Qantas hell – my story of QF31 SYD-LHR diverted via Frankfurt (30/8/08)

As some readers will know I endured a nearly 50 hour journey from Sydney to Brighton recently. What should have been 30 hours ended up being considerably longer and considerably more painful.

The news media has reported on some of the circumstances (Fairfax | News Ltd) but a personal account is always more interesting.

Here’s an excerpt of my complaint letter to Qantas Customer Care.

I am yet to get a response.

To whom it may concern,

I would like to formally register a complaint regarding the level of service provided to me as a traveller on QF31 Sydney-Singapore-London on August 30, 2008. The level of service provided to me as a loyal Qantas customer was so appalling that I have felt compelled to write this letter and seek redress.

Firstly though, I would like commend the crew of QF31 who acted thoroughly professionally in their response to an in-air situation that forced the unscheduled landing in Frankfurt on the morning of Sunday August 31.

What happened thereafter is inexcusable.

The situation:

At Frankfurt Airport we were asked to wait in a café/bar until we were booked on alternative flights. Within 30 minutes all Qantas staff had left leaving us only with local staff who had minimal knowledge of the situation.

With no staff advising us of progress any semblance of organisation quickly broke down. Rumours spread amongst passengers, queues formed with no understanding of why we were queuing. Officials appeared with lists containing some passenger details, then disappeared again.

Three hours later, around 1100, after waiting in a queue at a service counter I was informed by a non-Qantas staff member that I was booked on a Lufthansa flight LH4742 Frankfurt-London at 1955 and I was to take a shuttle bus to the airport Steigenberger hotel to wait and eat a meal, for which the hotel would provide a voucher.

On arrival at the Steigenberger Hotel none of the hotel staff had been informed of our circumstances and were unable to issue vouchers for food. This was eventually rectified at 1500 by which point many customers had already purchased their own food. A 25 Euro voucher was eventually obtained and spent on a very late lunch – the last time we had been provided with food was at 800 that morning.

In the interim I managed to change my connecting National Express bus ticket to Brighton to the 2130 bus from Heathrow for a nominal 5GBP. With the time difference between London and Frankfurt this should have given me plenty of time to collect my luggage and clear immigration.

I left the Steinberger at 1700 and arrived at Frankfurt Airport to check in to the flight that Qantas had organised. At the Lufthansa check in I was informed that whilst a seat had been secured on the flight, the Qantas staff had failed to update the FIM on my ticket and I would have to go to the Qantas service desk in another terminal.

At the other terminal I was informed by airport staff that the Qantas office was not to open until 2000 – despite the fact my flight was at 1955. I was then told to go to a different Lufthansa service desk back in the first terminal where they may be able to do something.

After waiting in the queue at the Lufthansa desk for 90 minutes, along with many other Qantas passengers who had suffered the same fate, I was served at 1915. After many calls and discussions my ticket was updated at 1930, leaving me 25 minutes to make it through security and immigration. I boarded LH4742 but this flight was further delayed, finally disembarking at Heathrow at 2130.

Being 2130 and without my luggage I was unable to make my connecting bus. Nevertheless there was still the last bus to Brighton at 2330.

At Heathrow the baggage area was in complete disarray. The LH4742 baggage was finally unloaded at 0015 – by which time the terminal was closing and the final bus to Brighton has left.

Emerging to Heathrow Airport with no Qantas ground staff to advise of alternative accommodation arrangements or even an apology for the disastrous situation, the terminal closing down for the night, and no Qantas service desk to enquire at to seek emergency accommodation, I was left with other option than to order a 125GBP taxi ride to Brighton in the middle of the night.

I finally arrived at my destination at 0330 – 45 hours after departing Sydney – exhausted and significantly out of pocket.

Whilst I should be able to be reimbursed for my extra costs through my travel insurance, I am not able to make up for the significant loss of time and the unnecessary stress that has resulted from this incident.

I would like to remind Qantas that your responsibility for passengers does not end until our baggage is safely in our hands at our final destination complete with suitable connecting travel arrangements.


2 replies on “Qantas hell – my story of QF31 SYD-LHR diverted via Frankfurt (30/8/08)”

What a debacle! Somehow, though, it doen’t really surprise me. The secret to good customer service in situations like this is to have continuity in management. Either someone has to stick around from the start or the handovers have to be very well managed. This was clearly far from the case for you. Sounds like a vary unpleasant experience.

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