Dimitri Oskarpouzis has a paid reservation on Turkish Airlines to Los Angeles. He had been looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime vacation.
For him it was a dream he had saved for. Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice Beach, and eat an In and Out Burger. He wanted to visit Disney, enjoy San Diego, and gamble a little in Las Vegas. The highlight of his trip was a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He booked a prepaid room in a lodge overlooking the Canyon. He sent the money 6 months ago. Dimitri bought a brand new Nikon camera for this trip.
It took a long time for Dimitri to put this altogether. Today is the day to fly to the land of the free.
His suitcase is packed and he is heading to the airport. His ticket is paid in full and his 3 week pre-paid holiday included hotels, rental car and entry fees. He even prepaid for the hop-on bus in San Francisco – everything was done.
His long-time dream is about to turn into a nightmare when he saw his flight was cancelled.
Turkish Airlines, the number one European airlines and proud Star Alliance member cancelled his flight to Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, the airline had to cancel every single flight to the United States, due to a US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) emergency order over the weekend.
Who is going to help? FAA certainly not. They are still enjoying the weekend, and of course will never talk to a small alien guy like Dimitri.
Turkish Airlines is completely overburdened and unable to assist or even take Dimitri’s phone call.
Dimitri signed up for Turkish Airlines Miles and Smiles frequent flyer program. He knew Turkish Airlines was a proud member of the largest airline alliance in the world.
Dimitri tried to find a contact phone number for Star Alliance to get help. After some detective work, he found a number on Google. It was a phone number in Frankfurt, Germany. He called, but Star Alliance was closed for the weekend, and they did not provide customer service according to a recording.
As a matter of fact most of the Frankfurt-based Star Alliance staff was on their way to Denver, Colorado, (most likely not on Turkish Airlines) to exhibit at the GBTA Travel Convention.
Dimitri called Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, LOT, Air Canada – all members of Star Alliance carriers and flying to the US.
The average wait time on the phone was one hour to talk to an agent. The Lufthansa Call Center based in Canada told him they would not honor any tickets from fellow Star Alliance partner Turkish Airlines, unless Turkish would endorse and rebook his ticket directly on Lufthansa.
When Dimitri told Lufthansa that he had tried but could not get to an agent at Turkish Airlines, there was silence as a response.
When Dimitri asked the agent why he would not care, the angry response was: “I have been answering these type of calls for the last 70 hours, and there is simply no good answer at this time. We cannot help you. Sorry, and have a lovely day.”
Since Turkish Airlines agents are not working or are not available and phone lines are cut, the only alternative would be for Dimitri to purchase a new ticket on Lufthansa or another airline.
Of course, last-minute purchases on close-to-sold-out flights would make a ticket enormously expensive, and Dimitri didn’t have the financial resources. When he asked Lufthansa about special rates for stranded Turkish Airlines passengers, there was no such option.
When he asked Lufthansa if he had to clear German immigration in Frankfurt if he decided to buy a ticket on Lufthansa when traveling on that airline to the US, Lufthansa did not know.
The agent heard about the new FAA rule to not allow direct or indirect traffic from Turkey to the United States.
He could not answer if this would mean for someone like Dimitri to check in only to Frankfurt, clear immigration, collect his bags and check in again for the US flight. Dimitri did not have a visa for Schengen.
Lufthansa’s response: “This is all too new for me. I can tell you if this was the case, our airline would send you back to Istanbul. I cannot tell you if there is such a situation in Frankfurt. We had not been informed one way or the other.”
To summarize: Even if Dimitri would have paid out the money for another ticket on Lufthansa, chances are he would risk his money a second time, since Lufthansa’s own booking staff did not know updates on rules.
eTN caught up with a Star Alliance representative attending the Denver trade show. As a spokesperson for the largest airline alliance in the world, he had no solution. He told eTN: “We don’t have an emergency plan for such a situation.” He continued to tell eTN: “This situation is something Star Alliance and their members had never been confronted with.” His suggestion for Dimitri was to contact Turkish Airlines.
