Just to summarize after talking to my dad:
When my parents were traveling from Chicago O'Hare to Munich on Lufthansa on Jun 25, 2014, the LH agents at the gate called police and had my father arrested because they thought there was an arrest warrant for my father. Chicago police kept my father in some sort of facility for 3 hours or so and then transferred him to another facility, where they checked his fingerprints. The police realized that it was a mistake and told my father "Go home!" My father explained through an interpreter that he was flying with Lufthansa but bought the ticket from United. The police took him to the United ticketing office in O'Hare airport and the agent issued a new ticket on first class even though the original ticket was booked in business class (booked with my miles, i.e, an award ticket). The reason was that business was full on the same flight, so either economy or first. The UA agent kindly chose first rather than economy and told my father that he could enjoy first class after the trouble. An officer from the Chicago Police Department was present the whole time and they also provided some coupon for a fast food chain. My father got a ticket (or a confirmation) from the UA agent, the usual ticket you get when check-in agents change your tickets etc.
When my parents tried to check in on June 26th, the Lufthansa agents told them that they couldn't fly first class because they were originally booked in business. They asked my parents to pay an additional 5000USD each if they want to fly first but the business was full, so if they didn't have money, they had to fly economy. My father told (through his friend in Chicago who was present) that the same logic should apply if Lufthansa couldn't fly them on business and forced to sit in economy (meaning Lufthansa should pay the fare difference between business and economy because Lufthansa said 5000USD is the fare difference between first and business). The agent then put them on a waitlist and had them wait in the lounge if the business class would open up. Eventually, my parents were able to fly business to Munich but that was not confirmed until I told my parents to head to the gate 15 min departure and ask the agent about what was going on. Lufthansa seemed like they forgot my parents in the lounge.
I reached out to Lufthansa after the trip to clarify what exactly happened because my parents seemed to have a new valid e-ticket issued by United. It was partially because I couldn't sleep for another night because of this treatment (an unnecessary drama!) and I also felt bad for my parents having to deal with an awful incident and customer service in a country where they cannot communicate well.
My first email explaining the incident and asking for an explanation was sent to Lufthansa on July 16th. The first response from Lufthansa came back on August 29:
"United had rebooked the ticket in First Class for LH435/26June as Business Class was full. We are sorry if UA did not make clear that it is the passengers’ responsibility to pay the additional collection for the higher class of service. Our flight manager did explain to your parents (and their friend who was there to help with translation) that if they wanted to travel that day, unless they paid the First Class rate, the seats would have to be in Economy Class."
After talking to my father (who was translated by an interpreter), it was clear to me that the UA agent issued a new ticket out of a gesture of goodwill. Also, the police officer was present that time of ticketing, so in the worst case scenario, we have a pretty good eyewitness ;) I emailed back explaining this in addition to the fact that I still have the paper ticket with me. This is on August 29.
Lufthansa got back to me on Sep 20:
"We are not saying that UA did not issue a ticket for First Class, they may well have, but there was no additional collection for the fare differential. United may have been doing it as a gesture of goodwill, which was very nice, however, this was done without verification from LH first."
One thing is clear now: this sentence essentially saying "United might have been nice but we are not! We don't care!" Anyway, there is something that doesn't make much sense to me. There was a new e-ticket number with the paper ticket, I was told that everything was ok with the new ticket when I called United Premier Platinum desk before their check-in, this was UA/LH joint vernture route, I also checked the reservation on the Lufthansa website which was showing "confirmed." How can it not be confirmed or verified from Lufthansa when their website says confirmed? I pointed out these inconsistencies and asked if they could clarify these inconsistencies. That response was on Sep 20 and I also emailed them on Nov 4 because I didn't hear from Lufthansa by then.
Nothing back...So I contacted their facebook team after that, who said they would contact the agent in charge and urge a reply. Nothing happened, so I contacted again the facebook team in December. At the same time, I contacted United asking if they could explain the incident since Lufthansa was blaming the United agent at O'Hare. United quickly responded:
"please be advised united agents should not book business class customers in LH First Class Cabin without the customer being confirmed or hold a First Class ticket. Our records indicates your parents did not hold LH First Class tickets. The actions taken by the LH agents downgrading your parent to the lower class of service was per their policy."
One thing that I don't understand here is that the paper ticket we get when there is a change in our itinerary at airport means nothing? Even on their joint venture routes? Anyway, I asked why I was told by the Platinum desk that everything with the new ticket was ok and they confirmed my parents were on first. I also told UA that I thought it was their courtesy.
United responded, again very quickly, but without clarifying any of these (just a not-so-related copy/paste email) but rather informed me that United considers this case as closed. Ouch... It was not nice; they really didn't answer my question why several agents thought the ticket was just ok if the fare difference was not collected (if United and Lufthansa's customer service teams' claims were accurate.) It would be consistent if it was their courtesy but United customer service said it wasn't a courtesy and it was a mistake by the O'Hare agent...Anyway, United was at least better than Lufthansa in the sense that United responded in a timely manner and also informed me that the case is closed (rather than indefinitely disappearing).
Lufthansa responded on Dec 17:
"As noted in my colleague’s previous communication with you, United Airlines reissued your parents tickets in First Class without verification from Lufthansa; they held Business Class Mileage Plus tickets"
Again, Lufthansa is not really answering my question: what they mean by "not verified" when their website stated "confirmed"... I responded back and told them that the previous agent didn't answer this question and asked AGAIN if they can still clarify this inconsistency. I also kindly asked Lufthansa to let me know if they didn't have any answer or didn't plan to respond to me anymore (just like United did). It's been almost a month now, no answer so far, and I am giving up...My German friends always told me that Lufthansa was a good airline and I took their words granted and thought their airline was just as good as them. But Lufthansa is definitely not an airline I want to deal with...
In the end, I am left without getting any answers, and more importantly, no sincere apology from Lufthansa. Seems like their customer service agrees with Lufthansa O'Hare agents on downgrading in this kind of situations. Lufthansa customer service is also so slow and I am not even sure if I ever get a response.