Aeroflot, KLM, Delta Airlines have something in common. They are members of the 19 airline Skyteam alliance. The alliance operates nearly 14,500 daily flights to 1,150 destinations in 175 countries. “Whether you’re flying for business or pleasure, we make your travels smooth and enjoyable.” is the statement on the Skyteam website.
U.S. resident Liana Cemenski had a very different experience. If it wasn’t for Regina working for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines call center in the Philippines, this experienced could have turned into an even bigger nightmare for this Minneapolis resident.
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Therefore eTurboNews declared Regina as the latest eTN Hero. KLM is the oldest passenger airline in the world, and except for Regina, the Durch carrier showed nothing but silence and disrespect and a “we don’t care” attitude even when eTN tried to get a response after the incident. Regina took ownership of this problem and showed she cared, while her colleague in Moscow gave the typical “leave me alone” response to this KLM customer. This may be a matter of staff training and cultural sensitivity and an ongoing trend of how a large operation can fail.
The largest airline alliances in the world are Star Alliance, One World, and Skyteam. Liana’s case with three Skyteam airlines is a classic example to demonstrate the weakness of the most important part of what an alliance should coordinate – a smooth experience for their passengers.
eTN received responses from:
“This was a tricky situation because the passenger was holding two separate tickets and did not have a valid visa for the country through which she planned to connect. Once the booking agent had added the necessary additional information to the ticket, the passenger was able to travel. That said, we recognize we can always improve and we will continue to streamline our cooperation with partner airlines to accommodate our passengers’ varying needs.”
Delta has partnerships with dozens of airlines around the world, including Aeromexico, Air France-KLM, Alitalia, China Eastern, GOL, Korean Air, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia, and WestJet. These range from interline, to codeshare to joint ventures as well as equity.
- The deeper the partnership, the more integrated the customer experience.
- All aspects of the travel ribbon from booking to baggage claim need to be efficient and harmonized between Delta and its partners.
- Delta is focused on delivering the best international customer experience, as well as creating consistency when Delta customers connect or fly with our airline partners.
- To resolve these customer pain points when traveling between Delta and its partners, teams are looking at all areas of the travel ribbon from loyalty, to seats, check-in, the airport experience, and recovery, to close those gaps or “seams” in technology, policy and processes.
- Ensuring a customer experience that is free from technology, procedural or policy seams, when traveling with Delta’s partners, requires focus not only from the Delta teams but also by the leaders of the partner airlines.
KLM remained speechless. Several emails and phone calls to KLM media relations in Amsterdam remained unresponded to. After contacting Finn Partners, KLM’s PR agency in New York, a short email arrived stating: “KLM is not able to provide a comment.”
Liana Cemenski is a 26-year-old resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota and a U.S. green-card holder with a Russian passport. After many years in the United States, she visited family in Russia and booked a reward ticket issued on Skyteam member Delta Airlines and operated by Delta from Minneapolis to Amsterdam and return on Skyteam member KLM A second ticket was purchased from Amsterdam to Moscow through KLM to take her from Amsterdam to Moscow. The return flight of her ticket showed a KLM flight number from MOW to AMS, but the flight was operated by Skyteam member Aeroflot.
Before Liana left the U.S. she and her husband called Delta Airlines and KLM independently to make sure a visa for the Netherlands was not necessary since she was just changing planes at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Delta who also represents KLM in the United States assured twice there was no need for a visa.
It was Liana’s first trip since 2011, so she was excited to travel back to her birth town in the Caucasus mountains. On her return, she had a through connection to Moscow, Amsterdam, and Minneapolis. When she arrived at Moscow Sheremetyev International Airport 3 hours before her KLM flight to Amsterdam she found out the flight was actually operated by Skyteam Member Aeroflot. The flight was operated by Aeroflot under a KLM Codeshare agreement showing a KLM flight number. Her ticket was issued on KLM ticket stock.
When trying to check in at Aeroflot, Olga, the Aeroflot supervisor on duty ordered Liana to leave the check-in counter, because she would not be accepted to board the flight due to not having a Schengen visa.
Liana showed her connecting ticket information to Minneapolis with KLM, but Olga responded. I won’t accept you – period. Her conclusion: “Why didn’t you fly on KLM if you are connecting on that airline?”
Liana called her friend Dmytro who works for this publication in Hawaii. With Leana on a three-way call, Dmytro called KLM in the U.S. The call was answered by Delta Airlines, who represents KLM. The Delta agent demanded a record locator and claimed his computer cannot just find a record with passenger names, date and flight numbers. He also said, he would be fired by Delta if he pulls up a reservation without a confirmation code. Liana was so nervous at that point and sent a photo of her ticket to Dmytro in Honolulu. After the record locator was finally provided Dmytro asked to have an SSR remark added to the PNR, so Aeroflot would see the passenger was booked on a connecting flight and didn’t need a European visa.
The Delta Airlines agent claimed he didn’t have access to the KLM computer system. When confronted, that the number called was listed under KLM, the Delta agent said, he represents KLM. Finally the Delta agent reluctantly agreed to call a “real” KLM agent in Holland and it would be up to that representative to add a remark. This was done 20 minutes later.
Liana got back in line to check in and Olga from Aeroflot without looking at the record said such a remark makes no difference.
Dmytro now called KLM in Amsterdam directly. The KLM agent saw the remark and tried to call Olga in Moscow directly. The airport in Moscow refused to connect the KLM agent to the Aeroflot check-in area. The KLM agent asked for Liana to hand her cell phone to Olga, but Olga still refused to talk to the KLM agent.
KLM advised Liana to find the KLM office. KLM was in terminal 3 and Liana took her bags and ran to the other terminal. She found the KLM office and an agent working at the KLM counter.
When approached the KLM agent told Liana it was not her responsibility to assist since the flight was on Aeroflot and not KLM. When it was pointed out the ticket was issued by KLM and she was traveling on a KLM codeshare flight number, it made no difference to the KLM staff at this Moscow airport. When Liana tried to hand her cell phone to the KLM agent she also refused to speak to her own call center colleague.
Regina, the call center agent for KLM was on the call hearing all this back and forth. Regina works for the KLM call center in the Philippines. She apologized for her colleagues but never lost her cool.
After another 30 minutes, Regina managed to combine the reward ticket on Delta with the KLM ticket to Moscow, so the computer PNR now showed one ticket.
It did the job. Liana rushed back to the Aeroflot terminal and checked in 45 minutes before the flight but was ordered by Aeroflot manager Olga to get into another line and pay for her additional suitcase to be checked.
Almost like a miracle, Liana was the last passenger allowed to board the Aeroflot aircraft and eventually made it back home to the United States.
A big Thank You goes to Regina in the Philippines, who is now made the latest eTN Hero. A big thumb down to the KLM agent in Moscow and Olga from Aeroflot and SKYTEAM as an alliance that made travel within their network a nasty experience and almost impossible.