Last Friday, on the 29 of May 09, took place flight LH 3198 D"usseldorf-Moscow (SVO). I have calmly waited for the landing (among passengers were my parents), but instead I have received an sms from them: emergency landing in Vilnius, Lithuania. I am calling their handy, they tell that they are sitting in the lounge of soviet type for already 4 hours and are not allowed to leave the passport control zone because their one-entry visas are over. They said that everything came quite suddenly: during the flight after the meal the aircraft started descending sharply, the command to passengers "fasten seatbelts". The pilot's official announcement: "re-chargeable batteries appeared to be empty, the solution made is to land in the nearest airport for the safety reasons".
My parents are 70 and over 70 years old, they are asking me "to get in touch with somebody", in order that a responsible person would come and explain, what's going on further. They suffer 100% lack of any information. The EU passengers have already left the passport control zone and probably started resolving their problems themselves, but here there are still about 10 russian passengers completely abandoned for the noted time. During 4 hours there was no person which could something explain and arrange. The only available is medical service, to the request for some blankit there came the answer: "we have just one, of somebody feels bad, that person becomes the blankit".I then start calling. Lufthansa-Zentrale in Germany, 0531 23 55 100. I am speaking German. They are listening to me and answering: "This is not our care, call please 0531 23 55 552". I am getting through only in an hour: "This is not our care".
I am calling the airport of D"usseldorf and asking for any Lufthansa-representative. Connected. I am stating what I want. I want to understand. what is going on, want to get some information, want to speak to a person resposible for the situation. Finally, I want my parents to be treated as people rather than as pigs. But I have a feeling that I am speaking to some device with the audio-player function. "We are sorry...we cannot help...this is not our care...ask at the place of incident". I am explaining again and again, that at the place of incident there is probably nobody, who were able and would want to share any information, that it has been already for 4 hours a complete vacuum. The answer: "This cannot be so". Probably, because this can never be so. I am going along this story once again and explaining more and more. No result. I am demanding the tel. # of a Lufthansa-representative in Vilnius, who would be responsible for all arising questions. Denial comes back: “Passengers should resolve all problems at the place of incident themselves”. Sounds as delusion, aber…
No Lufthansa telephone in Vilnius stated in Internet responds, the time is a bit later than 18 o’clock.
I am calling the airport of Vilnius and speaking English. I am getting connected to the … luggage service. They are communicating almost gently, suggesting that we speak Russian and speaking quite good Russian. They are giving all the information they have, namely check in the the list of passengers, tell about food delivery, but the luggage service does not deal with the accommodation, does not deal with the passport and visa issues, does not resolve problems with transit of passengers. No Lufthansa representative is present.
Suddenly I am catching the call from my wife, she lives in D”usseldorf. I am telling her the whole story, she is writing down the telephone # of the airport of D”usseldorf and starting calling there. In an hour she is calling me back, the same theater, no result.
I have found out later, that the telephone activity of passengers resulted in that either the representative of the consular servie of Russian Federation or even the consul himself came to the airport of Vilnius, and after the negotiations with officials all these passengers … were allowed to leave the passport control zone without any visas and were offered accommodation in the hotel of the airport. Next morning they were carried to Moscow (Vnukovo) with the Russian UTair. No representatives of Lufthansa were observed herewith.
I myself am flying quiet frequently and with various air companies, with Russian Aeroflot I possess the Elite+ card, I have also the Lufthansa card (#9920 0906 5141 534 – I point it here to avoid possible suspects of unfairness), with other companies. I understand, that some human and technical mistakes can often happen, but here the role namely of the air carrier and its representatives is especially significant, in particular, in order to provide service and to resolve all problems for passengers. For example, Aeroflot is even ready (due to my own experience) to share mobile ## of its employees in other than Russia countries, the only and the priority # 1 goal is to resolve passengers’ problems. In the described situation I have personally recommended to my parents the flight with Lufthansa (the whole route was to be SVO – Frankfurt – N”urnberg – D”usseldorf – SVO), since I expected a really high level of service. Many thanks, Lufthansa.
As to Lufthansa, I have drawn for myself the following conclusion. If everything goes OK, yes, they are smiling, they are taking care, the service level is really high. But if something goes wrong, Lufthansa faces away, Lufthansa finds no concern in it.
After the case I have lost any interest to Lufthansa.
As former Lufthansa pilot I feel very sorry about your experience
because of the precautionary landing at Vilnius. I really can imagine
your urgent need of information and I don't want to excuse what
happened to you, your family and all other passengers. But I
want to explain that the flight crew had to fulfil an enormous amount
of requirements: problem handling, flight handling, passenger handling
and crew needs. This has all to be done by a two-men-flight-crew.
Entering of terminal buildings is very often prohibited to flight crews
because of security requirements. I am not sure that Lufthansa has an
own station management at Vilnius. Communication possibilities to the
flight crew might be restricted to ARCARS-telexes, which are restricted
in length, available addresses and must be written character by character. So the flow of information is rather slow.
I agree when you still point out, that this is not adequate to the situation and needs improvement. But I want to make sure that according to my experience the crew would be really happy to let you take part in the development of the situation, but very often they just don't have the tools necessary. (What do you suggest, when the pilot is not allowed to enter the terminal building and nobody else is available instead?)
Perhaps you can give my former company another chance and I strongly invite you to communicate your sight of the situation with Lufthansa. Only then a change will be possible in the future! The company must be aware of your experience and impressions. Otherwise nobody will notice!
I am sorry and I want for you a better experience in a situation like this - with what company so ever...
Many thanks for your reply. I have not had any questions to the crew at all, many thanks them
that they provided the safe landing. But there are a lot of questions to other services, and
in particular to an absolutely inadequate manner of communication of the Lufthansa office
in Moscow and also via Internet site.
This stuff will be delivered to Mr. Mayrhuber with Deutsche Post.
Well, I did not assume that you wanted to blame the crew. But I like to point out that the main source of information is the crew. All information dealing with the situation is concentrated in the cockpit! From there information has to be deliverd to operation control, maintenance, troubleshooting, dispatch, crew scheduling and so on. The tool is ACARS and - with good luck - a single mobile phone. This has to be performed quite often without support of a station management and just by a two-men-crew.
With this background-information you might imagine what problems will arise if you like to handle "external" demands. The situation on board is constantly changing and all units I mentioned above are busy to handle the problem and after that they might be able to offer information according to "external" requests. But I really can understand that you want to know what's going on...
In situations like this I always strived to keep the passengers on board. That way I can inform and describe the development of decisions and the state of the situation. But you reach the edge when local authorities do not agree or the aircraft maintenance condition does not allow passengers in the aircraft: passenger evacuation must be possible at all times! Alerting of crew and passengers must be assured at all times! And this will be impaired when the electrical system has to be shut-down because of maintenance activities.
And when all is set for a proper dealing with the situation to everybody, security requirements or customs control might spoil your day!!
Over all: you can only communicate what you know! The source of knowledge is the cockpit. The next unit having possibly a good judgement is operational control. But these colleagues will mainly coordinate all activities to handle the mishap rather than to inform call centres. Only when precise information is available. relevant stations will be informed. Before that the situation is in a constant development and to keep the information about actual is a tough job. The flow of information is rather slow. Information might have changed during its transportation or be misunderstood - and this experience leads to reluctance in handling it forward. (Can you be sure that what you say is really true?)
Nevertheless: I am happy that you told the company your personal sight of "the game"! Perhaps communication professionels will find a way to improve.
Always happy landings!