Adventure travel comes with an acceptance that things will occasionally (or even frequently) not go to plan.
On my recent trip to Costa Rica, all was wonderful and dare I say it efficient on the travel front – until it came to the short hop back from the Frankfurt airport hub to London Heathrow with Lufthansa. In Costa Rica we had navigated washed out mountain roads, diverted along dirt tracks due to a road closure for an accident, been dropped off by boat on remote beaches, and then picked up again when scheduled. We had covered a lot of ground without a serious hitch.
We flew from San Jose to Frankfurt in good time, but we were travel weary: as last days often can be when they involve being awake for a long time. We settled onto the flight from Frankfurt to Heathrow, due to take just over the hour, with thoughts of getting home a little too prematurely on our minds. At 30 minutes into the flight the announcement was made that the aircraft would be turning back to Frankfurt.
On one perspective, the plane developed a fault which Lufthansa decided on safety grounds meant it could not continue, they returned us safely to Frankfurt, put us up in a hotel overnight and flew us home again the next day.
The other perspective is, the flight had gone hallway when they decided to return to the home airport – I’m sort of okay with that, many a time I have decided to return an ailing vehicle home rather than seek a mechanic in a strange place, but it was clearly a commercial decision to do this. We landed back in Frankfurt after our scheduled landing time at Heathrow. The “We’ll sort you out” promises evaporated faster than aviation fuel. They started with the assurance that another plane would be prepared and we would be transferred onto it, which quickly moved to an assurance we would be split onto later flights (and the ground staff had all the details waiting for us) to a total absence any helpful ground staff greeting us or alternative flights home that day once we had landed.
Eventually, we headed back on the airport side of security to the Lufthansa desk who were advising people they would be put up in a hotel and would probably be able to continue on the journey in a couple of days. As my travel companion really needed to get back to work the next day this was a difficult message to receive. Flights on this shuttle route were more frequent than hourly and the wonder of smartphones revealed several companies still selling tickets for the route that day. With hindsight resisting the chosen solution by Lufthansa was futile, but those of us who refused to believe were sent on a wild goose chase in search of standby seats on the remaining Lufthansa flights leaving that day, before returning to the desk in failure and accepting the hotel voucher. We were promised we were on a flight at 18.30 the next day – others fared worse being told they would have to wait several days.
We stayed overnight and returned first thing in the morning to engage once more with a now less hassled and refreshed Lufthansa staff. Turns out we weren’t actually booked on the 18.30 flight but were cheerfully told that was not a problem as there were seats available on earlier flights. We eventually arrived at Heathrow 21 hours after scheduled, and my travel companion recorded the first absence from work of his career.
Seems clear to me to that these events meet the criteria for the compensation scheme so I duly applied for compensation. I received a response from Lufthansa saying they were receiving a lot of complaints so it might take longer than usual for them to respond. An ignored chase up after a week and I am still waiting for them to get back to me.
It’s not always the obvious risks of adventure travel that catch you out - but at least I had a good view of the green roof at Frankfurt Airport.