Photo by the fantastic @sallysimpleton, who I really need to visit now that I'm home.

Misery, thy name is Air France.

Rand and I are home after a long trip to Europe, a trip made even longer and more difficult by the good people of Air France. They must have an extreme fondness for us – as they did everything possible to try and keep us the country, and when they couldn’t prevent us from leaving, they kept our suitcase as a souvenir. Forgive me if I have trouble writing this post, but this Dick Move is still fresh, like a crisp baguette still warm from the oven (also, apparently I am hungry, and thinking about French things isn’t helping).

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? We booked our tickets with Air France months ago – sometime in January. It was our first time flying with the airline, and we hadn’t really heard anything (good or bad) about it. Our flight to Europe was without incident, and the plane was a newer one. We were in the Premium Voyageur section, and while not quite as nice as BA’s World Traveler Plus, it was still pretty darn comfy. It was on our return flight that things started to break down. We were going to be flying from London to Paris, and from Paris on to Seattle.

Though it was ridiculously early (5:20 in the morning) there was already a line at the Air France check-in counter, and seemingly no where else. Our flight was at 6:40, and the line was short, so I wasn’t concerned. That is, until we realized the line wasn’t going anywhere. The attendants at the counters took forever with every traveler who approached them. After 20 minutes, we finally made it to the front of the line, and the woman at the counter printed out my ticket, but aimlessly was punching at the computer in order to get Rand’s “released.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But the tickets are blocked, and I can’t seem to get you one.”

“What do you mean the tickets are blocked?”

“The flight is oversold, so it isn’t letting me assign you a ticket.”

Rand and I stood, confused.

“But we have a reservation,” we explained. “We booked these tickets months ago.”

“Yes, but it is oversold. There is nothing I can do.”

Those of you who travel a lot probably know how this works – all airlines oversell their flights by about 15%. They assume that some people won’t make the flight, so it’s how they can be assured that all the seats will be filled. If everyone shows up for the flight, there are too few seats, and people will be bumped off the flight. As unjust as it sounds, it’s usually the folks with the cheaper tickets that get bumped first (or those flying on free or reward tickets. Yeah. Taunt the wretched, I always say.)

I’ve always known that this was a risk when traveling, but it never bugged me. In the states, the airline usually requests volunteers to be bumped (and compensates them with free travel vouchers). And without fail, someone takes it. We always get a seat – we usually fly Alaska Airlines (a partner of Air France) on which Rand has frequent flier status, and when we fly internationally we travel in the just-a-smidge-above-economy class, both of which reduce your chances of being bumped. Also, it is incredibly unusual for one person in a party or two or three to get bumped. It’s far more likely that a solo traveler would get kicked off. But here we were, in risk of me going home alone, and Rand getting stuck in London or Paris.

Now, this alone was not enough to merit Air France a Dick Move. But the sheer incompetence with which they run their airline? Yeah, that did it.

Keep in mind, we never check baggage – but I’d done a bit of shopping in Italy (sorry, Rand). Oh, and in London. So my bags were bulging, and I had acquired an extra one along the way, which I checked. Rand, due to fatigue, decided to check his bag as well. This was where we messed up. We should have just taken it with us as a carry-on. But we had been up since four, so we weren’t really thinking straight. Again, sorry, Rand. I should have thought better on that one.

The attendant refused to take Rand’s suitcase, saying if he didn’t get on the plane, then they’d have to remove the bag, causing delays. Instead, she managed to get him a ticket to Paris (and no further) and gave us vague directions to talk to some young man over at another counter. We eventually found him, and Rand had to jump the line to get his attention (by now we were in danger of missing our flight). The man took Rand’s bag, gruffly told him he probably wouldn’t get on the flight to Seattle, and walked away in a hurry.

During their exchange, I chatted with a group of Londoners who had just gotten booted off our same flight. Like us, they had made the reservations months ago. Together we lambasted Air France, and they wished me luck getting home, saying that there was hope, since there were now four extra seats that they had been forced to vacate.

