Incompetence = Air France?
Last week I was in France from wednesday afternoon until friday as a guest of IBM at their Product & Solutions Support Center in Montpellier. A day and a half to get me up to speed on Aix, Power and storage. Load of interesting information with the juicy bits under a NDA so don't ask me to blog about that.
I only mention this event because it explains what I was doing there and why I was flying back. I don't consider IBM responsible in any way. In fact I was impressed by the hospitality and knowledge of everyone involved. The only fault I could find there was that they expected the group to eat a mountain of delicious pastries with our morning coffee.
No, the interesting bit of this trip started when I entrusted Air France with my save return to Schiphol airport.
Friday morning: We'd all checked in via the Air France website and had our boarding cards printed out.
Friday 12.00: Bus left for the airport. Arrival at 12.15. Our return flight to Amsterdam, AF 7683, was shown as "delayed". The scheduled departure time of 13.30 came and went with no change in status. Now the airport has a PA system which warned us every 10 minutes not to leave our luggage unattended but apparantly was not suiteable for flight information.
At 13.15 I went to the Air France information counter where they assured me that the plane would arrive any minute and that, despite a slight delay, there would be no problem in getting onto the connection flight which would leave at 15.45.
14.00 The lady behind the Air France counter could tell me that the plane would land at around 1500 and would be serviced as soon as possible. I just might not make my flight but they could handle all that at Paris since the local facilities to change flights were a bit strained.
During this time the area behind the security check kept filling up and no flights left.
Friday 15.04: The plane had landed!! Soon it was at the gate (a different gate which we just happened to notice but hey, there was a plane and I wasn't complaining).
15.30 boarding started. Now Air France flies these routes with an Airbus A319 in an all economy configuration which is really a cattle car. Loads of hand luggage, a seat pitch so small that I was litteraly jammed between seats. Boarding one of these takes time so the 3/4 full flight left at 1600.
Friday 17.15: Flight landed at Charles de Gaulle terminal 2D. By now we'd realized we needed to be transfered to another flights. The terminal was a bit busy and we noticed some flights had been cancelled. But hey, there's a transfer desk with only about 15 people queing, they should be able to help us since they were working the counter with 4 people.
What exactly those 4 were doing I don't know but it envolved staring at their screen intently, ocassionaly typing something and very rarely printing something out and tearing up the printout immediately.
Friday 19.50: Hey, it's our turn. By now we'd grown into a loose group of 9 dutchmen stranded by the same problem. So we more or less mobbed the guy behind the counter who quickly admitted that we could forget getting home tonight but that Air France would get us into hotels. Only he couldn't get us all into the same hotel. For 7 of us there was a place in a hotel near Disneyland (33km away!). Air France would arrange for bus transportation and would get us vouchers for the hotel and meals. 2 of us couldn't be fitted there anymore and would get a hotel elsewhere. By then we'd been standing for almost 3 hours, were thirsty and hungry so we quickly accepted.
Friday 20.30: Found the bus at another part of Terminal 2.
Friday 20.53: the bus was full with stranded passangers and would go to the Dream Castle hotel and the Magic Circle, 2 hotels near Disneyland.
All this time I'd seen snow on the ground but nothing coming down, in fact it had been clear from at least 17.00.
Friday 21.20 the bus driver gets on the PA system to announce that he's a bit lost.
Friday 21.40 The bus driver almost manages to get himself stuck on a very snowed under part of the Disneyland parking lot. I suggest to the belgian sitting next to me that he's the right guy to introduce the concept of asking for directions to the bus driver since he speaks french and I don't.
Friday 21.58: Checked in at the hotel. The very nice lady at the front desk informs me that the restaurant closes in 2 minutes. We run down to the restaurant and wolf down some leftovers.
No firm information on coaches to the airport back the next morning in order to make our 0715 flight so with 4 guys together we order a taxi for 0515 next morning and we quickly head to our beds. We did notice yet another coach loaded of stranded Air France victims being unloaded and feel sorry for them.
Saturday 0515: In the lobby there's a hand written sign announcing that there will be several coaches to the airport this morning. Our taxi driver is waiting for us, so are 90 passengers hoping to get onto a half full coach.
Saturday 0540: Turns out we are not in a metered taxi but some shuttle service that charges 20 euros/person. Feels like easy money with 6 people in his fan but he's gotten us to the airport in plenty of time trough the snow and I don't want to miss my flight.
Saturday 0610: We clear security and go hunting for some coffee since breakfast at the hotel didn't start until 0700 we were hungry. There's a shop selling fresh pastry and for a mere 6 euros I get two remarkably good pieces of pastry and some really strong coffee.
Saturday 0646: Boarding starts at the announced time and continues at a glacial pace until 0720. We should have left by now. The plane taxis and taxis.
Saturday 0750: The captain announces that we are number 2 in line for decing.
Saturday 0850: After an uneventful flight we manage to reach Schiphol airport.
Now I know I've said some unkind things about KLM in the past but I take those all back. Air France is were the real evil is. I am seriously considering filing for the 250 euros damages that EU law grants passangers. Yes the weather couldn't be helped but the incredible lack of information could have as could the piss poor treatment at CDG.