Bizarre: LOT Polish Asks Passengers For Cash To Pay For Repairs

Filed Under: LOT

This story makes zero sense to me, though it’s confirmed by a LOT Polish spokesperson, so I have no clue what to make of it.

The Daily Mail has the story of how a LOT Polish 787 was only allowed to depart Beijing Capital Airport last week after they collected cash from passengers. According to the story:

  • A fault was discovered with the hydraulic pump on the 787 when the plane landed in Beijing
  • The plane required maintenance, and the employee at a warehouse insisted the repairs needed to be paid for in cash
  • They needed 2,500RMB (~$360) in cash to pay the mechanic, and since the mechanic refused to be paid using any other method, they collected cash from passengers so that the flight could proceed
  • The passengers who provided cash were immediately reimbursed upon landing and were given vouchers

This story is so strange that I’d almost assume it’s outright fabricated, but it’s confirmed by a LOT Polish spokesperson:

“An employee at the Boeing warehouse in Beijing refused to accept a bank transfer and insisted on cash.

There are no circumstances that justify asking money from passengers.”

Apparently the LOT Polish employees who asked for money from passengers will be disciplined (which personally doesn’t seem right to me — it seems like they were trying to prevent a cancelation, as bizarre as this situation was).

Upon landing in Warsaw, the spokesperson issued the following statement to passengers:

“I know that you encountered an unusual situation today, for which I would like to apologise for from the bottom of my heart.

Believe it nor not, but there was a situation with a warehouse employee in Beijing who refused all methods of payment other than cash which led to the confusion

Nevertheless, I am grateful to him and that the flight returned safely to Warsaw.”

This story is strange on so many levels:

  • How was there a rogue employee who tried to get away with only accepting cash?
  • How did this repair only cost 2,500RMB?
  • How was the station manager, captain, or any other LOT Polish employee not authorized to somehow withdraw cash for this?

It sure is an interesting story, though it makes zero sense to me…

Can anyone make sense of this story?

  1. All passengers who participated and offered to lend their money were paid back in Warsaw right after landing and offered free next flight. Score!

  2. it is a very odd airline. I recently was in Warsaw and my flight WAW-ORD was canceled about 36 hours ahead of departure. I received an email that it was canceled and told I needed to call their NY office for rebooking. I tried calling using my computer, got put on hold, then disconnected. Tried calling again and was put on indefinite hold. Decided to just go to the airport since it’s only a 25 minute train ride from town. The agent at the customer service desk was quite unhelpful. She ended up offering me WAW-LAX in C and then LAX-IAD on AA in Y. I told her that was unacceptable and suggested connecting via FRA or CPH. She kept going back behind the wall and coming back. Then she tried calling some one on the phone and told me that I couldn’t rebook until 24 hours before the flight, despite the fact that they had already canceled it. She also tried to tell me that Avianca had to rebook me since it was a Lifemiles award booking. It was incredibly frustrating. To top it off I went back to the airport the next day and the agent I spoke to them couldn’t have been more helpful. She basically just asked me what route I wanted. At first I suggested the FRA option but then said “what I’d really like is the flight via CPH.” She did a quick check and said that was no problem. In the end I got home sooner than planned in a better seat. I was left with the impression that this airline is basically a mess.

  3. Like what???
    This is probably the first time when I am hearing about freelance aircraft mechanics, who work for money.
    Was he not employed by any agency/company? Does China really have free lancing mechanics at airport?
    And like where did he get the tools from in this $360 repair? Did he purchase them from somewhere, or he had just stocked them with himself..?? Very bizzare story

  4. As a Pole myself, I might be able to give some explanation to what happend:

    1.) This thing blew up in the Polish News, at first the LOT officials were denying this but then recordings made by passangers leaked to the press when a boardmember of LOT Polish Airlines is apologizing using the on-board microphone when the plane arrived in Warsaw. As LOT is state owned this quickly became a political issue with the opposition using this matter as a proof of how incompentate the ruling party of Poland is.

