Managers AWOL as London Stansted Airport's "meet & greet" valet parking service victimizes large numbers of customers with epic meltdown.

According to the Daily Mail, "hundreds" of travelers had to wait 5 hours (and even longer) to get their cars back from an airport valet parking service that was staffed with just 3 workers.

The rush happened on the overnight shift. There were no managers on duty according to news reports; workers could not find cars, or even keys, and the scene became so chaotic that 5 police officers arrived on scene in efforts to keep the peace.

Grace Carter (@graceloucarter) tweeted that it took 5½ hours to get her car back.

It was so bad, one staff member ran off in tears. And then more customers arrived, compounding the mayhem.

One internet reader wrote that instead of it being called a "meet & greet" service, it should be called "meet & seek," because that's what customers resorted to. They were out in the lots trying to find their cars themselves.

What a mess...

It surprises me that in this dire service emergency, where the valet operation was going down in flames, apparently, no valet manager rushed to the scene to help.

This is how valet parking services lose a contracts. It's also how valet managers get fired. 

When I was a valet worker, whenever we faced an unexpected rush while being short on manpower, we sent out an SOS to our other locations and brought in help, including managers from those other locations. They rushed to the scene immediately. And then we got things under control.

We never got close to a fiasco like this. 

So how do you protect yourself from being victimized like these consumers?

  1. Bring an extra key and keep it with you. This way if they lose your key, you are not stuck there.

  2. Give them only the one key necessary to operate the car and have something distinguishing attached to the key so that it can be quickly located on a valet parking key board (where they hang all the keys).

  3. Get to the cashier's window first. Don't dawdle, especially if you believe a lot of other people are also going to the valet area. The first people there will get the quickest exit.

  4. Research which valet service has the best reputation before selecting one.

  5. Or just park it yourself and walk. Skip the valet service if you have any concerns.

  6. If you do find yourself in a chaotic, leaderless situation similar to what happened at this airport, and if you want your car, then you have to step-up and be the leader.

    "Let me help you. I see my key on the board. It's the one with the fuzzy blue string on it. Give me those keys."

    "Here's my claim ticket. You see the numbers match with the numbers you guys attached to my key."

    "Where is my car parked?"

    "I've got five bucks for you. Take me there right now."

    (Don't hand over any gratuity until you get results.)

    If they don't know where the car is located, tell them you are going to follow them to the lot and they are going to drive you up and down the rows of cars in another customer's car while you click the key fob.

    And they are going to do this because it makes sense, and it gets another car out.

    "Let's go. Hurry up."

    Run as fast as them, or faster, if you can. Don't hold them up.

    Also, don't curse at them. Don't spew your disappointment, annoyance and irritation. You need their cooperation. Act like you are trying to help.

    The promise of a meaningful tip could make the difference between getting out in 15 minutes or hours later.

    If there is a gate and you need somebody to raise it in order to get out of a valet lot or garage, (where it is valet-only, not also a public exit) wait at the gate with your car blocking the exit. A valet will eventually show-up trying to exit, and they will have to swipe you out in order to unblock their exit.