Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Our Story

Chapter 1: New Jersey Transit Sucks

The day started out inauspiciously enough. My girlfriend and I caught the 10:07 New Jersey Transit train out of Penn Station to go to Newark Airport for our 11:50 flight. Sounds reasonable. But after we boarded the train, it kind of sat there in the station for about 15 minutes, barely moving, occasionally moving a few feet and stopping. At about 11:30, the conductor told everyone that the train was broken and we had to get out and re-board a different train. I innocently commented to my girlfriend that I hope this wouldn't make us miss our flight.

Chapter 2: Continental Check-In Counter People Suck

After taking the ridiculously slow AirTrain to the terminal, we arrive at the check-in counter at about 11:05, a whole 45 minutes before our flight- not bad, considering out train was half an hour late. However, upon arrival, the ticket people inform us that the flight is "restricted" because it is less an hour before takeoff, and even though the flight is probably just starting to board as we speak, we are not allowed to get on. They claim this is a federal rule enacted because of the recent terrorist threats. Fair enough. They tell us the can put us on the 2:45 flight and issue us tickets. After a little grumbling, we accepted, and got some lunch in the airport. At lunch, I noticed that our tickets said "standby" on them. We decided that if we didn't get on the 2:45 flight, we would demand a full refund and drive to Montreal.

Chapter 3: Continental Employees Don't Know Anything About their own Jobs

So of course, at 1:45 the let us know that there is only one seat available on the flight. At this point we tell them that we are not going to wait indefinitely for a flight that might not happen and we will drive to Montreal and that we want a full refund. One of the ladies points out a piece of Continental literature, a "contract" that says we have to check in an hour before takeoff. We tell them that we bought our tickets through Expedia and nothing ever told us that rule, and a piece of paper that we have never seen in certainly not any kind of contract. We reiterate our demand for a refund, and they tell us to go to customer relations.

Chapter 4: Continental Employees are Blatant Liars

We go to the "Customer Relations" center and talk to a Continental employee whose name I wish I recorded. He was working the "customer relations" counter at Newark Airport at 2 PM on a Saturday. He is a tall white guy who is a little chubby, middle aged, and has light brown hair in a partial combover. We told him what happened and that we wanted a refund and were going to drive. He said that was fine. He entered our boarding passes into his computer and told us that we wouldn't be charged for the tickets. It was way too easy to be true, and we were right, but of course we believed what we wanted to believe. The employee told us where to get our luggage back.

Chapter 5: Continental's Luggage Tracking Technology is a Joke, part 1

We go to the luggage center to request that our bags be taken off the plane so we can drive to Montreal. The employee there seemed to be a nice guy, and that he had seen many frustrated customers before and had accepted the fact that his employer is a terrible company. He said he can get our bags off the plane, but we might not get them for up to three hours. Three hours! By that point, the plane was due to take off in half an hour. We asked him if our bags had been put on the plane or not. After looking into the computer, he told us the bags hadn't been scanned as going on the plane, but of course they don't scan every bag, so they might or might not be on the plane, and we might have to wait three hours to get them. At this point, we were so tired of being in that goddamned airport that we told the clerk to leave it on the plane (if our luggage was in fact on the plane, an assumption we would later find to be untrue) and that we would pick it up in Montreal. The employee gave us two 800-numbers to call to confirm that our baggage would be in Montreal, and told us to call them after the flight was scheduled to land. With that, we picked up my car and started the 7-hour drive to Montreal.

Chapter 6: Continental Employees are Blatant Liars, part 2

On the way to our my car (we were so exasperated, we splurged on a cab to my house), my girlfriend, who had paid for the tickets, called up Expedia to confirm with them that Continental would not be charging them or us for the flight. After some time, the Expedia employee tells us that he was just arguing with someone from Continental, and that Continental said they would be charging us, in direct contradiction to the fucking liar asshole guy at the airport who told us we would not be charged. After this, she called u her credit card to contest the charge, but the credit card company said that the transaction hadn’t gone through yet and we could only contest it after it goes through. We were straight-up lied to by these pricks.

Chapter 7: Continental's Customer Service People for Baggage Claims are Fucking Morons, part 1

So after a couple of hours of driving, we call one of the 1800 numbers. We ask to confirm if our bags are on the flight. The service rep tells us that the flight had been delayed (of course) and that there is no way to know until after the plane lands. God forbid some terrorist fucker checks a bag with something on it- no on will know if the bag is on the plane until after the plane lands- but they couldn’t let us on the plane 45 minutes before takeoff. So we drive for another hour or two, and call back. My girlfriend made the call, as I was driving. I heard her trying to explain what happened to us and sounding more frustrated. I asked for the phone, put it on speakerphone, and I told the customer service rep that we just wanted to confirm that our bags had landed in Montreal, as the Newark employee had directed us to do. We literally heard the following sentence come out of her mouth: "we don't know anything about any bag." Keep in mind, this was one of the luggage customer service people. Not only was this woman stupid, she had an incredibly rude tone of voice, as if customers calling to check on their bags were an annoying nuisance preventing her from doing her real job. The only useful information she gave us was to tell us that we would have to fill out something called an 823 form with Canadian customs to get our bags back, and that the baggage office at Montreal's airport closes at 9.

