Swissair have a quirky policy which means that people who have bought and paid for a flight are not guaranteed a seat on the flight they have booked.

On my recent holiday to Lucerne we arrived at Birmingham airport check-in desk in good time only to be told that the plane was full!!  We were advised that we could check our baggage in and proceed to the boarding gate where 10 people were already waiting to see if they could get on the flight or we could volunteer to go on a different flight…

We were told that Swissair policy was to overbook flights by 10% and that people who checked in on-line (which is only available 24 hours before the flight) got priority.  I think this policy quite outrageous, it means that people who are not able to check in on-line are not guaranteed a flight even if they have paid for their flight in advance.

We asked what would happen if we volunteered, and after listening to one half of a lengthy phone call we were told that if we chose to volunteer we would get 250 Euros each in compensation. We were then told that we would have to proceed to the boarding gate first to see if we could get on the plane.  At this stage Mr C said, if you send us down there we are getting on the plane!!

We were then asked to wait 20 minutes to see if  any spaces left due to passengers not turning up at the boarding gate.  After 20 minutes we went back and after a bit more pantomime they assessed that that there were three places left on the plane and three people at the gate waiting on standby so there really was no room for us and we were sent over to another desk to claim our compensation and to be booked onto a Lufthansa flight which meant a change in Frankfurt.

We got to the Lufthansa check-in desk, checked our baggage in and the tickets were printed off.  It was only at this point the Lufthansa representative realised that one of our tickets for the connecting flight was only a standby ticket!!  The flight was not guaranteed!!  He was rather miffed that Swissair were overbooking the Lufthansa flight.

All this messing around meant that we did not get the breakfast we had planned at Birmingham airport. I had just enough time to grab some fruit and a fruit juice before it was time to board the plane.  The meal on the flight was a croissant with a slab of chocolate inside and a choice of drink.  I chose water which was served to me in a thimble sized glass.

The flight itself was the worst I have ever been on. The plane “wobbled” all over the place and left me feeling rather dizzy and when there was a sudden bout of turbulence, I thought I was going to pass out.  The lack of food and water was contributory to this.

There was no chance of food at Frankfurt airport due to trying to turn the standby ticket into an actual ticket, but at least I managed to grab a bottle of water and we were expecting food on the flight.

After checking through security once again we managed to get onto the flight. It was a much smoother flight but there was no food on offer.  I sat between two German/Swiss businessmen and exchanged pleasantries (in English) with one of them who mentioned that he was surprised the flight was so full.  I was able to explain why!

We knew we would have the problem of trying to check in on-line (somehow) for our homeward journey, which brings me back to the final evening of our holiday:

Earlier, we had tried to check in online for our return flight with the intention of avoiding the problems we had incurred on our outward journey. Technology problems made this a little difficult so we abandoned it until after dinner when I insisted we try again!  We checked in successfully only three hours after the earliest time that we could have and took the last two seats that were adjacent to each other.  We also noticed that very few seats remained available after we had secured ours. I wonder how many people didn’t get a seat on the flight…

In recent years I have traveled with budget airlines because they were ones that took me where I wanted to be at the times I wanted to fly. I had been looking forward to travelling in more style for a change. But on reflection I think I will be sticking to the budget airlines in future. You can’t guarantee which seats you will occupy before you board the plane, but at least you are guaranteed a seat and they try to shuffle people round as they board so that couples can sit near each other. There is always a choice of food and drink to purchase and, if you prefer, you have the option to take your own food on board.

19 Comments CherryPie on Aug 12th 2013

19 Responses to “The Uncertainty of Flying Swissair”

  1. JD says:

    Flown several times with Lufthansa and they have always been excellent and surprised at the lack of food.
    Thinking about your tale, it seems to me that the scheduled airlines are responding to the ‘budgeteers’ (I almost wrote budgies there!) by trying to compete with them – cutting out the food, making sure the planes are full and saying ‘take it or leave it’
    I hope I’m wrong about that but….. the way of the world these days, it’s probably the way things are going. Before I ended my wanderings around the globe, flying was becoming less and less enjoyable so this is probably a continuation of the obsession with cutting costs (see today’s news stories about Ryanair pilots)

    Anyway, you got there and back safely and had a bit of an adventure along the way. Look on the bright side – you got a blog posts out of it! :)

  2. JD says:

    might tell you what Lufthansa stands for some day :)

    EL-AL = every landing always late
    BOAC = better on a camel
    TWA = try walking across

    • CherryPie says:

      I think the flight time was too short to serve food to everyone. Those in business class were served with food. I feel they could however have handed out some sort of sandwich as people boarded.

      They maybe trying to compete with the budget airlines but they charge a lot more for what on this occasion was a lot less. When I say budget airlines I am talking Flybe, EasyJet and BMI Baby before it was taken over. All very good, very efficient and everything that was needed was to hand. The baggage allowance is very specific, in relation to carry on luggage, but adequate.

