If You’re Going to Charge for Seat Assignments, Lufthansa, You Better Well Honor Them (Tales from the Field)

Lufthansa is probably the most hated airline in the travel agent world these days for a variety of reasons. It just started charging a surcharge for those who book through travel agent systems, first of all. But it’s also the random and never-ending strikes that have shaken confidence. I, however, am angry at Lufthansa for a different reason (well, you know, on top of the other ones). Last year Lufthansa started charging for all seat assignments in coach on lower fares, but it appears the airline isn’t always ensuring those assignments are honored. If you’re going to charge for seats, then you better damn well deliver (barring an aircraft change or something like that). For one of our clients, Lufthansa failed miserably and then kept piling on by lying and then refusing to try to solve the problem.

We have a mother and daughter, let’s call them Steffi and Heidi, traveling on a fantastic European trip right now. On the way out, they were on Lufthansa from Denver to Frankfurt and then on to Athens and Santorini. On the way back, they’re flying United. We issued their tickets back in May and they were each on their own reservations. The ticket wasLufthansa Tales From the Field a United ticket (had to pick one, so we went with United). That was the easy part. Then it came time for seats.

For Lufthansa’s flight out to Frankfurt, the options were a) buy a regular seat assignment for $35, b) buy a bulkhead/exit row seat for $100, or c) gamble and wait until check-in. After reviewing the options, Steffi and Heidi decided they wanted a bulkhead row and were willing to pay the $100 each.

Now, this can usually be done in our system, but we called Lufthansa to make sure this was possible since it was on a United ticket. If it were a United codeshare on a Lufthansa flight, you can’t pay for seats at all. (That’s really stupid but it’s a different issue.) Since this was a Lufthansa-marketed and operated flight, it was fine. The agent just processed the payment over the phone. Seats showed up in our system, even though they didn’t appear on Lufthansa’s website. But they confirmed everything was perfectly fine and it would show up during check-in. The seats showed as taken on the seat map so we didn’t think twice.

Fast forward to check-in. Steffi goes online and finds that she has been moved to a middle seat about 10 rows back. Heidi, however, somehow kept her seat. Unfortunately Heidi was the one sitting in the middle with Steffi on the aisle, so now both were scattered in random middle seats.

At this point, there was no way to truly fix the problem because Lufthansa had given the original seat away to someone else. But how the heck did this happen? Seats had been paid for. We had it confirmed on multiple occasions. Did Lufthansa just randomly decide to honor some seat assignments and not others?

I didn’t handle the original booking personally (someone else here did), but at this point I was the one trying to get it resolved. I called the Key Accounts support desk and ran into one of the more condescending agents I’ve ever spoken with. He told me that seats were never paid for and that was that. I didn’t have all the info in front of me at the time. I was just trying to get on the phone before the Key Accounts desk closed 5 minutes later. (This was a Friday night and it wouldn’t reopen until Monday.) With his absolute unwillingness to apparently even look in the reservation to find out what was actually going on, I knew I was out of luck there.

I moved on to the regular reservations line and found a tremendously helpful person who looked at it and said that she did see the payment in there and didn’t know what had happened. There wasn’t much she could do, but she said she documented the reservation to explain what happened so that the airport staff in Denver could do what they could to get them better seats. If they couldn’t do anything, then we should call back to get a refund.

I looked at the seat map and saw that there were some good seats that were blocked for airport-assignment only. Further, they don’t sell premium economy on this route yet but the particular airplane they were using had it onboard. Maybe the airport would apologize by putting them in those seats. After all, if they aren’t selling premium economy then they’re just moving coach passengers up there. Hopes were high that this would get resolved.

Those hopes were immediately crushed by unhelpful and lying airport staff. Upon check-in, the agents said that the seats weren’t paid for correctly. They said that the travel agent screwed it up. Regardless, it wasn’t Lufthansa’s fault at all. This was a classic case of an agent just not wanting to deal with a problem. By blaming someone else, they could wash their hands of the issue and move on.

The end result was that they refused to do anything to help them and made Heidi and Steffi feel like crap. They were able to get seats toward the back of the airplane together, but they were angry and confused. I would have been too. And I was livid that someone had the nerve to blame us when the seats were paid for directly with Lufthansa.

A couple days later, I called Lufthansa and got another good reservations agent. She at first said she couldn’t see the payment, but I gave her the ticket number (actually an EMD, for those who know what that is) and she found it straight away. She seemed confused, apologized, and then said she’d send it for refund processing right away.

I asked her if she’d seen this before. She paused, sighed, and said “yeah, I’ve seen it before.”

Airlines often say that seat assignments aren’t guaranteed. That’s fine until they start charging for them. If they’re going to charge for seats, then barring some major problem (cancellation, aircraft swap), they need to deliver. Had Lufthansa apologized and moved them up to better seats that were available, you probably wouldn’t be seeing this post. But the attitude of everyone outside of general reservations was very poor. Yes, the clients will get their money back, but they still don’t feel good about this. And neither do I.

Plenty of agencies are trying to book away from Lufthansa these days. This kind of thing is not going to help the airline’s cause.

