Continued flight chaos at Lufthansa and Eurowings

Author: Mario Schmidtgen
Date: 05.07.2018

Reliability of German aviation worse than ever

The holiday months will probably be rather uncomfortable for the tourists. According to a newspaper ad of the aviation industry “the sky also comes to a limit”.

The advertisement was signed by the bosses of the airlines belonging to the Federal Association of the German Air Transport Industry. These include Lufthansa, Eurowings, Condor, Tuifly and EAT, as well as German airports and German air traffic control. The action is intended to reassure passengers who are suffering from the chaos.

Besides the promise to “improve punctuality and reliability”, there was also a confession: “In the summer ahead, the measures will not be able to fully develop their effect.” In plain language: It will still come to some delays. Meanwhile the politicians and consumer advocates are hearing the alarm bells ringing. They demand significant improvements in customer service from the airlines.

For most passengers it is not pleasant that they first experience inconveniences due to cancelled or delayed flights and then are treated “not even customer-oriented” by the airlines. Secretary of State Gerd Billen told Handelsblatt that it is particularly important for airlines to work on “customer-focused complaints management”. Today, the entire industry is way too little focused on their customers and the associated service. “A good first impression can be made only once.” However, the airlines have rather neglected this point until now.

After the Air Berlin insolvency declaration ten months ago, the reliability of German aviation is worse than ever. In the period from January to June 20, 15,571 flights within Germany were cancelled, 3778 flights flew with at least three hours delay according to calculations of the passenger rights portal. In the same period last year, the number of cancellations was 8826 and the number of delayed flights 2268.

Due to their unreliability the airlines must expect millions in compensation. Just until June 20, compensation claims worth almost € 480 million have been incurred. From a delay of three hours, the passengers are entitled to compensation, which can be up to 600 euros.

The ministry of consumer affairs underlines this claim exactly. “There may be exceptional circumstances, but these must not become a general justification for non-payment,” said State Secretary Billen. “Exceptional circumstances should be explained transparently by the airlines.”

Billen encourages every consumer to use every available opportunity to claim. “I can only recommend, in such cases after unsuccessful contact to the airline, to approach the arbitration board for public transport or to the arbitration board for air traffic at the Federal Office” he says. This process is free of charge and easy to handle.

Especially the unusually high number of flight cancellations at Lufthansa is causing concern to consumer advocates. Alone in the first half of 2018, more flights had to be canceled than in whole 2017. Around 2,800 flights have already been canceled by the Lufthansa Group this year. The reasons for this were air traffic controller strikes, bottlenecks in air traffic control and infrastructure and capricious weather conditions with numerous thunderstorms and tempests.

And even Eurowings, who have been criticized for months due to the numerous flight cancellations and flight delays, apologize in writing to their status customers. Thorsten Dirks, head of Eurowings, postpones the disturbances to the acquisition of 70 former Air Berlin aircraft. However, this transfer should have been stopped until the end of July, to make Eurowings more reliable again.

But there are doubts. CSU member of the German parliament Paul Lehrieder says: “I see the development with extremely concern. The image of the industry has already suffered heavily because of the Air Berlin bankruptcy.” For him, the announcement of the aviation industry is therefore “a pretty steep” and he says that it is a major problem that the chosen measures won’t work this summer.

In addition, Lehrieder regrets that politics does not have the means to put the airlines under pressure. “I can only appeal to the airlines to remedy the grievances quickly” says Lehrieder. For both business and leisure travelers, it is important to be able to rely on the punctuality and reliability of airlines. “Anything else would be harmful to the air traffic location Germany.”

For tourism politician Markus Tressel from Die Grünen, the need for action is clearly in the legislation. “It cannot be that air travelers have to pay more and more often for the bad planning of airlines,” says Tressel to the Handelsblatt. “That’s why we need more consumer protection through regulatory reform and higher fines so that airlines take their obligations to customers seriously.”

The least that Lufthansa can do for its passengers in the event of delays and cancellations in the future is to inform passengers about the exact reasons for the delay.”During the summer holidays Lufthansa has to prove that they can do better than in the first half of the year.”

Tressel also explained that he considered it as “highly annoying” that Lufthansa remained silent for months on the subject and only opened to the public when external pressure became too strong. “At least it would have been their task to clearly identify the problems in-house and not look for reasons for the failures in the form of generalities outside their responsibility,” says Tressel.

Klaus Müller, Germany’s top consumer advocate is also dissatisfied with Lufthansa’s behavior: “This raises the question if Lufthansa has overrated themselves with the takeover of Air Berlin.” Therefore, Lufthansa as a “nationally highly praised champion” must now” counteract as quickly as possible the demystification. ”

Above all, a stable flight plan and a sufficient number of aircraft and employees ready to fly are important for this. “The difficulties at Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings should not be widened into a drama for consumers again this year,” warns the head of the VZBV.

The Air Berlin bankruptcy had already turned the past summer into a total disaster for a large number of holidaymakers. “At that time, Lufthansa took over Air Berlin with the aim to do it better” says Müller. 2018 is a true déjà-vu for passengers: changes of timetables, delays and cancellations with long waiting times and high levels of nervous stress as results for passengers.

A majority of the Lufthansa and Eurowings customers did not make it to the holiday destination, landed on a different destination than planned or ended up without a suitcase. The head of VZBV sums up the chaotic situation as a “holiday disaster reloaded”.