Our holiday didn't start off or end off too well thanks to Air France.
Following the recent liquid terror plot that was foiled just before our holiday, we got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Actually, we got there with so much time to spare that we got told we had to wait 15 minutes before they'd check us in. We waited on the side and eventually they checked us in, all the way to Jo'burg.
So off we went and passed through security without any issues - just the new inconvenience of making sure you're not carrying any liquids, are only carrying a bag big enough to hold a folded postage stamp and the age old inconvenience of getting half undressed to pass through the security scanner.
Once in the departure lounge we had a lot of time to kill, and somehow we managed between moseying around the few shops, reading, and generally just wasting time. Eventually the display boards gave us a gate number and informed us the plane was boarding, so off we went into the mini departure lounge, where we sat... and sat... and sat some more (waiting for Air France, I assume, as not many people came in after us).
20 mins later they announced they'd start boarding... late. About another 15 - 20 mins later we were all in, seated and buckled up and the plane pulled away from the terminal and started taxiing to the end of the runway.
Yippeee, we're finally on our way.
Errrr!!! Wrong!! The pilot kindly informed us that we'd missed our slot due to late departure and that we were currently 6th in the queue, so we should be airborne in about 10 mins.
20 mins later we finally took off, but don't worry, the pilot also assured us we'd make up time in the air as the flight would only be 40 mins long.
Well, we made it across the channel in about 40 minutes arriving in Paris about 55 mins late - we only had a 1 hour transfer window. En-route we were informed of our arrival gate and the gate number for our flight to Jo'burg - "Great," we thought... "the flight hasn't gone yet".
So as soon as we could, we dashed off the plane and headed towards the transfer lounge only to be informed that the plane had left without us, "because you were late". (Their words.)
Excuse me! I wasn't late, you're damn plane was. If I was driving we'd have left bang on time and made it in Paris with time to spare.
Anyway, we were told to go to the transfer desk where they'd arrange a hotel for the night, some dinner and another flight. This is where Air France customer services shone beautifully. This is where we really started feeling like goods and not customers.
I queued and when I got to the front, I was told to go stand to the side and someone will come and help all the people who should have been on the flight to Jo'burg. 15 mins later no one had come to us, so we went back to the counter only to find out that no one was coming and they'd help us at the counter.
They were quick to inform us that they'd put us into a hotel for the night (a super classy 2 star Ibis), give us dinner (which turned out to be 2 ham and cheese sandwiches, a bottle of water and a
prune plum yoghurt each), a voucher for lunch the next day and will then put us on the next plane to Jo'burg - at about 7pm the next evening. But when questioned why they'd not held the plane whilst they held the plane to Dubai, or how we were supposed to organise our onward flights within SA, they were completely unsympathetic and didn't even offer a means to rebook our flights. The general attitude was "That's you're problem sonny, 45 Arabs are much more important to us than 18 Saffers - you're contract with Air France is only to Jo'burg, so toughies". We had to push and push until eventually they gave us phone cards and a letter confirming the flight from London was late hence we missed our onward flight to Jo'burg.
As a result, we arrived in Jo'burg a day late, which meant we missed out flight to George and had to cancel the one day stay we were going to have in Hermanus. I'm sure the whales would have loved to see us.
Now, you'd had thought that maybe this is just a French thing, but alas no. We got the same friendly customer service in Jo'burg when it came to depart. This time they had a computer failure in Paris so we couldn't check in, but didn't actually bother to tell anyone in the queue until everyone had been standing around for well over 30 mins without moving. They eventually got things up and running about 50 mins before departure time and refused to admit that they caused the delay and thus would hold the plane for the 200 odd people still to check in.
In the end they did hold the plane, they stung us for 5 kgs of excess baggage (20kg pp is ridiculous for a long haul flight with baggage restrictions and R180/kg is just pure extortion) and we arrived in Paris an hour late, which meant we missed our flight to London so had to be rebooked on a later flight. Credit to them here - they did use a bit of nous and pre-book us onto the next flight to London before we actually got to the transfer desk.
The actual flight from Jo'burg to Paris was also crap - it was a crappy 747, therefore no individual screens, there was about only 2 friendly stewards, they thought it would be good to plonk Claire and I in the two middle seats of the 4 seat section and there was a constant cold gale blowing through the plane.
All in all, we had a good holiday (details coming later), but Air France really need to jack up their ideas of what customer service really is. If it weren't for the customers they'd be without a job, and if enough customers have the experience we had, they'll end up with just that - no customers.
So, next time you get the choice, pay the little bit extra and fly with someone else. We certainly will.