Worst airline customer service: Star Alliance member Ethiopian Airlines or Lufthansa?

Worst airline customer service:  Star Alliance member Ethiopian Airlines or Lufthansa?

This is a tribute to the excellent customer service received by the dedicated 1K team at United Airlines. Surprisingly Skytrax in 2013 thought the staff service at the New Spirit of Africa, Ethiopian Airlines is great. I respectfully and strongly disagree. I have some advice, please don’t ever try to call the Ethiopian Airlines reservation call center.

After thinking customer service could not get any worse from what I had experienced in Berlin last month after Eurowings, German Airlines, owned by Lufthansa lost my suitcase checked with United Airlines in Honolulu, there is another Star Alliance Carrier that is in its own league. I would now give Ethiopian Airlines the top award for worst customer care in the aviation industry.

Lufthansa is also in its own league in saying “it’s not us”, but Eurowings.

Eurowings, however, is owned 100% by Lufthansa and is servicing routes formerly serviced by Lufthansa directly. For a customer like me, it’s really the same. Lufthansa, Eurowings, Swiss, Austrian or Brussels Air – what’s the difference? All of these Star Alliance Airlines are owned by Lufthansa, except Eurowings claims not to be part of the alliance. It’s an attempt and a game to mislead airline passengers and cover up weaknesses.

Here is why my top award for bad customer services now goes to the folks at Ethiopian Airlines call center and customer service. The airline lists the following US toll-free number 800-445-2733 as their customer service and reservation phone number. Calling this number will connect you to the airlines call center in Addis Ababa.

I will be attending the WTTC summit in Buenos Aires later this month followed by the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai. I am holding a business class ticket. I purchased my Ethiopian airline ticket on the United Airlines website. I am booked on a flight from Buenos Aires via Addis Ababa to Dubai. Breaking up the long flight and experiencing a little sightseeing in Addis Ababa sounded interesting to me from a tourism perspective.

United Airlines could change my ticket to reflect a 20 hour stop in Ethiopia without charge, but the airline was unable to give me a clear response on transit visas on arrival requirements.

Therefore a helpful United Airlines 1K call-center agent transferred me to the Star Alliance Partner Ethiopian Airlines.  The United Airlines agent was very patient and kept me informed every 5 minutes that we are still holding for Ethiopian Airlines. After doing this for more than 10 times and more than an hour later the United representative got back to me and said Ethiopian Airlines just disconnected the phone on her.

I thanked her for her effort and a day later tried to call Ethiopian Airlines myself. I pressed 2 for English and 2 for business class and listened to the ever repeating Ethiopian song over and over again for about an hour before I was also cut off. Strangely after I pressed the initial indication to tell the system I am a Gold Star Alliance member and are flying business class, the system told me there are ZERO in the Q and my wait would be 2 minutes or less. It did this every time I called.

I repeated this process at different times over several days and finally got an agent from Ethiopian Airlines on the phone. He told me their computer system was down and to call back later. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was cut off. I was about to throw my I-phone out of the car.

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I tried for another 2 days before getting another ET agent. He had his computer system up and running. He told me Ethiopian Airlines had to arrange my transit visa. When I asked how this would work he put me on another 10-minute hold only to say I needed to call back another time.

Wow! Obviously, Ethiopia doesn’t want tourists but isn’t there a minimum standard for an airline to join and maintain a membership in Star Alliance?

How does such customer service attitude reflect on safety and maintenance standards for such an airline? I am actually looking for other options now to fly from Buenos Aires to Dubai.

There is Emirates Airlines, but business class is three times as much on this Dubai based carrier. I guess money talks, but should I not be better safe than sorry?

I am just wondering how Ethiopian Airlines was recognized in 2013 with the Skytrax staff service award? Perhaps Skytrax judging process may be worth to do some research on.

I would actually give my award for top customer service to the United Airlines 1K agent who sat with me for more than an hour waiting on the phone. I would give the award to the 1K baggage department agent offering they would deal with Eurowings and process my claim for reimbursement and advance the money I should have received from Eurowings.

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Author: Juergen T Steinmetz

Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.

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