United/Continental Systems Merger Makes Flight Reservations Magically Disappear

To be honest, I have to start this post by blaming Ryan and his wife. I don’t know what they were thinking. They assumed that just because they booked their round-trip tickets to and from Cancun two months ahead of their vacation and had an itinerary and confirmation numbers, they had an actual reservation. Maybe they did at one point. But between February and April, Continental and United combined their computer systems as part of their Air Voltron merger. Reservations mysteriously disappeared from the system, including theirs. And that’s how Ryan and the pregnant Mrs. Ryan ended flying coach from Cancun and stuck in Houston instead of flying first-class all the way home to Detroit.

Tickets previously booked for Continental Airlines flights seem to now be completely handled by United Airlines, and there have been some “problems” in the transition according to several United reps we spoke with in person. Based on our travels we strongly recommend triple checking your tickets before you try to fly, or you might not get home!

We had purchased tickets in February for our April vacation, a “babymoon” as we’re expecting our first child in September. Due to the pregnancy we had to reschedule a more adventurous Costa Rican vacation, paying a total of $300 in change fees to transfer tickets from another Continental flight. Continental did not allow us to take these fees out of the value of the ticket we had already paid for, we had to pay $300 for the privilege of using the money we had already paid if we wanted to transfer flights. The initial trip from Detroit Metro airport to Cancun on April 2nd was long but fine, TSA agents must be under some new directive to be more cheerful or personable.

The vacation was at an all-inclusive resort, beautiful weather, great food/drinks(for me)/service, muy bien. When we showed up to the Cancun airport April 6th to return home, though we had confirmation numbers for Continental and United, and a printed itinerary, we somehow did not have any tickets, seats, or any records that United could find to indicate that we ever had seats for a return flight.

We were told another couple took an offer to stay in Cancun that night (we believe United gave them hotel and travel vouchers). We got exit row coach seats in place of our first class tickets, so we got back to the States, but only as far as Houston, TX, not our final destination, Detroit, MI.

Houston should have been were we made our connection. Upon arriving we were advised by the United Customer service desk there were plenty of seats for the last flight to Detroit, we’d be able to get on the plane, but infuriatingly when we went to the gate they advised we were only booked 1 seat, the plane was full, and there was little chance that our additional standby ticket would be of any use. My wife is 4-months pregnant, there wasn’t any way we were splitting up.

We waited at the gate to see if any seats opened up, which did not. We were given a night in the closest Holiday Inn Express, and $10 each for that evening’s dinner and the following morning’s breakfast ($40 in meal vouchers total). We also each received a $500 travel voucher (on the condition that we sign that we voluntarily gave our seats up, rather than one of us flying out). These vouchers must be booked in the next year (we have no plans to travel in the upcoming year, and would not care to travel in an airplane with a newborn).

After a very brief moment of despair at the gate in Houston, my wife took everything in stride, and kept me cool by staying level-headed when rage hormones could have erupted in a Mount Vesuvious of pregnant frustration. We instead laughed at the unalterable circumstances, ate at the worst Sonic burger joint for dinner, made arrangements to have our friends pick up our dog from the kennel, and caught the next flight the following morning.

A co-worker today advised her daughter had an identical situation occur, a merger of airlines has dissolved airline tickets into phantoms. We were to fly first class for the first times in our lives on the way home, paid a exorbitant change fee on top of the ticket price to book that, only to have those tickets inexplicably disappear. I spoke with a United rep over the phone while we were waiting at the United Customer Service desk in Cancun, and after a 37min call repeatedly asking for a explanation we were disconnected suddenly.

Good luck flying United.

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