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If You Travel to Slovenia, You SHOULD NOT Fly with Adria Airways

I apologize to my regular readers for a completely off-topic post, but if I manage to save a single traveller the frustrations I experienced a few weeks ago it was well worth it. Also, please help spread the word…

TL&DR: If you travel to Slovenia, DO NOT even consider flying with Adria Airways (and carefully check the code-share flights, they might be hiding under a Lufthansa or Swiss flight number). Their actual flight schedule is resembling a lottery, and while I always had great experience with the friendly, courteous and highly professional cabin crews, it’s totally impossible to reach their customer service.

2019-09-30: The agony ended sooner than I expected. On September 30th Adria Airways declared bankruptcy, ending the frustration and uncertainty of thousands of passengers they left stranded across Europe for almost 10 days. So long Adria, and thanks for all the good flights (we'll eventually forget all the mess you made in the last year)

2019-09-22: Added updates on what happened during last week. The whole thing is becoming a soap opera

At the moment you could get to Ljubljana from Amsterdam, London, Paris, Warsaw, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, or Belgrade. Alternate nearby destinations are Vienna, Zagreb, Graz or Trieste, or you could go via Venice and Treviso. There are regular shuttles operating between all those airports and Ljubljana.

Also, Swiss flights to Graz are often cheaper than Adria flights from Zurich to Ljubljana… without considering that one of them has a decent track record, and the other one has premium pricing at the delivery quality below that expected of a budget airline.

A High-Level Perspective

Local news outlets have been reporting that the Civil Aviation Agency of the Republic of Slovenia is investigating Adria because the airline has millions of negative capital (aka accumulated losses) and has not published their financial reports as requested by the local regulations.

In mid-September one of the leasing companies took back two airplanes because Adria failed to pay overdue bills (article in German) and there are rumors they lost the third aircraft.

Just in case you want to do some fact-checking: someone published a nice trick how you could track what flights an airline is doing based on the airplane registration numbers. As of 2019-09-20, out of 17 registered aircrafts one is flying for Luxair, two for Lufthansa, two for Austrian, one for Swiss, one was taken to Maastricht, and three haven't been seen in over a week... leaving them seven aircrafts to operate their regular network. No wonder they are taking scenic routes and cancelling flights or delaying them for hours (see below).

I know nothing about airline business, but based on the previous paragraph it looks like you can make more money renting your crews to airlines who actually know how to run their business than transporting cattle (oops, passengers).

You’ve been warned (see also Popcorn Time below). Time for a bit of hands-on experience.

From Bad to Worse

I was flying with Adria Airways for the last 30 years and while they had their ups and downs, I was always a reasonably happy customer, and continued to use them even when everyone was telling me to find cheaper alternatives - their flights to Munich, Zurich or Frankfurt were the most convenient.

Unfortunately I started noticing a weird behavior a few years back: while every other airline I flew with notified their passengers about upcoming delays as soon as reasonably possible, Adria consistently announced the delays at most 15 minutes before the departure time, effectively preventing the passengers from rebooking their flights. I had an unbeliavable personal experience years ago when only a chance encounter saved me from a missed connecting flight - Adria was aware hours in advance that the flight I was taking was going to be at least an hour late, but made no announcement along those lines, and even tried to deny it when I confronted the front-desk employee.

Last spring it got worse: they started cancelling random flights that were not booked to their satisfaction. Please note that the cancellations were not caused by weather, ATC restrictions or equipment malfunction as they cancelled the flights a week or more in advance - it was clearly a business decision.

They also got into the nasty habit of not informing their customers about changed departure times - once I discovered my flight was moved by two hours at check-in time. Chatting with fellow passengers I found out that they had changed the flight schedule two weeks before the departure date, and simply decided not to tell me (even though they always had my email address - I was buying my tickets through their online portal).

At approximately the same time someone decided their passengers don’t matter at all - I blogged about their decision to delay a bunch of flights due to late incoming aircraft from another carrier last October.

It Got Ridiculous This Summer

In summer 2019 Adria started another creative shenanigan: they would schedule regular flights to (for example) Zurich and Munich, but replace them a week before the departure date with a flight Ljubljana - Munich - Zurich - Ljubljana, changing the departure or arrival times for everyone involved and (in my case) prolonging a flight that was supposed to take an hour for another hour and a half. Catching the connecting flights became a pure lottery.

I wouldn’t mind them flying in whatever Eulerian path they wish AS LONG AS they would tell you in advance what you can expect. What they do is the crudest form of bait-and-switch scam which grew to Kafkaesque proportions this summer:

  • A friend of mine flew into Slovenia using Adria as the second leg of their flight in late July 2019. Adria cancelled the connecting flight and rebooked them… and then denied them boarding because the alternate flight was overbooked.
  • Another friend of mine arrived at the airport in early August 2019 to find out their flight was cancelled. It took them forever to rebook the flight, and by that time all the reasonable options were gone. They left Slovenia a day later.
  • A fellow passenger on a Ljubljana - Zurich flight in June 2019 got to the airport before 6AM (taking the morning flight), only to find out it was cancelled and she got rebooked onto the afternoon flight… which was delayed. She spent more than half a day sitting at lovely Ljubljana airport without as much as a lunch voucher from Adria.
  • While you might get to the point where Adria would admit wrongdoing and agree to pay you EU-regulated compensation, getting the money becomes another lottery.