When we finally got on our plane to Paris, we found that we were not seated together (no surprise), and, weirdly, that there were a ton of empty seats in Air France equivalent of first class (at least a dozen of them) that were never filled. Rather than upgrade people, Air France chose to kick them off the flight instead. Ugh. Dick Move.

But wait, there’s more!

In Paris, we walked up to a counter, and a woman printed out a ticket for Rand, with absolutely no difficulty. We were incredibly relieved. He was coming home. We inquired about his bag – she noted that it was all checked through. When we arrived on our flight, we found that our seats were not the ones we had reserved (we had requested aisle and window, but were crammed onto a row with a third traveler), were in the bulkhead (which I hate) and that, again, there were tons of seats in first class which went vacant. So Rand had almost been left in London, and then Paris, because Air France doesn’t understand that when you oversell in the cheaper cabins YOU HAVE TO UPGRADE PEOPLE IF THERE’S ROOM IN FIRST.

At this point, though, I was willing to call it good.

But Air France wasn’t finished being a total dick. When we arrived in the states, we waited for ages for our bags to come. Mine eventually did, and after half-an-hour of waiting, we found that Rand’s did not. When we asked an Air France employee she noted that they had been paging us for half an hour (This was a lie. “Rand Fishkin” was not paged once. “Fuzzy Lumpkin,” however, was paged at least a half dozen times). They explained that our bag did not make the flight (since Rand didn’t have a ticket through to Seattle when we left London, they never had any intention of putting our bag all the way through. All the employees who told us to the contrary were either misinformed or lying). It’s apparently leaving today (maybe) and we might get it on Wednesday (again, maybe).

And so, for this cacophony of events, for this terrific display of ineffectiveness and ineptitude, I can say, Dick Move, Air France.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the local French bakery. I’m in desperate need of a croissant.

Full list of categories:  Air Travel » Dick Move
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Comments (21)

  1. 1
    Edward says:

    I bet this is the airline industry intentionally f*cking with you for filing a complaint against TSA. You’re not on a no-fly list, you’re on a lose-their-luggage-and-treat-them-even-worse-than-we-do-our-other-passengers list.

  2. 2

    Dick Move, indeed. This seems to be an all-too-common occurrence on the airlines these days: the having first or biz class wide open and filling economy to the point of booting people from the flight. I will never understand this logic. I will also never fly Air France now after this!

  3. 3
    MOGmartin says:

    I used to travel extensively in my old job (yes, about as much as Rand does now) and flew long haul every month without fail, mainly to western or southern Africa.

    Air France were normally the cheapest of all the Euro carriers (for business class at least), and therefore I had the misfortune of flying with them semi regularly.

    Seriously – pretty much every time I flew with them something got f*****d up, from losing my luggage, to even landing in the complete wrong country once and having to wait 24 hours for a connecting flight with little in the way of compensation.

    Only other time I got bumped on a flight? AA from chicago o’hare to LV. My recompense? $300 for waiting 90 minutes. Yes American Airlines, I accept that hourly rate.

    Takeaway: NEVER, EVER (really, EVER) Fly Air France.

    • 3.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Oh, if only we had known! I’m seriously worried – looks like we’ve already booked two more trips with them (reservations made prior to this trip). We won’t be checking anything, obviously.

      ThEY LANDED IN THE WRONG COUNTRY? Please, please tell me all about that one sometime. :)

  4. 4
    Ken says:

