My worst flight experience ever

I travel a lot. This year alone I did over 100 flights, spent 100+ nights at IHG properties, 60+ nights at Hilton properties and 40 or so in different hotels. So delays or issues with customer service are a weekly routine. But this is the story of one of my worst flight experiences. What will happen from time to time is that travel companies indeed follow the rules, terms and conditions (well, at least in their opinion), but the end result is a mess for the customer. A process that is easy for the company, tough for the customer, instead of the other way around. How a routine return trip from Aqaba via Amman and Istanbul to Brussels turned into a 31-hour trip, sleeping at an airport, spending 9 hours at another and costing me more than 550 euros. This is the story of my worst flight experience ever.

The plan

The plan was pretty straightforward.

  • I had booked a one-way flight from Aqaba to Amman. Leaving Aqaba at 23h35, arriving at 00h25, operated by Royal Jordanian.
  • From Amman, I would have the return flight with Turkish Airlines from my Brussels to Amman return ticket, leaving at 05:45 in Amman, arriving in Brussels on Thursday at 14h20, with a stopover in Istanbul (arriving 09h20, leaving 12h45).

A total travel time of 15 hours.

What happened

What happened was quite different.

  • I spent the night on a seat at Aqaba airport.
  • I spent 9 hours waiting for my flight at Amman airport.
  • I had to buy two extra tickets.
  • I arrived on 6h45AM on Friday.

And a lot of other things happened in between.

A total travel time of 31 hours, extra costs of 550 euro. 

How it happened

So let’s get back to the very beginning. After my Jordan Trail hike from Dana to Petra, I had settled in the Aqaba Intercontinental for 3 days for relaxing at the pool. But after three days, it was time to head home. I was extremely looking forward to seeing my wife and kids again.

A free shuttle bus took me to the airport. Just after passing airport security I got a message our flight was delayed. First half an hour, then an hour, then the announcement was made it was unclear how long the delay would take.

No speak English

Announcement maybe is a big word for the ‘process’ in place to communicate with passengers. Airport staff would be rushing around, talking to each other and from time to time they would say something to the passengers that by chance had gathered around them. In Arabic of course. To get an English update, it pretty much meant stalking the few English speaking staff and as soon as you got some info, share that with the other English speaking stranded passengers.

It was a recurring pattern throughout the night – large groups of airport staff that would flock together, talk, look busy, unclear to what they were up to. Small groups of passengers would be informed in Arabic, non-Arabic speakers would have to look for the few English-speaking airport staff to get a translation and/or update.

Spending the night at Aqaba airport
Spending the night at Aqaba airport

A night at Aqaba airport

Only around 02h00 at night -2,5 hours after the planned departure time and approximately 3,5 hours after arriving at the airport-, it was confirmed by local officials that the first flight out of Aqaba would be the 07h40 flight to Amman and that people who wanted to would be able to leave the airport. As going back to the Intercontinental and pay for 3 hours of sleep didn’t make any sense, I had no real other option than settling in and make myself comfortable.

It is heartwarming to see how these circumstances bring people together. Blankets were shared, water was shared, the single mother with her baby was supported throughout the night. People got into conversations about religion (I got grilled by a Jordanian older lady who could not believe I was not a devoted Christian), travel, soccer and other important things of life.

Changing my flight … computer says no

But as I had a 05h45 flight planned with Turkish Airlines that I was never going to make, I had some things to arrange. I tried to change my flight via the Turkish Airlines website. As this wasn’t possible (for whatever reason), I tried to contact the local Jordan office of Turkish Airlines. After the local Jordan office proved closed, I tried another phone number and got in contact with a Turkish Airlines customer service representative. After several disconnected calls, I finally got hold of a representative to … hear that because the first stretch of my outbound flight had been changed (by Turkish Airlines that is – the flight left 30min later), the representative was unable to change it via the phone. The only way to change the ticket was by going to the ticket office at Amman airport.

