'I got fed up and cancelled': The reality of travelling abroad from Switzerland in a pandemic

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 3 Dec, 2020 Updated Thu 3 Dec 2020 12:08 CEST
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Though Swiss health officials advise against non-essential travel, especially to international destinations, some foreign residents have no choice — they have to go abroad for family or work reasons. If you are one of them, this is what you should expect.

If you want to fly out of Switzerland these days, you need to arm yourself with patience — lots of it.

That’s because buying a ticket doesn’t mean you will actually reach your destination in the most direct way, or at all. 

Jen O. is one example. She had a bad experience trying to get a flight from Geneva to Krakow, Poland, on December 19th.

“The first reservation, made with LOT, was cancelled”, she said. “The following booking, through Frankfurt with Lufthansa, was modified by the airline several times”.

The last straw was the return flight for December 22nd. Lufthansa scheduled Jen’s departure from Krakow to Frankfurt at 4:25 pm, but kept the connection from Frankfurt to Geneva at 1:10 pm.

In other words, the second leg of her flight was before the first.

“I finally got fed up and cancelled the whole thing”, she said. “It just makes no sense to go through all this hassle for such a short trip”.


The long and winding road

Getting from point A to point Z these days often involves a very long layover, which can turn any flight into an epic journey.

Before the pandemic, there was a daily direct flight between Newark (USA) and Geneva.

But that is no longer the case. Robert Milligan’s flight from Newark back to Geneva on November 14th was supposed to take him via London Heathrow.

“All things considered, it was not a bad schedule — leaving Newark at 6 pm, arriving in London at 6:20 am, and getting a connecting flight to Geneva at 8:55 am”, he said.

But the morning flight from London to Geneva was cancelled and Robert was put on a 2:25 pm flight, which would imply an 8-hour layover at Heathrow.

“The layover would have been longer than the flight”, he said. “That makes no sense at all”.

So he changed his return to November 12th, as this was the only available option, and was booked on a flight from Newark to Munich and from Munich to Geneva.

This time too the original flight was modified and another connection was added: from Newark to Munich, then Munich to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Geneva.

“To make it even more frustrating and annoying, the connection time at Munich was only 30 minutes, not enough to get off one plane and go from one terminal to another. I would have to dash like a madman to catch that flight”.

In the end, Robert was able to fly back on a different day and a different flight.

At times, passengers are re-routed in a way that requires them to fly all over the map before arriving at their final destination.

Last year, Carol S. flew nonstop from Miami to Zurich.

But to get back to Switzerland from Florida in February 2021, she will have to fly from Miami to Toronto, from Toronto to Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt to Zurich.

If, that is, none of these flights gets cancelled in the meantime.

In all, out of 11 Switzerland-based foreign citizens The Local talked to this week, four had their recent flights changed and re-routed, resulting in very long layovers and inconvenient connections.

Seven others said their flights had been cancelled more than once in the past two months.

Why is this happening?

Contacted by The Local, SWISS spokesperson Meike Fuhlrott said that the airline’s “fundamental objective is to offer its customers a flight schedule that is as stable and reliable as possible. However, a host of travel restrictions, quarantine provisions and a coronavirus pandemic that is raging more strongly than ever, are currently making this difficult to do”.

She added that as a result of these disruptions, “SWISS’s originally planned flight schedules for the coming winter have had to be substantially downwardly revised”.

“The company currently expects to offer services that amount, at most, to 25 percent of its prior-year capacity. This can mean that flights may be combined (and the passenger rebooked), or even cancelled”, Fuhlrott said.

In such a case, the airline or its codeshare partners will send you an email with the new booking, which you can either accept or refuse.

If you refuse, you will get a full refund, though it may take many weeks before you receive the payment. 



Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2020/12/03 12:08

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