    Massive Dick Move Air France. Well done Geraldine (and Rand) for resisting the urge to go totally postal on the succession of Air France saps that you had to deal with on your way home.
    I’m no stranger to the dubious joys of airline bumping either. Strangely they always seem to want to f… with people on their way home rather than on outbound flights.
    A few years ago I was flying home to the UK after visiting my family in Australia and United Airlines decided to cancel my flight from Sydney to San Fransisco on the grounds that it was underbooked and instead forced me to wait around at Sydney airport for 5 hours until the next flight to LA. The United agent in Sydney assured me that, as I would then also be stuck in LA for several hours until the next available flight back to London, that they should be able to provide me with a hotel room near LAX where I could rest and freshen up before eventually being able to make the final flight of my journey home.
    Needless to say, the agent on United’s desk at LAX refused to proffer any such compensatory accommodation, instead she just pointed me in the direction of the nearest taxi rank and suggested I go and get some lunch and browse around Manhatten Beach mall to kills some time before coming back for my flight.
    Icing on this Dick Move Crap Cake was being told by a customer services/security monkey to just leave my suitcases by the transfers desk and they would put them on my flight for me. Naturally I did just that an then wandered off to try and find the United desk for all the fun and games that followed.
    When I finally got back to the UK and got home I was very surprised to find a nice note from the TSA inside my locked suitcase informing me that it had been opened for a security check because it had been left unattended. I have a feeling that I may now be on the list for a cavity search the next time I set foot in an American airport :-(

    • 4.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Ken – that account is painful and makes me angry on your behalf. United is actually quite high up on my list of worst airlines ever (are they partnered with Air France? If not, they should be), so while this story is enraging, it’s not THAT surprising. I’m glad you eventually made it home safe, no thanks to them.

      And no, we didn’t yell at the staff. It would be like screaming at a puppy for not understanding math: it’s just waaay beyond their reach.

  5. 5
    Edward says:

    I’ve only been on one flight that was oversold, Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to LAX. Their FIRST offer was a seat on the the next flight, plus a business class upgrade (redeemable whenever I wanted, not just on the next flight), and $200 US cash. God knows what else they would have kicked in if people held out…

    I had the option of flying to Romania via Paris on air France, but chose Lufthansa via Frankfurt instead. Despite the reputation for ruthless german efficiency, they were lovely to fly with last time I was with them.

  6. 6
    Philip says:

    What I really want to know is what did you get at the bakery?

  7. 7
    Trisha Miller says:

    SO glad I read this as I was THISCLOSE to booking a flight on Air France for May…..sigh…. Flying is just not fun anymore…..I cannot wait until we manage to perfect the molecular transporters that worked mostly well on Star Trek.

  8. 8
    Katie Hammel says:

    Iberia pulled a total Dick Move on my flight last week.

    Scene: two tired, slightly hungover travelers are attempting to fly from Madrid to Chicago. The male hands over his boarding pass at the gate. The agent takes it, rips off the bottom portion (which is now a blank piece of paper)and scrawls down his seat number and hands it back. He takes the female’s boarding pass, which is a single sheet of paper printed from online check-in, scans it, and adds it to the pile in front of him. The couple walks down the jetway….and then the trouble begins….

    As I tried to board the plane, the FA asked for my boarding pass. I explained that the gentleman at the gate took it. She told me that she would absolutely not let me on this plane without it, and I needed to go back and talk to the agent. I ran down the jetway, past the other 200 or so people waiting to board (we had been about 4th in line to board) and politely explained to the agent that I needed a new copy of my boarding pass, or my old one from the pile, because the FA would not let me on the plane without it.

    She asked me where mine was; I explained the male agent had scanned it and then not given it back. “He wouldn’t do that,” she said. “Well, he did,” I said. She said it was impossible to get me a new one, that I should have had two copies, and that there was no way the agent took my entire pass.

    “So you won’t let me on the plane?” I asked. “Oh no,” she gestured towards the door, “go ahead.”

    At this point I did get a little exasperated but still tried to win her over with logic. Again I explained..”No, you see, THEY said I cannot get on this plane without my boarding pass, which I don’t have, because he took. And YOU say I have to go talk to them, because you will not give me another pass….so how am I supposed to get on the plane?”

    To which she replied, “Try walking.”

    (Have you ever seen a frilled lizard – with one of those big skin flaps that shoots up around the lizard’s head when he is agitated? If that could have happened, it would.)

