Friday, June 29, 2007

Poop Airways

I hate getting up on a soapbox (so it therefore makes perfect sense for me to have a blog) but I feel I can no longer stay silent on this issue. It is time for me to hate on Continental Airlines.

Why here? Why now? Easy. I'm supposed to pick my sister and her family up at the airport - or rather, I was supposed to pick them up at the airport yesterday, but they've been stranded in Newark, NJ.

Now, some of it is the airport's fault (I've known from my days working in the travel industry to stay well away from Newark and Atlanta airports - delays like you wouldn't believe) but I, and now my sister, have had several bad travel experiences, and Continental has always been at the center of them.

Will you allow me to entertain you with a few travel horror stories? They'll be quick, I promise (unless of course, my sisters flight is delayed again. Then we might be here for a while.)
  • In 1999, I am flying from London to Boston via Newark on Continental (unfortunately I was rebooked on this flight, and flying through Newark was unavoidable.) I get pulled out of line twice (not Continental's fault, but it's part of the experience) and searched by London's finest. I imagine this is because I have both an Irish and an American passport (dual citizenship), long hair, a surly attitude, and at the time smoked like a chimney (which you could still do at Gatwick airport.) They probably thought I was an Irish terrorist. Anyway, we get to Newark without issue, but when I arrive I'm required to collect my bag so I have it with me when I go through customs. I do so, and when I finish, I put the bag on a conveyor belt for the trip to Boston, making it the last time I ever saw it. After six months and constant complaints, inventorying, and check-ins, Continental reimburses me $500 and calls it a day. Oh, and that flight out of Newark was delayed for three hours.
  • In March of '06 I fly Continental from Boston to Houston (first class on the way down thanks to the generosity of my cousin Brian who was using his miles to pay for the trip as a birthday present.) The flight down is delayed by an hour. The flight back by two. Otherwise, they were both very pleasant flights with good service.
  • This next one doesn't involve me, or anyone I know, at all but it seems so ridiculous that I had to mention it. Two weeks ago, an eight hour non-stop flight from Amsterdam to Newark ended up being a 32 hour ordeal with an unexpected layover in Shannon Airport in Ireland. That's not the worst part. Once they finally got airborne to Newark, the passengers had to deal with toilet sewage overflowing into the cabin (that link goes to the Boing Boing coverage of the story which provides several more links, including lengthy written accounts of the whole ordeal.
  • Yesterday, my sister is returning home with her family from a vacation to Europe and are flying from Barcelona to Boston via Newark on Continental. As the plane approaches Newark, they discover they're not allowed to land due to congestion and potential thunderstorms. The plane is instructed to circle until they're given the all clear to land. Unfortunately, the plane didn't have enough fuel to circle, so it was diverted to Newburgh, NY where it could refuel, and then proceed back to Newark, which it does. Unfortunately, however, almost everyone on the plane who had a connecting flight has now missed it, including my sister and her family. When attempting to rebook they find that all flights to Boston are canceled due to thunderstorms (which certainly didn't take place in Boston last night, although they may have in Newark - I'm not sure. When I talked to my sister yesterday, however, it was bright and sunny.) The earliest flight they could get booked onto was for 7:00 PM this evening. All well and good, however as you'll have noticed earlier in this post, I still haven't picked them up. The arrival time has been pushed back at least six times since it's scheduled departure - three of those coming since I started writing this post. The reasons given by the airline were that they were waiting for the plane to arrive from another flight, and when it finally did, they then had to wait for the crew - coming in from another flight - to show up. I have - just this minute (10:33 PM) - received a text message from my sister saying "Finally leaving!" and the flight status page on Continental's website indicates an arrival time as 11:43 PM, but it still lists the flight as "delayed."
OK - so looking back on it, this isn't so much a "hate on Continental" as it is an explanation of previous experiences with the airline, and my expressing an extreme reluctance to fly on the airline again given them (I could conceivably fly them to Houston again, if Brian wanted to provide the ticket. Ahem. Blatant hint there... Oh, hey there, gift horse! Nice mouth!) I understand that bad airline experiences are a common occurrence and that everyone has one - on every airline - but there are too many incidents here to ignore, and I think I'm finally getting the hint. Thanks for letting me vent, amigos. Until maƱana.

[Update 06/30/07 - 02:10 AM: Just got home after dropping sister and family off at her place. She thought I should mention that Newark Airport was almost entirely to blame for her travel woes over the past couple of days - particularly this evening. They brought all ground traffic to a halt which is why both the plane and the crew couldn't get there in time. So, apologies to Continental for the rush to judgment. But, I still want my suitcase back.

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