And yet I was stupid enough to decide to take Adria for my recent trip to Zurich. Oh boy…

I bought the ticket (for two direct flights) on August 9th 2019, and I’m reasonably sure Adria knew they wouldn’t fly me there as promised around August 20th. This time they even sent me an email on August 28th telling me they will take me down the scenic route and show me Munich. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I decided to give them one more try… and then the pilots decided to go on strike. It was time to do something.

But Wait, It Gets Even Worse

The only way to reach Adria Airways (unless you’re willing to drive to their offices) is through their call center. I tried to reach them twice, and gave up after a long period of being promised that “the waiting time is less than two minutes”.

Believing in the magic powers of social networks I ranted about the experience on Twitter only to be told that it’s useless - Adria stopped responding to tweets in May 2019. I was also told I was not the only one with that problem.

Next step: trying to reach them via email. Responding to “we changed your departure time” email failed - Adria is using bogus email addresses in outgoing email. There is also no “sales” or “booking” email address listed on their web site, so I forwarded my email to their marketing. The marketing person replied on the next business day telling me they forwarded my email to booking (and giving me the correct email address).

As expected, I got no response from the booking team, and resent the email two days later, only to get “Thank you for your e-mail. We will respond to your e-mail as soon as possible.” response advising me to call their call center. Yeah, sure…

Popcorn Time

On September 5th 2019 Adria cancelled their evening flight to Vienna (and disembarked passengers already sitting on the plane) because court officials, police, and lawyers representing another unhappy customer were waiting to collect EUR 250 compensation Adria refused to pay for over a year. Full story in German.

Not surprisingly, that left them with a few passengers stranded in Vienna. They decided to put them on a bus and delivered them to Ljubljana in early morning. All that to avoid paying EUR 250 compensation.

In the meantime (maybe because I started hammering on poor souls representing Adria in Switzerland) I got a reply from Adria’s booking claiming they will refund my ticket in full. Not surprisingly, I haven’t seen the refund yet. Maybe it’s time to engage a collection agency ;))

2019-09-20: I got the refund. Thanks a million to whoever made this happen!

Conclusions

I tried to applied Hanlon’s razor to my experience with Adria, but I find it hard to believe that someone could be THAT stupid, ignorant or incompetent. Ignoring customers, skirting EU regulations on airline passenger rights, and making it impossible to reach a customer agent must be a business decision.

2019-10-01: It turned out Slovenian government wasted ~90 million EUR on Adria in the last 12 years. Time to apply Hanlon's Razor on the government level?

Please read our Blog Commenting Policy before writing a comment.

6 comments:

  1. You have to made a trade off between higher priced flight tickets (quality airlines) or your valuable time. Think of what you could do with the wasted time instead (opportunity costs).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope I know enough about identifying and making tradeoffs, so I would be perfectly glad to make the one you describe (and did many times in the past).

      Unfortunately in this particular case it's a tradeoff between "paying a price of quality airline while getting random performance" (yeah, you can even pay for business class random performance) versus "actually flying with a quality airline but not out of a Slovenian airport" because for reasons unfathomable to me quality airlines fly from all nearby airports (Trieste, Graz, Vienna, Zagreb, Venice) but not from Ljubljana, so it all transforms into "do I waste time waiting for some random time at the local airport" versus "do I waste somewhat-predictable amount of time driving to some other airport".

      Delete
  2. The unfathomable reason(s) might come from the unprofitable direct course Zurich-Ljubljana (vice versa) from the perspective of the airlines. How often is the airplane booked out? The demand from the customers for this direct course might be low.
    So the solution might be to fly to a nearby airport and take the bus or train from there to get to Ljubljana. With this strategy you might have the best cost-benefit ratio.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know you're trying to be helpful, but I've been around the block a few times and had to run my own business, so went through all the considerations we're having several times.

      Just for fun, here are the facts as I see them:

      * There are two airlines that would be interested in Zurich-Ljubljana route: Swiss and Adria
      * Swiss has direct daily flights to Graz which has approximately half the number of passengers Ljubljana has;
      * Adria has three daily flights to Zurich, and at least before they started messing up everything those flights were pretty full;
      * Swiss had daily flights to Ljubljana a few years back and they were almost fully booked because pricing was comparable and everyone loved flying Swiss instead of Adria;
      * Swiss discontinued their flights;
      * Adria is still flying to Zurich three times a day (sometimes taking the scenic route).

      Whichever way I look I can't find a business explanation that would match all these data points.

      Delete
  3. My bet is that Star Alliance is trying to help Adria out by giving them monopoly over certain routes, e.g. LJU-ZRH. This is not different to a family giving a struggling family member a hand out. But there must come the time when family says enough is enough and cut off the handouts to those who are either incompetent or taking advantage of family's good will. There must come the time when even the closest of families throws out those members who don't contribute to the common objective. Has this time come for Adria?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great analogy, thank you!

      In the meantime, it looks like the outsiders with nothing to say (= the passengers) won't have to endure this family agony for much longer. The first dominoes have already fallen.

      Delete

Constructive courteous comments are most welcome. Anonymous trolling will be removed with prejudice.

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