To wrong terminal and missed flight

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On Nov. 7, I was scheduled to take Northwest Airlines flight No. 49 to Detroit, Michigan, out of Paris’ Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport. My e-ticket did not indicate which terminal I would be leaving from. When I told the Gare Montparnasse Navette bus driver “KLM,” he dropped me at Terminal Two. The signage there was for Air France/KLM/Northwest as well as Delta, Continental, Alitalia, Aeromexico, etc.

I was aware that Air France had bought KLM in mid-September, so the signs didn’t confuse me. I am also used to flying out of Charles de Gaulle because I had done it four times in the previous five years. On those flights, Northwest had been the carrier from Detroit to Paris and KLM was the carrier from Paris to Detroit.

I am fluent in French, so I wasn’t having trouble communicating. And I was at the airport two hours and 10 minutes in advance.

I could not find my flight to Detroit listed on the Departures board, but before I could do anything about it everyone was told to evacuate the area because a suitcase had been left unattended.

After a 45-minute delay for the police to blow up the bag, I went to the KLM/Northwest window of the Air France office located a few feet from the area where we had been detained. They told me I should be in Terminal One. I asked the woman to call Northwest for me to explain the situation, but she said she couldn’t and that I should go outside and catch the Terminal One shuttle.

After waiting 15 minutes for the shuttle, I returned inside to the same window and spoke to a gentleman, who immediately called Northwest in Terminal One only to find out that they had already shut the door and I couldn’t board the plane. My problem was finally resolved, though not to my satisfaction.

I had to spend the night in an airport hotel at my expense, with more problems to work out the next day: my new ticket did not register on the computer system.

I wrote to KLM asking to be compensated in some way for my inconvenience. I was extremely upset at the time because I never am late for planes. There is no reason that Northwest couldn’t have written “Terminal One” on my ticket.

I would advise anyone traveling this route to call the airline and double-check which carrier is being used and where in the airport it can be found.

J. MONNICH
Royal Oak, MI

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Northwest Airlines, which provided ITN with copies of their replies to Ms. Monnich, as follows:

(Dec. 16, 2004) In your recent letter, you alerted us to your concerns regarding the service provided while traveling with us from Paris to Detroit on November 7. On behalf of Northwest Airlines, we sincerely apologize for your disappointment when you did not arrive in time to check in for Flight 49. I can certainly understand your frustration when the area had been evacuated due to a bomb scare, the agent would not contact Terminal One to hold the flight and you ended up spending the night in Paris, flying the next day.

We recognize that personal circumstances may prevent a passenger from meeting our check-in guidelines, and we regret when a passenger’s travel plans are affected. We know that on-time flights are important to our passengers, and we dedicate a great deal of time and effort to keeping flights on schedule. Our maintenance and crew scheduling programs are designed to minimize flight interruptions, and our check-in guidelines help us board passengers and their luggage, complete required paperwork, obtain ramp clearance and release flights on time. If a second calculation of these statistics is required, we can lose our “takeoff position” and a flight can be significantly delayed.

Passengers who do not meet our check-in times for any reason — including long lines at the Self Service Device (SSD), at the ticket counter or at security or even due to a bomb scare — risk having their seat assignments and/or reservations canceled. All passengers are asked to meet the following check-in guidelines for international flights.

• Passengers must be checked in at the ticket counter or SSD no later than 60 minutes prior to scheduled flight departure time for international flights including Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

• Passengers must be on board the aircraft at least 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure time for international flights.

In the event of an oversold flight, passengers who have not met our check-in guidelines are not eligible for federally regulated Denied Boarding Compensation (DBC). For future reference, let me review several check-in options that are available for you.

lnternet Check-In via www.nwa.com — Internet check-in is available from 24 hours to 60 minutes before flight departure time. Passengers using this service may change or select seats and print boarding passes — all from a personal computer before leaving for the airport. Passengers who use Internet check-in and have no luggage may proceed through security and directly to the gate. Passengers who have bags to check may check them curbside (if traveling domestically) or use SSD luggage check-in counter.

Check-In Using our Self Service Devices (SSD) — A passenger checking in at the airport may check bags at the curbside (if traveling domestically) and use an SSD to obtain a boarding pass. An international passenger may check in at the SSD where there are agents available to assist with luggage tags and questions.

Ticket Counter Check-In — A limited number of Customer Service Agents are available for passengers checking in with paper tickets or who need special assistance on the day of departure.

