Continental Airlines Forgets That Planes Need Pilots

We’re not sure what is going on with Continental Airlines lately but people are writing in to let us know that something foul is afoot. The latest indignity also involves the Manchester, NH airport. Apparently, a reader who was unable to get to Cleveland on time was told that the airline simply forgot to schedule a pilot for his flight.

Reader Andrew says:

I was supposed to be flying from Manchester to Cleveland on June 20 at 2:05 p.m. I arrived at the airport extremely early, checked in, and settled down in a chair to watch the end of the second World Cup game that day. When I got up, I walked around and glanced at the “Departures” screen to see if my flight was on time. Answer: nope, it was cancelled, as was the next flight to Cleveland. Thinking it was some sort of mix-up, I went to the gate and the man working confirmed that they were both cancelled. “Why?” I asked. He let out a big sigh and said that someone at Continental “forgot to arrange for pilots for these two flights.”

It sounded ridiculous – what airline is going to “forget” to send pilots where they need to go? Isn’t that sort of a basic step in running an airlines? Regardless, I got a ticket for a flight at 8:05 p.m. and asked for some sort of compensation. He gave me an incredibly generous $12 voucher for food and sent me on my way. When I landed in Cleveland, I was walking through the airport and overheard a few flight attendants talking about their weekend. They had a pretty good weekend – except for the “Manchester Mess.”

Sometimes flight delays aren’t due to mechanical problems – they come down to human error.

In other news, we’ve posted an update to our other Manchester Continental Airlines story. Now that just leaves us to post this:


Edit Your Comment

  1. tedyc03 says:

    Well that sort of thing happens from time to time. I mean, they do have a lot of flights and a lot of pilots and spreadsheets are hard. Just ask those guys who overshot the Midwest because they were busy working on a schedule in the cockpit…

    • Llama says:

      Timetable design is an NP-hard problem so its not like they can just let a computer do it for them.

  2. brinkman says:

    MHT-CLE is probably Continental Express flown by Colgan or ExpressJet.

    • perruptor says:

      The last United flight into Manchester from DC on Tuesday night was delayed for at least a couple of hours. The listed reason was “crew.”

  3. Bakergirl says:

    Wow, had to wait for six hours for the next flight…….I guess the days of being compensated by being bumped up a class or two are gone….Not even a transfer to another airline with a better schedule….

  4. Zeniq says:

    Was his comment that the 12$ voucher being “extremely generous” sarcasm or sincere? In a situation like this, what is the norm – do airlines normally just wave customers off or is compensation expected?

    • castlecraver says:

      The meal voucher is all that’s owed him under Rule 24, Section F of Continental’s Contract of Carriage (CoC). It’s not a wave-off, it’s a condition in the contract he agreed to when he bought the ticket.

      Rebooking is somewhat separate from compensation / amenities. The customer may have been able to get a flight on another carrier under an earlier section of the same rule — usually you have to know the rule and specifically request that they look for such routing. But in this instance, it’s probably unlikely anything would have been available that got him there sooner than the next CO flight.

    • nbs2 says:

      There should be some sort of compensation for the delay – in this case, I suspect most folks would call this the standard response, although the six hour delay due to CO (well, probably Colgan or ExpressJet) failing to have a pilot assigned would suggest that greater compensation should have been provided. Most likely, alternate accommodation on another airline that would arrive at CLE or his final destination earlier.

  5. Captain Walker says:

    Normally I’d make a “you’re better off not going to Cleveland” joke here, but considering the OP was trying to leave Manchester, it’s understandable why he’d want to go to Cleveland.

  6. nbs2 says:

    I blame Smisek.

  7. TheSkaAssassin - College Man says:


  8. evilpete says:

    The video is just scary

  9. outoftheblew says:

    Someone who works on my floor flew Continental from New York City last weekend (not sure which airport). First, an announcement said the flight was delayed because they had relieved the co-pilot and were waiting for a replacement. But five minutes later, they said the flight was cancelled due to weather. Apparently it was drizzly, but other flights were taking off. I don’t remember what the weather was like at the destination.

    He thought it just sounded like their way of cancelling the flight but making the passengers responsible for finding their way back home (they said they didn’t have any more flights to his destination for two more days and that if he went to another airline, he’d have to pay the difference).

    • Javin says:

      We had a similar situation. The airline tells us the flight is being delayed for two hours (causing us to miss our connecting flight) due to a problem with the front landing gear. (Not just the landing gear, but specifically the FRONT landing gear.) When we get to the next airport, and miss our flight, then go to discuss it with the agents at the desk, suddenly the reason for the delay was due to weather and they owed us nothing. I would be money this is the standard operating procedure, and someone probably gets in trouble for telling us why our flights are really delayed.

    • Jevia says:

      Can you dispute the ‘weather’ excuse if you have proof that the weather is good where you are and is good where you are going, and there’s no obvious big storms (or what have you) in the presumed flight path? We have the internet to get such proof.

      I know that might not do much good at the desk, but maybe later on if one is trying to get compensation for a canceled flight and/or having to rebook with someone else?

    • Chmeeee says:

      I also observed this “blame the weather” phenomenon this past weekend. I was flying from San Fran to LA on the first leg of my trip. The plane we were supposed to be on hadn’t even left LA by the time we were supposed to be boarding in San Fran. The majority of other flights at both airports were on time, and weather was clear on both ends. When we finally did board, the gate attended announced his apologies for the “delay due to weather.” What weather? Why are we the only ones delayed? BS detector pegged on that one.

  10. FatLynn says:

    Most likely, their flights out of Manchester are operated by someone else, and that someone else farked everything up this weekend. Maybe they were having labor issues, or maybe their computer went down, or maybe they all had the fish for dinner.