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44 Comments on "If You’re Going to Charge for Seat Assignments, Lufthansa, You Better Well Honor Them (Tales from the Field)"

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DaveGSP
Guest

The random strike issue alone drives me to avoid Lufthansa, Air France, and KLM.

AJ
Member

“The seats weren’t paid for correctly.”
“Here’s the EMD, proving ancillary payment.”
“Uh… uh… the agent messed up.”

I work for a TMC and this happens more than you think. No one likes Lufthansa for the GDS surcharge. Why would we book them (unless we absolutely had to) if their service is lacking?

John Tarik
Guest

I hope Steffi and Heidi are going to file a complaint with the DOT. Airlines will continue to pull these stunts (theybsold the same $100 seat assigbnent twice) until they start being fined for it.

Michael
Guest
The dishonouring of paid seat selection is not just a Lufthansa issue. British Airways did the same thing to me this summer. I had checked in, with a boarding pass for my exit row seat, and while boarding, the ‘beep’ went off, and the gate agent just wrote in another seat number a number rows back. The gate agent just didn’t care when I said I had paid for the exit row. While on board, there were only two people in the three exit row seats. They had moved me for no reason at all. Airlines can no longer hide… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

The gate agent probably could’ve handled it better, but I’m sure in the middle of boarding a flight they don’t have time to stop and handle it.

Its also possible you were moved for weight and balance issues, but thats unlikely given that you were over the wing, where weight and balance matters less.

Peter Richards
Member

Nick,

The LH equipment from DEN to FRA is a 747-400. Weight and balance is not often and issue with that airplane.

The gate agents should have taken care of this problem, who works the LH flight at DEN ?

The subcontract out the ticket agent staff to another airline.

There must be at least one ‘real’ LH employee in DEN, who could have cleared this up.

Peter in Boulder, CO.
former CO employee, Stapelton Airport

Nick Barnard
Member

As I mentioned, it would be unlikely that it was a weight and balance issue, but 747s have had weight and balance issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lksDISvCmNI

At best the gate agent could’ve directed the passenger to work with another agent at the desk, who wasn’t actively verifying boarding passes of passengers.

Stopping for a long time to handle one passenger’s issue while many other passengers are in line behind that passenger is a failure of customer service for the people who are in line behind the passenger with the seat issue.

Gary
Guest

Tough. It happens enough, perhaps they’ll start drinking I got their jobs instead of being lying pieces of trash making things up on the spot.

Nick Barnard
Member

Please don’t call anyone a piece of trash.

Every person, even the surliest and rudest airline employee must be afforded the respect due to humans.

Neil S.
Guest

I used to fly LH SFO-MUC regularly. On paid business class tickets, about $6K at the time. On one flight, while I was waiting for the meal service to begin, I asked if I could have another Diet Coke. The FA replied: “We did drinks. Now you will wait for dinner.”

Well, ok then. I shifted to UA SFO-FRA for the rest of my travels.

chris
Member

That’s been my wife’s experience as well in paid business to Europe out of EWR…after trying both LH & UA she uses UA to avoid the seats on the A346 and the consistent surliness of the cabin crew…

Ed C
Guest
I just had a recent experience with LH charging me for an advanced seat even though I didn’t have an advanced seat. Background: It was on a United ticket. I’m a UA elite and put my MP number on the res, I was able to choose a seat in advance for UAs flight upon ticketing but did not pick a seat on LHs site. I then saw some random charges from LH on my CC a month later and called up LH res. After waiting on hold for an hour, I got an agent who was initially confused and eventually… Read more »
A
Guest

Do we know for sure they oversold the bulkhead seats? If so why did the other passenger take priority? Were they on an LH ticket and not UA? Unacceptable either way but I’ve always felt like I received better service when flying on a ticket purchased directly through the airline I’m flying.

SEAN
Guest

Instead of reselling the Brooklyn Bridge, LH & BA are reselling the same seat. Same scam, different flavor.

Margaret Thatcher
Guest

I gave up on BA for doing this to me twice. I did the DOT dance. I even complained to the Oneworld desk (a waste of time).

Cranky – have you thought of doing a story on the real value we get from Oneworld, Star, Skyteam? Its B.S>

Hov
Guest

This is something that should absolutely be reported to the DOT.

UAviator
Guest

If she was on a bulkhead isle, it is possible that the disability desk, or LH’s equivalent, moved them out of that seat to accommodate a passenger with disabilities? I believe that is the protocol at UA (so those who book the bulkhead always have some chance, albeit a small one, of being moved legitimately).

Not that this is any excuse for the airline’s handling of the situation, which sound unacceptable. I am just trying to think of reasons why she might have been moved in the first place.

