Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Airport Blues

The week before I left France to return to Minnesota for Christmas, I posted an article entitled I’ll Be Home For Christmas…I Hope. It was actually a Monday Memory article that I had written the year before when I wasn’t sure if I would get home due to “French Bureaucracy” issues. I felt a little smug writing it because I knew that this year I had it going on and there wasn’t going to be a single problem. I had all my cards, papers and my ticket set for December 19th.  In actuality, I arrived at the Minneapolis airport at 2:30 p.m. on December 24th.  Next time I get all smug, would somebody please remind me what country I’m living in?

Yes this is a rant…it’s my blog and I can do what I want! 

On Saturday the 18th when I wasn’t able to print my boarding pass, I tried to call Air France to find out what the problem was. After 2 hours on hold I was simply disconnected. I tried again and the same thing happened after an hour and a half of twiddling my thumbs.  I called the United States KLM (Air France, Delta and KLM are all partners and I use all 3 to get to Minnesota) customer service number and they informed me that there was a snowstorm in Amsterdam and flights were being cancelled. Hey, I get snowstorms! I’m from Minnesota. So they rebooked me…through Paris. But they said Air France insists that you go to the airport tomorrow to validate this ticket. We don’t know why, but they insist.

So Sunday I took the bus to Marseille, stood in line for 3 hours and validated a ticket that was…. already validated!  Okay, don’t get your undies in a bundle, Delana. You’ll be going home Monday.

Snow in Paris Monday. Flight cancelled. I spent another 3 hours on-line with Air France. Disconnected. Website locked up. Called United States. I was rebooked for Tuesday.

Tuesday, I arrived at the airport at 5:30 am, checked my luggage and the ticket agent asked if I wanted to check my carry on. I said no, I didn’t want to pay the fee for two pieces of luggage. He said, no worries, today it’s free…because…and then he leaned forward and whispered, “the security people are having a little strike…not to worry…but it will make things faster. And you’d better start through that line right now because it will probably be slower than normal”.

I skipped my coffee that I had so been looking forward to and got in line in front of the security door. I was one of the first. And I waited…. and waited. Finally, an announcement told us there was a “little problem with negotiations with the security company but not to worry, the planes would wait for us”. I sat down and began to plow through my French novel.

We began to pile up like ice on the shore of Lake Superior in February, everyone checking their watches and looking around for…. something. Finally, another announcement that went something like this (I was desperately trying to translate in my head).

“We’re sorry but the this gate will not be open.  The company that we hire to do security has gone on strike and we cannot reach an agreement. This is not our fault. It’s the fault of the security company. Everyone is asked to go to terminal 2, which does have security in place. Everyone in the airport will be going through security here so we know it will be difficult but it’s the best we can do. It’s not our fault”.

What he should have said at that point is, “good luck my little sheep. You are on your own now. Air France is no longer responsible”

The herd of sheep turned as if confronted by a pack of wolves and made off for the other terminal. And of course, because I was at the beginning of the line, I ended up at the end of the line at the other end.

And there, the masses waited, like the sheep that we were, with absolutely no shepard. Air France did not organize lines according to who was leaving first, did not have an agent posted, did not give us any information… and hundreds of people were gathered en mass trying to get through a 2 foot wide door. Oh excuse me; Air France did start passing out water. But the only answers anyone could get from the 2 souls in charge of making sure none of us died were, “I don’t know anything”, or “it’s not my job”.

About one hour into that wait, les bâtards who went on strike (after 3 days of delays because of snow and only days before Christmas, mind you) had the nerve to march by us with their union flags. Babies were crying, children were getting squished by the crowds and these idiots smirked at us as they marched by. I’m getting all heated up again just writing about it.

After several hours waiting, at first hoping they were telling the truth that the planes wouldn’t take off and finally realizing that even if they did wait I had now missed my connecting flight, word came through the line, like a game of telephone, that the flight to Charles Degaulle had taken off…. empty. As had the flight to Amsterdam and all other flights to Paris. Empty. As did the rest of the flights that morning. Which stopped more than 3,000 passengers in their tracks, a huge number of whom were like me; rebooked passengers just trying to make their way home for Christmas. And did we get this word from Air France? Of course not!  They were hiding.

After the debacle at the security gate I knew exactly where to go because I had spent hours there on Sunday. The line at the ticket/exchange desk.  The line that this day, I spent no less than 6 hours in because in spite Air France knowing this strike was forthcoming, that had no extra people on board. So the 18 windows were manned by 5 people…. who had to listen to, console, and exchange the tickets for hundreds of stranded passengers.  Nor did Air France have a soul at their customer service desk to answer simple questions.  They did  eventually pass out a flyer that said we should just go home and go on-line or call customer service. I had already been down that road a few times and knew exactly how it was going to work. I stayed put.

So here’s the kicker, after becoming best friends with several couples, playing games with their children, and breaking bread with them (oh yes, Air France began worrying about our imminent deaths again and handed out more water and croissants) it was my turn at the desk. Yeppers, 6 hours later! Right around that moment a group of people approached the desk on my left and started shouting and stomping and decrying the bad treatment of Air France who hadn’t gotten them on a plane and had ignored them too. I don’t know where they came from but they definitely acted as if they knew this manifestation thing inside and out. They caused such a ruckus that the riot police arrived in full gear.

I did my part by flashing them evil looks and making nasty gestures. As far as I was concerned, they weren’t accomplishing anything and they could just get in line like the rest of us.  And they were delaying my turn, damn it! And just as I was opening my mouth to say to the ticket agent “please Madame, help me get on a plane before Christmas”, all 5 people behind the Air France desk got up and fled. They were “fearful” is what I was told. All they would say to my desperate, shouted questions aimed at their backs was “there’s nothing we can do. Check the website or call.”

