I am an American expat now living with my family in Barcelona. We moved from Seattle to become “global citizens.” Now we’ve begun exploring Spain and Europe by air and it has been both a positive and horrible experience.
We had been warned about Ryanair, cheap flights but absolute Nazi’s about rules, and trying to charge you for everything extra. So we packed very light, didn’t pay for special seats, checked in really early and got our passports checked. Whew. EasyJet was much easier and a warmer welcome. I thought Vueling, being Spanish, would be more welcoming than the other two. Guess what? They were worse.
Here’s the story. I arranged to fly Vueling BCN-Granada (a small airport) and then back after a few days. I printed out the confirmations and then printed out the outbound boarding passes from an automated machine at the BCN airport. We had no luggage to check. The flight to Granada was fine.
Coming home on the last flight on a Sunday night we got to the Granada airport two hours early and sat in the small café working on our computers. Then there was an announcement for our flight. It hit me I still needed the boarding passes. There are no machines there. I ran to the Vueling ticket counter. Sorry, they said, you are two minutes late. Thirty-eight minutes before the flight. The flight is closed. And it is the last flight today. But we can sell you tickets for tomorrow for 200 euros more. I was enraged! They almost arrested me. There were no crowds, just people sitting around. They could have easily accommodated me. But they said Iberia controlled the boarding process and they said no. Closed. There was no manager to complain to. Even the cop who watched all this and other passengers were sympathetic. The Vueling people said we should have known and why did we get to the airport so late. I said we didn’t but overlooked the rule as we were new to Spain and this bureaucracy.
Anyway, we had to take a taxi to a hotel, stay overnight, and then taxi back on the additional 200 euro flight the next day. At the hotel that intervening night I wrote Vueling and Iberia on their websites and Facebook pages. All I got was a blogger who represents Vueling telling me I was wrong and didn’t follow the rules and should have known better. Since I am a journalist I wrote on other sites and told Vueling I would do so. Their PR department never responded even though I wanted to hear their side of the story.
So now I am writing to you. Here’s the point. Americans have some expectation of customer service. It is NON EXISTENT here. NO slack, no forgiveness. The customer is wrong.
You are welcome to write about this, quote me, whatever. I would dream the Vueling execs would see it. My neighbors here in BCN all think Iberia is going down the tubes, and maybe Vueling with it. For me, I am happy to fly easyJet or Ryanair now. At least they’ve never sent me all sorts of sweet and wonderful emails and marketing and then, when I needed understanding, spit in my face.
- Andrew Schorr