Denmark – Shame on You

The Streets of Copenhagen

There are moments when dealing with bureaucratic nonsense that leave you so stupefied you have trouble believing that what you’re seeing and experiencing is real and not some complex miscommunication.  After all, no person/organization/group or agency could be that daft, right?  You want to believe that some semblance of common sense must, at some point, enter into the equation.  Or so one would think.  Of course, as experience perpetually reminds us – there are a wealth of areas out there where common sense and good taste were banished decades ago.

While I absolutely love Denmark, and the Copenhagen area, there are aspects of the Danish system that not only drive me up a wall, but for which the Danish government should be deeply embarrassed and ashamed.  In the past I’ve discussed issues related to student housing for internationals in Copenhagen, about the general apathy and incompetence of the Visa Department, about the incompetence of the Danish banks when it comes to certified checks, and how half of the stores in Denmark only accept Visa cards from Danish banks.  Today though, let’s talk packages, customs, and fees.

Last week I received a package notification slip which in and of itself was a small miracle.  You see, the Danish Post is generally incompetent. For a country the size of Arizona they seem to have a surprising level of difficulty getting packages delivered on time, or to the right location.  If your package is coming from overseas…well…good luck.  It’s destined to spend more time sitting in warehouses and lost in customs than total time in transit.

I wasn’t completely sure what the slip was for, but assumed it had to do with a product sample a US-based company had sent me to review on VirtualWayfarer. By the time I reached the post office and queued up in a long line, I had a few minutes to puzzle over the package/customs slip I’d received in the mail.  It listed some 199 DKK ($35) in fees and taxes for the package.  Knowing that the complimentary sample I’d been sent was only priced at $28 USD or 150 DKK, I was more than a little puzzled about what it might be.  Had they decided to send additional samples?  Had a mistake been made?  Had someone sent a care package from the US that I didn’t know about?

After reaching the counter, I handed over the slip and proof of identification.  The post office employee then spent the next 5 minutes searching the shelves for the package before finally finding the smushed and partially abused USPS flat rate envelope.  I confirmed that it was, in fact, the product sample which included a very visible customs declaration form  highlighting the $28 value of the item.  The package was also wrapped in the red customs tape which I’ve come to associate with some sort of VAT tax or fee.

To my surprise, I was then informed that I’d need to pay 199DKK in VAT and unavoidable fees if I wanted to pick up the package. While paying a VAT tax on the item might make sense and wouldn’t overly aggravate me – paying a 160 DKK combined fee and VAT on that fee (yup, Denmark charges taxes on fees and taxes) is ridiculous.  Annoyed, I insisted that there must be some sort of mistake.  After all, it would take a profound level of mean-spirited corruption and/or general incompetence to create a fee and tax system that would result in taxes and fees that were 130% of the cost of the actual item being sent, right?

The clerk shrugged. I rephrased my complaint.  He shrugged again. Then he told me if I didn’t want to pay the fees, I could refuse the package and have it returned to the sender. The default answer I’ve gotten from the postal folks every time I’ve mentioned the issue.  I asked him what the point was of having someone send an order or a package if you didn’t intend to actually pick it up. It generally presupposes that if you’re receiving a package that you might, you know, need that package, right? He shrugged again. Then gave me a number to call, but told me they wouldn’t do anything.

He was right.  The lady I reached when calling Post Danmark quickly explained that it was a flat, tiered fee.  I asked what the fee was for? Apparently an unavoidable import tax and VAT.  I asked if paying the VAT when shipping the package would make it possible to avoid the fee, and if the fee was a punishment designed to discourage people from paying at pickup.  Her answer?  Nope.  The fee is unavoidable and VAT etc. can only be paid when the package is received. Flabbergasted, I asked her how they could justify charging a fee that was well in excess of the original price of an item.  She didn’t care – the fee was the fee.

This isn’t just a Post Danmark and Danish Customs issue, it’s a regulatory and governmental issue.  The fact that things like this are allowed and built into the system is not only idiotic, but it ought to be criminal given the profoundly exploitative nature of it.

What possible, viable, or credible justification can there be for charging 130% fee in excess of the original purchase price AND cost of shipping on an item that is not available in any way/shape/or form in Denmark or from a Danish company?

In expressing my frustration and outrage over the incident to friends, they’ve all noted similar experiences. In short, it’s just viewed as part of the system. To me, it looks like a legal alternative to the types of bribery and extortion you’d find in many 3rd-world countries.

So, again I say Denmark, shame on you.

Flying With British Airways – Why I Will Never Trust Them Again

If you talked to me in the month or so before I caught my flight over to Denmark to begin my two year study abroad session I was probably very complimentary of British Airways.  I’d recently signed up for a British Airways associated Credit Card, received 100,000 miles as the signing bonus and been able to book my international flight with the miles without significant lead time.  Further, I’d talked to the agent with whom I booked the ticket and he had made several suggestions which seemed like they solved the problems I was looking at in getting my luggage (including a desktop) over to Copenhagen for an affordable rate.

