Wednesday, October 12, 2011

United... Continental... whatever they are called... I am fed up!

Is anyone else as frustrated with Continental/United/whatever the heck they are these days? What a silly question - I know many people are just as frustrated as I am! How could you not be? Frankly the worst thing to ever happen to Continental was to merge with United.

I have recently had a bunch of issues with what used to be my favorite airline. In fact I go out of my way to fly them. As of late, however, they have been beyond lousy. I got fed up enough that I decided to write a letter to them. (Honestly I don't expect it to do much good but I believe that if you don't tell someone something is wrong how can you expect them to fix it.... so I am telling them.) So here's what I had to say....

United Airlines, Inc.
PO Box 66100
Chicago, IL 60666

Dear Continental & United Management,

I have been a loyal Continental customer for more than 10 years now. As of late I have suffered many disappointments with Continental/United.  I firmly believe that it is my obligation to speak-up and articulate my issues and not just complain about them because if customers don’t tell you what our problems are then how can you know that there are problems. As you can see I have been compiling a list for many months as I will outline below.

My family and some close friends made a trip to the Midwest in June 2011. On our outbound flight from Houston (IAH) to Cleveland (CLE) 5 of our 7 bags did not make the flight with us. We checked in nearly 2 hours prior to the trip so it was not due to any fault of ours. At the Baggage Services office they told us perhaps it was due to weight issues on the airplane and that is why our bags were delayed. So is this how you treat Elite members? My bags were clearly marked as Priority yet if I am to believe this baggage specialist then someone chose to take my bags off in spite of the fact that they were marked as me being an elite access member. Our bags did not show up until after midnight that night. We missed out on a formal dinner because we did not have the proper attire for the event.  I tried on multiple occasions to speak with representatives and also write several emails about my issue yet none of them were willing to help. Basically I got the brush off of “well sometimes it happens” and “since we got you your bags within 24 hours you have no basis of complaint.” (The reference number for this baggage issue was CLEC051845.)

On 14 August my husband Kenneth Ham (Also a long time Continental flyer, Onepass #MB283614) was flying from Houston to Dubai for his deployment in Afghanistan. (Ken is a Captain in the US Navy.)  His flight from Houston to Washington Dulles was slightly delayed. Upon arrival at Dulles Ken sprinted the three-quarters of a mile to the gate for his flight to Dubai – he arrived 5 minutes before it was time for the flight to leave only to find that the flight had left early.  He met many other passengers that were already at the gate.  Apparently, they decided to close the door 11 minutes before posted departure time.  Many of these passengers were servicemen with no checked bags who ended up stranded in Dulles.  This issue is compounded by the fact that flights from Dubai to Kandahar do not fly every day further complicating the trip.  The simple act of closing the door on time for a 15 hour flight would have saved a lot of time and money.  When he (and the other 21 passengers, some from Chicago who were in the same situation) spoke with the United representative about his options the agent was very rude and VERY unhelpful.   

On September 14th my husband and I were travelling from Bermuda (BDA) to Portland, Maine (PWM) by way of Newark. Upon arrival into Newark we discovered out connecting flight was delayed by more than an hour. After checking into the President’s Club I looked online and it showed the flight that was the plane we should be on had already arrived. This made no sense seeing how our flight was delayed. Upon asking at the travel desk the agent couldn’t make sense of it either. Apparently the flight that was listed as the arriving plane for our flight online was not the actual flight that was coming in for us to take. The flight with the airplane for us to take was a different airplane; however, no one (in the 2 different agents I spoke to) could find a status on that particular flight and where in the world it was. When I asked what was the cause of the delay the first 2 had no answer and the third sheepishly said, “schedule” which says to me a scheduling problem on your part. Additionally your flight tracker website never updated the time the plane was set to arrive in Portland.

On September 19th we were headed back to Houston from Portland, Maine via Newark. In Portland there was hassle getting on the airplane because the flight attendants had started allowing people to already change seats to sit together (because they had been separated) even though everyone was not on board. Then as the plane should already have closed the boarding doors one of the passengers claimed to have left his cell phone in the waiting area so we waited another 10 minutes for someone to attempt to track this down. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that you (Continental) wouldn’t hold the airplane for many people trying to make a connection to Dubai (many of these individuals servicemen and women like my husband) yet you will make the rest of us late (which we were) so someone can look for a cell phone. When we finally pulled away from the gate since we were late pulling out we had an additional 10-minute hold because we had missed our take-off slot and the air traffic tower needed to space out the planes.  While I appreciate your flight attendants et all trying to help the guy out I have been told that the reason the plane wasn’t held for my husband was that you won’t hold a plane for anyone but obviously this isn’t true.

Continuing on the above trip when we boarded the plane to Houston from Newark we pushed back from the gate on time only to sit on the tarmac for nearly 30 minutes with absolutely no explanation. Now I understand it could have been due to  “traffic” issues, perhaps we were last in a long line of planes waiting to take off, but we got no explanation of why we were just sitting there which to me is simply unacceptable.

One smaller issue I have had. On a recent trip a zipper was torn completely off my luggage. When I brought this up I was told that zippers are just part of the normal wear and tear that is expected and I was out of luck.  Given that I was quoted that it will cost at least $40 to fix this issue I find that unacceptable.
Add all of these very specific issues to the overall general issues I have been having with Continental and the Continental/United merger and I am left feeling disappointed in what I used to consider to a superior airline.  I am a Chicago-native so I really wish I could say that I think this merger has been positive for us Continental customers but to say that would be a lie in my experience.

To speak to the general issues I have….
·      I am disappointed to see Continental take-on United traits such as
o   Discontinuing any complimentary snacks or food in coach
o   Charging for “premium” movies and channels on international flights. What happened to all the entertainment options free on international flights?
o   Increasing the costs of beer etc. on flights
·      Frequent Flyer Program Issues
o   With the merger of the 2 airlines is has become highly unlikely that anyone who is not Platinum (and from what I’ve heard even some platinum members) to get many upgrades
o   It’s unfair of those of us who fly and accumulate miles to gain elite access that people can simply purchase a credit card and have the same access to elite check-in and security lines. (Don’t get me wrong I also use the Presidential Plus Chase credit card, which I use primarily for the President’s Club membership, but I also maintain my elite status without this.)
§  I was on a plane this weekend where more than half the plane was elite and most of them had simply got the credit card
·      General Merger Issues
o   I have asked repeatedly at the airports when we can expect the merger to be complete and no one knows
o   I’ve had it happen numerous times where Continental seems to have no idea what is going on because it’s supposedly a United issue or vice versa. So much for becoming one.
o   The fact that after all this merger stuff I still feel the need to address something to both Continental & United should be telling for you guys that you aren’t “getting it done” adequately in merging

Michelle L Ham

Customer Care (Houston, TX)

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