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.

United/Continental Merger Has Mysteriously Moved Cities Closer Together
Prepare For The Worst: Continental & United Merging Computer Systems
United And Continental Will Merge, Become Largest Airline


Edit Your Comment

  1. MutantMonkey says:

    You had me at Air Voltron.

  2. Cat says:

    With the sad state of air travel being what it is these days, they were lucky to get to where they were going and back home at all.

  3. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Consumerist Tip: Before you fly out of your home country, verify you have tickets to fly back.

    • tungstencoil says:

      Didn’t they do that? I mean, if you have a confirmation email with a confirmation number, at what point do you figure you behaved responsibly?

      Call them? Have you called an airline recently? It can take *a long* time to get through. Go do the terminal desk? That sounds rational.

      I travel out of the country somewhat frequently, and about the closest I might come to such an action is checking in online the evening before or morning of my flight. At that point, if my reservation didn’t show up, I’d probably chalk it up to a glitch with the web site that would be ironed out at the terminal… because I have a confirmation #, email, ticket, and have been charged.

    • El_Fez says:

      If I gave the airline money for a round trip ticket, then I have a ticket. It doesn’t matter what their system says, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t check or not. My ass is going into a seat when that plane leaves the terminal. Period.

      • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

        That’s how it SHOULD work. And you may have someone at the ticket counter who agrees with you…but, that doesn’t mean that is how it WILL work. They could say, “Yes sir, you are correct, you should be on this flight…but you aren’t.”

        At that point, you are better off using your TARDIS.

  4. elangomatt says:

    You started losing me at “babymoon”. Please don’t tell me that is actually a term now.

    The whole situation really sucks though and it is very obviously a problem with United/Continental. I really don’t understand the voucher that the airline tried to placate them with. It seems to me that a major screwup by the airline like this should have resulted in some kind of cash refund for part of the trip home at the very least. Especially so since the OP and his wife explicitly say they don’t want to attempt to travel with a newborn, which no doubt other passengers will be grateful for.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      If they expected that they wouldn’t be making use of the vouchers, they shouldn’t have accepted it. Reason being (in my opinion) accepting that offer is like saying, “Everything is okay, I forgive you!”. By refusing it, I think, it would leave further options for compensation available later.

      Then again, they got hung up on when calling the airline later.

      • FatLynn says:

        I’m guessing it even says as much, in really tiny print on the back of the voucher.

      • gerald.saul says:

        They were also going to be forced to use the one available seat from Houston to Detroit, splitting up in the process, or they would have been offered no compensation. At least, that’s how I read it.

        “…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).”

    • Yomiko says:

      Not only is babymoon a thing now, it’s a thing for a guy to have a bachelor party-like outting to have one last hurrah before he’s expected to be a responsible daddy.

      Babies are the new weddings.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      Whatever you do, don’t Google “push presents.”

  5. Liam Kinkaid says:

    “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).”

    If you don’t want them, I’ll be more than happy to take them off of your hands so they don’t go to waste.

  6. bassnote1 says:

    Whew! Y’all just saved me a HUGE headache. Our vacation woes have (hopefully) been nipped in the bud. I thank you. My Bride thanks you. My Dogs thank you. My…you get the idea. I still had the old Continental numbers. And nothing was the same. All back on track now with emailed confirmations!

  7. chizu says:

    My parents booked their flight two days before the major system change/merge, they got one set of confirmation number. On the day of the merge, I had to change their flight and somehow their confirmation number changed during the merge… Let’s just say it was a good thing I had them send all confirmation and itinerary over to my personal email or we’d never be able to find their flight information. The new system was also kind of wonky. After I found their flights (under their account), it wouldn’t actually keep the information so I’d have to retype it everytime… On top of that, it’s not crediting their mileage… So now I get to do the whole, submit your boarding pass/itinerary thing in order to get them credited. Hopefully things will get a little smoother after this…

  8. liam_cos says:

    “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). “

    Shouldn’t have signed anything.

    You had a ticket and a confirmation, they didn;t have space. They bumped you. Doesnt; matter if they blame it on their system or not. If I recall correctly you are entitled to 2 or 3 times the price of the entire trip.

    • j2.718ff says:

      This! The airline clearly made a big mistake. Don’t sign a document indicating that they didn’t!

    • sirwired says:


      That was a very clever gate agent.

    • TurdFerguson says:

      This is why when I have airline troubles I contact one of my friends who is a kingpin on the FlyerTalk forums and helps me with advice. Knowledge is power!

  9. GrayMatter says:

    I hate to add this, as it is the mantra of many posters, but……
    Small Claims Court

    In this case, the fault is in the airline for losing things. As long as they ask for the fare difference between first class and steerage, I would think the courts would find for them. (And, then when UnContinent fails to pay we can have the fun of seeing deputies confiscate a 757)

  10. Sarek says:

    I guess we’re lucky, then. They didn’t lose our reservations, though there was a reschedule which had us sitting in different rows (until I caught the problem.)

