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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Continental Airlines Customer Service, Part I

I'm am feeling what is most certainly going to be a Consumerist moment. But, I'll give you a play by play, and we'll see how Continental Airlines' service holds up.

So, everyone knows I hate American Airlines. In fact, Todd and I now routinely pay more for flights on US Airways and other airlines in order to avoid flying AA. For the upcoming trip to Bonaire, we have booked flights on Continental. It's doubly weird because we are flying first class to Bonaire (because it's a red eye, and Discover card was willing to let me use some miles for the upgrade), and we're flying coach home.

The problem is this - the flight leaves Bonaire early and gets into Houston at 11:15am. We are booked on a HOU-BWI flight at 6:45pm, getting in at 10:48pm. Totally fine, except I neglected to notice that we are supposed to be running the next morning, and it's a long one (Todd - 26 miles, Me - 16 miles), so we'll likely be getting up at 3am. Figuring how far we live from BWI, I think we'll be getting into bed after midnight. That's a short sleep and a likely crappy run.

There's another flight from HOU-BWI that leaves at 1:30pm and gets us in at a much better to handle 5:30pm, allowing us to rest and have dinner at a reasonable time. Why didn't I book this one to begin with? No idea, I figure I probably wanted us to be certain we'd have time for flight delays AND customs in Houston, and potentially to eat a little lunch, and 2 hours is not enough time for all of that these days.

I tried doing the change through the website, but was told that I can't and I was given an 800 number to call. Ok.

I called the 800 number. I connect to Customer Service, wait 2 1/2 minutes for a rep, the rep asks what I want, I say I want to change my flight. She asks for my conf. number, which I have, she confirms that she has the right schedule and then puts me on hold for 10 minutes. She didn't ask what flight I wanted to change, she didn't ask what I wanted to change to. She had already brought up my itinerary, so I had no clue what I was even holding for. I pictured her in the bathroom or attending an Office Space-esque birthday party. I hung up.

Called back, this time, I connected to international reservations. I got right in. Lady on the line tells me that she can't change my reservation, but that maybe I could fly stand by on the 1:30 flight. She connects me to online reservation (tech support?) assistance, and is done with me. But, she was polite and didn't put me on hold, so that was fine.

I get into tech support quickly (30 seconds, maybe) and explain. This lady puts me on hold for about 4 minutes. She comes back, says that to change flights is going to be $420 per person, since there is a $150 change fee (raised $50 recently, I noticed), and then a fare difference that I have to pay. This was the answer I expected, and it was more than I could spend.

The tech support lady suggested that I call Continental 24 hours before the flight to see if it would be easier to change then (without fee? who knows). Or, that maybe we could get in stand by, since the flight is very not full as of right now. I don't like making phone calls like that while on vacation. Sitting on hold is no fun.

Bonaire has an itty-bitty airport (though not as small as Little Cayman), so we might just swing by there and see if Continental can hook us up. We will also ask upon check in at BWI when we leave. Thus far, I give them a B-, but I know there is going to be more to this adventure.


Wacky Neighbor said...

It sounds like their customer service isn't very good, but it doesn't sound awful yet.

As for the flights: very hard to say. 2 hours is so tight between getting off the plane, going through customs, and getting to the next plane - particularly if your flight is delayed at all. In that case, maybe flying standby (in the event you can actually make the flight ontime) is the way to go.

Of course, if you fly standby, I don't know what becomes of your luggage. Presumably it should go with you on whatever flight you're on, but I would think it's possible that it still ends up on the later flight. I would guess with all of your SCUBA gear and such that this could pose a problem. But I don't know enough about this to say what would happen. Just something else to think about.

Kim said...

Yeah, they're merely OK customer service right now, leaps and bounds above American Airlines (who sent us walking all over the terminal in Miami once for no particular reason), but not as good as Southwest (with whom I changed flights for the Disney Marathon back in January with no change fee and just a minor price-difference fee, and I did it all online in a painless manner). I am hoping that they will pull through and be awesome, as I really want to believe that Continental has decent customer service.

This whole thing is a gamble no matter what. I am certain that when I booked the flight I felt that 2 hours was not enough time in Houston. We had the same amount of time coming home from Turks & Caicos in Charlotte, and managed to do it, though. We had to hit customs, we had a slight delay getting our luggage, then rechecked our bags, inhaled a burrito at lightning speed, and just made our flight. But, we also had zero delays leaving Turks and Caicos. Compare that to coming home from Bonaire in 2007 (although on American Airlines), where we had a 2 hour delay. I've never flown standby before, so we will see how it goes.

As for our luggage... Assuming that everything is ok in BWI, I don't mind it coming on a later flight and picking it up the next day. We will be wearing our running shoes and other necessary running necessities will be at home (and we both have multiple pairs of running shoes and other things like that anyway... I think I even have a second watch). Now, that's assuming everything is OK in BWI, which is never guaranteed. Another reason that we are not flying AA is because the AA itinerary puts us through San Juan for a 6-8 hour layover. I wish I could find the article about the guy who had his scuba gear and photography equipment checked, flew through San Juan to Bonaire for that long layover, and then got to Bonaire to find his regulator, photo equipment, or other things stolen (locks cut). Later, he replaced his equipment by shopping on eBay and was surprised to find that the equipment that be purchased on eBay had the same serial numbers as the items that he lost...

I think it was in Undercurrent, I will try to locate.

Mary said...

Honestly, the way air travel is anymore, I don't think I'd trust any flight scenario where my luggage might not follow me, especially if I had expensive stuff in my luggage. It's hard enough to consistently get checked baggage back to start with; given the chaos inherent in air travel and the customer service mentality of the U.S. airline industry, I can't imagine introducing a scenario where you and your bags are quite likely to end up on different flights.

Kim said...

Here we go

Undercurrent artcile

Another good one

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