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Flying home from Budapest last month was my single worst day of travel. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. I’ve done my fair share of traveling. I’ve had the occasional delay, a couple missed connections, lost luggage, but nothing like this day. I should warn you, this is one massive rant. I’ve waiting almost a month before posting this because I needed to calm down and gain perspective.
It started off with me waking up at the crack of dawn for an early flight. Past experience has taught me that there is no need to get to the Budapest airport before 5 am because everything is closed until then. At 4:30 I hopped into a taxi for the ride over the airport.
I was still half asleep and told the taxi driver the wrong terminal. No problem, they’re in the same building and it was easy to just walk over.
As I approached the check in desks, the big crowd of people clustered around a desk should have given me a clue, but it was early, and I had no reason to suspect anything was wrong. I typed in my details to the self check in, but no matter what I did, nothing was working. Meanwhile, I’m trying to connect my phone to the wifi and when it does, there is an email waiting for me from KLM. Sent at 4:27, 3 minutes before I had left for the airport.
The email tells me that my flight was delayed (later I learned they had cancelled it outright). They had rebooked me onto the next one that left 6 hours. My connection in Amsterdam would take off an hour before I would have landed. That big crowd behind me? Making total sense and I went to join them. The crowd wasn’t moving. I called home and told them of the situation and got them looking at other possibilities of getting home. Meanwhile, I was on Momondo looking at any other options.
The line, if you could call it a line, it was more a chaotic mass, hadn’t budged and I had been standing there getting increasingly frustrated. So, as a social marketer, I did what I would do at home. I reached out to the airline via Twitter. You’ve heard about all the great things KLM has done in terms of customer service and in their viral ads. I was looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about. I sent a message to the KLM Twitter account and before long I was talking to someone about my situation.
@klm I’m at BUD. Flight to AMS has been delayed meaning I will miss my connection to YVR at 1320. What # can I call to speak to an agent?
— Adelina W (@packmeto) February 9, 2014
It started off great. They were helpful and looking up options for me, but I grew increasingly frustrated with the experience. The time between each message was long. They eventually got back to me with a flight route of Budapest – Paris – Toronto – Vancouver. It meant close to 24 hours of travel with two tight connections, but at least I would get home that day. I agreed and then all communication slowed down. How long does it actually take to book someone on the flight? Later, the customer service agent at the desk in Budapest proved that it could be done in 5 minutes or less, so I don’t know what the guys on the Twitter help desk were doing.
The only reason I even got a message back at 11:07 is because I messaged them again publicly. Who knows how long it would have been if I didn’t message them?
@KLM when can I expect my e-ticket?
— Adelina W (@packmeto) February 9, 2014
I grew fed up especially since I had less than an hour before my flight was due to depart. By this time almost 4 hours has past since I arrived at the airport and the line at the help desk was minimal. My internet time was running out and I couldn’t wait for the guys online to help. I asked the agent to help me book that same series of flights offered to me via Twitter.
I made it to the gate just as they were starting to board and I departed Budapest slightly after 10 AM. I was so exhausted from the whole ordeal, I didn’t even make it to take off before I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until well into flight.
My one memory of Charles de Gaulle airport was from when I was 14, I remember it being big and chaotic. I had an hour to make my connection and was not looking forward to running through the terminal and going through customs. Thankfully I didn’t have far to go and the line for customs was fast. Before long, I was at my gate just in time for boarding, except we weren’t boarding. The flight was delayed for technical issues and couldn’t put a time to when we would leave.
By this time I was pretty delirious from tiredness and so frustrated from the whole day. It seemed like a long time before we started boarding, but based on my notes it was only about a 45 minute delay. Not to bad actually. I should have used that time to buy some of those famous macarons from Laduree. I had passed a stall in my rush to the gate.
The flight from Paris to Toronto was probably the most comfortable ride I’ve taken in a long while. There was plenty of legroom and space between me and the seat in front of me. So much so, that if the person in front, leaned their chair back you barely even notice the difference. Plus, I had the fortune of having two empty seats next to me so I could stretch out if needed. Thank goodness! I needed some comfort.
We arrived late to Toronto and again, I was off racing through the terminals as I only had an hour and needed to go through customs, pick up and drop off my luggage and most importantly, get some food. I knew that domestic flights would have nothing to eat so I needed to buy something in the airport.
As soon as I stepped into the luggage concourse, I heard my name over the intercom asking me to approach the desk. There they told me that my luggage wasn’t coming. I filled out the necessary paperwork and then went through customs and joined the line for security to my next flight.
The security guys at the Toronto airport were total asses to me. After flying so much, I have a rhythm and a process to my security check. Here the guys were barking at me, yelling at people. At most security checks, the person behind the conveyor belt usually helps the line along to get people moving. They normally help to push the bins of stuff into the machine, but not this guy. He’d yell at you to move faster and to move your own stuff. He wouldn’t lift a single finger. This was single-handedly the worst security experience I’ve had and that includes all my time flying in and out of US airports.
To make myself feel better, I got a doughnut from Tim Hortons – a sure sign of being back on Canadian soil. My flight from Toronto to Vancouver was of course delayed. By this time I was not even surprised. At least I was back on Canadian soil with a phone that worked, plenty of flights between the two major cities, and if worse comes to worse and I’m stuck in Toronto for the night, a number of friends I could call on for a couch.
Eventually we boarded and I was in for the most uncomfortable ride. People praise WestJet for its great service, and are loyal to the brand. As great as their customer service is, it doesn’t make up for their uncomfortable chairs and terrible entertainment system. I had flown Air Canada a couple months earlier on a similar distance (Ottawa – Vancouver) and they were so much more comfortable. Thankfully I was exhausted and after scarfing down my dinner I went to sleep.
Arriving in Vancouver, I went and got my baggage situation sorted out with WestJet. That didn’t make any sense to me. Air France lost it, but WestJet had to sort it out? The agent was very helpful and very nice (yay customer service), and gave me full details on when to expect my bag. Two days later I was reunited with my bag with everything intact.
It was a long journey and a terrible day of travel. Door to door, I spent close to 27 hours in transit. It would have been okay if I were expecting a long day. Instead, I was looking forward to relaxing in the Amsterdam airport for 5 hours, maybe having a nap, and picking up some stroopwafels. I hope I never have to do it again.
Needless to say, I’m very disappointed in how KLM handled the whole situation, both at the airport (where were the lines?!) and online (why did it take so long between responses?! I thought they had a team behind this). I’ve worked many years in customer service, and in many ways my current job involves it as well. I am a firm believer that if you are nice and patient to the individual who is helping you, you’ll get what you want and need. I was as patient as I could be in the situation and was relatively calm on the outside, while freaking out in the inside. I don’t know what I could have done differently.
Have you had a terrible day of travel where everything went wrong? What was your worst experience? Have you ever tried to resolve a travel problem via social media? Did it work?