    2.) The Station Manager who borrowed the money from the Passangers is sort of a “Legend” within the Polish Airlines Internet Community. He has been with the company for over 30 years and is much appricated for his work as he is very passionated about it, which has been prooven in a couple of trip reports made by members of a polish aviation forum. Here is what happend from his side:
    2.1) The flight LO92 from PEK-WAW was nearing a 10h delay due to the repairs. Apperently the mechanic asked to be paid by cash. This has caused alot of conspiration theories as people think that this is a proof that the good finance of LOT are fake and companies do not trust LOT with invoice-payments but rather want the payment up-front.
    2.2) The Station Manager claimed he had no tools the money in cash so he asked 3-4 frequent flyers on this route which he claims he knew.
    2.3) Thanks to this the flight can now lift off. When it arrived in WAW a board member of LOT repaid the loan-givers and gave them gift-certificates for the next flight.
    2.4) The media picks everything up and makes a huge story of it. The result? You guess it. The Station Manager in PEK gets suspended.

  5. @raksiam that’s the situation now with airlines enjoying staff who have no idea about geography or alliances or common sense. WAW-ORD so let’s reroute via Los Angeles to Washington DC ?!
    36 hrs before you would also be liable for EU compensation

    As for Beijing – it’s a star alliance hub so LOT is operating there and has NO service agreements?? LOT is grateful to the staff who asked for cash ? And no LOT personnel had cash ?

  6. @Adam:

    Appreciate the insight but it still doesn’t begin to explain how a station manager has zero ability to provide cash from LOT’s own funds and had to ask pax for cash. That’s the purpose behind having petty cash accounts. It’s unfortunate that the station manager was suspended, but it’s still very demonstrative of either a lack of internal preparation, policies, governance, and/or training within LOT.

  7. @adam. Good as he should be suspended. In the worst case you mean the station manager did not have access to his own cash and solicited it from their customers ? BS

    Gift certificates? 10 hour mechanical delay = EUR600

  8. Considering the comments even here, a FF oriented blog, obviously public opinion is something I don’t understand. I walked by this aircraft on my way out of PEK last week (Nov 12, heading PEK FRA in LH F) and noted it was delayed. Tracked the delay on FR24 and then when I landed in Poland the story was all over the media. I would have GLADLY given money to get out after 10 hours, and I don’t see how this is a major drama. But obviously most here would have preferred crew to time out and flight to be cancelled? I think the apology from LO was logical and the story a good one to tell to friends. Nothing more, nothing less. There have been similar stories before (fuel at diversion point IIRC) and we don’t know the full picture with the mechanic etc. (could have been a fill-in mechanic, or he wanted extra pay because the work took longer, or he used stock from a different airlines’ pool and needed to pay them back ASAP)

  9. The Station Manager should be promoted as he came up with a creative way to get them out.

    The fact that LOT didn’t have cash to pay for the repairs is another story, but not the manager’s fault.

    The real blame should be placed solely on the mechanic who basically held the plane for ransom until he got paid. Seems de rigueur for China.

  10. @Icarus @AdamR

    This is truly bizzare and here is just a educated guess based on some comments I picked up on the Polish Aviation Forum where people with much more insight debated this situation:

    – The Station Manager is really Old School, its sort of a cultural thing, but these guys who were brought up in communist Poland think there is always a shortcut to take. Your sink is leaking? No plumber needed Ill do it myself! Your building a new garage and new electricity? No worries, I had physics in school, ill do it myself. Its the kind of “sly-dog”/”street-smart” attitude that still is very alive in Poland today.

    I’m guessing the Station Manager had a huge pressure of time and simply made a judgement call (obviously a terrible one) that the aircraft will be able to leave sooner if he just borrows some money from known passangers instead of having to run to his office/ATM (Never been at PEK, no clue how the ATM situation looks airside).

    Yet again, these are only me guessing why he would do something like that.

  11. @janyyc +1. It is a strange way to pay a bill, but I would’ve contributed to pay it, for the sake of not having to deal with a cancellation. Not to mention the fact that they would refund me the money.

  12. Beijing is an enormous airport, Terminal 3 is an enormous terminal, and this was a 10 hour delay. A roundtrip from the gate to the ticket counter to get cash would easily take an hour. Could this have timed out the crew? If so, I think the station manager probably made the right call.

