Continental Airlines on the Phone vs. Continental Airlines at the Airport

I learned something today: do not bother to call Continental Airlines if you find your flight is delayed and want to re-route. Just go to the airport and sort it out there.

Perhaps I just take it for granted, but United Airlines treats me extremely well during irregular operations like bad weather or mechanical delays. I had to fly home tonight (and will be leaving again in the morning, though to a different city) and chose Continental Airlines because I had a late class today, needed an evening flight out of Philadelphia, and Continental via Houston was the only viable option on United/Continental.

On my way to the airport this afternoon, I noticed my flight was delayed by 45 minutes (due to foul weather in Philadelphia), longer than my 40 connection in Houston, so I called the Continental Elite line and was quickly connected to agent. I stressed the importance of getting home today and asked about flying home via Denver, Washington, Cleveland, Newark, Chicago, or San Francisco instead. After a few minutes on hold, I was told that all the flights were sold out and there was no way I would be able to get home tonight.

I gently pleaded with the agent to continue to check (as I checked myself), stressing the importance of the trip I had to take the following day. She placed me on hold again and came back saying she could put me on a US Airways non-stop to Los Angeles...but it would cost me. As a "gesture of goodwill", she would waive the change fee, but I would have the pay the difference in cost between my ticket ($156) and the walk-up price for a one-way US Airways ticket to Los Angeles ($855). Right about this time I had made my way from the train to the Continental check-in desk where an old friend was on duty.

I thanked the agent on the phone for her help and told her I would sort it out at the airport ticket counter. She agreed and was happy to get rid of me, probably embarrassed that her supervisor told her that they she could not transfer my ticket over to US Airways for no charge.

At the airport, a tremendous Continental supervisor apologized for the delay and quickly re-booked me on the non-stop flight to Los Angeles without me even asking. In fact I did ask if there was space via Denver (I was thinking of potential upgrades and lifetime flight miles), but she confirmed that the flight was sold out.

Re-booked on US Airways, I proceed upstairs to the Red Carpet Club to get a little work done before my flight. And may I just add that the transfer to US Airways was a blessing in disguise? I will have more on that flight shortly, but I was shocked to see my standing on the upgrade list of my two flights:



Sadly, I think this foreshadows things to come on United for top-tier elites who buy tickets in lower fare buckets. But I am still enjoying the upgrade gravy train on my United flights...

What happened today really disturbed me--United agents are empowered to work a little magic when things go wrong, but it seems that Continental agents are not. As United shifts to Continental's SHARES system in the months to come, I trust that United agents will not lose their ability and willingness to help out anyone (though especially a 1K) when they run into a delay, even if the delay is not the fault of the airline. To ask me to pay $700 did not show any sort of care for my long-term loyalty and for the thousands of dollars (yes, thousands) I have spent on tickets United/Continental tickets this year alone.


Chris January 13, 2012 at 06:17 am

This is one of the changes I imagine I'm not going to like as a UA 1K. My hope for the next year or so is the employees coming over from UA will still treat 1K as if it means something.

UA-NYC January 13, 2012 at 08:09 am

Great post Matthew! Keep on hammering this point home, the downgrades at COdbaUA for elites are multiplying daily

matt January 13, 2012 at 10:02 am

UA's New order moves lower elites purchasing full fares, plus supported upgrades up above the typical 1k on a discount ticket, correct? Are the infamous CO tens-of-dollars upgrades ahead of elites rearing their ugly head as well? Any wild guess at how prevalent these situations are?

Nick January 13, 2012 at 01:58 pm

Though was this ticket booked as a 1K or as a Continental Platinum?

@Nick: As a CO Plat.

I think Global Services is the only true "elite" level these days. 1Ks are literally a dime a dozen, so why should they (I'll say "we" because United told me I'm one) be treated any differently from other elites? After Continental dumped us regular old platinums into the United 1K pool, that just means the status is shared by many, MANY more people and it's not a big deal, nor should it be considered any more "special."

I agree, CO agents at the airport are infinitely better. I've haggled, argued, and begged with them over the phone and gotten nowhere, while UA agents were agreeable (even friendly!) even back when I was a lowly 2P. It definitely encourages my loyalty. I try not to hope too much, but we'll see where the airline ends up.

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