    Sounds like I have to keep birddogging this reservation until day of flight.

  11. oneliket says:

    How does one confirm their flight? I mean the website still shows all my stuff, is that all I need?

    Also, a 4 month pregnant woman is still a fully functional adult, and though I understand not wanting to split up, it is technically possible.

  12. Gizmosmonster says:

    I am a second generation loyal United Airlines customer as a Premier or Premier Executive member for the last 15 years. So it is pretty amazing that in only one month, the “new” United has let me down in such a big way that I am, for the first time in years, looking for another airline.

    Tomorrow, April 12th, my husband has to fly from Dallas to San Francisco for the day alone.

    Over the last two years, he has been suffering from almost daily bouts of amnesia in the mornings that can last as long as an hour, so we try not to let him be alone during those hours.

    I was supposed to go with him, but the reservations I made for Thursday flights has turned into Friday the 13th flights by the time I went to print out the itenerary.

    I called the Premier number to get it fixed. But instead of the helpful customer service I have always experienced, I was told there was nothing that could be done.

    Sometimes you get a bad apple, so I called several more times, assuming that I would find my beloved United Airlines employees. No such luck.

    He has to be there on Thursday, that can’t be changed. We can’t afford the cost increase and $150 change fees for new tickets to fix their error, so my husband has to fly by himself tomorrow using the last of our frequent flier miles and around $75 in fees.

    We are both terrified about this. I will be on the phone with him whenever he is able to use the phone, but as we all know, that won’t cover the whole trip.

    On top of all of this, we are stuck with two useless Friday tickets that can not be used or banked. If this was my mistake, I would not be complaining, but it was not my error. United’s system screwed it up. In the past, I found that United would fix the rare mistakes they made, and even worked with me when his health emergencies happened. Is that United gone forever?

    • Lyn Torden says:

      They lied. There is always something that can be done. THAT agent can’t do it is what they really mean.

  13. az123 says:

    Send an email to the top execs at the airline, I highly suspect they will get much better satisfaction, potentially a full refund. Just be polite and factual. I travel a lot (like 100K+ miles a year) and the gate agents etc.. can do very little and not worth even arguing with them, after you get home just fire off a letter to corporate and 95% of the time they will do something to make it up to you…

  14. j2.718ff says:

    Please write more concisely in the future. Most people won’t care about the fact that you had to alter your plans due to pregnancy, nor is it important whether you had a good time in Cancun. Including a picture of your dog does not increase my sympathy for you.

    Yes, your experience sucked. I’m just saying it didn’t require 8 paragraphs.

  15. hikari07 says:

    Oh hey! I happened to check my flight I had bought pre merge, and now the flight times have changed. I had an hour layover on the flight home, and now its changed to a 0 minute layover. I guess they expect me to be able to magically transport from one plane to another the second it lands!


    • hikari07 says:

      Hmm, I jumped the gun. Turns out its their policy to not tell you about flight updates until a month before your flight. Annnoying, but at least I have a 4 hour layover now instead of a 0 minute one.

      • FatLynn says:

        Just FYI, because they’ve made a change, you can now cancel or change your reservation with no penalty. Check to see if the price dropped :-)

  16. sirwired says:

    On the change fees: US Air does this too; you pay that change fee, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if your new ticket is $10, and the old one was $1000. You do not get a credit for the value of the old ticket; any negative fare difference goes into the airline’s pocket.

    On using that $500 voucher: Traveling with a newborn actually goes easier than you would think. They are easily distracted, have limited crying volume, and sleep or eat most of the time.

    I’ll take a newborn over a toddler with a meltdown any day of the week. Toddlers get ornery, refuse to take naps, kick seats, scream for some demand or other, etc.

  17. Press1forDialTone says:

    What I have said before in many posts regarding any 2 companies that have
    to merge their IT systems, it will not be successful period. There will be
    incredible disruption and annoyance to customers, pre-entered data in one
    or the other system will be lost. Avoid these times at all costs and ask about
    whether IT systems are merging if the product you are buying is travel or
    lodging of any kind. Why is this happening over and over again? The systems
    that are being merged are largely incompatible, ginormous in size, differ in their
    data record storage formats and most importantly 2 items a) enough time is never
    ever given to IT staff to do the process over a period of time in stealth mode, this
    causes much less disruption is easier to pre-test etc. and b) unfortunately the IT
    folks performing these huge mergers are not the best and brightest for the best and
    the brightest don’t want to slog through such crazytown antics. This is becoming a
    case where the IT jobs that the best don’t want to do are falling to the folks with much
    less experience and ability…hmmmm….sort of like other kinds of jobs the rich and smart
    don’t want to do.

  18. AngryK9 says:

    So, is it Uninental, or Continited? My vote is for Continited…just sounds better.

