Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Swiss Alps

Let me start with a simple geography quiz.

Q: Which country does Geneva belong to?

A: Actually, it depends.

Now, I know this sounds completely wacky. Geography was one of my favorite subjects in high school. I liked looking at maps. I liked drawing/replicating map outlines, and I had no problems with studying for my geography exams. So why this sudden ambiguity about such a well-known city?

Personal experience taught me a bittter lesson. So here is a little geography tip that might be useful to first-time travelers to Geneva. Especially those who (a) plan on flying Air France to get there, and (b) do not have permission to visit France.

For, though Geneva belongs to Switzerland, France has taken a bite out of the city! In fact, a part of Geneva's airport is French territory!
It is as bizarre as it sounds. Here is a real-world account of what is in store for the unsuspecting traveler.

We recently booked tickets for a Boston-Geneva trip on Delta Airlines (through, which conveniently tagged their flights as Air France through a code-sharing agreement. Our final destination: GVA (Geneva, Switzerland). As we were going to Switzerland, we applied for (and obtained) Swiss visas in advance, and were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We boarded our flight at Boston, landed in perennially messy Charles de Gaule airport in Paris, and even figured out the departure gate for the Paris-Geneva flight.

And then, the seemingly simple matter of an international transit turned into utter chaos. We were refused entry to the gate area! It turned out that Air France treated Paris-Geneva as a domestic flight, since they would be landing in the French sector of Geneva's airport. Essentially, we had to clear customs at Paris, for which we had no visa!

All that was required was a single line of warning on Travelocity's website: "Geneva airport is split in two; please ensure you have the required documents." Three agencies - Travelocity, Delta Airlines and Air France - failed to pass on this critical piece of information (freely available to them), and we paid the price. Literally, too, as we shall see in just a moment.

Air France personnel righted their second wrong (of letting us on the Boston flight without checking for Shengen visas) by re-routing us to Geneva on Swiss Air. Terribly nice of them. Until our checked bag got lost, and we had to join a long line of similarly disgruntled passengers at Geneva. Swiss Air, as the last carrier to get us to our final destination, was saddled with the burden of tracing and delivering our bag. They screamed in anguish (in a nice, calm, Swiss sort of way) about the incompetance of everyone involved. Apparently, the Paris fiasco was a regular occurrence!

We had to have Delta re-book our return tickets, which was done after we were forced to cut a day out of our trip and cough up an additional $440. Plus, Delta only flew out of Zurich! We ended up on Zurich-Atlanta-Boston return flights, which required another $220 in the form of train tickets (to get to Zurich). Delta maintains that they are not responsible for this ridiculous occurrence. Travelocity and Air France have ignored me so far. And I am left holding the bag.

Brilliant, all around. Kudos to the airline industry!


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violinsolo said...

Wow! Thanks for the info on UAL. Seems like all airlines belong to the same greedy bunch. After a lot of noise-making, Delta gave me two $200 vouchers for future travel on their flights (while re-iterating that they are doing this as a goodwill gesture not amounting to an admission of guilt). However, the tickets will have to be booked only through authorized Delta agents, in person! They are therefore useless on or on the phone, and I seriously doubt if I will be able to use them within the one-year expiration window they included in the "deal". Sweet nothings, really.

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