A smooth travel experience, equal treatment on all Star Alliance carriers, and the largest airline network in the world behind you. Unfortunately this alliance never thought about an emergency plan in place to help in a situation like this.
It appears Star Alliance leaders have not even consulted with their 28 alliance members on how to help. After all it’s a weekend, and next week they are not in the office for the most part – and it’s really not a Star Alliance issue, they think.
What about reputation? Star Alliance thinks it’s a political situation beyond their control. Consequently they cannot get involved. According to Star Alliance the sole responsibility is only with Turkish Airlines.
At another trade show, eTN was told by a Star Alliance staff: “The alliance is about frequent flyer miles and lounge access.”
Many air fares by Star Alliance airlines no longer earn miles or earn only a fraction of the miles a passenger should expect to collect.
Status benefits are different for direct airline clients, and Star Alliance Gold members from other airlines are second or third.
Airlines build their own secondary lounges for Star Alliance guests. A good example is Ethiopian Airlines and Singapore Airlines Star Alliance lounges. Comparing their Star Alliance lounge with their own is like comparing an affordable housing apartment with a luxury apartment.
Every airline has their own additional set of rules for their top flyers to remain on that high level. United Airlines for example requires all tickets that would earn “Qualifying Dollars” to be issued on a ticket with a number starting in 026. It means in order to earn QD, your ticket has to be on United Airlines ticket stock.
When trying to book a fellow Star Alliance airline with United Airlines, the airline would refuse to make such a reservation.
Codeshare rates on fellow member flights are often by far more expensive compared to booking with the other airline directly, but if you want Qualifying Dollars on United you may overlook the higher fares.
Web rates are only available on an airline website, not when looking at a website at a competing Star Alliance partner or on the new Star Alliance airline portal.
A frequent flyer program should be designed to keep loyal clients. If such clients can only guess when and how much they earn, why would they remain to be loyal? Why not go for the lowest rate on any airline, regardless of an alliance?
Clients book on an alliance carrier assuming in an emergency they would be protected. What we are witnessing with Turkish Airlines and Star Alliance is shocking. No one cares, and the alliance is as small as an individual airline. Why should anyone want to remain loyal to an alliance?
Switching tickets from one Star Alliance carrier to another remains in many cases impossible.
Looking at twitter today, there seems to be hundreds of frustrated passengers reaching out to Star Alliance – but there is no response.
Star Alliance is silent, so is Turkish Airlines, and passengers are frustrated and don’t know where to turn.
It means for Dimitri to give up on his America trip. Should he start saving money for a second chance next year?
If he does, he would certainly fly on Delta, Etihad, Emirates, American Airlines, Aeroflot, or any non-Star Alliance Airline.
In the meantime, if you are in Denver, visit StarAlliance at GBTA2016 at booth 849 until July 20. Treats are on Air New Zealand and Austrian Airlines.
Here is what Star Alliance wants you to know about them:
Five airlines created Star Alliance as the first global aviation alliance back in 1997. We’re still pioneering – dedicated to innovation and excellent customer service, with a track record of success. So our customers experience the best of both worlds: absolute reliability coupled with constant innovation.
Today, Star Alliance has 28 member airlines, each with its own distinctive culture and style of service. Alliance members come together to offer smooth connections across a vast global network. A project company based in Frankfurt, Germany, coordinates Star Alliance activities. These include co-locations at airports, infrastructure, communication initiatives and other services to improve your travel experience.
MAKING THE ALLIANCE WORK FOR YOU
We are constantly looking at the ways in which we can make our travel experience smoother and more comfortable. Here are two example:
1) Sitting on a delayed flight worrying about missing your connection is highly stressful. Our connection centres track real-time passenger and baggage information for arriving flights and do everything they can to make sure you and your baggage make your flight connection. A member airline employee may even meet you off the plane to ensure you make a quick transfer. This service is available at our top hub airports worldwide.
2)At selected airports our member airlines share common ticketing and check-in counters as well as lounges, baggage facilities and other services. One prime example of this is Terminal 2 at London Heathrow, where Star Alliance member airlines operate from a purpose-built new building. We are in the process of rolling out this initiative to more airports.