Four weeks ago I heard about the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull delaying and canceling flights across Europe, but I didn’t worry — I had plenty of time.
And I was right, until I arrived in Munich and found my flight to Florence, Italy, delayed and eventually canceled because Eyjafjallajokull had struck again, leaving volcanic ash clouds throughout northern Europe.
But not only was my flight canceled; so were about 500 other flights throughout Europe, leaving many travelers stranded in Munich Airport.
For an airport that has been handling cancellations and delays due to volcanic ash for about a month now, the staff was unorganized and unhelpful. The situation was a complete mess.
The line to the Service Center almost stretched through the entire terminal we were in, and besides that, everyone was fighting to find his or her luggage.
The group I was with spoke to a woman at the desk, and we were told to take the train to Florence, with no reimbursements from Lufthansa, our airline, for our lost flight. With all other flights to Florence booked, this was our best option. The train wasn’t leaving until 9 p.m. (it was only 2 p.m.), so we thought we had plenty of time.
Running down to baggage claim, we were met with hundreds of other travelers stuck in Munich. Walking up and down and pushing our way through 17 turnstiles was useless. Our luggage, along with everyone else from our flight’s luggage, was not there.
The crowd worsened, and so did the mood. People were not happy they couldn’t find their luggage and make new arrangements, and with flights continuing to be canceled, the amount of luggage that needed to be sorted literally piled up.
It didn’t take long before Munich police took charge of the situation and roped off the two turnstiles that all flights throughout Europe were supposed to be on. But their way of taking charge including yelling in German, which many travelers did not understand, and stopping us from looking at the luggage to find our own.
Regardless, people tried to fight their way to the front of the crowd to search for their belongings. Most came back empty-handed, and soon the police were pushing the crowd back farther and farther.
At this point, in complete frustration and anger, my group left to figure out new plans. It was 7 p.m., and the train to Florence was full.
Two hours later, we returned to the scene to see a calm baggage claim. The police were gone, the roped-off area was open again and searching for bags was a less hectic experience.
Not surprisingly, our luggage was not where we were told it would be, but we did find it.
It’s disappointing to see an airline fail its customers that much by not offering us other options, failing to get our luggage to us and leading me to decide never to return to Munich Airport or fly with Lufthansa again. But it’s more disappointing that I’m left wondering if this would have been handled differently or more efficiently in the U.S.
I don’t want to have bad feelings toward Germany, but to me, the airport and the airline prevented me from almost two full days in Florence and cost me about $325 of what I spent to be in this program.
But, as I’ve been told, Lufthansa doesn’t give reimbursements, so I won’t be looking for that check anytime soon.