My Iran story is not quite over: there remained the unresolved matter of my ticket back to Europe on Lufthansa. If you did not read about my adventure in Iran, an overbooked flight back from Kish Island to Dubai forced an unplanned overnight in Iran and a missed connection back to Frankfurt (and on to Dublin). Recall that I was able to phone Lufthansa about four hours before my flight was scheduled to leave and relay to them that I was trapped in Iran and would be unable to travel that night. The LH agent explicitly stated that under the circumstances, I would likely be able to work out a solution when I reached Dubai and that a note had been placed in my reservation.
We did make it out of Iran and back to Dubai the following afternoon, but found Lufthansa (and later British Midland) to be anything but sympathetic. Once back in Dubai’s Terminal 1, we walked upstairs through the food court and to the Lufthansa ticket office. An agent heard our story, but upon examining our tickets was quite forceful in saying that 1.) our tickets were booked with bmi so Lufthansa could not touch them (not true) and 2.) that the fare rules were highly restricted and allowed no changes (true). We reasoned with the woman to no avail–she said she would not help us unless we wanted to purchase a new ticket.
After spending the night in a filthy tenement in Iran after being denied boarding for a flight we had confirmed seats on then being denied exit by Iranian government authorities, this was not the answer we wanted to hear. I asked her if she could phone reservations to verify the note on our record, and she agreed to call the Lufthansa city ticket office at the Dubai World Trade Center. After a brief conversation, she put down the phone and said, “As I told you, this was a restricted ticket and we are sorry that we are unable to help you. If you’d like to talk to our ticketing people personally, you can go to our office, but they will tell you the same thing I have told you.”
There is no point in arguing in these situations. I could not figure out if the woman thought we were lying, but she showed absolutely no care or compassion for the situation we were in. We thanked her and left the office.
Wi-Fi was free in the food court so my next call was to Orbitz, the online travel agency I booked the tickets through. After a number of dropped calls, I finally found a spot in the food court where the connection was pretty good and reached a wonderful Orbitz agent in the Philippines named Sandra. She listened to my story and was extremely sympathetic, putting me on hold to call bmi on my behalf.
She came back ten minutes later saying that because I had not called in prior to missing my departure, bmi had cancelled the reservation and would not re-instate it. I told her that to the contrary, I had called Lufthansa the previous night to alert them we would not make the flight. To verify this, Sandra called Lufthansa. About ten minutes later she came back again, stating she had verified my note on the reservation, but Lufthansa had refused to touch the ticket.
Placed on hold again, Sandra rang bmi for a second time. I had provided her my bmi Gold Card number, thinking that my top-tier status with the airline might help. Another ten minutes passed and she came back with what she thought was good news. If I could fax over evidence from the Iranian government that I was unable to leave Iran the previous evening, bmi would consider changing the ticket for a fee.
Nice thought, but how exactly was I supposed to do that? Fly back to Iran and ask the border agents who barely spoke English for a note saying that I couldn’t leave the country? I relayed my concern to Sandra and she agreed, placing me on hold for a fourth time to call back bmi. She came back again, though, with the same answer–bmi insisted that I somehow obtain a note from the Iranian government.
Throughout the whole process Sandra was incredibly patient and helpful. After the last rebuff from bmi, I told her I did not want to take and more of her time, but she responded, “It is my pleasure to assist and I will keep working on your behalf to get you back home.” I was humbled.
Still, I failed to see a constructive outcome in taking any more of her time, so I simply asked for her bmi telephone number and the name of the person she spoke with. I thanked her, hung up, then called bmi (and now I’ve got a handy U.S. number for bmi that quickly gets to an agent) and was connected to the same person she spoke with.
I identified myself and my record locator number and she acknowledged that she had just spoken to Orbitz about me. I asked her how I could possibly obtain evidence I was not permitted to leave Iran now that I was back in the United Arab Emirates, but she indifferently repeated that she could not help me without such evidence.
Three hours had transpired by this point and I decided I was done wasting time. I had to be in Frankfurt the following day so I rang United and thankfully was able to book two business class award tickets back to Frankfurt on the Lufthansa n/s flight I was trying to get a seat on.
It made me cringe to book such an award–only one segment on a ticket that really could have been maximized if I had the time–but it was worth it for 27,500 miles and $20 in taxes per ticket (the cheapest revenue ticket in economy class was $350 on Gulf Air via Bahrain).
Not to go off-topic, but kudos to United for allowing the same day booking of awards and not charging fuel surcharges. My friend attempted to book his ticket through Miles & More and could not–they require at least 24 hours to book. Checking the next day’s flight back to Frankfurt, availability was there, but taxes and fees (primarily the fuel surcharge) were over EU300. What a difference–he is now switching over to Mileage Plus. Gulf Air would have been interesting, but with a full day of work ahead I wanted to a good night’s rest in business class and access to the Lufthansa Welcome Lounge upon landing in Frankfurt.
Anyway, with my ticket now booked I decided not to bother fighting bmi or Lufthansa anymore. I do plan to reach out to bmi in the days ahead and express my disappointment at the way our situation was handled, but I expect no partial refund or compensation. Afterall, I did miss my flight and was traveling on a very cheap ticket.
So what do you think? Did I get shafted or get what I deserved? Admittedly, I took a gamble by visiting Iran the day before my trip back to Germany and understood when I purchased the ticket that no changes could be made. But at the same time, there is something to be said about the leniency I would have received had this been a United Airlines flight.
It certainly seems to be a cultural thing, and as I have mused about before, there are pros and cons to unbendingly abiding by the rules–but I do believe it would have been reasonable for Lufthansa to accommodate us on the flight. We had missed the previous flight for a very legitimate reason beyond our control, the flight we were trying to get on was wide open in all three cabins, and I hold Star Gold status on two airlines, including one that Lufthansa owns. If I can grossly generalize, although it seems to be dormant in the German psyche, there is virtue in compassion and rules ultimately can only serve as guidelines.
I made it back to Frankfurt without hassle, in the comfort of business class no less (though down 55K miles instead of up 6K), but now almost a week later I continue to shake my head. Rules are in place for a reason, but I think it is tragic to become so attached to rules that you lose all empathy in situations that warrant a little accommodation.