Continental Strands You In Newark With Your Cat, Offers $75 Voucher

I just received about the lamest answer from Continental after presenting them with my complaint, a $75 coupon. I was flying into Ponce, through Newark on the 11th of December. Due to weather, supposedly, I missed my connection in Newark and I was left at 1AM, with no bags or vouchers, or apologies, or upgrades of any sort. The next flight was 24 hours away, only one flight a day. I’m attaching the emails I’ve exchanged with them in hope that you’ll publish them and perhaps cause them some well-deserved shame and bad publicity. I can’t believe they boast of ‘best in customer satisfaction.’

Subject: Flight Experience
Reply: Yes

Message: To Customer Relations Representatives,

I would like to share with the company what I can only classify as a series of blunders, characterized by indifference. I booked a ticket for myself, and later, for my cat at the cost of $711.70. The first leg of the flight was #1174 to Newark, the second was #336 to Ponce.

Flight #1174 was delayed for several hours, supposedly, and I emphasize that, for weather related reasons. I was very concerned because I was not only traveling with my cat but also because I knew if I missed my connection that would mean I would be stranded for the day. I was assured confidently by the woman at the boarding gate that if I were to miss my flight, I would be put for the night in Newark. What can I say? I was an optimist but I knew deep down that your airline would sooner crash my plane. My real hope was that since Newark was the one experiencing delays, as they announced over the speakers, my connection might still be there. But lo and behold, I arrive at Newark, a supposed contributor to my flight’s delay and somehow the airport seems fine, my connection departed at least close to on time. Two agents (one a supervisor I believe) re-booked me for the next day, with no upgrade or apology or so much as something that might seem as sympathy. The only thing they offered was to book me to San Juan, which is as helpful as offering to rebook someone going to Philadelphia, to fly into New York. Not helpful at all. I was informed that I would probably not get anything. It’s then 1AM, and the agents at the gate inform me that I should go to Terminal C to gather my bag and perhaps get a voucher. I go to Terminal C, and only the bag office is open, I speak to an agent there ( I wish I had written down names at this point), who informs me there are no more hotel vouchers, customer service reps, no taxi vouchers and that bag is in some cage up somewhere so I’ve utterly wasted my time carrying my bags and my cat at this late hour in the Newark airport on the airtrain.

I fortunately have some friends in the city, because I do believe that the hotels were booked, you know, with the “delays” and those people that got vouchers earlier. So I arrive at the empty terminal on time for my flight that day, at the kiosks, I get nothing but attitude when I ask to check-in, since I was so interrupting their little chat. They didn’t have the decency to point me in the direction of the open security point, or otherwise did not know which one was the only one open at that hour. The agent I spoke to from the bag office the previous night, asks me how I’m doing, and I answer truthfully, “fucked” , I say. And you know what, I meant it. He’s apparently offended at my language and after I ask where the open security point is, he begins to scornfully complain that “stuff like that is why people don’t want to help you. ” … and on, until I finally find the security point myself. I would like to reiterate that I stayed calm, that I never yelled, or complained and that I only responded to a direct question honestly when I was at the end of my rope with your agents at this point.

I am aggravated with your whole airline and frankly, I’m not looking forward to the return flight at all.

Sincerely,

Rita

Dear Ms. [redacted]:

Thank you for contacting Continental Airlines Customer Care regarding your recent experience while traveling with us to Ponce. I would like to express my sincerest apologies for the negative impression that has been left upon you, and thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with us.

I do see that flight 1174 departed late from Chicago due to Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance, as both Newark and Chicago were experiencing some weather, which caused a strain on the airspace around both airports. I do see that this flight arrived into Newark at 12:38AM, and your connection to Ponce did depart 63 minutes late, at 12:58AM. I know how disappointing it was for you to miss your connection, and I assure you that it was not our intention to cause you any inconveniences or additional out of pocket expenses.

