I came back from Ekaterinburg today, second time that I’ve been to Russia in the last 15 years. And while I have lots of impressions that I might share later — my experience with Lufthansa service caused even stronger impressions, so these come first.
Thing is, Lufthansa’s main airport is Frankfurt and I live in Cologne which is one hour distance by train. For people like me, Lufthansa offers a service called AIRail where the train from Cologne to Frankfurt is declared a Lufthansa “flight” and I can book both the train and the actual flight together (this even isn’t more expensive than just booking the flight). This is a great idea with obvious advantages for travelers who only need to check in at the main station in Cologne — everything else is taken care of by Lufthansa, in the same way this is usually done for plane changes. At least that’s the theory.
Last time we went on vacation we used a check-in machine which gave us two seats next to each other but ended up printing out boarding passes for seats in different parts of the cabin — apparently somebody took the seat I wanted just before the check-in was finalized, and somebody at Lufthansa missed the lesson about database transactions. To prevent the same thing from happening again, we chose to check in online this time, almost a day in advance. And here came the first surprise, online check-in was only capable of checking in one person at a time. For the plane I still managed to do both check-ins fast enough to get decent seats. Not so for the train, every time you tried to change the seat the system would claim that this seat was already occupied. So you had to go with the suggested seats which were of course several rows apart.
But at least you save some time by checking in online, right? Wrong. You don’t get a boarding pass after checking in online (at least not if the first part of your journey is a train). When we got to the railway station, we discovered that there was only one queue — and you had to wait no matter whether you were already checked in or not. At least here our seats for the train could be changed.
Now one of the major advantages of AIRail is baggage handling, you would expect to drop off your baggage in Cologne and get it back in Ekaterinburg. Wrong again, this service was discontinued several months ago. Now you take your baggage with you on the train, and in Frankfurt you have to wait in another queue at the special baggage drop-off counter (yes, there was a queue). At least that counter was right next to the railway station rather than in the main check-in hall but that wasn’t really worth the wasted time.
On our way back there were more surprises. When the plane landed in Frankfurt, the captain had a special message for AIRail customers, those would get their bags at the railway station again. We got there and were told to wait for our bag to arrive. After half an hour of waiting we were getting impatient, after all we saw other passengers from our flight (without AIRail) get their bags immediately after they got through the passport control. Fortunately, somebody pointed us to a counter where you could ask the whereabouts of your luggage (from Lufthansa’s side we were only told to wait longer). Only there we were told that the Lufthansa staff in Ekaterinburg only checked in our bag until Frankfurt rather than Cologne so that we had to get it at the usual baggage claim. Not even a mistake on side of Lufthansa was admitted, apparently as a customer you had to check everything and know all the strange regulations about the AIRail baggage.
At that point it would be strange to expect Lufthansa to go out of their way to correct their mistake. Of course I had to hurry up (not much time left) and get back to the baggage claim myself. At least that went without any delays so that we didn’t have any trouble catching our train.
Looking back, I cannot find a single thing that Lufthansa has done right with AIRail. And with that service quality, I don’t understand why I chose to pay a much higher price and preferred Lufthansa over its competitors. One thing for sure, next time I have to go somewhere I will choose more carefully.