Chapter 8: Continental's Customer Service People for Baggage Claims are Fucking Morons, part 2

We got to Montreal at around 10 PM, too late to get our luggage. We check into the hotel, and as it's raining heavily, we go to sleep. We wake up the next day and the first thing we do after breakfast is go to the Montreal airport to get our bags. I go to the Continental ticket counter and I tell the employee why I'm there. This employee was much more accommodating and professional, possibly because he's Canadian. I show him my luggage tags, and he calls someone. He asks me if the bags are one like my girlfriend's, and a green backpack, which is mine. I tell him they are, feeling incredibly relieved. I excitedly proceed to the Customs area, glad to finally be through with this ordeal. After a brief chat with the Canadian customs guy that feels kinda like an interrogation, a Continental employee brings out two bags- one is my girlfriend's, but the other one is not mine. It is not even a green backpack- it’s a brown suitcase! I tell the Continental employee that the second bag is not mine, so she goes back in to look again. After a few minutes she comes back empty-handed. At this point, I really want to throw a shit fit, but being that I am in a Customs area of a foreign country, I err on the side of caution. So all I can do at that point is sill out a delayed luggage form.

Chapter 9: Continental's Customer Service People for Baggage Claims are Fucking Morons, part 3

When I get back to the car where my girlfriend is waiting, she is happy to have her bag, but incredulous that they lost mine. We go back to the hotel and I call up to see where my bag is. After the call goes through, I hear the familiar recording letting me know that there is an "unusually high" call volume and there is an estimated 11-minute wait. After 11 minutes, the customer service rep tells me that it is was supposed to be sent to Montreal and might be on a later flight, but that they can have it delivered to my hotel as soon as it gets in. I tell him to do that. But then I tell him that I want some kind of refund because they fucked up my luggage delivery. The guy tells me that he can't do that, but that customer relations can. I ask him to transfer me there and he does. A friendly recording tells me that there is an "unusually high" call volume and there is an estimated 11-minute wait. When I finally get through to a rep, she tells me that she can't give refunds, and that the baggage people with whom I had just gotten of the phone with are the ones to handle that. At this point, I angrily tell them that I'm sick of being lied to and to transfer me back. A friendly recording tells me that there is an "unusually high" call volume and there is an estimated 11-minute wait. Finally I get through to someone and I tell her that I am tired of getting the runaround and I want a discount. She tells me that she can't do that. I tell her that I'm tired of being transferred around like I am in the movie Brazil, and I want the bullshit to stop. She asks me for some number for the baggage and I tell her that I have the baggage tag number, but apparently this is not the right number. She tells me that I am responsible for having this number and without it, she can't help me. At this point, I explode. I am responsible??? YOU are the airline! YOU lost my luggage! YOU are responsible!!! Now she realizes that she is dealing with someone who has obviously been repeatedly fucked over by Continental and she asks me to lower my voice and then lets me give her the claim number. Funny, she could have done this before very easily, but only did so when I lost my shit. She then looked it up and told me that my bag as scheduled to be sent on the next flight and it would be delivered. I asked again for a discount and she said she couldn’t help me. I told her about being transferred back to her for that purpose. She told me she still couldn’t do it. I told her that we would contest the credit card charge and that they wouldn’t see a red cent from us. A few minutes later, another Continental person calls me to confirm that my luggage will soon be on its way.

Chapter 10: Continental's Luggage Tracking Technology is a Joke, part 2

So we go out and try to just have fun and forget about all this crap. We get several glasses of scotch and go out for a nice dinner with wine. We have a nice evening in Montreal. We get back to the hotel somewhat late, but no baggage has arrived. The next morning I call again and the rep tells me my bag is still in Newark, but they can have it to me in Montreal in about 24 hours. 24 hours from that point I expected to be on the road back to New York, so I tell them to hold it, if it is in fact in Newark, and I will pick it up when I get back. But I tell them that I have heard many different things from many different employees and I would like to speak with someone who can physically verify that my bag is in Newark, because I don't want to leave Montreal if it is not. She tells me that they have a multi-colored backpack. My backpack is green with black straps, so technically it’s multi-color, but they can’t tell me what colors the backpack they have is. I press her a few more times for actual physical confirmation and she just gets testy and tells me that she is the only confirmation I am going to get. I hang up.

Chapter 11: Something finally goes right.

Despite wearing the same clothes for the third consecutive day (except for some Canadian flag boxers I bought at a souvenir shop), we have a fun final day in Montreal, and on Tuesday we leave. 7 hours later we get to Newark and my bag is indeed waiting for me there. I tell the attendant that I went my entire vacation wearing the same outfit and that I want a discount, She gives me a "comment card" that I can send to their customer relations HQ in Texas. Oh, how I will enjoy filling that shit out.

Epilogue: Continental Must be Held Responsible

I have dealt with large corporations as customer my entire life, and I have never been treated like this. Our entire vacation was marred by Continental's terrible service, rudeness, gross incompetence, and outright absurdity. If you have taken the time to read this, please promise to never fly Continental again and tell all your friends to do the same. If a group of angry customers can force Continental into bankruptcy, just imagine what this will do to service and customer care throughout the airline industry. It will make travel better for millions of people. But more importantly, it will show these faceless, customer-shitting-on corporations that the angry consumer can and will fight back when they cross the line.

Why am I doing this?

In the grand scheme of things, a ruined vacation for two young people is not important at all. Lord knows, there are atrocities taking place all over the world, and something like this seems rather petty. And I will be the first to admit that it is. But what Continental did to us is emblematic of a pattern in our society of large corporations treating their customers like complete shit. They think they can get away with atrocious service, violating customer contracts, bureaucratic run-arounds on the scale of the movie "Brasil," and outright lying, and that we, the consumers, will let them get away with it and never fight back. Well, for Continental Airlines, those days are over. They fucked iver the wrong customer and they will pay for it. This blog is about consumer rights in an age of corporate malfeasance and bureaucracy gone mad. And if you have been victimized by Continental Airlines, please share your story here. I now we are not the only ones.