We are also sorry for your disappointment that the agent would not contact Terminal One and ask them to hold your flight until you could arrive.

As to holding flights, we are rather rigid in this respect because there are so many possibilities to encounter crew duty limitations, missed takeoff slots or simply inconvenience other passengers. Some leeway may be allowed, but the decision is made flight by flight at the control tower. A gate agent can call the control tower and bring a matter to their attention but not override. We must rely on our operations personnel to use good judgment based on the particular circumstances involved.

When our decision results in interrupting a traveler’s itinerary, we recognize the inconvenience to the customer. Passengers who are not accommodated will receive assistance in rescheduling the next available flight. Our goal is to provide the best possible assistance when travel plans are disrupted.

We also appreciate your feedback and the suggestion that Northwest/KLM make the information clearer for our passengers departing Charles de Gaulle airport. Many customers, like you, share their observations and suggestions with us. These unsolicited remarks form the basis for many improvements in our service. Be assured that your comments will be forwarded to the responsible individuals within Northwest.

I am sorry to deny your request for reimbursement or compensation for spending the night at a hotel at the airport. Although I understand your frustration, we do not reimburse passengers for expenses when they have not met our check-in guidelines, even if there are long lines, a bomb scare or any circumstances beyond their control. I am very sorry to disappoint you.

Thank you for writing, Mrs. Monnich. As our customer, you are in the best position to point out areas that need attention. We appreciate the opportunity to respond and hope to welcome you on board a future flight. Given this privilege, I am confident we will provide the excellent service you deserve and have every right to expect.

PAMELA COFFEY, Customer Care, Northwest Airlines, Inc., Box 1908, Minot, ND 58702

In answer to a second letter from Ms. Monnich, Pamela Coffey of Northwest wrote to her on Jan. 31, 2005, reiterating that while the bus driver directed her to the wrong terminal and there may have been a possible bomb scare, she still did not meet the check-in times for the flight. She added, “Please know that Northwest Airlines is only allowed to display signage as allowed by the individual airports. If you have questions regarding the signage at the Charles de Gaulle airport, you may wish to contact them directly at www.paris-cdg.com. They would be able to advise you of the signs allowed to be displayed by the airlines and of the guidelines we must meet in posting information for our travelers. . .”

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On Nov. 7, I was scheduled to take Northwest Airlines flight No. 49 to Detroit, Michigan, out of Paris’ Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport. My e-ticket did not indicate which terminal I would be leaving from. When I told the Gare Montparnasse Navette bus driver “KLM,” he dropped me at Terminal Two. The signage there was for Air France/KLM/Northwest as well as Delta, Continental, Alitalia, Aeromexico, etc.

I was aware that Air France had bought KLM in mid-September, so the signs didn’t confuse me. I am also used to flying out of Charles de Gaulle because I had done it four times in the previous five years. On those flights, Northwest had been the carrier from Detroit to Paris and KLM was the carrier from Paris to Detroit.

I am fluent in French, so I wasn’t having trouble communicating. And I was at the airport two hours and 10 minutes in advance.

I could not find my flight to Detroit listed on the Departures board, but before I could do anything about it everyone was told to evacuate the area because a suitcase had been left unattended.

After a 45-minute delay for the police to blow up the bag, I went to the KLM/Northwest window of the Air France office located a few feet from the area where we had been detained. They told me I should be in Terminal One. I asked the woman to call Northwest for me to explain the situation, but she said she couldn’t and that I should go outside and catch the Terminal One shuttle.

After waiting 15 minutes for the shuttle, I returned inside to the same window and spoke to a gentleman, who immediately called Northwest in Terminal One only to find out that they had already shut the door and I couldn’t board the plane. My problem was finally resolved, though not to my satisfaction.

I had to spend the night in an airport hotel at my expense, with more problems to work out the next day: my new ticket did not register on the computer system.

I wrote to KLM asking to be compensated in some way for my inconvenience. I was extremely upset at the time because I never am late for planes. There is no reason that Northwest couldn’t have written “Terminal One” on my ticket.

I would advise anyone traveling this route to call the airline and double-check which carrier is being used and where in the airport it can be found.

J. MONNICH
Royal Oak, MI

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Northwest Airlines, which provided ITN with copies of their replies to Ms. Monnich, as follows:

(Dec. 16, 2004) In your recent letter, you alerted us to your concerns regarding the service provided while traveling with us from Paris to Detroit on November 7. On behalf of Northwest Airlines, we sincerely apologize for your disappointment when you did not arrive in time to check in for Flight 49. I can certainly understand your frustration when the area had been evacuated due to a bomb scare, the agent would not contact Terminal One to hold the flight and you ended up spending the night in Paris, flying the next day.

