Friday to Saturday night we had our flight to Paris.
I had finished everything in the office. Our truck load of luggage was packed. Thomas was sleeping. And we let Oskar stay up until our cab to the airport at 10 pm arrived (and he was cranky).
When we arrived at the check-in counter things seemed to be all okay…
… but this is when it started: they had us waiting for nearly an hour until we got our tickets. Frankly, this in itself is unacceptable on a normal day – but today was bound to be anything but a normal day.
We were told there were two problems with our connecting flight from Paris to Stuttgart: we were apparently booked as two adults and two infants and on top the flight was booked such that luggage could only be checked in till Paris. In the end they took care of this, but it also really took too darn long.
Does fixing this justify an hour wait? Not really.
Before we left for border control Lamia routinely asked the check-in agent whether we were for sure sitting in a front row with bassinet.
This had been confirmed by Air France Singapore a week before on the phone anyway, but always good to double check. And the agent confirmed indeed this was the case. Of course she did. Why wouldn’t we have the bassinet?
We were running late now, but made it to the gate prior boarding started and just managed to feed Thomas before we entered the plane.
Lamia went ahead with the boys and I followed after leaving the stroller with the airport staff for late luggage check-in. I entered the plane and found Lamia and the kids in utter distress: amidst the boarding jumble Oskar and Thomas were crying and our carry-on luggage was standing in the aisle. What the…?!
The sudden coarse language without asterisks indicates the direness of this situation. We were completely caught off guard by having to realize only at this point that we did not have seats with a bassinet. Which also meant we could not store our admittedly sizable collection of carry-ons easily accessible.
Long story short: a lot of drama, unnecessary stress and unprofessionalism on the cabin crews side. In the end we were lucky enough to get one seat with bassinet for Lamia and Thomas because a kind passenger moved, but Oskar and I were sitting several rows behind her.
(If you do not understand why this is an extremely stressful situation then you likely never have flown with two children aged within 2 years or less of each other on the same flight).
In the end, this was the worst flight we have ever had, bringing all of us at least once to a situation where stress peaked so much and we could not support each other that we were in fact close to tears.
From my point of view Air France has failed on so many levels, it is shocking and shows a lack of training and empathy in their organization that I find disturbing.
As angry as I was, I had thought this was a one time screw-up. But an email from yesterday already indicated we will have the same problem on the return flight. Quite honestly, it does not compute in my brain why this should even remotely be the case.
Today I then wrote a direct message on Twitter to Air France to lay out the situation from our point of view. While I know that it’s tempting to try and squeeze a “commercial gesture” out of the airline, the only thing I care about to avoid the same situation on our flight back home.
Here’s the message I wrote:
Following my tweets of the last days, here is the background on what happened and why I am majorly upset and disgusted by Air France. Let me tell you first that both my wife and I are frequent flyers, have been traveling hundreds of thousands of miles with most of the major airlines between the US, Europe and Asia. We understand that airlines sometimes have to change planes, cannot magically create new seats when a plane is fully booked and are on tight schedules.
But none of this justifies the experience we had.
This happened on our flight AF259, scheduled Nov 28 at 1:05 am from Singapore SIN to Paris CDG with a connecting flight AF1508 on the same day from Paris to Stuttgart STR at 1:05 pm.
My wife and I were traveling with our two children: a 2 1/2 month old infant and a 2 year old toddler. My wife is breast feeding, but is expressing the milk in bottles versus nursing directly.
We booked the trip online and we made sure several times in the booking process that we sit together and have a bassinet for our baby. If we had had any indication that this is not the case, we would not have purchased the tickets.
We particularly and repeatedly confirmed the bassinet and our sitting together…
(1) … via phone with Air France Singapore after we had received an email the week ahead of our flight, stating that plane and seats had changed.
(2) … in person at the check-in a few hours before the flight.
In all of these instances we were re-assured that bassinet and seats were reserved for us. We had no reason to believe that the information we received was not trustworthy.
The problems started at Singapore Sky Priority check-in, where we were kept waiting for nearly an hour (!) due to an alleged „booking issue“ with our connecting flight to Stuttgart. We had to wait with two little children, standing, and being left without proper explanation what was going on. This in itself already reflects badly on Air France, but we did not have any big concerns at that time.
When we finally received our tickets – always being told everything is okay – my wife asked one last time whether we were sitting in a row with bassinet. This was once more confirmed by the agent at the check-in.
After the long wait, we were now late to get to boarding and had to rush going through border control, changing the kids and making it to our gate.
Things went downhill once we were in the plane:
(1) we realized that we had been seated in a random middle row, obviously without option for a bassinet
(2) we were told rather unfriendly there were no other seats for us and that there was „no reason to be upset“
(3) we were helplessly stuck in the middle of the plane with no opportunity to stow carry-ons, having to debate with a crew that obviously just did not care. In fact, they were missing the basic comprehension why this situation was a problem and treated us as if this was our fault. They basically did not provide any actionable help to deal with the situation and instead gave us an ultimatum to take whatever seats or leave the plane.
We were standing in the middle of boarding with no real place for our carry-ons, with two kids crying, my wife very upset and a cabin crew that was not capable to professionally deal with the situation. This is the case for all of the flight attendants including the purser.
This is particularly outrageous because the front row seats with bassinets were not occupied by other families with babies but by regular customers. I am happy for anyone who can get one of these seats, but in this situation I can not comprehend that Air France, who knows exactly how many babies are on board of a plane, prioritizes regular passenger over passengers with babies who obviously need such a seat more than others.
Only due to the kindness of another passenger my wife got to sit in one front row seat and could get at least a bassinet for our baby. This helped but was still resulting in a more stressful flight for us, because she needed help with the baby when she was expressing milk, which means I had to take our older son with me to go over there and help, which again created a lot of unnecessary stress.
A 14 hour flight with a baby and a toddler is stressful no matter what, but Air France’s sloppy seating management made things unnecessarily worse for no good reason. And „changing a plane“ is not a good reason here, given that there were enough bassinet seats in the plane to accommodate the needs of all families on board.
Not even once during the flight would the crew proactively come to me or my wife and ask whether they can help with something. It hardly matters, but our 2-year-old (for whom we paid the full fare) did not get the special meal we’ve asked for nor the usual toys or something to draw. We also had opted for baby food for our infant which we also did not receive. I am mentioning this because it further shows the neglect of the cabin crew.
So in conclusion:
We had been repeatedly lied to by Air France, even an hour before the flight.
Air France clearly does not care about families with babies (anymore).
Air France staff from regular flight attendant up to Purser is neither trained, nor has the basic empathy to deal with situations like this.
Again: we are frequent flyers and know what normally to expect and what can go wrong. But unlike in the two previous years on the same route (Air France and KLM flights), we simply do not understand why this year we could not get the bassinet and were constantly fed wrong information by Air France.
Even worse, for our flight back on December 28, AF254, from Paris CDG to Singapore SIN, we have been informed by email of a similar situation. We called Air France in Germany and they confirmed they cannot put us on the front row which is at least an honest answer versus last time. The reason is twisted, however: the front row is blocked until online check-in is open. But if you are traveling with an infant, you cannot check-in online.
This means that we have not real chance to avoid a similar unhappy experience with Air France.
I am awaiting their reply.