  11. Brendon says:

    I used to fly on Continental in and out of Manchester all the time (went to college in NH, mom had lots of Continental frequent flier miles), and never once left or got in on time to that airport, often causing me to miss a connecting bus that only ran every two hours. There’s something really screwed up about how Continental manages its flights in and out of that airport (which is, otherwise, one of the nicest/most pleasant airports I’ve ever been to).

  12. dreamfish says:

    You want a pilot for your flight? That’ll be an additional fee.

  13. bhr says:

    Do pilots have an hours in the cockpit rule? I know they tried to change them recently but I’m not sure when it went through? I know the rules in Europe can be bad, as they take in to account things like time zone changes and take offs. I was in a flight from London to Madrid that had to wait for a replacement pilot because our current pilot was going to be over his time because they had to wait an couple hours for fog to clear before takeoff.

    • sirwired says:

      Yes, there is an extremely complex set of rules around crew scheduling. There are entire teams of people and nasty computer programs that try to work it out, because a mere mortal working alone could never do it. It isn’t like scheduling cashiers at Wal-Mart. The pilots have max. working times, min. rest periods, and at least one of the pilots has to have flown into the destination airport within a certain period of time.

  14. sirwired says:

    In fairness to Continental, this is not Continental’s fault, as they do not actually operate that flight. The operating carrier for that flight is ExpressJet.

    Of course, fixing the problem, issuing refunds, responding to complaints, etc. would be up to Continental, as the ticketing carrier.

  15. halfcuban says:

    It is doubtful they “forgot” to schedule a pilot. More than likely is that a pilot, or a number of pilots, hit their regulated limit of flying for a month forcing Continental to scramble to get relief pilots.

  16. Bob says:

    Does anyone know if Chautauqua or Pinnacle Airlines (Regional Commuters Airlines) are worth flying on? I always try to fly on Southwest, AirTran, and Frontier since they seem to have a lot of direct flights to major cities and these airlines seem to want customers. I don’t think Delta, US Airways, or Continental really cares a whole lot about getting customers anymore but the miles program on Continental is far superior to Delta’s SkyMiles program. Since I never flown United or American I can’t comment on them.

  17. Angry JD says:

    You didn’t get there within 4 hours for nonmechanical problems. They owe you $800.

  18. breese524 says:

    What’s with the MHT stories these days? I’ve flown to and from MHT via Southwest on a direct flight with 0 major issues at least 2x a year for 4 years.

    Things to keep in mind… if the plane you’re leaving on is coming from Baltimore, it will be late. MHT takes security seriously so be prepared for a little extra wait while they test my son’s juice to make sure it won’t blow the plane up.

    Oh, and we always joke that the baggage cars are driven by little old ladies, so there’s no rush to get to the baggage claim.

    I enjoy flying out of MHT vs. say Boston-Logan.

  19. FallingBrick says:

    I worked on flight operations systems at ATA back in the late 90s. My team and I wrote interfaces between systems to ensure things went smoothly and manned a pager if they didn’t.

    Airlines have three basic scheduling systems:
    1) A reservations system to get people to the airports.
    2) A flight scheduling system to get the planes to the people.
    3) A crew scheduling system to get the people to the planes.

    Pretty much everything else hangs off one of these three backbone systems. Even for a small scheduled service carrier like ATA we had a great number of checks running almost constantly to ensure there were no orphans. If we didn’t assign a plane to the people waiting at the airport a LOT of people knew about it. The same thing if we didn’t assign a crew to the plane.

    Even a regional feeder carrier for Continental should have those basic checks and balances.

    • Torchwood says:

      And, if it’s like a lot of companies that I deal with, they are probably putting IT on a low rung. After all, IT is just another expense that needs to be minimized. Thus, both the necessary IT support and badly-needed IT infrastructure upgrades (like updating the programs) are on the back burner because they do not generate revenue for the company.

  20. teke367 says:

    I think part of it has to do with the fact that pilots can only be in the air so many hours at a time, and I believe this time includes when they are piloting, and when they aren’t. Sometimes delays can screw with the schedules. That happened to us once. We weren’t so mad that there weren’t the proper # of pilots scheduled, we were mad because they “flew in a new pilot” but didn’t realize that the time it took for him to fly to our airport used up all of the “air time” he had left.

    Well, that and the fact that our late afternoon flight didn’t get cancelled until after midnight, and we got every excuse in the book why it was delayed each time. Turns out they decided to cancel our flight instead of delaying each flight after us (there were three Orlando bound flights from that airline and airport scheduled to take off after our flight, all left on time). But I guess they didn’t want to lose our business, so instead of telling us right away, they told us well beyond the time we’d be able to book new flights. I guess it worked, they still flew us down to Florida, of course instead of losing us for one flight, they lost our business forever.

  21. Blious says:

    I am sure the airline will find a way to charge the passengers extra fees for getting on a plane w/o a pilot

  22. CompyPaq says:

    I think they are just trying to slowly adjust to United’s level of service before the merger happens.

    Ever see what happens when you try to rapidly cool a hot piece of glass? Same idea.

  23. C. Ogle says:

    The exact same thing happened with me on Saturday June 19th while I was in Cancun with Sun Airlines. The plane was delayed 5 hours because somehow, the company forgot or lost the pilots that were supposed to be flying our plane home. They had to ship down a crew from Minnesota to fly us home. It could have been worse I guess.

  24. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    6 freaking hour delay and all they gave him was $12 for airport food! Continental, you suck, and I think I’ll avoid flying with you.