When I was a kid, about the time Julius Caesar ruled, Lufthansa Airlines was considered the creme of the crop for choices in flying about. Today, their PR mouthpieces seem eons removed from past Lufthansa intelligence though. Let me tell you a short tale of airline industry woe that amplifies a much bigger potential problem. After reading this, you may want more than your money back, you may want your old Europe back. Here goes… Part I.
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. —
A couple of weeks ago a former client of ours walked into the office, smacked down €5000 euro (which I promptly returned), and then said; “These people won’t give me one straight answer, I want you to tell people about it!”. Of course we said; “What people?” Calming the client significantly, we agreed to help as we could. What the gentleman wanted answers to, as it turns out, was maybe the biggest PR blunder of a kind we ever ran into. That us a potential problem with the EU’s SIS (Schengen Information System), a big-data albatross for some years now. But where Lufthansa is concerned, their complacency is just endemic of bad airline PR period.
Here’s the rundown.
Back in March a lady named Nino Basinashvili left Trier, Germany via Luxembourg Airport on her way back to Tbilisi in Georgia. Let me be clear here, she had been making this same trip for 12 years, back and forth, to help her daughter who lives in Trier, care for a little girl – her granddaughter. Only this trip was different.
On landing in Munich for a connecting flight to her home in Georgia, Ms. Basinashvili was detained by the Germany Federal Police (Bundespolizei Munich) on a claim she had overstayed her welcome in Germany. I won’t get into too many specifics here, we are still getting answers from various sources on that story, but as for Lufthansa, their part in this horror-comedy needs telling. For now the EU’s SIS I or II system end of this story looks German industrial and technological might – well, it will be a monumental goof id it turns out Europe’s super security computer system cannot even count days.
I personally connected with ALL the people our client seemed to have difficulty connecting with, and like Lufthansa, a few he had not considered fundamental to getting answers. For me, the questions concerning Ms. Basinashvili did not end with being detained for days in Munich, having her money confiscated by German police, ending up in Istanbul, and arriving back home in Georgia penniless and sick – and all over what appears now to be a computer goof. Here are some more questions that came to mind as we tried to reason with our client, and the officials.
- If Ms. Basinashvili overstayed in Germany, why was she allowed to board in Luxembourg? This is in the EU?
- If SIS I or SIS II red flagged Ms. Basinashvili for Munich’s Federal Police on exit, why was she allowed to enter Germany to start with?
- Did Munich Airport not have in place some measures to ensure stranded passengers have meals, a place to lay down, medical attention? (I still do not have all the answers here)
- Why would Federal Police suggest a Georgia National be flown to Siberia, in Russia as an alternative after missing a flight to their home? (Siberia is not only in Russia, but thousands of kilometers from Georgia – maybe maps on computer screens?)
- For Lufthansa, is there no procedure to notify anyone or to investigate missing passengers?
- Now for the German Interior Ministry – are there more problems with SIS that might have caused Ms. Basinashvili’s plight?
- Given Turkey has had some issues in Munich, have any Turkish nationals had similar difficulty, perhaps with SIS?
- Have any other Georgian’s been detained on so-called “technicalities”?
- Does the company in Germany that helped to create and launch the new SIS II platform have knowledge of such problems?
- How many other people over a course of time have been “interrupted” or “fined” over similar compliance issues?
It’s the Russian Mob – Or Is It EU Bean Counters? – The Quandary Over Visa Travel
As you can see, the list is getting longer here, rather than shorter. And these are all vital questions to ask of EU officials and the others implicated. Let me appraise you further, since we are at this juncture. Almost weekly I research news about the EU where a free visa situation with Russia is concerned. Just about every newspaper on the globe has had a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin, beside Germany’s Andrea Merkel, or some other EU leader, and a headline saying something like; “Eu Nixes Russian Free Visas over Fears of Shady Mob Figures”, something to this effect. And WOW! It may turn out the problem is a German computer program now! But on to Lufthansa, I promise.
I called Lufthansa Group’s Director of Communications, Andreas Bartels (at left) to simply appraise him of the situation and ask the simple and logical question. An assistant took my call, she was very nice and requested I email my question. The language barrier became a bit of a problem as I took down the email address wrong a couple of times, but in the end Lufthansa answered.
Days later the question; “Does Lufthansa typically take off without passengers and that’s it?”, was given an official case number and then I got this:
Dear Mr Butler,
Thank you for your e-mail dated April 5, 2013 which was forwarded to us by
Due to data protection, we are unfortunately unable to provide any information in view of Ms Basinashvili’s jorney on March 28, 2013. Your kind understanding in this matter is highly appreciated. We remain
i.V. Michael Kriegisch
Now, imagine you are a grocery store owner from Kalamazoo Michigan, someone who has nothing to do with publishing, news, PR, or online digital media. I did not ask about Ms. Basinashvili’s specific details, I asked how the system for passenger embarking and disembarking works? I know had I asked this more specifically, I would surely have received; “I know you will understand the complexity of our system prevents us from answering your question in this case”, something to that effect. In honesty, I am disturbed by this response on a professional and global front. No professional courtesy is one thing, a PR and his company failing so miserably to “broadcast” positive information about his company, this is in my view negligent.
How so, you say? Surely Lufthansa Airlines and its subsidiaries has a system in place that ensures passenger status. Whether this consists of the flight attendant on each flight waving bye-bye out the windshield to passengers shackled by locals, or whether there is some passenger logging system that covers the proverbial corporate butt, surely multi-billion euro operations consider every, conceivable, passenger need and safety requirement! Surely.
Take A Number – We’ll BS You In A Minute
Filters. Anyone reading this has encountered them. Mine was a very nice 22 year old who has been instructed to simply get journalists to mail their questions to Mr. Bartels. This is fine really, but the problem with Lufthansa is not that the corporation insulates their executives. The problem for this entire case is a system that increasingly only works part of the time. We should all be fearful of “what next”, when all is said and done. Broke airlines will, after all, fail miserably.
I will elaborate on this in another post once the German police get back to me on SIS and SIS II (or once they do not get back). You reading this, you already know air transportation is a mixed bag of miseries these days. And now, to go along, Lufthansa cannot even have the courtesy to give a solid answer. Maybe you should ask yourself sometime; “If I am abducted by aliens while in the hands of Friendly Skies Airlines, will they even tell my next of kin?”
Maybe if you purchase their convenient €24 we give a damn package.