  19. trimetrov says:

    Look, I have sympathy for your situation already. But I don’t really care that your wife is pregnant. The airline doesn’t either. Why do people insist on inserting bits of information like this to generate more support? It’s not a handicap, or an especially special circumstance – it’s an event that 50% of the world’s population will, at some time, be capable of undertaking.

    I do thank you in advance for keeping your newborn off of future flights though.

  20. theconversationalist says:

    When talking to customer service, ANY customer service, begin the conversation by asking for the Employee ID number and WRITE IT DOWN. That way they can’t play the “Oops, you were disconnected” game without some blowback on them when you contact their superiors later about them hanging up on you rather than solving your problem.

  21. km9v says:

    I made flight Continental reservations right before the computer conversion to United. The reservation numbers changed. That was it. No problems. None at all. OMG, what is this world coming to?

  22. do-it-myself says:

    Just check my own United/Continental flight info. My flight now leaves 12 minutes earlier….I received absolutely no notice. Sure, it’s only 12 minutes, but it’s the principle.

    Btw, vacation all over the place before ever having children.

    • amuro98 says:

      If you’re making a connection, 12 minutes can make all the difference.

      I’ve had connections in airports that required me to exit one terminal, go through security again, before going into the other terminal!

      Fortunately, they had a “yes, we know you’re making a connection!” express lane but that still resulted in me getting to the gate as the flight was making its last call before closing the door.

    • Dr. Shrinker says:

      Meh, American cancelled my flight and booked me and my 9-year-old daughter on one that leaves 4 hours earlier…without telling us! Luckily, I had just downloaded the American Airlines app and checked our itinerary; otherwise, we would have been at the airport hours after “our” flight left.

  23. markmark says:

    We made reservations to Vegas with United in Jan. We received a confirmation number.
    Before the trip, I checked in and printed my boarding passes. The flight had a short connection in Chicago.
    When we tried to board our next flight in Chicago, they scanned our boarding passes and the system beeped. We were asked to go to the counter. When we got there, they said “This is odd, your trip has been cancelled, even your return. We’ll take care of this for you.” A few minutes later they printed new boarding passes for us and told us to contact the airline for our return flight seating.
    When we called to check on our return flight, we found we had lost our seat reservations along with our Premier Plus seating (the extra 6 inches of leg room). They said they would refund the difference.
    We didn’t receive the refund for the premium seating. We called and they couldn’t help us, we had to fill out a request online. I did so. Went back to check on the refund and found that the confirmation number they gave us wouldn’t work as there wasn’t enough digits. Called back and was told sorry. I sent a fax and mailed the request…still waiting.
    Great customer service at United…. :(

  24. TurdFerguson says:

    I’ll confirm everything you and everyone else has mentioned… since the official merger weekend March 3/4 all hell has broken loose.
    I am a loyal continental customer and I’ve had legacy united employees cover name badges and refuse to give me their names and in the 3 flights I’ve flown since merger EVERY SINGLE ONE has been delayed for usually an hour or so (luckily they had no connections)… with the last flight delayed over 4 hours after we got 700 miles into the 1900 trip and had to return back due to fuel tank malfunction (instead of landing ANYWHERE along the way). Since we had a sizable load of fuel when re-landed they put us on a back runway, surrounded us with firetrucks, and sprayed the overheating brakes for 45mins. Announcements and staff gave us the typical reassurance was that everything was okay, but vaguely referenced that the airport wouldn’t let us get near the terminal because of fire risk to the building and other planes. :-)

    The mechanical thing I was understanding of (it happens)… until I realized the reason it was late arriving to us up initially was for the same reason (they chose not fix it). Thankfully they had a new plane ready when were able to taxi back to the terminal, BUT a computer glitched locked the staff out of the flight for another hour. Initially they said sorry for the trouble and gave the passengers free TV access the flight… which meant little because now the flight was an overnight flight and everyone slept. I asked about free food or at least a discount and they said nope (in-air time went from 4.5hrs to 6.5hrs and then add the airport delays and most of the folks were famished). They were willing to serve items even after they admitted the refrigerated stuff hadn’t been chilled for hours.When I finally landed I got an email for a $150 voucher… and was safe and at my destination. Return flight left 45 min late and somehow landed 1 hr late (my experience is that they usually burn more fuel or re-route to try and make up late departure times… well that was in the past). I really felt sorry for the flight attendants… payed on when doors close, and they had to deal with cranky hungry passengers. I can understand (not excuse) why some employees and passengers are starting to snap mid-air.

    RESULTS of the 1.5 months of the NEW United: $450 total in vouchers (their were other issues)… every flight delayed… slow CS response times… frustrated legacy employees.

    ADVICE: Twitter and patience is your friend. Despite how ticked you are understand that the person (unless they’re outsourced) is most likely just as pissed as you about everything going on. Be persistent BUT polite and they will compensate you. I’d also wait a while before using any vouchers… it make take a while for this mess to ever get sorted out. Hopefully they will stop hemorrhaging customers and money by then… hopefully.