Continental’s Customer Service Plane Goes Boom

Thanks to Continental’s incompetence, Adam had to spend an entire night on the floor of the Newark airport.

    On March 9, my partner and I–along with another couple–were scheduled to fly back from Puerto Vallarta to Detroit via Houston. It marked a new low in my fairly frequent flying experiences.

Adam’s horrific story, and Continental’s popped out of the TV dinner tray response, and then his seething riposte, after the jump…

You just don’t mess with MIT alum.

Adam writes:

    1. We were scheduled to leave about 3.25pm from Puerto Vallarta, with a little over an hour to connect to our Houston flight.
    2. There were weather problems in Houston; as a result, we took off around 4.30pm, and landed around 6.30pm. Our flight was scheduled for 6.55pm.
    3. On the plane, we were reassured repeatedly that a gate agent would meet us to help us with our connections. When we got off the plane, there was no gate agent. When we got through immigration, there was no gate agent. When we got to baggage claim to retrieve our luggage, there was a gate agent. It was now, by my watch, 6.38pm. I asked the gate agent about making our flight. He said (and this is a direct quote), “Oh, you have plenty of time.” I asked what time the flight was supposed to leave. He asked me what time it was scheduled; I told him 6.55pm, and he responded that he supposed it would be leaving then, as he had no additional information. THIS WAS THE FIRST MISTAKE.
    4. We got our bags (it took about ten minutes) and went to re-check them. We were then told it was too late and to go to the counter. We waited for about 45 minutes, at which point the counter agent booked us onto a later flight that was leaving about 9pm. She took our bags and checked them through. She called the gate and told them she was sending four more their way. THIS WAS THE SECOND MISTAKE.
    5. We went upstairs to go back through Security and saw a huge line. Apparently, there had been a security breach about thirty minutes earlier and all security gates were shut down. By the time the breach was dealt with and we went through, we got to the gate about quarter to nine. We were told the doors were closed (not that the
    plane had left, but simply that the doors were closed). At the time, it hadn’t occurred to us to point out that our bags were already on the plane (which I’m told is not supposed to happen), but I can confirm that the agent didn’t bother to ask us if we had checked any bags. THIS WAS THE THIRD MISTAKE.
    6. We spent the next hour at the Continental service desk; at first, we were told that we would have to wait two days to get home. Apparently, even though you have ‘partnerships’ with other airlines, you are unable to actually use those partnerships to get people home when they are stranded. THIS WAS THE FOURTH MISTAKE.
    7. Eventually, they booked us on a flight to Newark, which landed at 2am on Friday, and we caught a 6.50am flight back to Detroit. The counter attendant did give us each one whole drink voucher, which is apparently all they are authorized to do.

    Here’s what-at the very least-you need to do:

    1. Give your gate agents cellphones and phone numbers. A gate agent with no information is as useful as a tree stump, especially for stressed travelers rushing to make connecting flights.
    2. Ensure that some communication method is set up between your counter agents and airport security. Had your counter agent been aware of the security breach, she would not have booked us on the 9pm flight, since there would have been no way to make that flight.
    3. Train your gate agents to ask travelers, “Did you check any bags?” My guess is that, had she asked, she might have been able to open the doors.

    If you do all this-and if you were to copy me on the memos generated to address these issue-I might consider not warning my friends against your airline’s apparent incompetence. I’ll leave it up to you to consider what additional compensation would be appropriate for having to spend the night on the floor of Newark airport.”

Continental’s canned response:

Sent: 26 Apr 2006 10:58:09 -0500
Subject: RE: Airport Experience

Dear Mr. Bernard:

Thank you for including Continental in your recent travel plans. We appreciate the time you took to let us know about your experience.

I understand how frustrating it can be when a flight is delayed and your carefully made travel plans are interrupted. We maintain a diligent maintenance schedule for our aircraft, and apologize for the inconvenience this delay may have created for you. Although our goal is to provide you with an on-time departure whenever possible, your safety is always our foremost priority.

Continental Airlines does everything practical to ensure we provide the most accurate flight status information. However, situations change quickly and many factors affect our scheduled operations. Please understand that although a flight is delayed, our staff is working diligently to correct any problems.

Mr. Bernard, every complaint/compliment that comes to our office is forwarded to each department involved for an internal review. We do not send memos detailing the out come of our reviews to our customers. However, your feedback is addressed internally and is used for coaching and training.

Your continued confidence in Continental to provide reliable transportation and exemplary customer service is essential to us. My goal is to retain you as a loyal and satisfied Continental customer. An Electronic Travel Certificate for your use on a future trip with Continental will arrive via a separate e-mail.

On behalf of the entire Continental Airlines team, we look forward to welcoming you onboard again very soon.

Thanks for choosing Continental Airlines.