David SF eastbay
Member
From my airline days blaming the travel agent (for any reason) was the standard line if the reservation was booked by one. From reading this, it could have been any type business now a days. Workers are not trained fully for the job they do which could mean not even knowing where to look to find an answer or solve the problem. Companies have seen it’s cheaper to give basic training to front line workers and then train and pay a few other workers more to solve all the problems the front line workers cause. It’s usually the older workers… Read more »
slarue
Member
My husband and I recently flew Lufthansa for the Denver-Frankfurt route, too. I had paid extra for seat assignments, Two or three weeks before the departure date, I called Lufthansa’s customer service; I was concerned that nowhere in the booking process (which I did myself, on their US website) was I asked for passport information, which I seemed to remember used to be a common field of data for international flights. I was told that that information is no longer collected but that my booking did not give the names as they appeared on the passports, i.e., I had left… Read more »
Jason H
Guest
Oh good grief, LH and their seat hokey-pokey! I loved the DEN-FRA flight because of the convenience – actually more for the FRA-DEN since I don’t have to do the Customs-TSA dance since I live in DEN – but I’ve given up completely on LH. I don’t think I’ve ever actually had the seat I’ve requested/paid for except when traveling with a group large enough that we took the 4 middle section seats. Even paid business gets me moved around to whatever seat they feel like. It’s gotten to the point that between the seat games and the strikes I’m… Read more »
john904
Member

Brett, How many subscribers do you have for your news letter?

davidrosen
Member
Brutal. I too have challenges with seat assignments, upgrades, etc. — especially if flying on a 016 (United) ticket or code share. Frankly, agents at LHR do not seem to be aware that UA/LH are code share partners. “Oh, you are on United, we don’t handle them.” (gee, that United A380 sure is nice). But, to be fair, there are good people and good products at LH when you find them. Last week, I headed to the LH premium ticketing desk at FRA and asked about upgrades, United miles, cash, etc. A smart, fluent-English agent upsold me from coach to… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Hrm, who does LH use for their IT systems? Perhaps they’ve subcontracted it to Southwest?

Andrew mondt
Member
I used to love Lufthansa. Great food and customer care. When I was a travel agent I was on really good terms with my sales rep. The Senator desk staff were amazing and I had great relationships with them as I spoke to them almost daily. Things sure have changed. They are ruining their brand with the seat fees and less and less helpful staff. I get the seat fees as this is unfortunately a trend across the board. I have family in Germany and used to use my miles to book as an UA codeshare. I hope they can… Read more »
David M
Guest
My seating snafu story comes courtesy of Hawaiian Air. When we booked the reservation (through a Hawaii-based online agency), we weren’t able to secure seat assignments for our return HNL-SAN segment. When we did online checkin, the web site assigned us “preferred seats” (bulkhead I think), then tried to charge us for it and there were no other alternatives so I stopped the process. The next day at the airport, the kiosk puked out an error as well, though the agent manning the kiosks tried to tell me that whole circle of kiosks was broken (which I don’t think was… Read more »
John Glowicki
Guest

Brett…you comment that LH charges for all seats in economy class is not correct. They only charge for the lowest booking codes in the economy class cabin , I believe they are the 4 or 5 lowest booking classes, the remainder of the economy class cabin does not have a charge for seating.

USBT
Guest
I’ve had endless problems with Lufthansa over the last 2 years and I try as much as possible to avoid them (unfortunately I’ve still had to fly them long haul three times in the last year). Firstly, ouch! Nine hours plus in economy on a Lufty 747? Lufthansa has slimlines on the 747 (both flavors). Yup, think those United A320 seats and sitting in them for more than 9 hours. They’re the most unbearable long haul seats you could imagine, and then Heidi and Steffi are pushed to the back of the plane! Secondly, I had a very similar situation… Read more »
Anonymous
Member

Just interested….. why would you not try one of the ME3? I have found EY in particular to be vastly superior in “J” class

James
Guest
I am flying South African this fall, purchased on United, with two reservations (family trip originating in two different U.S. cities). Selected seats earlier this spring, checked my rez as I diligently do and found they’re all scrambled up. Called to reassign and told “they don’t do seat assignments anymore” – despite choosing SAA over LH for that exact purpose. Any recourse on this? Would be nice for a family to be able to sit together on an extremely long flight, or have decent seats since I purchased them all six months ago. They also “lost” my reservation, and due… Read more »
marks
Guest

If that’s how they treat their customers, imagine how they treat their staff.

No wonder the pilots are revolting.

Grichard
Guest

You think so? They look like any other pilots to me.

(Thank you… I’ll be here all week…)

tomf
Guest

Similar thing happened to me on Frontier. I bought an aisle bulkhead for $50 three weeks ahead of time. When I went to check in, my seat choice had vanished. Why? The agent who was very nice said, “happens all the time – some computer glitch.” At least they refunded my money, gave me a middle bulkhead seat and also comped my luggage and return seat.

polonia
Member

Keep telling us these tales so we know what airlines not to take and letting them know why. Keep it up!!!

Nick Barnard
Member

I’m sure every airline screws up.. If you just follow the stories you’ll have to walk wherever you want to go!

LT_DT
Guest
My wife and I flew from IAH to Europe earlier this summer. I wanted to take the Lufthansa A380 for my first A380 experience, and my wife was fine with doing so and paying extra for seat assignments in advance if necessary. At the time we made the reservations, the only remaining economy fares were W fares. I was planning on buying the tickets through the United website. I called United and I called Lufthansa and was never able to get a consistent story as to whether or not we could pay for the seat assignment outside of the on-line… Read more »
Deepshikha M
Guest

Nice information shared

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