Yeah, okay and while you’re having coffee in the back room, I’ll just stay out here and help the police deal with the rioters. You just go on and be fearful…go on…really, I completely understand. And then I’ll call Air France who will be happy to help me!  Big Weenies.

I trekked back out in the rain with all my baggage, dejected and weary and hopped the bus back to Aix. Wet and near tears, I called the U.S. customer service number and spent another 4 hours on hold. Air France passed me to KLM, KLM passed me to Delta and while waiting for Delta to DO SOMETHING and listening to the (at this point) obnoxious hold music, my friend Claire came over and announced she was going to remove the evil eye that had obviously been cast upon me by somebody.  She performed a little ceremony while we continued to enjoy the hold music and as we sat down for a cup of tea, me now free of the evil eye, Doreen, a ticket agent from Delta stationed in Chisholm, Minnesota, got on the line.  And I didn’t have to be a hard ass and “take no shit” as Claire had advised. Doreen was from my hood. She was “Minnesota Nice” as we say and knew all about customer service. And Doreen got me on a plane on Christmas Eve, routed through Amsterdam, so I could see my kids on Christmas. And she extended my ticket by 4 days to make up for my loss of time with them. All with a smile (I could hear it), a little chitchat about places we knew in common, and…. a result!

What’s the lesson learned here? Nothing I shouldn’t have already known. Air France sucks.

Okay, I feel better now.



  1. I had the same problem - trying to fly back to MN on December 19th. My flight was canceled as well and Air France refused to help those of us who lived in Paris - they told us we had to go home and try to rebook via their number (at 32 cents per min). While they were saying this, some people were already calling the number & not getting through, and considering my co-worker had already been stuck in Amsterdam for several days, I knew I had to find a way out of there fast if I wanted to get home before Christmas. Thanks to Delta and some finagling on my end, I managed to get on a standby flight to Atlanta that night. But because the workers are CDG suck, my bags didn't make it and were stuck there for the next 5 days. And then on the way back, one bag spent 5 days at CDG and the other spent 11 days at CDG. So I'm saying a big fat "ditto" to your "Air France sucks" statement!! I'm not a huge Delta fan (bring back Northwest!!), but at least Delta did what they could, and gave me some miles & some money as compensation for the trouble. So far Air France has given me NADA!

  2. For another blogger's airport saga, I enjoyed Nina Camic's -- The Other Side of the Ocean, http://ninacamic.blogspot.com .

    The Paris/CDG part of her return home starts on Dec. 19 thru Dec. 22, with a little bit of follow up on the 23rd and 26th.

    I was in and out of there on strike days in Oct. Fortunately, made out okay.

  3. O.M.G.

    I swear on Amelia Earhart's grave (wait, where is that?) that I will NEVER again complain about St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

    I'm happy that patience and persistence paid off for you in the long run, Delana. EXTREME patience and persistence. Yikes. I would have been a puddle of tears.

    No one can deny that you have the right to rant. Carry on! ♥

  4. This post has left me exhausted ... I need a nap now !
    I do not have the patience necessary to live in France but, I'll visit you as long as you're there. However, it won't be on Air France - They SUCK !!!!

  5. Dear Delana,
    sometimes I wonder why people would chose to live in Europe.
    When I am back from Los Angeles, I am barely out of Florence's airport that I am already angry and only wish I had stayed in the US.
    In Europe we lack the basic respect to people and we have a very pale idea of what 'customers' service' means.
    But you know all this...

  6. No matter how annoying my family gets, posts like your's make me glad that I can drive to see them whenever I please.

  7. Ksam- And I imagine you will get NADA. I was wondering if you encountered the same problems. Now I'm nervous. I didn't see anything about 32 centimes per minute!

    Lee-Nina's from my neck of the woods also. How do you know her? I see there are and have been huge problems in the U.S because of weather also. I can't fault anybody for that.....but geez. WE are the customers!

    Jeanmarie-You'd never make it a month here without hurting somebody! But I'm so glad you come to see me each year. So glad. And, I'll take care of everything!

    Aracne-I know and it's a mystery to me. It's just not so hard...in fact it's easier and less stressful to give good customer service.

    Pepe-Yes, you've got something there. Although I just wrote an article for the newspaper in which I did a little whining about driving in Minnesota as well!

  8. Oh Lord Delana! What an exhausting and frustrating ordeal! Imagining it while reading makes for a horrible scene so I can't even comprehend how terrible it was to go through. UGH!!!!!! On the bright side, I'm so happy you got a 'Minnesota Nice' person on the phone. I love good customer service and miss it so very much!

  9. OMG,
    We could have been on the same plane! Loved your rant and could so relate. Thought you would enjoy my exploits with same flight, same airlines, same disaster, different day. I love you blog and have add Du Jour to my favorites list on my blog page.



    Looking forward to reading about more of your exploits!

  10. Dear Delana,

    What an adventure!


  11. Hi Pat- welcome to my blog. I've already been over to yours and can't wait to dig in. We're lucky we're not trying to get out of Chicago right about now!

    Joanna-yes, it's ALWAYS an adventure. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year!

  12. Mr.Fly had his own bucket shop years ago...he would never use Air France, even then and less now!
    French friends who travel don't use it either..
    I just hope dear old Mexicana takes to the skies again...lovely staff and the only time I've ever had a demonstration of how to make tequila sunrise in the galley.

  13. D: I thought I had some bad travel stores! But nothing comes close to your saga. I was both cringing and pitying you as I read this. My hat's off to you for perseverance. (Or is it stubbornness?)

  14. Hi Fly-If I had the choice, I would never fly AirFrance. But out of Marseille, it seems to be the only choice for me to get home. UGH!

    Mark-Perserverance or stubbornness...good question. Mostly, it was a mom needing to see her kids, I think!


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