After I explained to the representative that the reason I contacted him was exactly because I would not be in time at the airport, he told me that it would also be ok to send a friend or family member to the airport. I was a bit flabbergasted that I had to explain him that I was Dutch and that the chance that I would be able to find friends and family at 02h30 at night that were able to be at the Turkish Airlines desk at Amman airport by 05h45 was pretty close to zero.

Cold McDonalds - never a good idea
Cold McDonalds – never a good idea

The cold McDonalds food at 05h00 in the morning was hardly any relief. So by now, I had two airlines that were thinking company first, customer … well, whatever. 

As one of the employees had assured me that we would leave at 07h40 (our flight would be combined with the regular 07h40 flight) and that Turkish Airlines had let me down, I had to look for another way  to get back to Brussels. After some comparing, I settled on a 11h00 flight from Amman to Brussels via Dokha, operated by Qatar Airways.  

Delayed but what ... ?!
Delayed but what … ?!

But as 07h40 came closer, still no clarity until, around 08h30, the desks were opened and we could finally board. 

Well … that is what we thought. After scanning our boarding passes and being seated at the gate, we waited. And waited some more. And then we finally heard that boarding was canceled because of more fog in Amman.

And that meant I had to cancel my 11h00 flight from Amman to Doha – there was no way I would be making that flight. Although the flight between Aqaba and Amman would only take an hour, I would have to pick up my checked in luggage, check the luggage in again at Amman airport and rush to the gate. That meant I needed at least another hour extra at Amman airport. So another 150 euros down the drain. 

Finally ... our flight to Amman
Finally … our flight to Amman

Somewhere after 9h00 in the morning we finally, eventually were ready to board. I slept through most of the hour flight as I was super tired. When I finally arrived at Amman airport I now had missed not one, but two flights. My 05h45 Turkish Airlines flight and my 11h00 Qatar flight.

The next feasible flight, the 20h00 flight via Doha to Brussels (mind you, Doha is actually further away fromBrussels) meant I had another 9 hours to spend at an airport. My flight from Aqaba had arrived at 11h00 and my flight was at 20h00.

Nine hours at an airport … reading

That meant I had plenty of time at Amman airport, I spent reading, drinking tea at the Starbucks, talking to local entrepreneurs and watching other travelers. 

And then came 18h00, the time I could check in. 

Check in process 

So, I had booked a flight from Amman to Brussels via Doha with Qatar Airways. After booking I got the following email:

Dear Polle,

This is to confirm that payment card verification will be required for your recent booking with Qatar Airways (booking reference: xxxxxxx).

Your reservation is active, and the card holder will be required to present the credit card used to purchase your tickets at the counter when checking in. Failure to do so may result in you not being able to board your flight, and additional fees may be charged depending on the fare conditions of your ticket in accordance with Qatar Airways General Conditions Of Carriage and the terms and conditions of your ticket,

Qatar Airways Booking – payment verification

So, as I always do, I brought my credit card when checking in for my Qatar Airways flight and I presented it at check-in. 

But that turned out not to be enough. A local steward escorted me to the Qatar Airways desk where I would have to do a small payment with my American Express Credit Card to verify the card. However, when arriving at the desk, it became clear that American Express was not accepted at the terminal.

After that, the steward forced me to withdraw money from a nearby ATM. Withdrawing money at this specific ATM costed me 5 JOD (somewhat more than 5 euro) and the minimal amount to withdraw was 10 JOD (which I didn’t need as I was leaving Jordan). 

The aftermath

Directly after returning back in Brussels, I contacted the customer service organisations of Royal Jordanian (11 hour delays compensation), Turkish Airlines (no way to change booking) and Qatar Airways (15 JOD extra fee, diverting from communicated procedure). 

It is now almost a month after my trip and I have not heard from Royal Jordanian and from Turkish Airlines. Qatar Airways ignored several of my questions.

Conclusion

Easy for the company, tough for the customer – my worst flight experience. 

It is really difficult to understand why communication is so bad, why it is impossible to change a flight, why flight times keep getting changed, why check-in pricedures are changed and why the follow-up is so horrible.

There’s a world to win for airlines here. 
Got your own worst flight experience? Feel free to share.

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