Unfortunately, British Airways managed to burn every ounce of that good will and then some in the 36 hours before my flight.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a good old fashioned bait and switch.  When you sell me on a product, sell me the product as delivered or straight to hell with you.

The Pitch: In talking with the agent and explaining what I was doing and inquiring what my options were for getting additional luggage to Denmark he suggested that I book the ticket (30,000+$239 in taxes/fees) and then upgrade for an additional 15,000 miles (a 50% increase in “cost”) to decrease the cost of additional bags.  The way it typically works is that a standard ticket with BA gets 1 free checked bag, 1 carry on, and 1 personal item.  From there the first additional bag would cost me $51 w/ a discounted price if I booked it ahead of time and online. The third bag would then cost $119 (online) or $140 (at the counter).  BUT, if I upgraded to World Traveller Plus for the additional 15,000 AirMiles I’d receive a second bag free and then be able to pay $51 for my third bag, and $119 for my fourth if I needed it.

With a weight limit of ~50 pounds and the need to transport two LCD monitors and a desktop I knew I’d need three bags, in addition to my carry on (backpack) and personal item (laptop). So, the 15,000 miles and additional ~$50 I’d end up paying for the 3rd bag seemed like a great option.  I did some research, thought it over, and then went to book online using their e-portal.  Only to have it error out every time I tried over a 6 hour period.  Frustrated and having been told there were only a few tickets left I called in and manually booked it over the phone repeating my previous conversation to the new agent.  I told him to book the ticket with the upgrade, and he reminded me that there was a baggage discount if paid online ahead of time/during online check-in.

Fast forward to a day or two before my departure.  I was about to enter the 24-hour window for check in. I logged in and went to pay for my additional luggage.  You can imagine my surprise when I added my third bag only to be notified it was going to cost $119. Assuming a mistake with the website I exchanged tweets with @BritishAirways and then began the process of trying to call the executive club member number on my card. I also had noticed that I was never prompted to purchase traveller’s insurance either on-line or in the follow up e-mail.  Wondering if it was included through the insurance on the Signature Credit Card or had been auto-included in fees I paid I was eager to speak to a rep and ask them about it.

After two calls at different points in time (both of which projected 13+ minute wait times) which is absurd for a “premium” member service I tried calling a third time only to learn that the executive office closes at 8PM EST (Good luck westcoasters!). With less than 24 hours left before my flight I called the standard booking number and spent more than 30 minutes on hold before finally giving up.  Keep in mind this is the phone number to BOOK with British Airways.

In doing  some online research I found an additional number for the 3rd party vendor they use and called their 24 hour number only to learn that not only was there not a policy # for my flight, but because I hadn’t purchased insurance from them within a 7 day window after purchasing my ticket from BA, I wasn’t going to be able to buy a policy.    Frustrated I went to bed and woke up early to try calling once again.

Finally after a few short hours of sleep I found myself awake, called and after a relatively short hold time I reached a BA sales agent who I told about the issues with web pricing.  With an incredibly rude tone, she directed me to the website and said that regardless of what I’d be told previously the $119 fee for the 3rd bag was correct.  Throughout the conversation she was rude, unfriendly, and combative.  This led me to escalate to a supervisor who while apologetic and far more friendly was unwilling/unable to do anything to fix the fee amount despite the source of the misinformation being one of their booking agents.

At this point I’d been forced to book by phone because their web portal wasn’t working, been sold an upgrade at 15,000 miles on the premise of discounted luggage fees which were non-existent, faced ridiculous  hold times and BA had no intention of doing a damn thing about it. Not to mention never having been offered the opportunity or informed of the need to purchase third party travel insurance (which only had a 7 day window to begin with).

Unwilling to make the situation right about the mileage upgrade and added fees for the luggage the supervisor did at least take the time to call the insurance provider and to line up a last minute insurance plan which I was able to purchase over the phone.

I am both incredibly annoyed and disgusted by the way British Airways handled the entire thing.  Their lack of interest in making the situation right was only compounded by the terrible performance of their phone and web services. For a major airline and allegedly one of the more reputable ones, their level of professionalism was absolutely lacking.

It’s a pretty sad statement when a customer has to not only work to spend money on an airline, but also has to work with that airline on a buyer-be-ware basis. If this is the type of service and treatment I can expect from them, I’ll be looking forward to the moment when I can dump my miles and cancel my card. It is also worth noting that in sharing this story with friends and fellow travelers, I’ve heard similar story after story that indicates BA has systematic customer service and quality issues.