AEGEAN Customer Relations Takes the Corporate Line – Part I
AEGEAN Airlines is one of the most respected and appreciated air carriers in the world. At least this is how the Greek Star Alliance champion has been viewed by the industry and the public. This is why a recent complaint I got wind of was so shocking to me. Here’s a travel horror story I would not have believed possible, before COVID that is. Before I relate the story, please consider the term “unworthy of attention” from the definition of ageism below.
Ageism [ ey-jiz-uhm ]
- discrimination against persons of a certain age group
- a tendency to regard older persons as debilitated, unworthy of attention, or unsuitable for employment.
And now for the story
When a teacher at the Heraklion school my son attends called me the other day, I thought perhaps my son had missed a homework assignment or something. So, the story Stefanos Mirtsopolis laid out for me seemed surreal, like something from a Hollywood horror-travel script. Mirtsopolis is my little boy’s math teacher, and he knew of our expertise in the travel business, so he sought some advice as to remedying a horrible situation. I immediately sought out the officials I know at the Greek airline, to find out the proper course. I must say, given past good experiences with the airline, I was gobsmacked at AEGEAN’s solution, but I’ll save my inquiries until the end.
The high school math teacher’s mother Mrs.Olga Mirtsopoulou, a senior citizen traveling from Newark, NJ, the USA to Thessaloniki via United Airlines and AEGEAN recently, ended up the star of a travel horror epic. As Mirtsopolis related to me, her trip went smoothly until she tried to board her AEGEAN connecting flight in Frankfurt, Germany. If you’ve never been in Frankfurt’s cavernous air terminal, imagine a 68-year-old Greek/American lady making use of wheelchair transport, and being shunned back into the netherworld of chaos over a date on a Passenger Locator Form (PLF).
Mrs. Mirtsopoulou was refused to board by AEGEAN because she had put the wrong date on the internet form for the PLF. She was allowed by United Airlines to fly the Newark to Frankfurt leg of her journey, but the gate personnel told her she could not board the AEGEAN aircraft. She asked to speak with the supervisor, and an hour and a half later the station manager appeared to re-affirm she could not travel even after she agreed to pay any costs the airline would incur if she were turned away in Thessaloniki. According to her account, the AEGEAN manager was not only unmovable, he was rude and even caustic in his dealings with the situation. At a point, he pointed to the baggage claim area and left Mrs. Mirtsopoulou to her own devices. The manager also hung up the phone on Stefan Mirtsopolis.
Stranded in one of Europe’s biggest airports, Mrs. Mirtsopoulou not only had to book a last-minute stay at a Frankfurt hotel, she was forced to buy new tickets, to get another COVID-19 test (since hers would expire before the new departure date), an already long trip turned into a days-long ordeal for a lady with high blood pressure and back problems. To top things off, AEGEAN made no effort to help an aged client retrieve her heavy bags, and after the manager left the boarding area, attendants even removed the wheelchair that had been provided to help Mrs. Mirtsopoulou from point to point. Stefan tells me it was as if AEGEAN were saying; “You’re no longer paying us, so you can crawl to the baggage are for all we care.”
But wait, the story gets even stupider
I mentioned that Stefan Mirtsopolis asked me for advice because of our extensive dealings in the travel sphere. When he called me it was in my mind to try and mediate a potential PR nightmare and to help a colleague sort out a catastrophe. My first thought was to message a couple of high-up AEGEAN execs I know, via LinkedIn and Email. My message to them was something on the order of; “I can’t believe this happened, isn’t there someone they can talk to?” The response set me back on my heels when an upper management guy claimed “AEGEAN does not fly to America”.
”WOW!”, At a moment where I was thinking a nice apology would patch things, the upper echelon at AEGEAN could not even understand my English apparently. So, stunned by what used to pass for professional executives in my network, I decided to contact the always friendly social media team for AEGEAN. Their response was far friendlier, and they seemed concerned too. They advised that Stefanos contact Aegean Customer Relations as per the suggestions I’ve mentioned. This is what he did, and after seven working days, this is, in part, the answer he got back:
“According to the reservation code of PATF6K, Mrs. Mirtsopoulou was not accepted on flight A3 531 on January 6, 2021, from Frankfurt to Thessaloniki, due to insufficient travel documents. Specifically, the Passenger Locator Form (PLF), which was presented at the check, was completed with a flight date of January 7, 2021, although its arrival in Greece would be on January 6, 2021. The relevant information was given to your mother accurately, as the travel conditions are set by the governments of each state and are expected to be complied with by each passenger as well as by the air carrier after the necessary control.”
