Flights spoiled a good trip

A couple mailed to ITN a copy of their letter to Grand Circle Travel, as follows.

My wife and I were on your “Great Rivers of Europe” riverboat cruise from Vienna to Amsterdam, embarking July 2, 2004. We are “Inner Circle” members.

While we were extremely pleased with the river cruise, the accommodations, the program and the personnel, we feel it necessary to complain about the return flight arrangements from Frankfurt, Germany, to Washington, D.C., on July 17.

This was Lufthansa flight 418 and the equipment was a Boeing 747-400. This flight was completely filled, and there were far too many people. The seating arrangement was such that there was not nearly enough room from the back of one seat to the seat behind, which made it very difficult to try to stand up to get to the aisle without causing others to be disturbed. Eating was a most unpleasant experience; elbows clashed, making eating a challenge to not hit your neighbor on either side or be hit. The broadside seating was 3-4-3, or 10 across — much too crowded.

Surely, Grand Circle Travel can provide more comfortable air travel arrangements. Besides our being “Inner Circle” members, I have traveled all over the world on company business, but never have I encountered such cramped seating arrangements on another aircraft. If we had known that this was the seating arrangement that was available on our return trip, we probably would not have signed up with Grand Circle.

Also, the original brochure showed we could leave from New York’s JFK airport on Austrian Airlines. After we had signed up, we were later told that departure from JFK was no longer possible and we would have to leave from Dulles airport at Washington, D.C. Getting from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Dulles is not easy nor desirable, and we had very unpleasant and frustrating experiences at Dulles trying to get from our domestic arrival gate to our overseas departure gate.

To top it off, on the cruise we met people who had departed from JFK.

We feel Grand Circle Travel should be aware of the poor air travel segment of our trip.

Fairview, PA

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to Lufthansa (1640 Hempstead Turnpike, East Meadow, NY 11554) and another to Grand Circle Travel. A Lufthansa representative called ITN and said, “This should be taken up with the tour company. . .
Our Boeing is the same as other airlines’. . . It was a full flight. . . Perhaps next time he should request an aisle seat. . . Washington, D.C., is one of our busiest gateways; we’re working on the problem.” Grand Circle Travel sent the following reply.

Thank you for forwarding a copy of the DeCrappeos’ letter and for allowing us to respond. We are sorry that the DeCrappeos did not have an enjoyable flight home aboard Lufthansa flight 418.

As you know, we are a direct marketing business that promotes international travel. As such, we mail promotional materials, most especially catalogs, from six to nine months prior to the advertised departure dates. In the DeCrappeos’ situation, Austrian Airlines canceled its nonstop service from New York JFK after our catalogs were released. The cancellation forced us to make alternate international air arrangements for many of our travelers.

Because the DeCrappeos required airport assistance, we spent a great deal of time comparing several options for domestic flights and international gateways to best accommodate them. In the end, we decided to book their flights through Washington-Dulles because we believed that a connection at that airport would be much easier for the DeCrappeos than an airport transfer from LaGuardia to Kennedy in New York.

As an international company with 39 offices in places around the world dedicated to excellence, Grand Circle is able to control many aspects of our trips, including the quality of our guides and the activities we offer. Our “hands-on” approach is one of the reasons 98% of our travelers tell us they would travel with us again. However, in terms of airlines, we cannot control such things as the number of passengers that an airline has on its flights or the size and spacing of its seats.

Our Terms and Conditions do clearly reserve our right to make changes to the itinerary in any capacity because any element of a trip can change at a moment’s notice. We do not make changes lightly, but when an airline cancels a service, we are required to make a change. And when we do need to make a change, we carefully consider the best options for our travelers and respond accordingly.

I hope that I have addressed your issue fully.

CHRISTEL A. SHEA, Quality Management, Grand Circle Travel, 347 Congress St., Boston, MA 02210.