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My journey from Istanbul to San Francisco started with an approximate 1.5 hour delay. The flight (LH 1771) had to take off late because there was a line in Ataturk Airport’s runway. I clearly remember that the captain said we had “15 planes in front of us so it will take a while - thank you for your patience”. I had a connecting flight from Munich to San Francisco, and because of the delay it was obvious that I was going to miss it, like a lot of people in the plane, especially those en route to the US. Everyone began asking the crew about their connecting flights and the crew said they informed Munich airport about the delay and that they will inform us later about our flights.
Before we landed in Munich, they told us that we were missing our flights and Lufthansa would take care of our situation. From what I heard from our hostess there were 10-12 people going to San Francisco, and we could catch our connecting flight if they delayed it only 20 minutes. Of course I wouldn’t expect this if I was the only person going to SF, but there were 12 people on that plane.
Whatever; so we missed our flights and someone directed us to Lufthansa customer service to re-book our flights. It was around 4 p.m. (the 23rd of January). And there were lots of passengers waiting for this process (a great deal of people). During this time, I met Mr. Haluk, who is a professor in San Jose State University as well as his student, Furkan. We were all going to SF, so we took our numbers for the line and waited for our turn. We were totally cool about the situation at first because we heard that, they gave us a single hotel room so that we can sleep and take the next flight in the morning.
The real story (the fun part) begins now. Of course, it turned out that they only gave the hotel room to American citizens or people with a visa / green passport. Mr. Haluk was an American citizen so he decided to take a flight to Frankfurt and have a direct connection to SF from there because he had meetings and he had to be in SF the next morning. But I didn’t have a visa or green passport so the only thing they gave me was a €20 meal check, and I would have to wait for the next flight which was at 8 in the morning. By the way, the woman who rebooked my flight didn’t give me any new boarding pass or anything, just a meal coupon. And the same woman gave Furkan two coupons (€15 each) and a paper from Air Canada which said that he could have a 100$ discount, etc. which obviously didn’t make any sense at all because…..Canada??? (Dude we’re going to San Francisco!).
Then I saw a group of people arguing with a lady from Lufthansa, and the summary of the conversation was:
- “That’s not our fault that we missed the flight, it is your fault that we had to stay here.”
- “You are right.”
The woman then accepted that it was Lufthansa’s fault and they should do something about it, so we went to spoke with the supervisor, expecting a refund, some kind of reimbursement, or other options. But the supervisor said “No, it is your fault, we can’t do anything about it! But I will ask Istanbul what’s the reason for the delay”, to which we had already said that it was because of air traffic.
Unfortunately, he didn’t listen to us and called somewhere else, we don’t know where; maybe he just pretended like he was talking to someone. Who knows. He then came back and said that it was because of weather conditions. (It was a sunny day. There were no clouds, so I think that this was proof that he was pretending to talk with someone, or maybe he was just singing, because he was speaking German, and well, we don’t know German) Whatever, right? Wrong. He then said that he couldn’t help us, and that they also can’t provide anything more than a meal coupon, which was hilarious because the coupon had to be spent all at one time. (So if you spent your €15 coupon at one time, you had to remain hungry for the rest of the night, that’s why you had to strategize and decide to either eat then or to eat a few hours later.)
By the way, I looked around and I figured out that everybody was gone except for our group. I wondered what was so special about our group of people. Let me explain: There were 17-18 people in the group and we were all trying to go to America, most of us being American students. The age of the group was between 17-35 tops, so we were young and we didn’t have a Schengen visa, but more importantly we were all TURKISH CITIZENS. Yes. In my opinion this is the most important part of the situation, everyone who left even without a Schengen Visa was either old or pregnant. But we had to stay there because we were Turkish. The options that we suggested and they refused were:
- Let us also fly to Frankfurt, so that we don’t have to spend the night here. They said NO.
- At least provide us access to one of your lounges so that we can be comfortable. They said NO.
- What about a daily visa option? NO, BECAUSE WE DON’T GIVE DAILY VISA TO TURKISH AND INDIAN PEOPLE.
- And a woman added, “If you want, you can immigrate.”
Well, it was so obvious that we were not trying to stay in Germany, I mean; we were not pretending like going to US, and try to get in Germany for working there, have a life, etc. as an immigrant. But after that conversation I think the situation just got uglier because I think it is clearly racist and we all felt like we are a piece of shit.
We were all aware that we are not the first group of people to spend the night in an airport but it was their attitude; which made the situation terrible. The things that they said to us made us feel both angry and sad at the same time. They were not nice at all, they were behaving rude and blaming us for the whole situation, which had nothing to do with us.