When I read the letter Stefanos shared with me, I could not believe my eyes. Immediately I wondered how is it possible that the airline most often associated with Greece can even appear to be so indifferent, and against the aged too, and with Greece has one of the oldest populations in the world? To make matters MUCH worse, Mirtsotolis told me an official he contacted at Greece’s General Secretariat of Civil Protection informed him that the PLF form could have been amended or replaced while Mrs. Mirtsopoulou was at the gate, in such a case. So, a capable and willing AEGEAN manager would have stood a decent chance of fixing this flight nightmare. But he chose not to even try.
The same official also informed Mirtospolis that it would be up to the particular airline’s customer service as to whether or not to try amending the form. So, Olga Mirtsopoulou bought her tickets in good faith – check. She got her COVID-19 test – check. She went online and filled in forms and thought she had taken care of everything – check. She boarded the United Airlines plane in Newark – check. She landed in one of Europe’s busiest airports, a place where the German Poliezei routinely marches about with MP5 submachineguns to deter terrorists, passed their rigid security protocols, and BAM! She got held up by what used to be the friendliest airline in the world. Over one data field being one day off!
AEGEAN Flaps and Rudder Lost?
With the media inquiring, with half a dozen potential solutions floating about in the air, and with a vision of an elderly Greek/American lady standing alone, disheveled, and scared in a huge airport terminal, AEGEAN Airlines’ big deal station boss there in Frankfurt cannot even shortcut his coffee break to bother to go the extra mile! When I thought about what happened, this news story quickly turned into an editorial. I am pretty sure it will metamorphose into a documentary before all is said and done. Shell shocked that my favorite airline had seemingly gone rogue, I researched a bit recent AEGEAN complaints. Sure enough, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the airline has been plagued by a pandemic of its own.
At Skytrax AEGEAN still has a four out of five-star rating. However, the most recent reviews and ratings seem to mirror the sort of nightmare stories I am relating in this report. Here’s what Skytrax says about the airline:
“Aegean Airlines has been voted the Best European Regional Airline by customers for many years, and this is supported by the excellent full-service standards provided on its international route network. A consistent strength for Aegean Airlines is the quality and consistency of cabin staff service.”
More recent Skytrax reviews go from “I don’t know how this could get any worse” – to – “still waiting for my refund” – to – “awful experience” – to – “that is why I started yelling”, just to show a few. Where once 9s and 10s dominated the reviews, now complaints about customer service have taken over. Let me brand that into your brain. AEGEAN was the best regional airline on the planet! But the recent ratings and reviews destroy that assertion, and not only at Skytrax. The Tripadvisor reviews are even worse. Here’s one for illustration purposes:
“I booked a flight 2 weeks ago from Athens to Heraklion. Due to a “bug” in their systems, my flight changed by itself. I don’t know how!
Since then I have contacted them a couple of times, I attached a screenshot of my original booking from their site and I have informed them that I have changed my flights but they insist it is my fault and can’t help me. After my request for further details about my flight “change” they just ignore me.
So, be careful they don’t care about their customers, just try to make more money due to Covid-19 to save their bonus.”
There’s a lot more to this story. What’s stands out is that my favorite airline, one of the world’s most respected companies and brands, seems to be crashing its reputation in a public relations crash like I’ve not seen in thirty years in PR and media. I am sitting here reading another Tripadvisor review from a Greek businessman saying he is “ashamed to be Greek and represented internationally by such a “company”.
When I recall our last AEGEAN experience, when the cabin crew adopted my little boy more or less, it makes me sad, sad, and angry that financial straights or a change in management, or COVID, or whatever could seemingly transform our most trusted companies. Or, worse still, mutate the friendliest customer service in the world to uncaring, calloused, and “too important” business agents. If you can’t go the extra mile for a sick older person, how the hell can you do what’s right for the able millennials?
I’ll follow up, stay tuned…