Flight Cancelation suck. Recently, team GTE experienced one of their worst cancelation experiences. In addition, we were flying United outside of the US in Hamburg, Germany, where no United representatives were present. It’s like going to a country with no embassy.

What Happened?

United Flight – Hamburg (HAM) -> San Francisco (SFO)
Hamburg(HAM)-> Frankfort(FRA) on Lufthansa LH19
Frankfort(FRA) -> San Francisco (FRA) on United UA927

First of all, after 3 weeks on the road, we figured it would be nice to get to the airport early to get back home. Consequently, checking in was amazing, as Star Alliance Gold members get access to Lufthansa’s first class counters (normally Gold Card members get access to only the business class counters).

After checking in our luggage, we stopped for a quick coffee and then headed to the premium lane for security. When scanning our boarding pass, the screen showed a big red X on there, and the ticket agent started screaming at me in German. Everyone in Germany seemed to speak English except this airport staff member. Finally, a passenger in line was kind enough to tell me that my flight was canceled.  Flight Cancelation Nightmare!

Why was this so bad?

Why is this considered a worse case scenario? The reason was that I already checked my bag in as the flight wasn’t canceled at that point yet and I was stuck in airport purgatory. If I had known the flight was canceled when I checked in, I could have easily been rebooked for the next flight and make my connection back to San Francisco.

Once I got back to the check in counters, I had to fend for myself to figure out where to go. I saw multiple queues at multiple stations but there was no ground staff available to answer my questions. After asking around some passengers, I queued up for 2 hours to get help at the service desk, only for them to tell me my flight has been rebooked and departing in 30 minutes. But, I had to get my luggage first, which was in the baggage carousel in the arrival section.

 The Nightmare Continues

After 1 more hour trying to get my luggage, I returned to the ticket counter only to tell me that I had to go to another service counter to get a hotel voucher and ticket. Normally, the ticket agents can do that also, so 2 more hours waiting in line, I found out I had no flight back on the FRA->SFO long haul. Usually airlines automatically rebook the flights, but to make matters worse, my HAM -> FRA flight was a Lufthansa flight (not a United code share) and my flight from FRA->SFO was a United flight. Since United controls the long-haul leg, Lufthansa cannot automatically rebook the United flight without going through certain procedures(which of course they didn’t do nor take responsibility for). Fortunately I had a data plan on my phone and called the United 1K desk to work through this whole ordeal.

5 hours later, found myself in a Best Western hotel in Ohlsdorf rebooked for a flight the next day.

Quick Tips For When This Happens To You

Don’t panic

Flight Cancelation happen and if you panic, it will inhibit you from making the best decision. Plus, Lufthansa is a Startrax 3 star airline for this very reason. As a result, it’s kind of expected unfortunately.

The first thing you should take care of is your luggage

The whole issue was that I checked in my luggage If I didn’t I could have made a later flight. If you were unfortunate enough to have checked your baggage in before your flight canceled, that is priority #1 to address, as it can be quite difficult to get and find.

Don’t check in bags if you don’t have to

Obvious best practice but per what happened above, stresses the importance to just carry on if you can, especially if you are flying Business Class. There’s plenty of space.  Don’t risk a flight cancelation nightmare.

Try your best to ask anyone around from ground staff to passengers

Usually, airlines will have additional ground staff in this situation, and those are your best bet for help. Even United has staff widely available most of the time. If not, don’t be afraid to ask as many people as you can. Someone else should be in the same boat as you if your fight got canceled. In my case, there were 220 other passengers in the same situation.

Always get a local data plan (or use T-Mobile)

Not every airport has good wifi. In situations like this where you need to call your travel agent of home airline, it’s critical that you have a data plan and use apps such as Skype or Google Voice to dial. That was how I was able to call the United 1K desk for assistance from Hamburg.  A lot of frequent travelers use T-Mobile because they offer free global roaming.

Understand who is operating each leg of your flight

If you have a operated by two airlines, you need to understand who has control of the ticket. Originally, since I bought the ticket on United.com, the ticket is owned by United. But, in the situation where Lufthansa was the first leg of the trip and they canceled the flight, they rebooked me on the short haul and took control of the ticket, leaving me with no flight back to San Francisco.

This can be difficult a very difficult situation as depending on the agents, they might not know nor care about the other portion of the ticket in which they aren’t operating. In my case they just told me to call United to take care of it. The problem is, the other carrier will not be able to address it because they don’t have control of the ticket and won’t be able to see it in their system. You need both carriers on the phone at the same time to get this resolved.

After reading this article, what is your worst Flight Cancelation story?

Until Next Time,

Team GTE

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