    So I took a deep breath, picked up my bag, and headed down the jetway to plead my case again. But when I saw that the line of 200 people waiting to board had barely moved, I went down the first class jetway instead. As I approached, the FA had his back to me, so I darted on the plane, ducked into the far aisle, and ran to my seat. I basically had to sneak on to a flight which I had legitimately paid for, because the gate agents and the FA each refused to help with what should have been an easy fix (check my name/seat assignment against the passenger list, print me a new boarding pass, or let me take mine off the top of the pile). For the 40 minutes that we were delayed – with no explanation, of course – I sat cowering in my seat, fearing I would be tossed off the plane at any moment.

    Whew…okay, clearly I needed to vent about that.

    • 8.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Um … WTF. I want to punch someone on your behalf. Seriously – the “try walking” part would have made me cry. And ask for her name. Then, you had better believe a sternly worded letter would be written (and probably not sent).

      I’m so sorry. On the plus side, it’s a brilliant tale. :)

    • 8.2
      han says:

      I sympathise with you. I had the misfortune to travel to India via Paris few years ago. At Toronto they told us the flight was delayed for few hours after we had checked in. The delay was for 15 hours. Apparently they had gassed the wrong tanks and fumes needed extra time even after it was degassed. Back to the counters for hotel voucher. Since we would miss our connection we stood around for 4 hours making sure we had confirmed seats on the next flight from Paris to Bombay. The counter people told us we need not wait as this would be automatically done in Paris. I knew from experience that the next filght would not have all the seats for all my fellow passengers who were in the same situation. I insisted on booking seats on the next flight to Bombay from Paris. We also took a print out of this reservation. Whew! Meanwhile the other passengers left for the tiny crappy hotel. By now it was mid night when we reached hotel. Everything was closed. The hotel not used to receiving 200 odd passengers ran out of food! Since we were last to reach we went to bed hungry. We woke up after 5/6 hours were bundled in a bus to airport. No breakfast! We then made it to Paris on the same plane! When we reached Paris it was midnight. Back to transfer desk for boarding passes. We reached the woman agent and gave her the print out of the Paris- Bombay flight. She took a long time staring at the screen, so I interjected that the print out showed we had confirmed seats. She turned to me and said we were not on the flight as Toronto had made a mistake. BS! She was a Bitch. I was at the end of my tether now. My head was pounding due to lack of sleep. I was not going to waste my time with this sicko. The supervisor, please I snapped. I am the supervisor said she. She was not kidding! The airport was closing for the night. There was a skeleton staff. She told me in no uncertain tone that I should take the flight to Delhi and fly local to Bombay else she would not give me a hotel voucher and I would be stranded on the Airport with my wife and 11 year old son, as all the flights were next morning. I flew to Delhi as she insisted and my nightmare was just to begin. On the Delhi flight I learned that my seats to Bombay were given to passengers to Banglore passengers. That twit. She could have flown the Banglore passengers via Delhi instead of flying them via Bombay. They could care less about any passengers. Another Indian family with Canadian residency but with a mom who was visting from India with Indian passport had spent the night on the Airport floor as they were denied entry into France. This poor old woman who could not speak a word of French with a reserved boarding pass to India was thought of as risk of illegal immigration. Like I said my nightmare had just begun but I will make it short. The Air India flight from Delhi to Bombay, for which I had reserved confirmed seats was only for 45 mins but was coming from Newark and was delayed for 3 hours. In India this flight was empty but still paid a bribe to the clerk as I had reservation for the 6 o’clock flight and I was trying to fly by the 3 o’clock which was delayed to 6 o’clock! I paid a bribe to go thru customs at Delhi. When I landed in Bombay at 7 o’clock we landed in the International treminus as this Air India flight was flying abroad and was merely stuffing passengers from Delhi Bombay to collect revenue. So we had to clear customs again! I told the officer I cleared customs in Delhi and he tells me “you have large suitcases”. I am a patient man but this was too much. I told hiom he was acting illegally as there was no provision in the Indian Excise and Custom Duty Act to check duty paid goods twice and I walked away! I feel I must give a recommendation to Air France as the famous Freud once gave to Gestapo when they asked him to sign a letter stating he had been fairly treated. “I hereby heartily recommend the Gestapo to everybody” added Freud tongue in cheek, as a last line to the letter after duly obtaining permission from the leather faced Gestapo officers.

