Travel Troubleshooter

Lufthansa pilots strike scraps long flight; refund a long time coming

Q: My husband and I were booked on Lufthansa flights from Denver to Johannesburg, South Africa, via Frankfurt. We were notified the morning of our departure that the long-haul pilots had gone on strike and were told to call Lufthansa to rebook. We tried calling the airline for five hours, but no one answered.

Since we had to leave for a safari, we decided to book a flight through Delta so we could at least get there. Our travel agent finally got in contact with Lufthansa on the morning we were supposed to arrive in Johannesburg and told us that she had rebooked us on the flight for the next day. By that time, we were already on our safari.

I have emailed, called and snail-mailed Lufthansa, requesting a credit for our tickets, which included prepaid upgrades. The strike was over by our return flight, so we used the second half of our tickets. I have received only one reply to the 15 emails, 10 phone calls and five letters I sent. The airline promised a refund of our upgrade fee, but we never received it.

I would like reimbursement for the $200 I spent on the premium-economy tickets that we were not able to use. I would also like flight credit for the first half of the flight that was canceled because of the pilot strike.

Cindi Shank, Gillette, Wyoming

A: Lufthansa should have transported you from Denver to Johannesburg when it said it would, not when it could. Alas, that’s not the way the system works. Lufthansa’s General Conditions of Carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline, specifically says that its schedules are just a suggestion: “The flight times shown in timetables may change between the date of publication and the date you actually travel. We do not guarantee them to you and they do not form part of your contract with us.”

I shouldn’t pick on Lufthansa. Every airline has the same or similar wording in its contract. When a flight is canceled, the industry’s standard practice is that you have the options of either being rebooked on the next available flight or a refund.

The $200 ticket fee should have been immediately refunded. You paid to sit in an economy-class seat with a humane amount of legroom, roughly what the old coach seats used to have, give or take an inch.

Lots of wires got crossed here. Your travel agent learned that Lufthansa had rebooked you on a flight to Johannesburg, which would have transported you to South Africa a day late, even as you were leaving on your replacement flight. Clearly, there was a lot of confusion.

I can understand why your agent didn’t push for a refund then. Her main concern – rightfully so – was that Lufthansa would consider you a “no show” for your outbound flight, which would have made it cancel your return portion. Then you would have been stuck in South Africa.

The solution is obvious: A quick refund of the $200 plus half the airfare. You might have contacted one of the customer-service managers at Lufthansa for that: But it looks like you already had started a letter-writing campaign. It’s time to call for help.

I contacted the airline on your behalf. It refunded both the upgrade fee and half of your ticket, as requested.

Email Christopher Elliott at