Conversations with Continental

By | June 15, 2009

Two conversations with Continental, one Sunday evening with a supervisor at Logan Airport, one Monday afternoon with a corporate customer relations representative:

Conversation #1, Sunday evening:

Yesterday, while we were in the midst of trying to get my daughter from Newark to Cleveland, a Continental supervisor at Logan Airport called and left her name and number on our voicemail, saying she would try to reach us again later if she didn’t hear from us.

Several hours later, after our daughter was safe with her grandparents in Cleveland, the supervisor still hadn’t called, so I called her.

She was extremely apologetic and acknowledged that many different things had gone wrong.  She also confirmed, when I asked if I was correct, that both the Cleveland-bound flight crew and the Newark-bound flight crew violated FAA regulations by failing to confirm that the correct number of passengers was on-board before taking off.

I told her that I didn’t want to embarrass her by going over her head, but I really felt like I needed to speak to someone at Continental’s corporate HQ about what occurred.  I asked her to contact corporate Monday morning, brief someone in a position of authority on the details, and have that person contact me to discuss the situation further.

She informed me that she didn’t come into work until noon on Monday, but that as soon as she got into work, she would contact the corporate customer relations department, fill someone there in, and have them contact me.

Now, as far as I am concerned, this was an opportunity for someone at Continental to prove that they took what happened to my daughter seriously, an opportunity which they squandered.  It seems to me that losing a child for several hours is not a “We’ll contact you tomorrow afternoon” type of event, but rather an “I’ve already contacted our corporate damage control department about this terrible incident and I’m sure you’ll be hearing from them later tonight” type of event.  But I bit my tongue and said a call tomorrow afternoon would just have to do.

Conversation #2, Monday afternoon:

Shortly after noon on Monday, the Continental representative did indeed call me and leave a voicemail message, in which she apologized for what happened, said that she was investigating the incident, and said that it would take 7-10 days to reach any conclusions about how it happened or what would be done to prevent it in the future.  I was busy with all of the reporters interviewing me, so I wasn’t able to call back for several hours.  I called back and left a message on her voicemail as soon as I could, and she called back and we spoke a little while later.

She was very professional, and she did exactly what she needed to do — she apologized profusely, she let me vent at her, and she kept apologizing and acknowledging that my anger was perfectly legitimate.  She did not try to defend Continental over what happened, which clearly would have been ludicrous.

I told her that the offer to refund the $75 unaccompanied minor fee was an insult, and that at a minimum I expected Continental to refund the full price of my daughter’s ticket and to fly my in-laws and daughter back to Boston in two weeks in first class, to give them a nice experience to make up for the terrible experience they put us all through yesterday.  I made it clear that I felt this was the minimum Continental could do to “make us whole” after what had happened, and that it would be an awful good idea for them to come up with something more than that to make us feel like they were making an effort to go above and beyond.

I also told her that I didn’t think waiting until a day after the incident to contact me about it was in any way reasonable.  I told her that when I hadn’t heard anything from Continental by Sunday night, I sent out tips to all of the local news media, and I told her that four of them had already interviewed me with a fifth scheduled for later that afternoon.  I therefore suggested to her that (a) “7-10 days” was probably not a good time-frame for reaching some sort of resolution to this issue, and “before 5pm tonight” was probably a better idea, and (b) it might  be a good idea for her to escalate this incident from the “make pissed off customers happy” department for which she worked to the “get out in front of PR disasters and get them cleaned up ASAP” department which I was sure existed somewhere within the company.

She gave noncommittal responses to all of this (but, again, she did not try to defend Continental, nor did she call my demands or suggestions unreasonable) and told me I’d be hearing back from her as soon as she had something more to tell me.  We’ll see.

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11 thoughts on “Conversations with Continental

  1. Wouter

    I stand corrected – it appears that you did get an appropriate response from Continental after all, despite the media attention. I had not expected that, but I am happy for you that you did, and it shows there is hope for some restoration of the basic principles of customer service in this country.

    That said, I am as disturbed as you are to learn that this happened twice in one weekend with the same carrier, which is all the more reason for taking this public. I believe the FAA and/or TSA should impose hefty fines on the airlines for any more repetitions of this type of negligence. They may argue that the UM program is an agreement between the airline and the parents, but not checking the manifests is unforgivable from a security standpoint, regardless of whether or not it involves an UM.

    Reply
  2. Ninabi

    What you requested from Continental was modest and reasonable.

    For the airline to treat this as trivial (and by refunding the unaccompanied minor fee that’s the impression they are giving) is unacceptable.

    ALL parents and grandparents aware of your situation are looking at Continental’s policies and actions closely. Too many people goofed this up- this was not the mistake of one person, but several.

    I’m glad your daughter is okay. Child safety should never be taken lightly and as a parent myself, I’m disturbed at how badly Continental bungled in their supervision.

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  3. Wouter

    Hi Jik,

    First of all, let me say I’m happy that in the end your daughter turned out to be safe. I am also happy to see that, despite the many mistakes that were made, her safety never appeared to be at issue, although obviously you didn’t know that at the time.

    I agree that offering to refund the extra charge is not sufficient as a response from Continental, but I do agree with Pierce that you were probably a little quick to run to the media if you wanted to get more out of them. As far as they are concerned, the damage has been done and their fight is now with the media, not with you. You effectively took away their incentive to come up with a more substantial response.

