I fly a lot, and as any frequent flyer can attest to, service in the airline industry can be a mixed bag. Some airline employees are awesome and love to help people, while others are indifferent.
On Wednesday afternoon I encountered the most unprofessional service I’ve had from an airline employee in years, at the Lufthansa Lounge Milan Malpensa (MXP). I’d say this was the worst customer service experience I’ve had since my TAAG Angola first class flight from Luanda to Sao Paulo…
Our checked bags should have been a non-issue
Let me set the scene. We were flying Emirates from New York to Milan, and then SWISS from Milan to Zurich to Nice. Airlines will often let you check bags through to your final destination, even if you’re not flying on a partner, as long as the airlines have an interline agreement. Ultimately it comes down to the airline operating the first segment as to whether or not they want to allow it.
I’d note that we left enough time in Milan so that we could pick up our bags and just re-check them if we wanted to. There were only Emirates contract agents at Emirates check-in at JFK, and they couldn’t easily figure out how to check our bags all the way through to Nice. No worries.
When we got to the Emirates Lounge JFK, there were actual Emirates employees, and they offered to check our bags all the way through. Even though our bags were already checked in, they assured us the bags could easily be retagged. Bags are constantly retagged after check-in, so that really isn’t complicated. And indeed they did that, because as you can see below, the bags were correctly tagged.
While they couldn’t reprint the actual claim tag in the lounge, they wrote the new claim tag numbers on our baggage claim card, which should be perfectly fine. As long as you have that code, you have all that’s required to tag bags.
At this point the bags would be tagged all the way through to Nice. However, as a passenger you should always give the connecting airline your baggage claim card as soon as possible, so that they can add it into the system on their end and load the bag. After all, they may not load the bag if the passenger hasn’t informed that airline of their intent to check a bag.
Things go south at the Lufthansa Lounge Milan
We arrived at the Lufthansa Lounge Milan with plenty of time to spare before our SWISS flight to Zurich. Upon being admitted to the lounge, I informed the agent that we had two checked bags, and handed her the baggage claim cards.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: “The correct claim tag numbers are the ones written on the right, since the bag was retagged to be onto this flight.”
Agent: “If you don’t have this, I can’t do it” (pointing to the stickers with the barcode)
Me: “But this was all done by Emirates, and the bag is currently tagged to be on these flights. Can’t you just enter the number so this is noted in your system?”
Agent: “No, this isn’t my problem, it’s Emirates’ fault.”
Me: “To be clear, the bag is tagged to be on this flight, but if you can’t enter it into your system, how is it supposed to be loaded onto the flight?”
Agent: “This is Emirates’ problem, talk to them.”
Me: “Emirates can’t update the tag number in your system. We have the claim number and it just needs to be entered into the system.”
Agent: “I can’t do anything. Maybe you can go to the gate 10 minutes before departure and ask them.”
Me: “But I’d like to handle this situation now, because if our bags aren’t going to be on this flight, we’re not going to take this flight either, as we’d like to then solve the problem here.”
Agent: “There’s nothing I can do.”
Me: “Okay, so if I don’t do anything further now, what’s going to happen to the bags?”
Agent: “You don’t have the right tag, I can’t do anything.”
At this point I stepped away to put some more thought into the best approach to take. I figured I’d take a “hang up and call again” approach, in the form of trying to see if there was a Lufthansa or SWISS transit desk in the terminal. Unfortunately there wasn’t.
So then I returned and spoke to the same agent, and asked if I could please speak to the station manager, because I wasn’t getting the help I needed.
She rolled her eyes at me and picked up the phone, and someone immediately picked up on the other end (so I think it’s highly unlikely it was actually the station manager she was talking to). The conversation was in Italian, so I didn’t understand everything, but I heard her say “Signore Schlappig” and “Francoforte.”
At this point she simply said to me “okay, they will try.” I responded “but I heard you say my last name and Frankfurt, when we’re flying to Zurich and the bags are checked in my husband’s name, which is Beckett.” She rolled her eyes again, and picked up the phone, basically just muttering “Zurich” and “Beckett”).
I just want to clarify, the whole barcode thing only exists to make it easier for airline employees to enter the information, but there are no implications beyond that. At the end of the day a bag will only be loaded if the passenger indicates that they want to check a bag, and if the bag is tagged to the destination. In this case both of those requirements were met.
At this point we headed to check-in
Since the lounge agent clearly didn’t want to help, at this point we headed to the Lufthansa & SWISS check-in desk. We took all our bags to go airside, and at check-in just informed the agent we had bags checked through from Emirates.
We showed her the claim tag, and literally a few seconds later she indicated she added it to the system, and we were good to go. The SWISS app even immediately reflected our checked bags. As expected, this should have been a non-issue, and she did what she was supposed to do.
Ultimately this endeavor wasted quite a bit of time, as we had to wait to get back through security, and there was quite a queue. But that was worth it in order to ensure our checked bag would make it.
Trying to get the lounge agent’s name
At this point we briefly returned to the lounge, as we had about 15 minutes until boarding. I didn’t tell the unhelpful lounge agent that her colleague gladly checked our bags through without issue, because I feared she might be vindictive and somehow try to offload them.
As we left the lounge, I stopped at the desk…
Me: “May I please have your first name?”
Agent: “Me? Why?”
Me: “Because I’d like to complain regarding the service you’ve provided.”
Agent: “Why, because of your bag?”
Agent: “My name is M____. Just so you know, I spoke with the station manager, and he told me you gave me the incorrect information and your bag will not make it.”
She made that last comment with a big smile on her face. And just to be clear, never did she try to find us to get the correct information, but rather she was obviously delighted to know we’d be without bags. Usually airline lounges are supposed to offer superior customer service to what you’d find in the terminal, never mind that Lufthansa is regarded as one of the world’s finest five-star airlines. 😉
I’m sorry to report that our bags did make it, no thanks to the lovely agent…
The agent we encountered at the Lufthansa Lounge Milan was the least helpful airline agent I’ve had in eons. It’s one thing if she had just refused to be helpful, but her gleefully informing us at the end of our visit that our bags wouldn’t make it is a level of vindictiveness I haven’t seen from an airline employee in a long time.