Best regards,

Maria Doublin
Customer Care Manager

TRACKING NUMBER: A0000…[redacted]

———- Forwarded Message ———–
Sent: Wed, 26 Apr 2006 17:06:33 -0600
Subject: RE: Airport Experience

Dear Ms. Doublin (if this note ever reaches you, instead of large, impersonal corporate mailbox),

Wow. How completely unsatisfying.

I understand that you have form letters. And I understand you can’t share the outcome of reviewing this complaint with your staff.

But your canned response reflects my apparent concern and annoyance over a delayed flight. If you bother read my note again, you’ll note that’s not the issue–nor is airplane maintenance. The flight was delayed by weather, over which you have no control. I understand that.

The issue is, in fact, your response to that delay, as reflected by your uneducated, misinformed, and apparently poorly-trained staff. The fact that your canned response didn’t reflect my issues shows, frankly, a lack of
caring on your part.

Want to find out what happens when a company sends poorly-worded canned responses? I’m saving your email, and taking my case to (at least to start).

Adam B.
Royal Oak, MI


Edit Your Comment

  1. Amy Alkon says:

    Has Continental not heard of “the Internets”? What these idiots at these companies don’t understand is that they suddenly aren’t just squashing one consumer like a bug with emails like this — they’re reminding me and a whole lot of other people that, when there’s a choice, the best choice would be to avoid flying Continental.

  2. MrEleganza says:

    I sympathize, but I must point out:

    If you read his first letter again, and you imagine Joe from Family Guy intoning “THAT WAS YOUR ____ MISTAKE.” each time that capitalized admonishment comes up, it’s pretty funny.

  3. One whole drink voucher…talk about stingy. The least they could have done is to get you into the first class lounge…

    You got my support Adam! I’m never flying Continental…at least not until they charter a private flight for you to make up for this insult.

  4. Mr. Soul says:

    The problem is that there’s got to be a story like this for every major airline. So while, Adam B. may choose never to fly continental again, the rest of us are probably just going to keep picking the cheapest flights.

  5. Jen says:

    I had a similar experience flying through Houston on Continental. We were on one of the last few flights to get in after a tornado. All the hotels were booked and the rest of airport was basically shutdown. Everyone who had been on flights that night was booked the next morning, and I swear the idiots at Continental did nothing to get extra staff or streamline the process so they could get all those people through. We missed one flight and were told that we might be stuck in Houston for the weekend. It was hell. I never thought to email them because the most they could do was send me a voucher and I never want to fly them again.

  6. El Mystico says:

    In traveling to see my parents in Florida at Christmas, my 8-year-old son and I went through Houston on Continental. When I checked in online a day earlier, I could not get adjoining seats between Houston and Fort Myers. Every agent in Dallas assured me I would get my problem resolved — just not by them. They even put us on an earlier flight to Houston to make sure. In Houston, the Continental customer service desk handed me off again. Finally, at the gate, the agent refused to seat us together. When I pointed out my son was a minor who had never traveled alone, she again refused to help and said it was my responsibility to trade seats with another passenger once onboard. Another agent was nicer but confirmed their policy. Good thing I can bargain, or else my son would have been flying scared and alone for two and a half hours. Continental would have probably given him a free drink voucher to calm him down. Happy Holidays from your friends at Continental.

  7. billhelm says:

    Having been through the Houston airport on numerous Mexico trips on Continental, the first mistake is that any booking system allows customers to book an incoming international to domestic flight with less than a 2 hour layover. An hour and some change is good enough if everything goes smoothly at an airport like Houston… but one thing goes wrong and bam, this story occurs.

    For those that don’t know Houston is where Continental, the leading airline with US to Mexico Flights sends all of their flights through. ON any given day, it’s probably one of the busier customs/immigration sites, and it can often take over an hour to clear all of this and get back to your domestic gate on a normal day.

  8. RaginCajun says:

    This is why, though cheaper than Delta and Northwest, I never ever fly Continental from New York to Louisiana anymore (I mean aside from the generally stupid feeling I have flying to Texas, then back to La.). There is always… ALWAYS a problem in Houston. The weather/airline gods absolutely hate the Houston airport and the Continental folk just don’t know how to handle that. Those bastards kept me on a plane on the runway once for 6 hours… then turned around and went back to the gate. They didn’t pay for the hotel for the night. They didn’t even offer me a drink voucher. And after complaining, I received the exact same letter that this guy received.
    Continental can kiss my red baboon ass is what I say.

  9. OkiMike says:

    I just flew from Tokyo to Houston on Continental and was reminded of why I hate flying.

    That new Houston terminal is a disaster. Has anyone noticed that when you deboard your flight, you have to walk around the terminal because they were too inept to build a walkway that cuts straight across it?

  10. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    These should be forwarded to the appropriate state and US attorneys general. Maybe he’ll sue Continental if he gets enough complaints.