I made another friend, and she was there for two days because her connecting flight was Air Canada and it broke down somehow. And they didn’t do anything about her situation until the plane got fixed. She was psychologically vulnerable, we’re talking about two days in an airport when you don’t know when is your next flight, on top of that they treat you rudely, and even blame you for calling your parents too much, or wanting and asking for too much stuff.
A man literally shouted at her like “It is your fault that you are here, not mine, and you already used the phone, you can’t use it anymore!” (That was nice. Did she break the plane? seriously?) First of all, what happened to the idea of ”the customer is always right?”, second of all, it is Lufthansa’s duty to help their customers, if the plane is broken down or if the plane took off late. Why was it now our fault?
Oh by the way, I accidentally told a lady that nobody gave us our new boarding passes. And she checked it out and found out that the lady before, re-booked us to a Canada flight, which answers all questions in our minds about the Furkan’s discount paper. (It was like a puzzle, you have found the right pieces to get in the right flight). So finally, we found out that our plane was at 8 a.m. (for Canada of course; which was not a certain flight) but the original flight was at 11.30 a.m. to Washington, then to SF. (Yay! Another connection flight that we had to be careful about.) Which means that we had to stay in that airport for 20 hours.
The funny things about Munich Airport are that: there is no free Internet access from anywhere, no airport hotel, its cold, everything closes at 10 p.m, and fully empty at night. We were the only living beings in the airport except a few security guards and really rude cleaning people. It was like a horror movie about a group of people stuck in an airport, who get killed one by one mysteriously.
THANKS TO LUFTHANSA, they GENEROUSLY (!) prepared beds (trampolines?) for us in front of the gate, they gave us pillows and blankets. Also, the blankets were child size, pretty small, or maybe specifically made only to cover your feet. And we tried to get some sleep, but of course we couldn’t, because moving on that bed was dangerous, you could have gotten thrown suddenly into the air because it was basically a trampoline. The lights were on, it was cold, and cleaning people were doing their business with loud laughters, and joy when were sleeping. (I really didn’t know that you can make that much noise with water. Everyday in Munich Airport is another new life experience.) In the morning they gave us €7 Euros for breakfast, so that we could only buy coffee and remain hungry. Well, of course we paid for our meal, but hey, Lufthansa paid for our coffee.
11.30 a.m. in Munich. We were on the plane, ready to go to Washington, but they decided to clean the plane with alcohol, so that we can miss our other connecting flight too. I really started to think; Am I a part of some kind of cruel joke? Or maybe its some sort of psychological experiment. We were in Washington at 3.45p.m. and we had to catch the flight at 4. 30p.m, which is impossible. Because we had to get through the customs, we had to take our baggage and check in again for the connecting flight and of course the security line in the airport was huge. What did we do? I had a few options:
- I could start to cry.
- I could try to beat up a Lufthansa member.
- I could give up and check into a hotel in Washington.
- I could run.
Well, we ran. We ran like hell to catch that flight. And we made it. But I wish that there was a camera following me, because it was like an action movie this time. It’s still difficult to describe the situation, all of the luggage, the security, the running to gate D26, when we started from gate C1. (We can say it was a bit of a marathon). I fell down hard when I was running and injured my knee; it still hurts. But hey, we made it to the plane. I am pretty sure that we looked like aliens to the people on that plane because we were red, sweaty, were short of breath, speaking Turkish, which is gibberish to Americans, and the knee part of my legging was torn and I was laughing hysterically.
After this ordeal, I am pretty sure that I am not the same person as I was before this Lufthansa experience. I now can say that I am happy to be alive because I honestly thought that this journey would never end, and that I was going to die in a random airport trying to catch another connecting flight.
I reached SF after a grand total of 42 hours, and I was at home at 8.30p.m. the 25th of January. Luckily, I didn’t have anything important to do but I cannot imagine about anyone else who might have had classes, meetings, exams etc. Because “Lufthansa imprisoned us” is not a good excuse for missing your job interview.
But seriously, thank you to all of my friends who were with me that night. I couldn’t have done it without you. I cannot imagine how I would’ve been able to go through all of that alone in that airport.
Thank you Lufthansa, you’ve made me stronger (!).
Thank you Munich Airport, for creating so many opportunities for new customers (!).
Thank you Germany, for treating the Turkish people with so much respect (!) and not being racist at all (!)
Thank you Ataturk Airport, for handling air traffic so expediently that you wound up further delaying our airplane for another hour and a half. That was fun (!).
Thank you Turkish Embassy in Munich, for doing nothing when we called you (!).
Thank you for reading this.