“All wheels shall stand still…”

by Gunter Denk

Apparently, this union battle cry of the early industrialization era is also a part of the Frankfurt Airport’s (Fraport AG) service policy.

Everyone is familiar with the way in which “Priority Baggage” is impressively given its appropriate tag and then even brought under the plane directly from the boarding point. The only problem is, once you get to baggage claim, your priority baggage is now the last piece of luggage to drop down onto the conveyor belt. The airline staff radio back and forth frantically in search of your priority items, all the while citing Fraport’s regulations for unloading: “Why should we have to unload this baggage first just because some rich guy is willing to pay extra for it?”

The situation is not much different when you go through security, which also offers perks in the form of express lines for priority customers in business class costing 100-300% more than what your average tourist pays. However, since none of the staff members are willing to man the express line, it usually ends up taking even longer than the other lines. That’s if they are even open, of course. At Gate 4 in Terminal C, one of Fraport’s employees glared at me so menacingly with the penetrating stare of a true scientologist that the person I was with turned and asked me nervously what we had done wrong.

Then the man erupted: “What are you doing standing here? Why aren’t you in line behind the other 200 passengers?” “Maybe it’s because this is where you hung up the “For Business Guests” sign,” I pointed out, trying to be helpful. “Aha,” he yelled back, then stormed away in a fury. His feelings of social envy had obviously been validated. Two nice passengers flying economy let us through to the checkpoint. “It’s a daily struggle with these people,” the lovely Oman Air staff commented, also bothered the employee’s attitude. “This is not the service they agreed to provide.”

Why, the astonished traveler wonders, does the FAG have Watchdog Walter checking tickets when he cannot speak English but seems to get a kick out of barking out orders in German at each and every passenger who lays the wrong side of their ticket onto the scanner. Asians huddle together in fear trying to guess the meaning of the German roar coming from some of these angry employees. A piece of advice from a humble German expatriate: put two friendly English-speaking students at the ticket check and you will avoid blunders like this. Of course, while this would be more efficient, it would be also be cheaper, which is already reason enough in itself for the unions to stage a token strike.

In the Rail & Fly Terminal, once you realize the place is set up like an obstacle course, you notice another classic example of the Fraport AG culture. Namely, thanks to an agreement with the FAG made to alleviate the rush for those with heavy luggage arriving by train, around 20 airlines have set-up their check-in service points right next to the Lufthansa counters.

Thus, the strong arm of the FAG employees decided to handle the problem presented to them by doing the following: they simply closed the counters due to “shortage of staff”. Then, the Lufthansa team was told, albeit pleasantly, to direct their passengers, who had yet to check in, to the wrong terminal. If passengers had heavy baggage to transport, then, well, they would just have to find some change to get a baggage cart. After that, they blocked off the elevators with signs saying “Out of Order” while the escalators were “Under Repair”. On more than one account, I have won the bet that at least a third of the escalators and elevators we see on our scavenger hunt through the Frankfurt Airport would be out of order

Next, the FAG attendants watch in amusement as exhausted travelers stagger up, down and around with their 30 kg suitcases until they either reach the shuttle to Terminal 2 or the so magnificently named “Sky Train” between terminals, which really feels more like the railway at Fantasialand than at an airport.

They probably really love seeing the despair on the faces of the thousands of foreign guests who forgot to make sure they had some German change on them before leaving Tokyo, Dallas or Dubai, who just stand there looking at the line for the baggage carts which can only be accessed by putting change into the machine to pay for them.

A positive to way to view all this is that they seem to be placing a lot of importance on customer retention. Thus, instead of helping these people get to their next point of transfer, they are trying to keep them in Frankfurt, and the easiest way to do that is by not telling them how to get to their flight! This explains why passengers arriving by car are consistently bewildered by the lack of signs (so commonly found at all of the most renowned airports in the world) telling them what Terminal, of which there are five, all located 8 minutes away from each other by car, their airline is located in.

There is still one question I have not found the answer to: why in God’s name is the FAG taking all the trouble to build new terminals and runways when everything else they do is in the name of driving away those pesky customers to the international airport in Munich or in Berlin (oh, wait, shoot, that second one isn’t done yet)?