  9. 9

    I was getting all ready to give a tirade on how I will fling poo at Air France about this and that but that last line of yours made me smile and forget my point…and want a croissant.

  10. 10
    David says:

    so sorry to hear you had so much disfortune with Air France. I’ve flown with them plenty of times as I live in France and never had a problem. I guess I’ve been lucky (knock on wood). I usually go with Air france when I travel with my bike as they allow me to take it in as part of my authorised lugagge weight without paying extra. But I take all your points and agree with you in that they are dicks for having given you and Rand such a hard time.

  11. 11
    Vivianne says:

    I only traveled on Air France ONCE. The chicken in the dinner they served me still had FEATHERS on it. Not all over — but enough to gross me out completely. Ironic considering it’s a French airline, n’est-ce-pas?

  12. 12
    David says:

    “we had requested aisle and window, but were crammed onto a row with a third traveler”

    So you mean you are douches ?
    Let’s take a window and and aisle, because no one will request a middle seat between us, we will have paid for two seats and get three.

    Your story seems convincing.
    Seems.
    Except that First class will have something like four to eight seats in the cabin. How come there were a dozen empty seats ?
    And Air France does upgrade passengers when a flight is overbooked, does offer compensation (on a long haul flight if you are bumped off a flight you are rebooked on the next flight and get 600€). What’s the point of sending an empty plane with passengers staying on the ground ?
    And it’s not the cheaper price that get bumped, but the last one to check. Airlines have passengers that will not get bumped : disabled passengers, unaccompanied minors, and elite (frequent flyer program) frequent travellers. Apart from them, everyone can be bumped. When there are no more seats available, even if you paid a full fare ticket and came after all the other passengers, you will not be confirmed.

    I would have loved to see you two at my counter, to explain you everything and be sure that you would’nt write anything incorrect :) (you made me laugh anyway, so thank you for brightening my day ! )

    • 12.1
      Everywhereist says:

      Goodness, this is an ancient post. Why am I even bothering with replying? Alas, I’m tired, and you’ve irritated me.

      We had reserved two seats in an aisle that only had two – Rand specifically requested for that reason – but that row was given to someone else, even though we had reserved it. And I have no idea what first class you are referring to, but on international flights, Business class is absolutely HUGE – there were a dozen or so empty seats up there. We were definitely not the last one to check in and …

      Ugh, you know what? I don’t even care anymore. Let’s hope we never end up at your counter.

  13. 13
    Jenny says:

    Same thing happened to us with Air France a few days ago. We were catching a plane from Paris to Guangzhou and getting an international transit to home except THERE WERE FREAKING FOUR OF US AND HALF THE PARTY WERE CHILDREN (both of them old enough to get pissed too and I was one of them).

    The lady at the counter offered us accommodation, compensation and a flight out of Paris at noon the next day. My father said, “No, that is not right. We booked this flight months ago, our seats should be reserved. Shouldn’t you also have the data about our transit?”

    The lady says that Air France doesn’t have this information as we had booked the flight with Southern China.

    I felt like jumping over the counter and throttling her.

    For the next five minutes we continued to try to get her to help us on the flight. She didn’t do anything but tell us to wait for 10-15 minutes until the bookings can get confirmed.

    My mother met some Singaporeans who had the same problem and they also had booked the flight months ago.

    So my father went to another counter with the supervisor and told him our problem. He managed to print us four tickets in isolated seats which is just fantastic for the nine year old with us.

    When we arrived in Guangzhou, we had no problem with getting our boarding passes with Southern China.

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