Thursday, October 16, 2008

no customer service at continental airlines

this is most likely the longest post i’ve written to date on this blog. the crappy service that continental provided me today really got under my skin. if you don’t have the time or don’t want to read the entirety of this post i understand; i know i probably wouldn’t either. this post was more for me as i needed to get these thoughts out of my head & on to paper. also, i’m writing this while on a plane r& don’t have much else to do :)

just yesterday i wrote about how great continental airlines' service was. two days later & i’m telling a completely different story.

i left the IBM executive conference center at 2:45 PM today in order to make it to laguardia airport for my 5:05 PM flight from NY to houston & finally on to austin. i arrived at laguardia around 3:40; one hour & 25 minutes prior to my flight departing which is super early for me. i immediately headed to continental’s self check-in service when a continental booking agent approached me to ask if i was connecting through houston. i responded yes & she continued to tell me that because of bad weather, all flights to houston had been delayed for at least 2-hours. i actually didn’t mind hearing the news too much. of course it sucked, but i’d just plant myself on the computer & get some work done, makes some calls, etc.

because of the delay, i was told to proceed to the long line of folks waiting in the main check-in line to be informed of the bad news to come. when i reached the counter after about a 15-minute wait i was still quite cool about the whole situation. then the continental agent informed me that because of the delay i would miss my connecting flight from houston to austin & that i’d have to spend the night in houston. on top of that, continental wasn’t going to compensate me the cost of a hotel room because the delay was due to bad weather which is out of continental’s control.

i asked if there was any other flight i could take tonight that would get me to austin. not only did i want to get home to see kristin & sleep in my own bed for a change; kristin & i are leaving for san francisco the very next morning & i couldn’t afford to miss that flight. the agent then informed me that there was a direct flight to austin leaving [insert mumble followed by flight number] at 7:40 & that if i could make it there on time she would book me on that flight. without hesitation, i nodded my head & said thank you & i was out the door – by this time it was 4:20 PM.

i grabbed this first taxi i saw outside & told him i needed to get to JFK. about half way to JFK the driver, who couldn’t speak very good english (what a surprise) asked me which airline. i told him continental. he seemed puzzled & asked again, what airline. i responded again, “continental.” he kind of shrugged & went about driving.

when we arrived at JFK the driver asked which terminal i was leaving from. i said i’m not sure, all i know is that i’m flying continental. low & behold we finally saw continental on a sign for terminal 4 which was good because terminal 4 was the last of the 4 terminals at JFK. i paid the driver $32.50 & headed into the terminal. before messing with checking in i quickly called kristin to let her know i made it. then i called mitchell to talk about some project work at the office. i was on the phone with mitchell for a solid 30 minutes when i let him go. i began looking for the continental desk when i noticed that the majority of airlines in terminal 4 were foreign carriers. i headed towards the one continental terminal which was closed. by that time i realized something was wrong & that i was at the wrong terminal.

i hopped on the phone to continental to find out which terminal my flight was leaving from. after hanging on hold for 5 minutes, i was connected to an agent who began looking for my flight info. since i didn’t have a flight number or reservation number it was a bit more difficult. i even began thinking that maybe the agent back at laguardia booked me on another carrier & that was why finding the continental terminal was so difficult. a few minutes into my conversation my connection dropped – damn cell phones/AT&T network!

i dialed continental again & was again put on hold for about 7 minutes. when the agent answered this time i was telling my story to a much friendlier agent than the first one that answered the phone. this new agent quickly found my flight information & that’s when she gave me the bad news – my flight which was still a continental flight was leaving out of newark airport, not JFK. by this time it was around 5:45 PM & my flight was leaving at 7:40 PM - 1 hour & 55 minutes away, no problem right?

i ran out the door of the JFK airport bound for the newark airport. i hopped in a long line of folks waiting for cabs. as i was working my way toward the front of the line some dude for a car service was running around trying to get people to take his service instead of the cabs. i asked him how much he would charge as a flat rate to newark & he said $125 plus he wanted me to pay for the tolls. i told him no & he immediately dropped his price to $100 plus i pay tolls. i again told him no. he then said OK, $100 bucks flat, no tolls but i must pay him with cash. i told him all i had was credit card. when i got about three people away from the front of the taxi line i asked the curb-check how much a taxi was going to cost me to newark. he said $120 bucks easily. i hopped out of line & went after the car service dude because i thought if i could save a few bucks why not. Plus the car service would be nicer than a taxi & the driver might even speak english. i told him flat out that i’d give him $100 flat (no tolls), that i would take care of the driver (even with a solid 20% tip it would cost less or just as much as a taxi) & he’d have to accept a credit card. he reluctantly agreed & i hopped in a nice black lincoln town car headed for newark.