We recognize that personal circumstances may prevent a passenger from meeting our check-in guidelines, and we regret when a passenger’s travel plans are affected. We know that on-time flights are important to our passengers, and we dedicate a great deal of time and effort to keeping flights on schedule. Our maintenance and crew scheduling programs are designed to minimize flight interruptions, and our check-in guidelines help us board passengers and their luggage, complete required paperwork, obtain ramp clearance and release flights on time. If a second calculation of these statistics is required, we can lose our “takeoff position” and a flight can be significantly delayed.

Passengers who do not meet our check-in times for any reason — including long lines at the Self Service Device (SSD), at the ticket counter or at security or even due to a bomb scare — risk having their seat assignments and/or reservations canceled. All passengers are asked to meet the following check-in guidelines for international flights.

• Passengers must be checked in at the ticket counter or SSD no later than 60 minutes prior to scheduled flight departure time for international flights including Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

• Passengers must be on board the aircraft at least 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure time for international flights.

In the event of an oversold flight, passengers who have not met our check-in guidelines are not eligible for federally regulated Denied Boarding Compensation (DBC). For future reference, let me review several check-in options that are available for you.

lnternet Check-In via www.nwa.com — Internet check-in is available from 24 hours to 60 minutes before flight departure time. Passengers using this service may change or select seats and print boarding passes — all from a personal computer before leaving for the airport. Passengers who use Internet check-in and have no luggage may proceed through security and directly to the gate. Passengers who have bags to check may check them curbside (if traveling domestically) or use SSD luggage check-in counter.

Check-In Using our Self Service Devices (SSD) — A passenger checking in at the airport may check bags at the curbside (if traveling domestically) and use an SSD to obtain a boarding pass. An international passenger may check in at the SSD where there are agents available to assist with luggage tags and questions.

Ticket Counter Check-In — A limited number of Customer Service Agents are available for passengers checking in with paper tickets or who need special assistance on the day of departure.

We are also sorry for your disappointment that the agent would not contact Terminal One and ask them to hold your flight until you could arrive.

As to holding flights, we are rather rigid in this respect because there are so many possibilities to encounter crew duty limitations, missed takeoff slots or simply inconvenience other passengers. Some leeway may be allowed, but the decision is made flight by flight at the control tower. A gate agent can call the control tower and bring a matter to their attention but not override. We must rely on our operations personnel to use good judgment based on the particular circumstances involved.

When our decision results in interrupting a traveler’s itinerary, we recognize the inconvenience to the customer. Passengers who are not accommodated will receive assistance in rescheduling the next available flight. Our goal is to provide the best possible assistance when travel plans are disrupted.

We also appreciate your feedback and the suggestion that Northwest/KLM make the information clearer for our passengers departing Charles de Gaulle airport. Many customers, like you, share their observations and suggestions with us. These unsolicited remarks form the basis for many improvements in our service. Be assured that your comments will be forwarded to the responsible individuals within Northwest.

I am sorry to deny your request for reimbursement or compensation for spending the night at a hotel at the airport. Although I understand your frustration, we do not reimburse passengers for expenses when they have not met our check-in guidelines, even if there are long lines, a bomb scare or any circumstances beyond their control. I am very sorry to disappoint you.

Thank you for writing, Mrs. Monnich. As our customer, you are in the best position to point out areas that need attention. We appreciate the opportunity to respond and hope to welcome you on board a future flight. Given this privilege, I am confident we will provide the excellent service you deserve and have every right to expect.

PAMELA COFFEY, Customer Care, Northwest Airlines, Inc., Box 1908, Minot, ND 58702

In answer to a second letter from Ms. Monnich, Pamela Coffey of Northwest wrote to her on Jan. 31, 2005, reiterating that while the bus driver directed her to the wrong terminal and there may have been a possible bomb scare, she still did not meet the check-in times for the flight. She added, “Please know that Northwest Airlines is only allowed to display signage as allowed by the individual airports. If you have questions regarding the signage at the Charles de Gaulle airport, you may wish to contact them directly at www.paris-cdg.com. They would be able to advise you of the signs allowed to be displayed by the airlines and of the guidelines we must meet in posting information for our travelers. . .”