A few weeks ago, administration notified teachers that we would be switching our airline from Lufthansa to Qatar. On its face, this may seem like a neutral switch. If it were a change for the following school year, it would be. But the timing of the switch and the way in which it communicated has only helped to sink morale to new lows at ASK. This post will examine some of the effects of the airline change.
For many years now, ASK teachers have been able to take advantage of the fact that Lufthansa flights had layovers in Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt is a giant hub and it is quite inexpensive to fly to other locations in Europe from Frankfurt. In addition, Lufthansa allows for “side trips” or extended layovers. This means that your trip from Kuwait to home can have a layover in Frankfurt that lasts for many days. During this layover, teachers would book a roundtrip flight from Frankfurt to the European destination of their choice. Upon returning to Frankfurt, they would collect and recheck their baggage and resume their original itinerary home.
Many teachers have already booked their side trips, including flights and hotels, for their summer trips home this year. This is because the original form that was sent by school indicated that side trips were still allowed. Now that the airline has been changed, the school has been faced with whether or not to allow some people to use Lufthansa so they can have a side trip they already booked against allowing teachers who had not yet booked to do so as well. Teachers have had to individually meet with Becky in order to plead their case to still use Lufthansa, and have had to show paperwork that they had already booked travel arrangements.
Many teachers have cats or dogs that they take home each summer. Lufthansa had rules similar to most western airlines and allowed travel, both in-cabin and in cargo, for prices that were competitive with other European and North American Airlines. Qatar, on the other hand, does not allow cats or many breeds of dogs in the cabin.
From May to October, they are prohibited from flying in cargo, as well, unless they are placed in a special kennel which runs for about 500 KD (1,666 US Dollars as of today). This is exorbitant and many teachers can’t afford it. Many of these teachers came to ASK with pets and clearly asked about their ability to travel with pets home each summer before accepting contracts with ASK only to have the rugs pulled out from underneath them.
If you’re Canadian, you should expect to have much longer travel times home when compared with Lufthansa, as well as a greater number of layovers. We can only imagine being a Canadian family with children and having to take an already stressful trip and make it longer and more stressful.
The way that this change was handled is very much standard operating procedure for changes at ASK. A similar change was made many years ago when ASK changed medical insurance mid year. The new insurance coverage was worse (because it was less expensive). The overall coverage amounts were lower, including coverage for maternity and chronic conditions. Many claims were being denied for treatments that had been approved under the previous insurer. Maternity coverage went from 100% to 50% and several teachers who were pregnant found themselves immediately changing from having their care paid for to having to pay for half of each test or appointment. The school immediately said that they would, for the remainder of that year, cover in cash the difference between the previous insurance and the new insurance. Unfortunately, they only did this in some cases, and we are aware of multiple people that did not receive the money they were promised. Some people were hired with medical conditions and told that they were covered, only to arrive to Kuwait and find that they were not. There are reports that the superintendent suggested to these people that they volunteer to sponsor more extracurricular activities so that they could pay for their medical care with the extracurricular stipend that they would receive.
A mathematical analysis of Lufthansa vs Qatar:
It is cheaper to fly Qatar than Lufthansa. But the layovers are longer. If you are flying to Canada, then you’re really in trouble, because Qatar will fly you into JFK and then make you bus to LaGuardia for your outbound flight. Returning to Kuwait, you’ll do the same airport switch in reverse. Fun. Here are some numbers:
Kuwait – Toronto Round Trip (June 8 to August 27)
While Lufthansa and Qatar both have 2 outbound layovers, Qatar makes you switch airports, so there is no tie here. Lufthansa is going to save you 4 hours and 30 minutes and a bus ride through New York City.
Kuwait – Chicago Round Trip (June 8 to August 27)
While both airlines tie on the number of layovers, Lufthansa is the clear winner in the duration. The layovers are incredibly shorter with Lufthansa, and you’ll be traveling for 10 hours and 25 minutes less time, as well. If you have children or if you have to make a third flight after Chicago, then the time differences will really be important to you.
ASK gives you the option to take cash for your flights. They usually will not tell you how much cash you get until after the deadline to choose whether you’re taking cash or letting the school book your flights. However, in practice, if you wait till the last minute and apply some pressure, you can usually get the cash price. This year, teachers have been told that they can have cash equivalent to 175 KD if they don’t want to take the Qatar flights. Looking at the prices above, it is clear that 175 KD is not going to come anywhere close to paying for a flight, so you’d lose enormous amounts of money taking the cash option to book yourself.
The final conclusion here is that if you are considering a contract at ASK, you should know that many of the benefits they offer you are subject to change, at any time, with no prior notice. There is also very little transparency in how decisions are made. While ASK will offer a cash amount to “reimburse” you, don’t expect it to actually cover the needed amount. Remember that the school is run as a for profit business and that the priority is the bottom line, not staff morale. When recruiting, whether you are now considering an offer from ASK or you are a current ASK teacher considering going elsewhere, an important aspect to look for is transparency. The best schools provide extensive details about their policies on their website – salary scale, insurance details, flight reimbursement amounts and policies. Look for schools that are transparent in these ways and more, and hopefully you can avoid a few more headaches in your future.