United & Lufthansa Airlines Star Alliance Partnership Separates Father & Son on Father’s Day

Tommy and Roman make it to Prague
Tommy and Roman make it to Prague

(Prague to Pebble or Bust Day 0) Is it really all that much to ask an airline to seat families together? Apparently the answer for the United and Lufthansa’s Star Alliance is a resounding Yes.

I spent Father’s Day sitting in the back of a plane flying to Europe on a Lufthansa flight….nowhere near my son. The painful irony of this Father’s Day gift from the partner Star Alliance Airlines is that I booked the tickets together through United’s website and spent hours with both United and Lufthansa trying to simply make sure that we had two seats next to each other on UA flight 9199 operated by Lufthansa from Philly to Frankfurt over Father’s Day weekend.

I fly a lot for my job reviewing cars. Perhaps once per week so I have accumulated Gold Status on United Airlines. It only seemed natural when planning this trip to Prague to pickup the Tatra 603  to purchase my tickets through United. That’s when the trouble began. I was flying on Father’s Day with my son who is the TFL videographer for for this unique video series. Unlike other United flights, I was unable to select our Lufthansa Philly to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Prague seats online when I purchased the tickets. I was also unable to select our seats when checking in to the flights online.

The Star Alliance computer said “No.”

So I called United and was told that I had to request the seats directly from Lufthansa. Many phone calls and much hold music later, a Lufthansa rep said that she selected two seats together for me on Father’s Day on the Lufthansa flights. I was happy but a bit surprised that the decades old Star Alliance partnership didn’t allow the two airlines to share this crucial bit of electronic info.

Surprise, surprise, surprise! When I checked in in Denver at the United Airlines counter, the airlines kiosk spat out two tickets that were nowhere near each other. I was in row 50 at the back of the bus and my son was 5 rows ahead of me. I thought there was a mistake and asked the agent to re-seat us next to each other. He told me that United didn’t have access to Lufthansa’s computer system. He suggested I try Lufthansa and so I did. I walked across the airport to Lufthansa and asked if they could seat us together on their own flight.

The Star Alliance computer said “No.”

Apparently, Lufthansa doesn’t have access to its own seating map until right before the flight.


So I walked back to United and asked for their help. After all, I had spent well over $3500 on their website to purchase these tickets. The helpful United agent said all she could do was request the seats from the Lufthansa’s computer and so she did. I thought situation sorted. I was happy to be sitting next to Tommy on the United flight to Philly.

Apparently the computer Star Alliance Computer said “No.”

Because when I arrived in Philly we were still separated on the long international flight to Prague. At least now Lufthansa must have access to the seating chart, I thought. I waited in a long line at the Philly Lufthansa counter and requested to be seated next to my son, again.

The Star Alliance computer said “No.”

The flight was full and all of the seats were now booked and taken. The helpful Lufthansa counter agent said she would try to horse trade my aisle seat so I could sit next to my son but she was so busy that this last minute solution never happened.

So I called up United’s frequent flyer help desk and expressed my frustration and sadness at this special Father’s Day surprise. The first agent’s accent on the other end of the line was so thick that I could only make out every other word. I asked to speak with her supervisor.

The supervisor said there was nothing she could do. But I said that I booked the tickets on their website, with their flight number. Once again, in thickly accented English, the supervisor told me that it was like buying Nike shoes from Macy’s. If I didn’t like the shoes, then I should contact Nike. Perhaps in her home country this may be the norm, but I told her that in ‘Merica we don’t return Nikes to Oregon.

She also informed me that I was earning valuable United Frequent Flyer miles on the Lufthansa flight.

But once again, the Star Alliance computer said “No.” I have yet to get any frequent flyer miles from my last European Lufthansa trip credited to my United account for the Lufthansa flights I took several weeks ago. Let’s see how long it takes this latest trip to appear.

So, I spent my Father’s Day sitting alone on two Lufthansa flights because the Star Alliance computer said “No.” Thanks guys! What a thoughtful way to reward your Frequent Flyers.

Of course, the irony of the entire situation is that when I fly to Europe to review cars I fly business class. These are every expensive airline tickets. You can bet that when booking my next business trip Roman’s computer will say you know what, to United and Lufthansa’s Star alliance.

Now, let the grand adventure begin. The Tatra 603 awaits a trip to Pebble Beach!