At the check-in counter at Copenhagen’s International Airport, an SAS agent informed us that we had missed our flight to Frankfurt and that we would need to rebook. In order to rebook, he added, we would need to go to a counter across the terminal.
Our response? No way! We had been standing in line for two hours to get to the counter simply to hand our bags to the agent. They were already tagged. If we left our position without getting our boarding passes, we would miss our river cruise. Here’s how we fought - and won.
What Went Wrong
When we arrived at Copenhagen’s International Airport two hours before our flight to Frankfurt, the terminal was jammed pack. An exceptionally long line of passengers snaked through the terminal.
As a frequent flyer to and from Kastrup, I knew something was wrong. Within a few minutes, I learned that the mechanism that moves the luggage from the counters to the airplanes was broken. The situation at Kastrup was chaos.
Even though we had checked in and tagged our luggage, we had to wait until we could hand the bags over to an agent, and with the luggage mechanism broken, handing the bags over took hours, instead of minutes. It took so long, in fact, that we missed our flight.
And so after enduring snowstorms that crippled air traffic in much of Northern Europe in the days prior, holiday travelers would once again miss their flights or be delayed getting to their destinations.
There must have been 1,000 or more people in the terminal all stuck in the same predicament. Making matters worse was that neither the airport authorities nor SAS communicated what was going on and how it would be handled.
How It Should Have Been Handled
Airport authorities should have taken charge to make announcements telling passengers what was going on and updating us frequently. Information not only would have provided some comfort but also would have allowed us to assess our situations and plan accordingly.
SAS also should have taken charge, telling passengers how the airline was dealing with the situation.
Maybe it’s because the Scandinavians are characteristically shy that neither the airport authorities nor SAS made any announcements, except for a recording that told passengers that the airport regretted the delay. An explanation would have been much more useful than an apology. We were left in a vacuum of uncertainty.
We also were left on our own to figure out what to do. Because I hold a Eurobonus Silver Card (the middle tier in SAS’s frequent-flyer program), we were allowed to use Business Class check-in. After standing in that line for an hour and not moving an inch, we moved to the Economy Class check-in, which was inching forward.
The clocked ticked. Would we make it? There was no way to know. Our 9:05 a.m. flight to Frankfurt was not even listed on the board, and it was only 8:30 a.m. Was our flight delayed? Cancelled? After muscling my way to a counter, I learned that the flight was delayed. Why didn’t SAS use its text messaging system to inform us and others of the delays that morning?
People clearly were frustrated by the lack of information. If I had possessed a megaphone, I would have stood on the counter and shouted: “Because neither SAS nor the airport authorities will take charge and tell you what’s going on, I will tell you what I know.” I would have explained the situation to the best of my knowledge and added: “Say goodbye to your luggage once you do get to check it in. Your bags will never make it to your destination with you, so plan accordingly.”
What You Can Do In Similar Situations
- Take Charge. Because the authorities won’t take charge, it’s up to you to do so. Be pushy and demanding. I know it’s not ideal to be a nuisance, but, as the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Don’t be afraid to break line and go to the counter to ask about your flight, what’s going on and how it’s being handled. Of course, this would not be necessary if the airport authorities and airlines took it upon themselves to keep us informed using the various forms of technology available to them: public address systems, flight boards, text messages, emails, etc.
- Be Persistent. As previously noted, when we finally got to the counter to check our bags, the agent told us we had missed our flight and would need to rebook. That presented a problem: If we left the line, we would surely miss our river cruise. We had stood in line two hours to get to this point. Rebooking and rechecking our luggage could mean an additional two or more hours. Before giving up, I went to another agent, who, remarkably, got us on a flight departing in 15 minutes. Don’t take no for an answer.
- Pack An Overnight Bag. Don’t assume that your luggage won’t make it to your destination with you. Know that it won’t. With that knowledge, open your suitcase right there in the airport and shift over what you’ll need for the next couple of days. Arriving in Frankfurt to no bags, we were glad we packed clothes for a couple of days in our makeshift carry-on bags.
Two of the SAS agents I spoke with during the ordeal said they were embarrassed by the situation at Kastrup. They certainly seemed sincere.
One of the agents, however, proceeded to shift blame and point fingers. In contrast, the other tried to help. In business, as in life, it’s often the response to a problem that ultimately defines the person or brand.
After being refused a new boarding pass from one agent, I went to another. He got us on the flight to make it in time for the river cruise departure. “Extra service,” he said, handing over the boarding tickets, indicating that he had gone above and beyond the call of duty.
As we ran to the gate for our flight for Frankfurt, I noticed a billboard, “Problems can be complicated,” it read. “Solutions shouldn’t be.” That’s a message that Kastrup and SAS, and in fact, all who serve travelers, should take to heart.