i told the driver my situation & that my flight departed at 7:40 PM. he said as long as traffic wasn’t too bad we’d probably be there around 7:00 PM. i wasn’t surprised when traffic turned out to be a mess. i mean it was rush hour in NY & i was heading from one busy airport to another. i proceeded to just make work calls during the drive until about 6:55 PM when i called kristin to let her know it wasn’t looking good. i then called continental to see what other options i had in case i missed this direct flight to austin. they informed me that i could still catch a later flight (8:15 PM) that would get me to houston, but i’d have to take a flight in the morning to austin. this of course was the same situation i was in 3 hours ago in laguardia. so now i’d made all this effort & was still going to end up in houston tonight & i’d be out $150 for the cabs plus another $150 for a hotel room in houston.

around 7:10 PM the driver & i (we became good friends at this point) finally came out of the tunnel between NY & jersey the roads opened up. it was awesome; the driver was doing 90 MPH down the road trying to get me to my flight. to add to the excitement & what i found to be a bit funny was that the driver handed me the credit card machine to scan my own credit card & fill out the paperwork in an effort to save time. we finally pulled in to the continental terminal at 7:20 PM. i tipped the driver $20 bucks & he wished me good luck & a safe flight home.

i immediately ran to a continental self check-in terminal & began entering my information. the machine told me that it couldn’t print my boarding pass & that i’d have to see an agent. again, there was a long line in front of the counter & this time i just skipped the line. i walked up to the closest agent desk & simply said, “i really need your help.” to my surprise the agent could have cared less about my situation; she was playing this one by the books. she said she couldn’t print my boarding pass for the direct flight to austin because i was within the 30 minute window prior to departure time. i pleaded my case about all the hassle i went through, the cost of the cab fair, etc. & she wasn’t having it. i even asked if she would just print up my boarding pass & if i couldn’t make it to the gate in time then i’d rebook to the houston flight. she said she couldn’t do it though.

i conceded to the houston flight because that was my only choice. when i asked for continental to compensate me with a room in houston, the agent said she couldn’t but she would ask a “supervisor.” i thought for sure the “supervisor” would take care of me & understand all that i had just been through. then a dark cloud appeared & the meanest customer service supervisor appeared before me. talk about someone that could care less, she immediately began typing at the computer & told me there was no way she was going to compensate me with a room. i asked about alternative airlines or maybe a flight to dallas instead of houston so i could avoid the hotel costs by staying with my folks. she said houston overnight was my only option other than staying in newark for the night.

she then began booking my flight to houston & then to austin in the morning. she then lifted her head away from focusing on the computer & she looked at me & said that unfortunately i was now again within the 30 minute booking window & now i was going to have to spend the night in newark. this is when i lost it & said i wasn’t going to accept that; especially since i’d been in front of the other agent & now her for a solid 20 minutes discussing flights. she dropped her head & just began typing away. she then, against her will, booked me on the houston flight & handed me my boarding pass.

i then headed to security which was basically empty. i was thinking to myself that i surely good have made that austin direct flight if they would have just printed my boarding pass when i first walked up to the counter instead of adhering to that damn 30 minute rule. i proceeded to search out some grindz because i had not eaten since lunch. i checked out a few places before settling on a bottle of water & two cliff bars – one hell of a dinner huh?

as i was walking toward my gate i glanced up at the flight departure board & i noticed a continental flight to austin was NOW BOARDING. i took off running to gate 105 where the flight was leaving from. i nearly screamed with joy when i noticed the ticketing agent still at the gate & the door to the walk-way to the plane was still open. the flight was literally leaving in the next minute or two. the agent grabbed my boarding passes & hastily began scanning them while i was telling her that these boarding passes were for another flight. she got super frustrated & even after i told her all that had happened she said that this flight had to leave now & that she couldn’t hold the plane up to re-ticket me.

at this point i really wanted to just go off on this chic. she threw my tickets down & said there was nothing she could do & then proceeded to walk down to the plane & close the door behind her. what really frustrated me about this whole thing was that the agents down at the front desk obviously knew that this plane wasn’t leaving on time & given its new departure time of 8:05 PM i was well outside of the 30 minute rule that prevented them from printing my boarding passes in the first place.

the gate attendant then came bounding back from the plane & through the door & she said her boss told her that she couldn’t do anything (she didn’t apologize or anything). as she was telling me this a younger male continental agent was arriving at the gate; probably for the next flight. the female agent that had told me no then took head back down to the plane. i looked at the younger continental agent, shook my head, & said i can’t believe this is happening like this after all i’d been through to make this flight. he looked back at me & said don’t worry about it. he took my tickets for the houston flight & just threw them on his desk & he proceeded to unlock & open the door to the jet way leading to the plane & told me to have a nice flight. wow! what a cool dude & someone that puts the customer’s best interest before any damn company policy that is ridiculous to begin with.

when i reached the plane the chic that had told me i couldn't get on this flight was standing with the other flight attendants laughing & looked to be drinking a coke. i looked at her, shrugged my shoulders, smiled, & proceeded to board the plane. there is a good chance that my name was never put on that flight roster.

