven by any racial motives. Given all this I have actually have had one good experience with Air France. My flight to from Montreal to Paris reached late leaving me a extremely tight connection at Paris to Chennai. This was in 2008 and with all their construction ordeals in CDG and an ongoing airport employees strike, a AF staff escorted me (it was just me to Chennai) across a couple of terminals to my Chennai flight gate. I was travelling Economy and I am ethnic Indian.

    On many ocassions I have been fleeced in domestic US flights along with other white, black, latino and asian co-passengers when a flight of 100 passengers was cancelled. So as we say, "it happens".

    1. Exactly. I have faced delays and cancellations on Delta, US Airways, Kuwait Airways, Jet Airways. None of the airlines handle it as well as passengers would like, some do it better than others, but when flights get cancelled, there is always some inconvenience involved, can't help it. As I mentioned in my post, if you want to not get inconvenienced, pay yourself for lounge access and food, as later you can get compensated for it from the airline. The airline will be more open to hearing your complaint and reimbursing you later than on the spot with 200 passengers shouting at them at once.

  9. bravo, wanderer. i think your response to the original rant is both pragmatic and objective. the problem with us desis is that we are overly emotional and thin skinned. i remember a similar delayed flight about twenty years ago, and the scenes of mass hysteria that erupted at amsterdam. there were scores of highly charged emotional outbursts happening all around me as people (actually us Indians only, the others seemed to be taking it in their stride) demanded that loved ones be informed back home that we were delayed - this was before the cell phone or email - and harrassed-looking airline staff took everyone's messages, but i don't think they ever sent them. When we arrived finally in bombay (as it was still called) they fought for accommodation on flights out of there. Since i couldn't match the lung power on display i stood by helplessly watching the scrum, and then a kind airline official noticed me probably because i was the only quiet person around, and made sure that i was put on a much-in-demand flight to hyderabad. I think it's just our Indian nature to shout and scream about everything. Take our television 'debates' for example - everyone, including the anchor, shouts at the top of their voices, and the higher the decibels the more successful the event is considered. maybe it has to do with a lack of confidence in ourselves.


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