An airlines shows its true face when shit hits the fan. When something is out of the ordinary and it's not a smooth journey then you can see how well the service and support really is. It's easy to use all this marketing talk about how much you care about your customers, but it's another thing to actually come through with it. That every so often something goes wrong is only natural, what counts is how an airline reacts if it does. After our encounter with the customer “service” of Air Berlin we can sincerely say: Air Berlin is the worst airline for surfers.
And here is how our story with Air Berlin unfolded. We, Melanie and Gabriel with our friend Adi went surfing in Sagres, Portugal in October 2013. The flight was from Zurich, Switzerland with a layover in Mallorca, Spain to Faro, Portugal with Air Berlin. Their customer service didn't just fail, they managed to completely shatter their image as a competent airline.
Zurich, Switzerland: Computer says no!
As experienced surf travellers we all called the Air Berlin Service Centre weeks ahead to register our surfboards for the flight. The Air Berlin representative confirmed this over the phone.
At the day of departure Adi was at the airport a bit sooner than us. Air Berlin did not allow him to check-in his surfboard! The check-in clerk said his surfboard registration was not in the system. Adi had no way to prove that he had registered his surfboard as he only got the confirmation on the phone. The clerk actually said: Computer says no! (It was like being in the scene from Little Britain.) But there was nothing funny about the situation, as Adi wasn’t allowed to take his surfboard with him to Portugal. All he could do was to rush back to his car parked at the airport, take out the clothes he had in his boardbag and stuff it in his carry on backpack, which he then could check-in instead. He ended up travelling with a much lighter luggage and only a small plastic bag as carry on - lucky enough he still had his wetsuit.
For our part there was no problem at that stage yet. Even though we did the same registration process like Adi, the computer said yes!
Arrival in Portugal: Surfboard broken
As soon as we arrived in Faro we made an unpleasant discovery: Melanie’s surfboard and surfbag were damaged! There were cuts all over the surfbag. The cuts went through a 8mm boardbag layer, an extra bubble wrap and an extra protection of clothes and cut a big hole in the rail of her surfboard as well as a small hole on the tail near her fin plugs. Of course we were all upset by this, but it's nothing unusual - surfboards get damaged by airlines a lot. There was no Air Berlin representative around so we made the necessary damage pictures and got in our rental car and drove to Sagres. At that moment we still had high hopes that it wasn't that bad because Air Berlin would just pay for the damage they caused, as we experienced with other airlines, like Singapore Airlines. How gullible of us, the issue is not resolved to this day.
The next day Melanie called the Air Berlin Customer Service but they told her to write them an E-Mail explaining the situation. We sent it to them with all the details, pictures and everything. Then we went off to repair Melanie's board and get rental boards for her and Adi.
Going back home to Switzerland
After two weeks of surfing, we only received one message from Air Berlin, saying that their service center is overwhelmed and it would take a while to get an appropriate answer. However they said that concerning the damaged surfbag the partner company Dolfi 1920 would take care of it and contact us. But no word about the damaged surfboard or any intention to pay for it.
We were a bit nervous going back to the airport and checking in our surfboards again. Not only because we didn’t want another surfboard to be damaged but we also heard another alarming story from our friends.
They were surfing in Lanzarote and also travelling with Air Berlin. They registered their surfboards for the whole journey and had no problem on the way to Lanzarote but Air Berlin refused to take their surfboards back to Switzerland. They had to leave their surfboards at the airport!! Luckily their friend that dropped them off at the airport flew back to Switzerland with Easyjet two days later and was able to take their boards with him. But could you imagine leaving your surfboards behind at the airport?!?
We were really prepared for the worst but in the end the journey back to Switzerland went smooth: no problems at the check-in as well as no further damages occurred.
Fight for our right
At home we were just waiting to hear from Airberlin about the damaged surfbag and surfboard. In the following several months (!) we wrote more than 20 E-Mails to Air Berlin demanding an answer concerning the damaged surfboard. There was just no solid answer from them. Only excuses and getting passed on from one person to another. They were probably just hoping that we give up soon and let it go. As we both are working in the tourism industry, it was shocking to experience how a service company would treat their customers. Looking at their Facebook page and after watching a TV report about Air Berlin from the public german broadcasting, we were certain that our case was not an exception. This is the way they operate their airline - they deny any compensation a customer is entitled to, refuse to pay the correct amount if any and just plainly ignore the customer. This is their official business practise. Just watch the TV report. To this day we have not received any compensation for the 100 Euro surfboard damage caused by Air Berlin.
With the surfbag it was another story, the partner company Dolfi 1920 contacted us. They said that Melanie was entitled to a new surfbag that she could choose from their website. But of course she didn't want the cheap, low quality surfbag that they offered. It's understandable that a bag damage company has no clue about surfing gear. When reading their general business terms it says instead of a new baggage that one is entitled to a compensation in form of money. The company never mentioned this but in the end they agreed to give Melanie 150 Euro for her damaged surfbag.
After several months of back and forth Melanie finally got some money. On her bank account she saw that they transferred the proud amount of 10 Euro. Yes - 10 Euro - the bag company did not transfer the correct amount. Just like the TV report predicted.
Air Berlin won the fight but...
At this point we were just fed up with it, this has went on for months. Constantly pressing to get an answer from the customer “service”. Writing back and forth and explaining again and again the situation. 10 Euro is what we got for a damaged surfboard and surf bag after about a half a year of protesting. In the end their business practice worked - we gave up. We were done - sick and tired of it. But for our future surf trips (and there will be many) we will never ever fly with Air Berlin again, and we discouraged all our friends from flying with them and if you're reading this article - Don't fly with Air Berlin, it's the worst airline for surfers.
If you are from Air Berlin and are reading this article - YOU STILL OWE US MONEY!