the plane then sat at the terminal for 10 more minutes before backing up & heading to the taxi way. when we arrived at the taxi way the pilot's voice came on over the speakers & he announced that there were 27 other planes in front of us & that it would be 30 – 35 minutes before we would be taking off. it was 9:05 PM when we got in the air (exactly 4 hours after my original flight was supposed to leave). to think that if i wouldn’t have looked up on that departure board & had seen that this flight hadn’t left yet & then to have this plane not even get in the air until 9:00 PM still pisses me off big time.

i still can’t believe that this same airline was the one i was profusely complementing not much more than 48 hours ago. now, they fall right in the same crappy category as american airlines. granted, continental can’t control the weather or long taxi lines, but i dealt with 2 agents & 1 “supervisor” who treated me like crap & who could have cared less about the time & cash i’d lost today just trying to get home.

my airline shopping continues again tomorrow when i take a southwest flight to san francisco. i’m keeping my fingers crossed & really hoping that southwest doesn't let me down too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

a commitment to speed – update 1

i ran on the treadmill at pure austin last night while also watching the browns beat up on the giants; i feel sorry for you giant fans.

i did 3-miles in 0:28:16 which is 8 minutes faster than i did it sunday night at town lake when i made the commitment to go sub 18 minutes in the 3-mile. i’ve got an additional 10 minutes that i still need to shave off my time.

i’ll get there, don’t you worry!

why did i ever choose american airlines?

not sure why i did it, but some years ago i choose american airlines as my airline of choice. that’s where i had my miles & i continued to use american airlines to accrue more miles in hopes of one day getting a “free” flight or two.

there have been a few occasions in recent years that i’ve taken southwest & other than southwest’s relatively cheap fare i wasn’t too impressed with their service. i’m not complaining about southwest, i’m simply suggesting that it wasn’t so special that i would walk away from american airlines & more importantly the many miles i had with american. i will openly admit that i don’t like southwest’s first-come/first-served approach to boarding; probably because i’m typically running late to my flights.

this past weekend it finally came time to cash in some american airlines’ miles. kristin is joining me on a trip to dubai next month & we are paying for her ticket with miles. a few things in particular really ticked me off about the american airlines’ mile redemption process. first off, the mileage cost just increased from 75K miles to 90K miles on october 1, 2008. second, even though we aren’t flying during a peak time, only a small number of advantage spots exist on their schedule so we were forced into a flight itinerary that neither of us really wanted. lastly, because the flights that american had available include a british airways flight we had to call our reservation in & as a result we were charged a $20 booking fee because an operator booked our reservation. i complained about this $20 booking fee as high as i could go in the american airline organization & no matter who i spoke with i couldn’t have the fee waived. how ridiculous is it that there are no other options for booking these flights & then american charges you for it?

today’s flight on continental really had me wondering why i have put up with such poor service from american airlines. both my flight to houston & to new york were practically empty. i had an isle to myself on both flights in fact. the interior of the continental planes were much cleaner & better kept than any american airlines’ plane i’ve been on in 5 years & i’ve been flying a lot & have seen my fair share of american airlines’ planes. both of my flights on continental were on time today, while almost every american airlines flight i’ve flown in the past year has been delayed for some reason or another. continental offered a movie on the longer flight from houston to new york, a “free” lunch (cheeseburger & salad that i didn’t take), & the flight staff toured the cabin 4 times asking if i wanted anything else to drink.

the service that i received today on continental was the total opposite of the service that american airlines offer. not only does american ding you for every little thing (baggage, food, booking fees, etc.), they are for the most part rude & could care less about making you a happy customer.

going forward i’m going to try & not marry myself to any one particular airline & i plan on doing some airline “shopping” so i have the right perspective on what level of service i’m getting when i fly. i can already confidently say that american airlines does *not* know how to do it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

a commitment to speed

call it a reality check, a wake-up call, whatever you want to call it – it hit me in the face this evening. i “ran” town lake as a way of wrapping up my weekend. one last opportunity to clear my head & raise my heart rate before the hectic work we begins again.

i started out feeling a bit stiff & i knew i was moving slow, but i would have never have guessed that it would take me 0:36:16:61 to finish a 3-mile loop. i felt like absolute dog crap when i finished my run. i knew right then that this “out-of-shape” phase of my life had to end.

kristin has been saying it for months & i’m finally listening. i need a race, i need a goal, i need something to drive me & push me to get back in the groove.

so this is it – i’m setting my own goal. not an ironman, not a marathon, not a century… i’m going back to the basics. back to where i started – the 3-mile. i’m not going to be competing with the likes of steve prefontaine; however, i’ll be competing with my own kirk record.

while stationed in hawaii i nailed a sub 18-minute 3-mile run a few times. that was over 10 years ago & it’s been a while since i’ve moved that fast. so that’s it, that’s what i’m chasing – a sub 18 minute 3-mile run. i’m giving myself 3-months to complete this goal. so come january 12, 2008 ask me if i’ve accomplished my commitment to speed.