Calle Lanzarote

Thoughts on Spanair’s downfall

Spanair aircraft steps on the tarmac in ArrecifeIt was Saturday morning when I first learnt that Spanair had ceased operations on Friday night.  Thankfully it appears that many people who were on holiday were able to get flights home at special prices with other airlines.  One year earlier and I would have been getting pretty worried myself, or at least trying to get a refund on the flights that were already booked.

But while much of the reporting has focused on the lack of funds that Spanair had, I think it’s worth asking why they got into that situation in the first place.

Over the past four years when I have flown with them, I freely admit it was because I wanted to get from A to B and they were usually the cheapest, and sometimes the most convenient option.  I was even impressed by the fact, that in-flight refreshments were still included in the price of the flight between Frankfurt and Madrid.

But on the other hand, almost every time there was a problem of some sort when I flew with them.  Booking on-line with a credit card was complicated if the whole family was flying on holiday.  Flights were often delayed, which sometimes meant rushing through Madrid’s terminals to catch a connecting flight.

On the one occasion that I was delayed by over an hour, they refused the compensation that I believe I was due.

Then finally, last year, they stopped flying daily to Lanzarote and re-booked our flight.  At least, they re-booked the flight from Arrecife, and only changed the connecting flight to Frankfurt when I rang them to make sure it had been done.

And yet they sold price increases for the in-flight refreshments as an “improvement”.

I can’t help feeling that they should have worked more on “improving” their customer service and punctuality, rather than on marketing gimmicks like Christmas presents for their passengers, and that at some point they entered a download spiral of less people flying with them because, at the end of the day, they were offering less flights.

One simple example of a lack of investment were the cue cards that the cabin crew used for making announcements.  It became obvious, even over the space of only four years, that the Spanish card was updated more often than the English one, and far more often than the German one.

Before departure, the Spanish card reminded passengers that electronic devices must not be used during take-off and landing, but non-wireless devices may be used otherwise during the flight.  The English card had the same initial reminder, but said that passengers should ask once airborne before turning electronic devices on, to see if their device is permitted.  The German card simply said that electronic devices may not be used for the duration of the flight!  (Imagine at this point the faces of some German passengers, when the Spanish speakers suddenly turned on their laptops…)

And when my flight got diverted due to thunderstorms one evening, I don’t think they even had a card in German to deal with that.  The information in Spanish was quite useful, but for those who didn’t understand it, “Welcome to Stuttgart” wasn’t exactly the first words they wanted to hear when we landed at the wrong airport.

Anyway, I guess the next time I fly to Spain I shall consider the last piece of advice that Spanair’s call centre gave me, the last time I spoke to them: “Next time, fly Lufthansa”.

Considering my recent good experience with their customer service, I might do just that!

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