    Personally, I think it is more important to expose the obvious security flaws than to get anything substantial back from Continental, so in that light I welcomed the publicity.

    I totally disagree with posters who said that you shouldn’t have let your child fly alone on a program that is supposedly secure, and your wife’s reaction to that in one of your next blog entries sums it all up. Very well said. But next time, when you put her on a flight on her own, I’d suggest you give her a cell phone.

    Reply
  4. CP

    Get on the news as much as you can. I can tell you that they are terrified of stories like this. Continental is one of the worst airlines out there and you should make sure you profit handsomely from these fucking bottom feeding fucks.

    If you don’t make out big, shame on you cuz you blew it!

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  5. CP

    I sure hope you don’t puss out and accept some lame ass free ticket or something like that. I work for the airlines and I can tell you that you could and should run these uncaring fucks through the ringer.

    Don’t puss out!

    Reply
  6. Smith

    Live Houston? Yes. Work for Continental Airlines? No. I try not to fly them even though they’re considered the “hometown airline” here in Houston. I feel that you have a legitimate complaint with the airline and most certainly agree with your panic and anger for your daughter’s safety and well being. I am the father of two boys a little younger than your daughter and would feel just as worried as you.

    While reading with interest your situation on the Houston Chronicle, they posted a link to your blog and I read your initial complaint. I agreed with some of your points and disagreed with others. Then I went back and read the comments section on the Chronicle (I get a laugh out of the comments section most of the time…terrible habit of mine) and noticed quite a few negative responses to your story. So I went back to your blog and read deeper into your situation and thought to myself that this was overkill and wanted to comment. The last sentence of my comment was unnecessary and although I cannot take it back, I do apologize for disparaging your family in any way.

    The best outcome out of all of this is that your daughter was finally flown to Cleveland safely and your and your in-laws fear has been assuaged. I hope you get what you are looking for with this situation.

    Reply
  7. jik Post author

    Yeah, I agree with Pierce, the media will be bored with this within a day or so.

    Perhaps.

    In the meantime, the customer relations representative at Continental called and left a message on my voicemail at 10pm at night, suggesting that either she or the people for whom she works felt that what happened to me and the bad press it caused for Continental was severe enough to warrant her staying at work just a tad bit late. We’ll see what she has to say when I call her in the morning.

    And I’m sure that the email and phone call I got tonight from a story editor for Good Morning America asking if I was interested in appearing on their show was yet another sign that the media will grow bored with the story in a day or two.

    In the meantime, Continental will get a lot, a lot, a lot of bad press. They could fix that and come out on top by doing the right thing for me and my family. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    Just wait until the media displays all his bitching and lets the public comment on him and his actions.

    Dude, if I cared about what ignoramuses on the Internet had to say, I wouldn’t have created this blog or posted to it for the past several years. Smart people don’t let idiots get in their way.

    I feel terrible for the girl to have to face her friends with a loud mouthed father.

    I’m sure my daughter and her friends will all be fine. As far as I know, none of them read my blog or watch the TV news. Having said that, even if they did, the coverage you seem to think is going to scar them would hardly do that. In fact, I imagine they would think it’s cool.

    But it’s really not surprising to see any of this nonsense in yet another comment posted from Houston by an anonymous Continental employee. People, people, you’re not really helping your cause here!

    Reply
  8. Smith

    Yeah, I agree with Pierce, the media will be bored with this within a day or so. Also, this guy thinks he’s accomplishing something and the media is his “friend”. Just wait until the media displays all his bitching and lets the public comment on him and his actions. That’s how the media are these days, they report something and let the masses tear it down. This guys fame lasted only 5 minutes. I feel terrible for the girl to have to face her friends with a loud mouthed father.

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  9. pierce

    that is, anyone of enough stature *to make a decision and comment publicly* on this event

    Reply
  10. pierce

    Given the severity of misrouting your daughter, I for one am not surprised that anyone of enough stature within Continental airlines isn’t behind their desk on a Sunday evening. True that this is a big event for your family, but if I were this employeed I would be wary about calling my boss on a weekend for anything less than a fatality. So a Monday callback isn’t out of line. And as you’ve already bitched far and wide to the media, if i were continental i’d give you the absolute minimum compensation (and by their terms, not yours). Sorry, you shot first and asked questions later. You got to vent publicly and got your soapbox for 10 minutes, don’t expect the first class ride. The media that jumps on this is the same one that will be bored with it in a day.

    Reply
  11. Nate

    Besides underestimating the ire of Jonathan Kamens, it sounds like the woman you talked to at least was approaching the situation with the right attitude – we screwed, we’re sorry, we’ll make sure this won’t happen again. I can understand her not being able to promise anything specific, but I do agree that they should have jumped on this grenade before it exploded. It’s really amazing how easy it is to do the right thing when you screw up and how few companies actually do it.

    An apology, explanation of how they’ll fix it, and 3 comp’d tickets is a trivial cost, compared to the damage a story like this can do. It’s not like you’re being unreasonable, they lost your daughter because they violated FAA regulations and all common sense simultaneously on two flights. It’s a pretty big f-up.

    Reply

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