Advantages More Economy Class Legroom Than Other Airlines
Disadvantages Your Baggage May Not Arrive With You
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My partner and I booked a holiday to Paris in August, partly for the World Athletics Champs, and partly because being from the other side of the world, we'd never been there before, so it seemed like a good opportunity to go.I booked the flights directly on Virgin Travel (online travel agency). The return economy tickets from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle cost £65 each, which was cheaper than the Eurostar, and other airlines. We booked these in late June or early July, I cannot remember which. Looking at Air France's website, they do have last minute specials if you are one of those people who decides to travel at the very last second.
About the flight itself, it was fine (both ways). I cannot comment on the food, as the flight was short (45 mins or so), so you only get a cup of coffee, and biscuits etc. These seemed to be pretty standard airline food though. The legroom on our flight was good, as Air France fly Airbus aircraft. We were in economy, so this was a bonus - more legroom than the BA Boeings. The plane was clean, although the flight was delayed both ways - 1 hour going over, and about 1 hour on the return leg.However, this opinion or review will deal more with how Air France react when things go wrong. You can tell a lot about a company by the way they handle complaints. Read on....
We turned up for our 0815 Sunday morning flight at 0555. Clearly the 0815 flight was overbooked. We were asked if we wanted to take the 0645 flight, to help Air France out we agreed. We were rushed to the front of the queue, but the woman at the check in counter would not let us board, as it was too late. The supervisor (who had arranged this) told her to do it. Clearly this caused problems between them. She then told us that our checked luggage couldn't go. I said that we would wait for the 0815 flight then. Suddenly, it was OK, our bags could go (first warning sign). We ran to the boarding gate, and received a lecture from a very arrogant Air France woman, who told us not to be so late - I told her what I thought of her, in politer terms than the ones she had used, and gently reminded her that we were doing Air France a favour. We finally boarded the plane, and sat there, sat there a little longer (oh did I mention we were still sitting there an hour later). We then took off. We landed at CDG, and guess what, our bags weren't there. So, this woman behind the counter told us our bag would arrive at 1330, to which it would be delivered to our cheap hotel (second warning - don't make promises you simply cannot keep).To cut a long story short, our bags didn't arrive until the Monday night. Well, Karl's bag did. Mine didn't. I got someone else's bag. This bag was a 5kg suitcase. My bag was a 15kg backpack in a pack-bag. The suitcase had someone else's name on it. After many telephone calls, I finally called the owner myself, at my own expense, and told him I had his bag (I got his number from Air France). He was not impressed. He then found out that he had mine, but the hotel had just kept it (and called Air France on Tuesday morning), as it was clearly marked with my name, not the other person to whom it was delivered. In the end, I got my bag back on Thursday evening. We left on Saturday afternoon.
This review does not even enter into the stress that Air France caused us. Their actions (or inaction as the case may be) ruined our holiday. We will not have the opportunity to go back to Paris, as we have limited time in Europe and have other things we want to see as well. We did not get to see a lot of the things we wanted to see, as Air France would not telephone us - we had to constantly go back to the hotel and telephone them. I was also running around trying to buy clothes. I am a weird body shape - Kiwi girls have wide shoulders - so a lot of shirts simply did not fit. I have big hips and smaller waist. That is why I take my own clothes on holiday. You get 75 Euros a day, that is if they bother to reimburse you for your costs. Unfortunately, we are not made of money, so as I had to buy clothes we couldn't go and do some things. It was also our anniversary, that was ruined too. (Plus, try shopping on 75 Euros a day, and you will see how hard it is, especially in Paris).We have returned, and have written to Air France to complain, and request they reimburse us for the funds we spent purchasing clothing and toiletries, plus the cost of phone calls. They have not replied. I telephoned them on Friday, and they advised that they have received my letter, but have not had time to look at it as they are "very busy" (clearly I am not valued). Apparently they have 28 days (which is not set down in law, and is only an agreement) in which to respond. I got the impression that this may take 5 weeks. They also don't pay interest on our money.
Don't get me wrong, people told me that the French would be arrogant, but we only met one unhelpful person in Paris the whole time. However, conversely we only spoke to one truly helpful person at Air France. This opinion is not motivated by a dislike of French people, because I don't dislike them. However, I generally found the Air France staff to be unhelpful.Also, If you think that this event is a one off, think again. I was told by an Air France staff member that there were 5000 (approximately) bags that were not matched with owners, sitting at CDG the week before we arrived. It seems as if the problem has compounded further as time goes on. I saw baggage handlers at CDG sitting on bags, throwing them, and bouncing on them while they were sitting on them. I spoke with the Air Transport Users Council, who appear to be toothless. I was also informed that they have spoken with Air France about Charles de Gaulle and the baggage problems that are occurring, and Air France have assured them that they are trying to rectify the problem. Obviously I cannot comment on that part, but as we will not be flying Air France again it doesn't really concern us.
In summary, I can only comment on Air France flying to Charles de Gaulle. I have found numerous websites detailing the problems with Air France, CDG and baggage. One even called CDG a baggage black-hole. In our experience this certainly seems to be the case. Whilst I accept that other airlines lose baggage, or baggage is temporarily mislaid (I processed travel claims for a long time), I do not accept what has occurred here - we managed to fly from NZ, to LA, to London, without any mishap. My sister had a problem with Qantas, and they gave her with cash right away, apologised, and generally provided great customer service. My brother has twice had problems with Virgin Atlantic, but the reason he keeps flying with them? They dealt with his problem quickly and efficiently, in both cases apologising promptly, and giving him free trans-Atlantic flights with no fuss.To me, you can take a cheap flight, but in this case you certainly get what you paid for. You have been warned. I will also update this opinion to let you know the outcome of my correspondence to Air France, and request for reimbursement & compensation.
04 November 2003
Well, here's the update I promised. After about 3-4 weeks, Air France wrote, telling us that we needed to advise what items were purchased for what person, as they were treating us as two separate claims (given that my bag turned up much later than my partner's). They also confirmed that they would not compensate us for a ruined holiday, and that they would have their customer service team look into our complaint about the rudeness of their staff. That was at the end of September. I tried to call them in October, and was told that I needed to send the information through, but I have been slack and haven't done it. I will fax it to them though. They did confirm it will take another 10 days from the date of receipt.
Don't get me wrong, it's nice that they acknowledged part of our complaint, but to be honest, are we brave enough to put ourselves through an Air France experience again? Maybe you will see another opinion in a couple of months time!I will let you know what happens with the baggage side.
Kez :)Final edit - in the end we banked the cheques. After they had sent them, I tried to call and sort it out. Apparently they don't pay for telephone calls (even though I had to call the other person to get my bag back), so go figure. They deemed my case closed because they had send a settlement cheque - no matter that I didn't belive that the settlement was full and final, let alone accept it. I had to write in to them again. No-one seemed to be able to help (not even the indepent complaints people), and it doesn't surprise me that France won't sign the Montreal Convention to provide more adequate compensation for customers - they'd probably have to pay a fortune in claims if you go by the reviews on the web. I just gave up, so they won. Well, not really, one of my friends decided not to book with them after seeing how much trouble I had (she then looked at reviews on the web and realised I wasn't exaggerating), so that was a 20 pax long-haul cancellation. Never fly Air France, they're a pack of b**tards. That's why they get 3 stars in the Skytrax Reviews - pretty rank for the world's largest airline that they get a similar rating to small budget airlines.......and yes, I'm disgruntled! They'd get no stars if Ciao would let me!
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