  13. Kudos to the LOT employee who thought creatively to solve a problem. The airline should be commending that employee, not disciplining.

  14. @Tprophet in such a case, wasn’t an estimate of the repair costs not known in advance? Considering that the repair took 10 hours in total?

  15. uhh if he already did the work how would a little mechanic stop anything? back the plane out and be on your way… tell em to send an invoice

  16. @raksiam: The 36 vs 24 hour difference is key here. Before 24 hr prior to the flight, the reservation “belongs” to the carrier that issued the ticket, and they are responsible for dealing with any eventualities that come up (e.g., the operating carrier cancels the route). After 24 hr, any issues that come up are the responsibility of the operating carrier, which has to do what it can to get the passenger to his/her destination.

    I surmise that this was a LifeMiles award ticket. The LOT agent probably tried to call LifeMiles, and was told that LM would do nothing because there were no alternative award routings available. The LOT agent realized that this wouldn’t be helpful to the customer, so she told him to come back within 24 hr, at which point LOT could put the passenger on any available alternative flight. And lo and behold, LOT was perfectly able to help him as soon as the 24 hr mark passed.

    While I agree the system is silly, as far as I can tell the first agent actually did try to help the customer as best she could, but was stymied by the inflexible rules governing which carrier is responsible. These silly rules are not just LOT’s. Most if not all carriers are similarly inflexible when it comes to their ticketing vs operating arrangements with other carriers.

  17. A lot of airlines in outstations use a contract company to manage some or all ground/ticketing functions. A year or two ago in PEK I actually had to call the Delta Diamond desk to reissue an irr-ops reroute because (per the ticket agent and redcoat), “we don’t have a CTO (ticketing office) so we can’t reissue tickets here.” They we’re directing me to buy a new one online and put in for reimbursement over a simple reissue.

  18. 2500 RMB in cash for an aircraft repair in Beijing, really? Couldn’t it be more like a stimulus to finish that job with priority, personally requested by the mechanic – just guessing.

  19. While it does beg the question regarding why LO couldn’t have settled this matter differently, the Station Manager should’ve been promoted for thinking outside the box to resolve a difficult situation and minimize (to the best of his ability) inconvenience to guests.

    It’s ironic that he got called on the carpet for seeking cash (later refunded) when LO cabin crew do it all the time with impunity…

    During an LAX-WAW flight, my wife wanted to make a purchase from the on-board duty free. Despite the fact that this was supposed to be a “cashless cabin”, FA told her that credit card machines don’t work in the air because there’s no connectivity to the telephone network. As an airline employee who knows better, I would’ve called BS on this one, but I wasn’t there. The employee did a mental exchange rate calculation and the transaction was completed. Who knows where the money went. She later noticed FAs demanding “Cash Only” for alcohol sales.

    This airline is long overdue for privatization. It’s a bloated bureaucracy.

    Next time you’re transiting WAW, ask yourself how many Customer Service Agents does it take to board a Dash 8? I counted six last time I was there.

  20. Agree with janyyc and Todd.

    Although atypical, it’s China. Things don’t work the same as the west there. And I expect it was just a matter of cash on hand the quickest way to get it resolved. Going through procedures to get the cash takes time (just like the story above about changing flight routes), so a quick whip round gets it going instead of everybody including the airline disrupted while waiting for formal processes to access the funds.

  21. Lucky,
    This story is weeks old.
    Also, you simply need to get out more.
    I have heard of these things before and if you know China…

  22. Most planes carry a few thousand in cash in case they get diverted and need to buy fuel in a strange place.

    Why doesn’t LOT?

  23. @Tom – Nobody carries cash in contingency of a diversion. Airlines have contracts with consolidators like WFS, JetEx, etc.. for those reasons. I operate in some of the dodgiest regions of the world but the only places we need to carry cash for fuel are those under banking sanctions like Libya or Yemen.

  24. I know nothing about the behind-the-scenes stuff at airports, but my first thought is that a mechanic with access to secure areas and planes, who demands cash, might be inclined to take cash for something else.

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