Trials And Tribulations In Spain

December 17, 2007

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

When I tell my tale of woe about trying to get home to USA from Madrid, Spain Nov 15th this fall, friends say “write a complaint letter to US Air.” And I think, “Why should I expect an exec at a dysfunctional airline to care about customer satisfaction?” If they cared, my day of hell would never have happened. But maybe being posted on this website will have some positive effect, if only to make me feel better.

My husband and I arrived 2 hours early at the airport for our flight home to Philly, PA from Madrid. We queued up at gate 25 B at appointed time for boarding (noon, Madrid time). About 15 minutes later we were told there would be a short delay in boarding because there was a problem with electrical equipment. Half an hour later we were told we would be boarding in another 20 minutes as the emergency exit did not function and would have to be fixed. Half an hour after that we were again told to wait. As the day wore on there was less and less oxygen in the waiting area and we were breathing in air loaded with heavy cigarette smoke. Spain allows a cordoned off (but not enclosed) area for smokers who puff away and fill the area next to gate with heavy clouds of stinking smoke. I used to smoke but am not that dumb anymore. Death from lung cancer is even more awful than air travel.

About 2:30 or 3:00 pm the airline employees announced they were going to treat us to lunch and we were told to follow a fast marching airline employee what seemed like a mile long concourse to an unattractive cafeteria with dirty tables. I don’t know how any very elderly people could have made the march lugging carry-on luggage. We are in our 70s and found it unpleasant. At this point the airline staffer left us and the restaurant shut down the metal screen separating us from the food. Then, after a wait, a Spanish speaking person announced in Spanish what the rules would be for selecting from the buffet, the metal screen was removed and a blessed blond lady (a passenger) translated for fellow English speaking passengers that we could choose one entrée, one desert and one beverage from the buffet. Those lucky enough to be traveling in a twosome could leave their partner to watch carry-on luggage. I don’t know how singles managed. I chose a selection for myself and husband and when I reached the end of the line the non- English speaking employee grabbed the 2 small wine bottles off the tray, saying I could not have them in addition to the bottled water I had selected.

We had been told to return to gate no later than 4:45. When we did so, we realized there were no airline staff there. They had left for the day. We looked out the window and saw that the plane had been pulled away from the gate and our flight number 741 was no longer listed on the overhead screens. Later, an employee appeared and announced that we had to go through arrivals door, reclaim our luggage and queue up at a desk for rescheduling. The wait was so long. We were still in the line at 6:00 pm. My heart went out to a young couple with a 7 month old baby. They had been up since 5:00 am traveling from France to Madrid with the ultimate destination of Maine, USA. If they ever got to Philly they would have to keep traveling.

When we finally got to the desk after waiting in that long line, we were told US Air could not get us from Madrid the next day on any outgoing airline to any city on the east coast of USA. They could not get us back to America. At no time during the whole process did any USAir spokesperson or employee apologize or express sympathy for the discomforts we were suffering. We were told to climb on a bus and go to a hotel of their choice that the airline would pay for. My husband told them that, based on the quality of the place they sent us for lunch, we would find our own hotel. They said that they could not be responsible for notifying us of our travel if we refused to go to their hotel. We were given a phone number to call to find out our options. We did so later and asked to have something on paper confirming new reservations faxed to our hotel. They agreed, but never complied.

We left Spain 2 days later on the same flight 741 with only a few problems. The business class bathroom had a malfunctioning door and another passenger (male) walked in on me at the most embarrassing moment. And the foot rest did not work automatically (row 3 B on the aisle).

Is safe, affordable, comfortable air travel an irrational dream? At present the comfort is missing. No one wants to give up safety. Maybe price is the variable that needs to be addressed. Should there be government subsidy?? Competitive free enterprise in the case of airlines has negative results. More money might result in better maintenance and hiring of more competent staff.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat Curry July 15, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Yes, unfortunately it appears that safe, affordable, comfortable air travel is totally and completely out of the question. It's just not going to happen in an era when the total focus is on $ and the passengers are simply an inconvenience.

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GenXer July 17, 2008 at 7:33 am

Part of it is supporting airlines that are actually doing a good job, like Frontier. I fly on Frontier as much as I can, and I hope that they are able to stay in business for a long time. All of my flights on Frontier have been safe, affordable, and comfortable.

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Brittany August 11, 2008 at 9:20 pm

I can't believe they smoke in public indoor places in spain. that is wrong. smokers have the right to slowly kill themselves, but they should not be able to suffocate others as well. I know how you feel as my step mom and my older brother would smoke in the car when I was a kid and I had to cover my mouth to block out the smell (I could barely breathe).

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Troll Identifier April 2, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Oh get a life Brittany! It's their country. If they want to allow smoking fine. It's ugly american attitudes like yours that give americans a bad name overseas! Chill out and have a smoke!

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Kay April 3, 2009 at 1:01 pm

For once I actually agree with Troll Identifier…"It's ugly american attitudes like yours that give americans a bad name overseas!"

Spain *does* get to decide its own laws.

Heck, how many US restaurants have *you* been in that ask "smoking or non-smoking", then put smokers in an area that is not blocked off from nonsmokers at all?

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GetReal April 13, 2009 at 7:17 pm

*stands up and applauds Troll Identifier*

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Beth March 18, 2015 at 10:20 am

You complained about free food and a free hotel? How did the airline not treat you well?

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