We do expect our ground crew to provide the best available accommodations to passengers affected by this unfortunate circumstance of missed connections, and based upon your description; we did not fulfill your, or our, expectations of service. The behavior you described receiving in Newark, I assure you is not typical of the service we provide, no matter what the circumstances are, and on behalf of Continental Airlines, I extend my sincere apologies for the negative impression we may have created. All of our employees from reservations to the in-flight crew and everyone in between are expected to provide a friendly, efficient service, and I regret that this is not what you experienced. We realize that their response to your requests make the difference in your perception of our overall product.

I know that you were disappointed to hear that we were not going to be able to provide you overnight accommodations or a transportation voucher when you missed this connection to Ponce, as this is not something that we typically provide when delays and missed connections are due to weather, ATC, or other force majeure events. I understand from your correspondence that you are requesting reimbursement for the out of pocket expenses you incurred; however, I must respectfully decline this request, as per our Contract of Carriage, we are not liable to provide these accommodations when delays are due to these circumstances.

As a gesture of goodwill, I will be sending, via a separate email, an Electronic Travel Certificate in the amount of $75. This certificate is valid for one year from the date of issue, and may be applied towards any future flight on Continental Airlines. The terms and conditions are clearly printed on the certificate and I am sure you will find it easy and convenient to use. I do sincerely hope that you will use this certificate and afford us another opportunity to win back your trust.

I have also prepared a detailed report containing your experiences, as you recounted in your correspondence to us, and I will be including it in our monthly Customer Care report, which is distributed to our Senior Management teams for their further internal review and corrective actions. I assure you that the feedback we receive from our passengers is taken very seriously, as we are continually striving to improve our customer’s experiences.

We do recognize you have alternatives in your choice of carriers. However, we hope you would not judge us based on this experience, as we would consider it a privilege to have you include Continental Airlines in your future travel plans. Please be assured Continental Airlines strives to maintain the highest quality of customer service. I apologize if your experience has not been an example of this and would like to assure you that it was the exception and not the rule.

Ms. [redacted], I understand that this experience with Continental Airlines has left you with a negative impression of our airline. I am quite confident that given another opportunity to welcome you aboard once again you will experience the outstanding service and operational reliability that we traditionally provide.

Respectfully,

Sarah

What do you know? Rita is being “taken seriously.”

Maybe we’re being overly critical, but Sarah does seem to have missed the part where the employee in Chicago told Rita that she would be provided with accommodations if she didn’t make her connection. If that’s not something they “typically provide,” someone should mention it to the employees.

We suggest sending this complaint to the Department of Transportation.

Comments

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  1. FatLynn says:

    And what exactly would Rita have done differently if the woman in Chicago had told her she would not be put up for the night? Yes, the CSR in Chicago made a mistake, but $75 more than makes up for it.

  2. fluiddruid says:

    Can most people use the $75? I simply don’t travel that much. When my bags were sent across the country incorrectly, I got a $25 certificate – good for a year. For someone who travels by air once a year or less (like many), it’s pretty meaningless.

    If they were really sorry, they’d give a longer expiration, so that people could actually use them – say, five years.

  3. “12:38AM, and your connection to Ponce did depart 63 minutes late, at 12:58AM.”

    “But lo and behold, I arrive at Newark, a supposed contributor to my flight’s delay and somehow the airport seems fine, my connection departed at least close to on time.”

    Just curious..

    Why couldn’t she make the connection within 20 mins? and is it 63 mins. or 60?

    Someone is incorrect on how they remember it..

  4. kepler11 says:

    Yes, she experienced some attitude, and gave some back herself. But the plain facts are that she was flying to a smaller destination with only 1 service per day from New York City. There is always a risk of delays happening, and it is correct, although often harsh, that no accommodation is provided for weather or air traffic reasons (although the definition and cause of those are another story altogether).

    Let me add some info here. The flight she wanted to take leaves Newark to Ponce around midnight, and happens only once per day. The alternative that Continental offered, to San Juan, has flights 4x per day, first flight at 7am. San Juan to Ponce, is a 1.5 hour drive/bus. I don’t think it was at all unreasonable for them to offer to put her one of those flights. She could have gotten there 12+ hours sooner instead of waiting 24 hours, but chose not to accept that option. Her $ spent on getting to the city, spending the night, getting back to the airport, might have ended up being more than just accepting this alternative and getting to her destination.

