Self-Service Airlines Increase Frequent Flyers’ Frustrations

The worst part of flying somewhere, is knowing you have to also return from your destination.  The round trip ticket is no guarantee you’ll get back home, especially when it comes to international travel.

I flew across the Atlantic  countless times with my fussy French kids, so that they could stay connected to their American heritage.  Imagine Nathalie’s surprise when  our roles reversed at the Minneapolis airport.  Grown daughter consoles infantile mother  throwing tantrum  at the Delta ticket counter,  « Ma’am, I cannot issue your boarding pass when you have no ticket. ».

Like millions of passengers, we were stranded in Geneva due to snow storms, when our KLM flight to Minneapolis was canceled.  Days later we were rerouted on Continental. However, at the time of departure, Continental personnel in Switzerland said, « Madame may board the plane ; Monsieur may not. »

In the catch 22 of 21st century air travel, you may be assigned a seat electronically without a ticket. The same scenario occurred in reverse. Gerald flew home without incident, but a week later  my return ticket disappeared in cyberspace.

Stress begins with on -line ticket purchase, which is subject to change in availability and price during the millisecond from  booking to buying.  Seat reservations may be made 24 hours ahead, but there is a hitch.   Tickets purchased on a European carrier cannot be processed by an American one, even when it’s the same flight.  The KLM website tells you to confirm with Delta ; Delta site sends you back to KLM. Welcome to the pass-the-buck-diplomacy of airline travel.  Due to economic hard times, companies such as Delta, KLM, Air France formed a partnership ; however, they still act like rivals.

Inclement weather, personnel strikes, terrorist threats,  mechanical errors, flight delays are the norm ; what is not normal is blaming the passenger.   Airline staff reprimanded me every step of my journey.  The first KLM agent yelled at me for not using the check-in machine to print my boarding pass.

« YOUR machine is unable to recognize MY booking code. »

After staring at the computer for ten minutes, she says, « You’re on the flight to Amsterdam, but I have no record of a ticket of to Geneva.  Check at the Delta/KLM/Air France ticket purchasing desk. »

There, another Delta employee, read a novel while waiting on hold on the phone  to solve the mystery. « Delta has no record your ticket either . Ma’am, what have you done ? »

Me ?  Blame  the snow, late incoming arrival, maintenance difficulties, but don’t hold the passenger responsible for airline snafus.

« I suggest you fly to Amsterdam and sort it out there . »

You must be kidding me !

I suggest, « You check again ! »

Finally, she confirmed my status through Air France.  However, she insisted she couldn’t print out a boarding pass for my onward flight.  I insisted she could.  « I’ve flown hundreds of times and always been issued a boarding pass for the connecting flight !»

Finally with two scraps  of  paper stating my name, seat number and departure time, I boarded the KLM/Delta flight to Geneva.   The flight was delayed an hour due to mechanical difficulties.  Halfway over the Atlantic,  the captain announced, « Great news, folks.  Even with our late departure, though scheduled arrival was 6 :45, due to strong cross winds  we should touch down at 7 :02. With our taxi time, we should be at the arrival gate at 7 :21. My connecting flight had me on plane boarding for Geneva fifteen minutes before my scheduled arrival time.  Even without the delay, I would never make the connection.  So in Amsterdam,  once again, I was invited to the tranfer desk for rebooking.  There, a sky-blue uniformed KLM agent blocked the guichet entrance and barked like a drill sergeant.

« Use the machine ! »

«  Your machine reserved me a seat on flight without a ticket, and booked me on a connecting flight before my first flight was scheduled to land.  I want to speak to a human being. »

She waved me past, snarling, « Lady, this is a self-service airline ! »

« Yeah, well your self-service sucks ! »

Sadly, the only satisfaction of flying these days is throwing the last punch.

Posted in travel.


  1. Wow! Always an adventure, eh?! Hope all is well and you have recovered from your experience! I LOVE the picture of the “cabin” (seems silly to call it that now that it is so much a beautiful home)on the top of your blog page! Blessings of goodness for the new year!

  2. Thanks Sheila. I will be heading back to the front line tomorrow and thinking of you, Sue and YHS crew at your own battlefield. ha Cliff gave me a red YHS sweatshirt, so I am adding foxes to the list of teams I cheer for long distance.

  3. Well, like I said on your old blog already:

    Those KLM/Delta flight numbers never match, no, and you can’t check in through the machine. I have experienced that as well, when flying from Amsterdam to Detroit the last year.
    KLM staff was unfriendly to my girlfriend as well when we appeared to late for checking in the first time she stayed here.

  4. Oh, and by the way: about the description of my weblog: I’m not an expat, I’m a Dutch guy living in the Netherlands who used to have a girlfriend in Michigan until recently 🙁

    • FYI – KLM staff has almost always been pleasant & professional & I LOVE the Amsterdam airport. My husband is techie & wrote the comments about blogs I follow -I know you are a Dutchman (not expat) so I wil have my computer wizard change it. Thanks for following. I always enjoy reading about your exploits too.

  5. Hey Pat. I’m glad to be getting you post alerts now. Thanks. I enjoyed the one about your family with the old pictures. And to answer your original question to me, yes I am an empyt nester and I don’t really enjoy it! Love when the kids are home. I read this and thought I wish I had a chance to do some international travel but I know I wouldn’t like the headaches!

    • Thanks Jean. I, too, love when the kids are home! Don’t let my latest flight disasters scare you off, international travel is always worth the trouble…so if you ever get the chance, GO FOR IT!

  6. hope the frustration wont make you stop the traveling-we need you over here to fill our lives with smiles and laughs. Bury yourself in your cocoon and stay warm till summer-5 months away!!

  7. Pat, so glad to know that you DID make it back home for the holidays. I’ve been wondering, ever since I read your blog on Dec 18 about the snow storm. Where there is a will, there is a way and you certainly have the “will”! How very frustrating for you! So, did Gerald come to America, but for a shorter visit?

    • Yes, we finally made it to America and had whirlwind holiday on the road from Minneapolis to Summit Lake to Yorkville to River Falls and back again. Gerald flew home a week before me. That way he could get the groceries and clean the house. ha ha

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