Dear Tripped Up,
Last May, my wife and I were headed from New York to Valencia, Spain, via Munich, when the first leg of our Lufthansa flight was delayed, causing us to miss our connection. The Munich airport was a chaotic scene of passengers trying to rebook, but we eventually got a flight to Palma de Mallorca and then on to Valencia, arriving eight hours later than originally scheduled. According to European law, Lufthansa owes us 600 euros each (about $1,280 total) in compensation. After five months of maddening back-and-forth messages in which we repeatedly provided Lufthansa with our flight details, the airline finally asked us to email our bank information to them. We did, but nothing showed up in our account. They have four times told us the transfer is complete, but three more months later, we still don’t have our money. Can you help? Volkan, New Rochelle, N.Y.
If I had a nickel for every time someone wrote me saying they’d been stiffed by a major European airline, I’d be rich — unless I had to collect the money from a major European airline, in which case I’d probably still be waiting. Lufthansa is hardly the only source of these complaints, but since they are such a frequent one, I hope you don’t mind if I bundle a few other cases with yours. Let’s bring in …
Carolyn from Northbrook, Ill., whose family is owed 1,800 euros for similar flight delays. Unlike you, she balked at sending her bank information via email, but her multiple requests to have someone call her to get the information, and her two postal letters to Lufthansa with the information, went unanswered, and her case was summarily closed.
Jennifer of Denver who was similarly ghosted when she refused to provide bank information over email, instead requesting a check or other means of payment for the $275 she claimed she was owed for expenses incurred when Lufthansa lost (but eventually delivered) her luggage.
Rory of Oakland, Calif., who called Lufthansa to book a flight for him, his wife and their cat from San Francisco to Slovenia, only to find out later that the first leg was a code-share flight on United, which doesn’t permit cats in premium economy. Though Lufthansa had booked the flight knowing he was bringing a cat, they would not downgrade him, forcing him to buy a new ticket to sit in economy with his pet.
Stacey of Austin who canceled a flight early in the pandemic, tried to rebook it for exactly a year later and could not, despite Lufthansa’s rule allowing a credit for one year.
And finally, a minor but still annoying issue from Kelly of Squamish, British Columbia, who booked two tickets from Vancouver to Berlin, choosing Lufthansa so she and her husband could earn Star Alliance miles. They were rebooked involuntarily on Lufthansa Group’s budget carrier Eurowings Discover. The airline is not a part of Star Alliance, but they said they were repeatedly assured that they would receive miles based on their original reservation; those miles never showed up.
Tomasz Pawliszyn, the chief executive of AirHelp, a Berlin-based company that assists passengers with airline claims, was not surprised to hear about your problems. “During Covid, Lufthansa were for sure an outlier,” he said. “They were quite famous for not respecting customer protection laws in Europe,” he said, noting the European Union’s strict rules about compensating passengers for delays and cancellations, which are often cited enviously by American fliers. The airline also failed in “giving the right customer support on the human level,” he said. AirHelp has started legal proceedings against Lufthansa over 20,000 times since the pandemic began, he said, though he noted the airline has improved recently.
I provided your details to Christina Semmel, a Lufthansa spokeswoman. “We understand and regret the frustration and confusion that some of our customers have experienced during these past few tumultuous years,” she wrote back, adding that Lufthansa Group’s service centers “have experienced an extraordinarily high number of customer contacts initiated by the strong increase in travel demand after the pandemic, flight cancellations and complex booking enquiries,” leading to longer wait times.
In response to Mr. Pawliszyn’s comments, she responded: “Lufthansa categorically and vehemently rejects these unsupported allegations. We are a customer centric company and our top priority is to make sure that our passengers have the best, safest and most enjoyable travel experience possible, throughout the entire travel chain.”