    I cannot speak firsthand about the inconvenience of landing at San Juan when expecting Ponce, but I would guess from a quick look at public transportation options, that it would not be a disaster. In addition, buying a ticket to San Juan would have been $300+ cheaper than a ticket to Ponce (because of the frequency and capacity of that market). Perhaps in the future, this customer should be more open to alternatives to save her time, and book tickets to San Juan, to save her money.

  5. DrGirlfriend says:

    I don’t know…that letter doesn’t seem lame to me at all. I understand that it was a crappy experience for her, but the response was personalized and explained exactly why they couldn’t agree to her request, yet still offered her something.

    Also, as a side note, San Juan and Ponce are about 35 miles apart. Was she visiting family or friends? Perhaps someone could have driven to San Juan to pick her up? If she was staying at a hotel in Ponce, perhaps a call to the hotel might have secured transportation, since the SJ airpoirt is the main one through which most tourists arrive.

  6. coren says:

    @fluiddruid: Exactly. I don’t know if my travel experience is what one would call “typical” but there’s only been one span of 12 months where I’ve purchased more than one round trip ticket (and I was living away from family that year, and the tickets were for a sibling’s graduation and to go spend time with my family for the holidays). After the apparent bad treatment she got, being misled, and the overall experience of it, personally I wouldn’t even be interested in flying with that airlines again, given the choice.

    @FatLynn: Called ahead to her friends so they were aware of the possible problem so it didn’t require a 1 AM wakeup call to let them know what was up? She also wouldn’t waste time scrambling around the airport in the middle of the night, attempting to get something that didn’t exist for her to get.

  7. keeper1616 says:

    I think the $75 voucher is perfectly reasonable. The airline is not required to pay for any delays not caused by them. A little weather around either Chicago or new York can wreck havoc on the system for the rest of the week. I think it is more than adequate for the airline to pay for the hotel (even after the fact) as they did in this case.

    BTW: A Newark-San Juan-Ponce flight option is available on Continental Airlines as well.

  8. adverb says:

    I don’t know. Many times, experiences that are shared on consumerist.com regarding the airlines leave my jaw wide open and horrified for the traveler. I kept waiting for that to happen with this “incident”, but it never did. Rather, what I read was a feeling of entitlement on Rita’s part. No, she should not have been told by the agent in Chicago that she’d be put up in a hotel, but honestly, thats the only real problem I see here.

    There may have only been one flight to Ponce from EWR, but I know when I travel and am TRULY concerned about connections, I make the necessary arrangments to take a flight that allows PLENTY of wiggle room… especially when flying to/via the Northeast US. There are plenty of CO flights from the Chicago area to EWR (CO’s current time tables shows about 8 DIRECT weekday flights from either ORD or MDW PRIOR to the departure time of #1174) that may have been better options.

    Additionally, there’s the SJ alternative mentioned, which probably would have been direct (and cheaper than $720) on AA from ORD.

    The simple fact of the matter is that airline delays in the Northeast are generally inevitable, and honestly, anyone savvy enough to be reading Consumerist.com should be well enough aware to take the necessary precautions.

    IMO, the $75 was appropriate, and I think the personalized letter from CO is probably something Ms. Rita would have received from say, USAirways. Sorry Rita, but that’s my .02.

  9. Nighthawke says:

    A $75 voucher for her and her Live Cargo is like a Slap in the Face. ASPCA and the Humane Society ought to be brought in on this one and pound some sense into them for that kind of poor treatment.

  10. humphrmi says:

    It doesn’t excuse the agent mistakenly telling her that she’d get a hotel voucher in Newark, but it has been my experience that no airlines put up anything for weather and ATC delays. It’s frustrating, but you’re kind of screwed in those cases. I’ve gotten stuck due to weather several times and every time I’ve been on my own. This is with several of the majors, so it’s not just one airline. Fortunately in my case, since it’s always been on business travel, my company picks up the extra expense.

