A Vacation Ends in a Moment of Truth

A tale of two Lufthansa managers


Lufthansa resized“So here’s the problem,” the young manager said after looking at his computer screen. “We see the leg from Frankfurt to Denver but we don’t see the leg from St. Petersburg to Frankfurt.”

We were on our way home after an otherwise stellar vacation in Russia. We were there to celebrate our 50th birthdays and our son’s high school graduation. He was now studying Russian language at college, so this family getaway was a special treat for us all.

“We got a call from Travelocity about a month ago that Lufthansa had canceled our original flight,” my wife said, showing him the e-mail again. “They rebooked us on this one.”

“Yes. I don’t know how it happened,” the Lufthansa manager continued. “There are two open seats on this flight. The next flight is full and the one after that has one open seat. But both would get in after your connection leaves for Denver.”

We were a party of three. Not good.

I was frustrated. We had been up since 2:30am and this was not a good way to start the long trek home. My first impulse was to escalate. “Is there someone I can talk to at Lufthansa?”

I’m with Lufthansa. I will take care of this.” The twentysomething was in charge and he wasn’t rattled. “Unfortunately you will have to wait until the boarding process is over. There are 190 people booked on this flight, but chances are there will be another open seat. If not, there’s an Air France flight that might work.”

So we stepped aside and waited. As the minutes ticked by, we tried to keep our anxiety at bay.

A short time later another manager, senior to the first, appeared at the desk. After speaking in Russian to her colleagues, she came over and talked to us. “We can put two of you on this flight but one will need to take the next one. Are you willing to split up your party?”

“What are you saying?” my wife said. “IF one of us gets on one of the later flights they will still miss the connection. They’ll have to spend the night in the Frankfort airport. Isn’t that right?”

“I don’t know.” The senior manager apparently didn’t consider our predicament.

“Look, Lufthansa canceled our original flight. We were rebooked on this new flight. Here’s the confirmation,” Laura repeated. “This is your problem.”

“Lufthansa didn’t cancel the flight. United did. That’s what the notes say,” the manager argued.

We were stunned. “So what? Aren’t you two alliance partners?” I asked.

“It’s not us. You have to talk to United,” she said.

“OK. So what number do I call?” I snapped, regaining my reflex to climb the chain of command.

All the senior manager gave us was a blank stare. “So just to confirm, you are refusing to split up your party?” She was fishing for a technicality, something to protect the company and complicate matters for us down the road.

We were a family traveling in foreign lands. We stick together, we replied. The manager walked away in a huff.

“That’s total bullshit. She was trying to get us to solve her problem for her,” my wife said.

“Right. Let’s see what happens with the boarding,” I said. “If we don’t get on this flight, I’ll start calling around and chew someone’s ass.”

Soon we were the only passengers waiting at the check-in line. I walked over to the first manager I spoke with. He was on his cell phone but he waived at me and continued talking. “Yes, Powers. P-O-W-E-R-S.” Then more Russian, or maybe it was German.

He hung up. “Good news. There are nine open seats on this flight. Give us a few minutes and we’ll have you on your way.”

Sigh of relief. We were going home.

Despite our best efforts in business, something can always go wrong. How a company handles a moment of truth leaves a lasting impression. Customers know problems happen, and despite their natural displays of frustration, they also understand adversity reveals character. When companies are there for their customers, trust is strengthened, but when they’re uncaring and focused on their own interests, loyalty is dashed.

Ours was the tale of two managers from Lufthansa, an airline enjoying a rare and enviable reputation for service. One cared, owned it, worked the problem, and gave us a glimmer of hope. The other jumped into the fray with limited information, pointed fingers and looked for a shortcut.

When we boarded the aircraft, the young manager who helped us was there collecting tickets. “We meet again. Thanks so much for your help.” I shook his hand.

He smiled. “Sorry about all of that. Have a good flight.”


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