      I would never fly Ryanair, I don’t like the company ethos.

      When we were booking to go to Carcassonne last year Ryanair is the airline that flies to the local airport. The travel agent said that no tour operator would deal with Ryanair. They do however use all the other budget airlines.

      And yes it did make an interesting (I think) blog post ;-)

  3. ubermouth says:

    Dreadful start to a holiday and awful pressure to book online prior to returning. Who needs it. I’d write a complaint and request a refund.

    I have always flown back and forth across the Atlantic,but once I took a charter. Eight hours of sitting in a sardine can[they put extra seats n for charters] with no elbow or leg room. Never again!

    • CherryPie says:

      I was rather stressful, but we arrived only a couple of hours after originally scheduled.

      The compensation they paid us was nearly the cost of the flight. It was almost tempting not to check-in on line on the return journey, because then they would have been paying us to fly with them…

      But as you said, we didn’t need that hassle on the way back, we just wanted to get home ;-)

      Long flights in sardine can seats are not fun at all!!

  4. Astrid says:

    That is quite a story, no Swiss Air for me……
    On the Trans Atlantic Ginnie and I, always go Delta or KLM.
    Lucky for us, those plains have two seats next to the window, we take those or, the two seats on the outside of the middle row.
    Flying to the UK we do with EasyJet, we don’t bother where we sit, we are on board and to me, I consider that a bus…
    We also make sure that we are in time (always 3 or more hours) before take-off, you never know what comes in between….Flying, I like it that they invented that, however going through security is still not my hobby……

    • CherryPie says:

      I have never flown on a plane large enough for a central bank of seats. The smallest plane I have flown on had only two rows of two and that was the Yugoslavian airline before the country divided. It was an excellent airline.

      Going through security for the last few years has become increasingly tedious, remembering what you can and can’t pack in hand luggage…

  5. Swissair is rubbish. But I like their chocolate given after the meal. :)
    If you ask for another chocolate, they will give you a funny look?! He he…

    Fly with Singapore Airlines, they’re really really good.
    Malaysian Airlines are not bad either.
    Both better than British Airways, KLM, Air France, Qantas, etc.
    Unfortunately, both airlines don’t fly to Continental airports from UK.

    • CherryPie says:

      The guy next to me on the way home was rather uncommunicative, he played computer games throughout the flight. He also used his mobile phone and iPad when he was supposed to have turned them off (during take of and landing).

      He also took ‘two’ of those delicious chocolates ‘without’ asking!!!

  6. james higham says:

    I think this policy quite outrageous, it means that people who are not able to check in on-line are not guaranteed a flight even if they have paid for their flight in advance.

    Not only outrageous, Cherie, but silly.

  7. Steve Hayes says:

    Most scheduled airlines overbook because of “no shows”, but sometimes the policy backfires on them. I once flew to Switzerland on a cheap student flight, and booked to fly from Gatwick to Basel, and then go by train to Geneva, where I was to attend a student seminar. But the plane was broken down in Basel and so they squeezed us all in on a flight to Zurich, in a small twin-engined Aero Commander with canvas bucket seats, and on the way there was a thunderstorm, where all you could see out the window was lightning flashes, and the plane was bucking like a bronco at a rodeo. I hoped the pilots could see more, because there were Alps there somewhere. But we made it. But I thought Swissair went bankrupt…

    • CherryPie says:

      It was the first time I had encountered such nonsense, but I suspected some of the other airlines probably had the same policy. It looked like they had reciprocal agreements and worked in conjunction with each other.

  8. Lisl says:

    Flying is stressful enough (or the airports are) without all the nonsense you encountered this time, Cherie. I feel for you

  9. Ayush says:

    this could not have been happy or helpful. and this policy is certainly not helpful; imagine every flight could potentially be subjecting many people to the same horror.

    • CherryPie says:

      I suspect there were many more than us. It does have a knock on effect with the hotel bookings too, if you can’t get a flight in a convenient time slot…

  10. J_on_tour says:

    Wow, that’s a horror story & a half. I’ll bear that in mind if ever I have the misfortune to be led down that road. Most of my flights in the past have been with Easyjet & although I could write a book about my numerous trips & occasional cancellations to Bristol, at least I know that there is space on the plane before arriving at the airport. I had an interesting experience with a friend last year flying back from South Africa. The print out from the travel company went off the bottom of the page and there was a problem on the return trip. We arrived at the local airport to check in with a local airline flight to Cape Town. The check in desk said that my friend’s ticket was valid all the way home whereas mine was only as far as Dubai. For obvious reasons, Cape Town was an airport that I wasn’t looking forward to going to. They found a seat on the plane for me for the last leg but apologised that there weren’t two together. I was most thankful & would have tipped the guy if I could, telling him not to worry about it.