  11. MercuryPDX says:

    At think at this point anyone should be glad to get anything beyond a lukewarm apology from an airline.

    The agent I spoke to from the bag office the previous night, asks me how I’m doing, and I answer truthfully, “fucked” … He’s apparently offended at my language … he begins to scornfully complain that “stuff like that is why people don’t want to help you. “

    Sad but true. A simple “not good” would have sufficed. If some “unknown entity” causes a flight delay, don’t take it out on the first person in a uniform you see when you get off the plane; they don’t deserve it. For all we know, he could have helped out in some way until the F-bomb got dropped.

    You’ll get more as the “Bumped passenger who is angry yet polite.” than the “Bumped passenger cursing up a blue streak.”. If grace under ‘ire’ is a hard one for you, try opening with “Please understand I’m angry at what your company has done, and I don’t mean to take it out on you.”

  12. North of 49 says:

    75$ voucher is no 75$. She can’t use that to buy a ticket on another airline. What the airline is saying is that “we have your money and we expect you to spend more of it with us, no matter what problems we’ve caused.”

    That 75$ is a slap in the face.

  13. CurbRunner says:

    Continental’s response is one of the more extensively worded crock of bullshit/spin replys that has come from the airlines in a long time and further highlights the need to regulate the airlines customer treatment behavior.

    They then have the balls to top it off by actually asking the customer to “include Continental Airlines in your future travel plans.”

    Fucking incredible.

  14. KogeLiz says:

    i don’t like connecting flights because of this reason.
    i also read the terms and conditions.
    most airlines state that they do not give out vouchers if the delay is due to weather.

  15. Ecoaster says:

    Missed connections due to weather / ATC / etc. (ie. not mechanical) happen ALL the time (particularly when dealing with flying around NYC), and you are not entitled to anything when it does happen (as has already been pointed out). The person in Chicago was wrong and your contract of carriage (which probably contains more stuff than most people realize) overrides that. The unfortunate part is you have to travel a fair amount before you realize and get good at dealing with these sorts of things.

    CO really is one of the better ones when it comes to service as a whole.

  16. adverb says:

    In reading this consumer’s complaint letter, really, what I get is a sense of unwarranted entitlement. Yes, the agent in Chicago made a mistake, but Continental really did not do very much else wrong here. I think the personalized letter and $75 is not at all “slap in the face”, but is probably more than this passenger would have received on other carriers (USAirways comes to mind).

    And seriously, anyone who is savvy enough to be reading this website KNOWS the state of air travel in the northeast at this (or, really, any) time of year. Others have suggested flights to San Juan, which is a great suggestion IMO. But, knowing several hour delays aren’t uncommon, what about allowing a better cushion in between connections? CO offers 7-9 DIRECT flights out of ORD or MDW to EWR PRIOR to # 1174, depending on the day.

  17. veronykah says:

    If I recall, the drive from San Juan to Ponce is 35 miles but it takes a few hours apparently. It goes over the mountains in PR and if I recall what I was told, the roads are narrow and very twisty. I don’t think the drive is really an option, especially at 1am…not like driving from LA to San Diego…
    This info was from my x-boyfriend who was a pilot for Continental and from Puerto Rico. When we would go there I would always ask if we could fly into Ponce when there were open seats and he always said no, it wasn’t worth the hassle and it was too far of a drive.

  18. aparsons says:

    I was stranded in EWR once before, and I can attest that all employees at this airport are high on their horse, and pissed off the instant you interrupt their side chat. They’re also the most UNHELPFUL employees ever at this airport. I flew Midwest Airlines last year, and the gate agents simply went home when I asked for my flight to be rebooked after missing it… they simply looked at their watch, said, “Oh, it’s time to go home,” and then gave me an 800 number.

  19. ecwis says:

    Slow news day?

