Continental's Biggest Weakness

As most listeners know, I'm a very big fan of Continental Airlines and they are my preferred carrier.  As background, I've been a Continental platinum for eleven years, so I 

have a bit of experience with them.  That said, their biggest weakness is Irregular Opeations or IRROPS for short. 

As an example.  Two weeks ago I was in Montreal for work and was flying back to Orange County, CA.  My original itinerary was YUL-EWR-SNA as that was the only way to leave Montreal in the afternoon and get to the left coast.   At T-24 Continental emailed me my boarding passes thanks to auto check-in.  Later that evening I went to change my seat and the website gave me an error stating my flights had changed and it couldn't check me in.  This prompted me to check on my itinerary.

It's a good thing I did as well.  It turns out my initial YUL-EWR flight had been canceled and they had rebooked me on a flight Saturday morning.  While that was nice and all, it would have been nice to have been told of said change and furthermore, it wouldn't work for me as I was only in CA for a day and flying back Saturday evening.  Getting there Saturday afternoon to come back in the evening wasn't an option.

It was time to call and call I did.  Initially the agent tried to push responsibility to the travel agent for not notifying me of the change.  After pointing out that they made the change after I checked-in, the agent just got quiet.  Coincidentally later in the call she would tell me that their Concierge desk made the change and should have contacted me, but she still had no idea why they didn't. 

As I worked with the agent, I had found a few alternate itineraries that would meet my needs.  All of these were on United and the agent refused to put me on another carrier.   Eventually we found an itinerary through Cleveland to Los Angeles getting me in three hours later than planned.  The frustrating part was that I still had to drive down to San Diego so my drive went from an hour to two. 

Sadly, cases like these are all too common.    The truly sad part is that I'm allegedly a Continental Star (*).  While they have never published details, it has been hinted that the (*) status determines which flights to delay, cancel and actions during IRROPs.   One has to wonder if this is the treatment that (*) gets you, what do you get for being a regular elite customer.  

IRROPs are one of the areas that United is excellent in.  I've endured my fair share of IRROPs with United but they've always taken care of it and most times even before I know there is an issue with my flight.   I could be landing in Chicago and as soon as my phone gets turned on, have an email from United saying i've been rebooked on another flight. 

With winter upon us, it's particularly important to keep an eye on your itineraries and cancelations.  If you see a flight get canceled or delayed to where it won't work, call the airline as soon as you can and be prepared with possible itineraries.  The easier you make the agents work the easier they'll be to work with. 


ImAnIrishStew December 22, 2009 at 04:50 pm

Dear Fozz, As a Continental Flight Attendant I'm sorry to hear you had a bad experience with your booking. I read through your posting and realized a few things. First of all there are trip alerts that can be sent to your cell phone, email or land line. This would have alerted you earlier of the cancellation. As you know (and mentioned yourself) Winter is upon us and it's a good idea to check with your carrier as to your flight status or you can go online and check that.
Secondly the Continental Star() reference is incorrect. We have what we call "CoStars" which are indicated by a (). It is simply a notation to the agents and crew with regards to those passengers who give us the top tier of our business. It has nothing to do with which flights to cancel etc. Rather it is simply a nice notation so that the crew realizes you are not only a frequent flyer but you also give us more business than the average flyer. So thank you for that and hopefully your next trip will go smoother than the last.

Brian B December 22, 2009 at 09:50 pm

Not surprised, to be honest. I am a *A Gold (Air Canada) and a mere Gold on CO, so when I missed my connection due to lack of gate space (on a paid Business First ticket) from FRA in IAH on my way to BOS, I was wondering how they would handle it.

A night at the Holiday Inn and an economy ticket to BOS the next day is what I got. No compensation was offered.

I have seen UA deal with these situations much better. I have lost count the number of times the RCC or gate agent has done what is needed to get me on my way -- often on another airline. And this is usually me flying in E or E+.

After this experience, given the choice, I will take UA over CO most any day.

Tom December 22, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Imagine what type of treatment a regular customer would receive....not to mention an elite. The example you cite doesn't sound like 'safe,reliable, clean transportation' that CO claims that they deliver. The unwillingness of CO to push a customer over to another carrier is well known CO behavior. Of course, they don't want to give up the revenue. Is it 'short sighted' or 'good business'? They know they have to 'earn our business everyday' they?

Halothane December 23, 2009 at 08:53 am

UA definitely excels during IRROPS for their 1K/GS passengers. Never had a single problem getting rebooked on another carrier or on a UA flight and always get rebooked into United First during IRROPS.

Siricepick December 23, 2009 at 10:49 pm


Sorry to hear man. I used to be a Platinum, I too have had issues with CO and IRROPS, where on United as a 1K, I'm already rebooked or they will work with me to protect me on another airline.