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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Would You Switch Seats With Me?

Every time we schedule plane tickets, something comes up.  We've had problems with E2, scheduling routes, medical clearances, passports, and on and on.  I've done this a few times and I've gotten clever, so this year after a few hiccups (like changing our R&R dates after spending two weeks wrangling over tickets because of office scheduling conflicts) we had our plane tickets scheduled early.  I even went online and reserved our seats.  I've heard horror stories of families being scattered around airplanes on long-haul international flights.  And as much as I like the thought of abandoning Joseph to a stranger for nine hours, I know in reality I could never get away with it and so it's easier to just seat us all together in the first place.

Since our flights are two airlines, Lufthansa and United, I have to reserve seats on their respective websites.  Twenty minutes on the United website (for some reason our tickets are in two groups which ought to prove fun if there's some sort of trouble.  I've only got Edwin with me, so Brandon has the short end of the stick if we get separated) and half of the flights were reserved.  

Next was Lufthansa for the other half.  All of the seat maps had open seats in our favorite configuration - everyone with a partner - so I clicked away getting those valuable window seats.  It's always wonderful to have your toddler wedged between you and a window so there's no contact with other toddler-hating passengers.  And with three rows of seats, he's surrounded on all sides and can only kick his sibling's seat.  There are some advantages to flying with a larger family.

After I'd reserved all of our seats and ordered various meals - vegetarian for Kathleen, fruit for Joseph, and kid's for Sophia and Edwin - I checked over my work.  I would hate to have messed up all of my careful planning by not double-checking our numbers.  When I checked I noticed one flight - the nine-hour Frankfurt to DC leg - hadn't saved the seats.  The United site had listed the flight as operated by Lufthansa (which I am biased towards.  Maybe it's the cheery yellow-and-grey color scheme.  Or maybe the polite German accents.), so I should be able to reserve seats on their website.  I tried again.  No seats.  So I did the reasonable thing: I gave up.

Fast forward to this week.  We're leaving in a few weeks, and I have been having dreams about screaming matches with other passengers over switching seats, so I decided to try and reserve out seats again.  And again, it didn't work.  I knew that twenty more attempts wouldn't change the computer's mind, as much as I would like it to, and knew I was the only one who could keep disaster at bay.  So I put on my big-girl pants and actually picked up the phone to call a real live human being.  

After a few phone menus, an extremely polite German voice came on the line.  "Good day, thank you for calling Lufthansa, and how may I help you?"  I think that if I were exiled from the United States, I would live in Germany, if only to hear those wonderfully polite accents every day.  Maybe it's good associations from my study abroad in Vienna or the sense of relief when we leave chaos land in the yellow-and-grey planes with helpful flight crews, but I have a special fondness for German people.  

In just a few moments, he was looking up our seats to see what he could do about seating our family together.  Just the day before I had been asking friends at the pool about having seats together.  Everyone I talked to never had them together, and one of my friends had spent four hours on the phone in the US trying to get their family of seven in seats together last summer.  The United customer service person tried to charge $25 a ticket before finally giving up and 'against regulations' assigning their seats together.

I was expecting a fight, so when my new German best friend set right to helping me with no complaints or protestations, I wanted to kiss him.  

But as in all good stories, there was nothing he could do.  The tickets, it turns out, had been issued incorrectly by the Carlson Wagonlit travel agent who booked them.  Although the flight is operated by Lufthansa (hooray!), the agent had coded it as being owned and operated by United with no codeshare.  So it turns out that the seat map for that leg in our itinerary is (for us) in a nether-world untouched by United or Lufthansa, with nobody being able to do a thing for us until the agent changes how our tickets are issued.

He advised me to talk to the travel agent who booked the tickets to have them reissue the tickets with the correct flight number.  If the travel agent were a Lufthansa employee, this would have been no problem, but ours is not, and worse yet, she's not even in Azerbaijan, she's in Georgia which means two times the Soviet customer service to deal with.

My first clearly explained (twice over) email got this response:

Dear Ashley.
Please try to follow below procedure (travel agent tried to do it online, they were unable to get seats even though they can see seats online together, but unable to reserve them ).
But please try yourself or try to call Lufthansa as per below.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to rebook flights as seats are not available.

After I explained (again) that I had already done all of this, and please don't rebook, reissue (as carefully explained to me by my new best friend at Lufthansa) with the correct flight number, I got this:

Dear Ashley!
Actually, we always book Lufthansa as code-shared United flight from Frankfurt to United States. (this is the regulation we have to follow).
And in most of the cases, passengers are able to reserve seats as per the procedure I mentioned below.
I really don’t know what is the problem  at this time.
I will check once again with the Travel Agent on this.

Sorry about inconvenience.

No, I'm sorry about the 'inconvenience,' and will be cursing your name when my five year-old is halfway across the plane and needs me.  

I emailed her back today, hoping vainly that something had been done.

Dear Ashley!
I have double checked.
Unfortunately nothing.
In the future, we will try to reserve LH flight to avoid this problem.
Here is the answer from Carlson Wagonlit:

Sent: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 2:21 PM
To: V
Subject: Sherwood

Dear     ,

Please be informed that on web cite [sic] I can not confirm seat on plane. United airlines also did not see seat map.

Thankfully I have done enough traveling to not worry too much about one nine-hour flight.  Even if it takes some standing in the aisles blocking everyone trying to get on the plane (which is fun on two hours of sleep while trying to manage four wiggly children), I have never met anybody who won't offer to switch seats when faced with the prospect of minding somebody else's toddler for nine hours.  And who knows?  Maybe we'll get lucky and be upgraded to business class.  

Yeah, I didn't think so either.


Crys said...

On one flight with my at the time toddler son I had reserved a window and aisle seat... The whole side row because at the time we were a small family of three. Best plans laid to waste. The Chicago traffic was horrible and then dr j got caught up at security. We barely made the flight. We ended up with three middle of the big row seats. The stewardess got someone to move so I could sit near the baby and then while I was talking to my seat mate she realized hubby and I were together and traded him but we were boxed in. Dr j politely asked the man on the aisle if he would trade. He refused stating he'd made the effort to reserve seats. So had we idiot but they gave them away. Anyway toddler screamed the whole flight and dr j had to climb over this man probably twenty times to take baby back to the bathroom area where he could stand with him and bounce him. I got a sick special pleasure out of it. Sure guy had more leg room but it was a 12 hour night flight and I doubt it was worth it :)

PaulaJean said...

Whenever I hear crying children on a plane I always have deep sympathy for the parents and am grateful my days of flying with children are over!

UnkaDave said...

Can't you get a babysitter and leave them in Bakú? Or just give them a couple of boxes of cereal and run? After all, what is she now, like, six or something?

PaulaJean said...

I forgot to add I love flying Lufthansa. Better planes, better service, and that nice polite accent. :-)

Bfiles said...

that is ridiculous. will be crossing fingers for you. It's true that no one wants to sit next to the toddler, but wouldn't it be better for EVERYONE if they just put the whole family together? I don't get it...good luck!