  20. smarty says:

    @adverb:
    Agreed. Especially since Rita is obviously an avid Consumerist reader, she already knows that she should have flow into MacArthur instead of Newark based on Carey’s “The Best Alternative Airports in America”. [consumerist.com]
    But then she might have been trying to save some money based on Ben’s “10 Secrets of Air Travel Insiders” post about saving fares by flying into big hubs. [consumerist.com]
    It’s good to know she didn’t whip out Rule 240 based on Ben’s “Don’t fly without a copy of Rule 240″ post considering her flight problem appears to be a Force Majeure event (and the fact that Rule 240 no longer exists). [consumerist.com]

  21. Buran says:

    @Mercurypdx: Oh come on. One exasperated honest answer does not a “blue streak” make.

  22. Buran says:

    @adverb: Uh, she was told she’d get a voucher. She was traveling WITH A CAT. They did not give her the promised voucher and, it seems, locked her cat up godknowswhere where she couldn’t get to it.

    Yeah, they hsould have tried harder. A LOT harder.

  23. DrGirlfriend says:

    @veronykah: It doesn’t take a few hours to get from SJ to Ponce. It may take at most 1.5 hrs, given that you can’t get there as the crow flies. Public transport is not an option, really, but hotels may have shuttles, or friends or family can make the drive fairly easily.

    A 1am trip to Ponce wouldn’t have been necessary, since Continental has several trips to PR a day.

  24. DrGirlfriend says:

    correction: several trips to San Juan a day.

  25. JustIcedCoffee says:

    I don’t know if it’s just me, I’d allow more than two hours for a connection if I were planning on catching a flight that only occurred once a day, and if I were traveling with a Kit Kat. If I were traveling with a two hour connection, and my first flight were 3hrs late, I’d have to wait a day at home because I’d assume I miss my tight connection.
    As for voucher, they tend to be only discount hotel vouchers, making the sheri, what 80 bucks?

  26. MercuryPDX says:

    @Buran: I’m not saying the OP had truck driver mouth, just stating an obvious generalization.

    Put yourself in the shoes of the Airline Rep for a minute. How many times do you think they get verbally slammed on a daily basis for something they didn’t do or had no control over, simply because they were the first person an irate passenger ran into? How many irate passengers before you’re calling out a woman on rudeness for one F-bomb?

  27. MercuryPDX says:

    @Buran: She had the cat with her at all times: …so I’ve utterly wasted my time carrying my bags and my cat at this late hour in the Newark airport on the airtrain.

  28. FatLynn says:

    @Buran: I fly. A lot. And if I were to post here all the things I think this woman did wrong, people will bust out the “not everyone flies often; she didn’t know better” criticisms. However, there is NO EXCUSE for not treating someone else the way you would wish to be treated, at least over the age of, say, seven.

    Mercurypdx is right on, here. If someone spoke to me like that in my place of employment, you can bet it would be a very short conversation.

  29. shanerz says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how frequently people think the airlines should have to provide room and board for things out of their control–especially when it’s clearly stated in nearly every carrier’s COC. Come on people, do you enter into agreements without reading the fine print? Ancillary expenses are not and will not be covered except under the most extenuating circumstances. Force majeure means simply that, and in all fairness, an airline shouldn’t be held responsible.

    I find this story disheartening and it’s truly unfortunate she had to deal with these events, but I don’t know that much else could have been done. It’s always a gamble you take when travelling.

  30. guidecca says:

    I read a lot of you (airline executives??) saying that “she could have done this” or “why couldn’t she have done that.” Continenal should give you a RT ticket good for a year. I have no sympathy for airline employees in or out of airplanes. They are all working for chumps. Newark is one of the worst. They always use weather as an excuse for delays and cancellations. If an airline employee can’t handle harsh words by customers they shouldn’t be in the service business. My experience: avoid Continental and Newark. $75 is chump change. Most of the comments here are from chumps.

  31. shorttermblog says:

    It happened a very similar thing to me in Newark. Continental was able to give a voucher for the hotel after more than 2 hours of line at the customer service. They said the vouchers were finished.
    I wrote a letter to complain and they gave me voucher for drinks!