Boycott Continental Airlines

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Dear Friend,

You have received this petition because I feel that you are important enough to me that I want you to know about the way that Continental Airlines has recently abused my patronage, and I want for you to avoid having the same thing happen to you.

Please read about the treatment we received in the letter below and sign at the bottom to let Continental Airlines know that you will not be using their services because of the way they treat their customers.

My husband Vincent and I received a $400 gift certificate to Continental Airlines from some well meaning friends as a wedding gift in November of 2004. After the wedding, as strapped for cash as we were, it was pretty impossible for us to imagine using it to take ourselves anywhere for a vacation, especially since we had already booked and paid for the flight for our honeymoon through Jet Blue. (This company, by the way, has great service to New Orleans, LA from JFK, and is really worth the $140 per ticket!)
I actually considered using it to help us pay for the visit to my in-laws in France we had planned last March, though we werent able to use it for that purpose either. It seems that although American flew us there for $450 a-piece, as was the offer from Delta, both nonstop from JFK, Continental couldnt get us there for less than $850.00 per person, and they only flew to Paris from Newark Airport, in another state. If you do the math, it was pretty impractical to book with them, because even with the gift certificate, the Continental flight would have still cost us quite a bit more.
The gift we received was beginning to seem more like a nuisance than anything once I realized that it would expire within one year from the date of purchase (11/5/04), and the $400 that our friends so generously paid for it would simply be absorbed into the profits of such an already ridiculously overpriced company. So, I began calling them weekly in the month of September 2005 to look for a way to spend our gift certificate without breaking the bank. Every time I called a customer service representative and asked them if they had any specials, or if they could help me plan a trip using the certificate, I was greeted (after usually twenty minutes or so on hold) with unfriendly and unhelpful people who told me it wasnt their job to help me find a place to go, that there was a map on the website and that I should use Continental Airlines Vacations if I wanted help booking a trip. So, I called them. They explained that my gift certificate was not valid for use with their services. And so it goes.
So, just days before the gift certificate was about to expire, on October 27th, 2005, I booked us a flight with Continental to Las Vegas, Nevada, upon recommendation from my parents, flying out of Newark Airport, nonstop, for February 12th through the 15th, for a total of $633. Even though America West could fly both of us out there for less than $500, at the time the $233 coming out of our pockets was less consequential than the principle of not wasting the money from the gift, and I would have felt really terrible not to use the certificate as it was intended: for Vincent and I to have a romantic vacation together. And I figured, whats more romantic than a Valentines Day escape? Anyway, at this point, I had never flown with Continental Airlines before (due to their high prices), and was actually looking forward to being treated especially well, figuring that this was the reason for all the extra expense for the tickets.
Once the flight was booked, I found us a great little hotel on the Vegas Strip through Vegas.com, and patiently waited for our vacation day to arrive. You see, I work with emotionally disturbed children in foster care, and my husband is a manager at a very well known Tribeca restaurant, so we both have stressful and demanding professions, with little ability to take time off. Our work schedules also conflict, so we barely see each other, and the 2005 holiday season proved especially exhausting for both of us. This was a vacation we desperately needed to take.
As luck would have it, it began to snow in the early morning hours of February 12th in New York City, and it fell from the sky so quickly that the day went on record as being the biggest snowfall in New York City history. Our flight was scheduled to leave Newark Airport at 11 a.m. that morning. I called Continental at 7 a.m. to check on the status of our flight, and it was Scheduled On-Time for Departure form Newark Airport as both the internet site and automated voice message would tell us.
A very good friend of mine who grew up in the Midwest and was comfortable driving in dangerous conditions offered to drive us to the airport, because I was too scared to do it myself, and if we missed our flight we would surely be penalized for it by Continental Airlines. I checked the flight status again for good measure at 8:30 a.m. as we headed out the door, and got the same story. I checked repeatedly via cell phone over the course of our harrowing hour-long drive from Brooklyn to Newark in white-out snow conditions, even though the news reports were advising that all people stay indoors, because although the most up-to-date news coverage was reporting that most airlines and airports are closing they never named Continental, and every time I called Continental on my cell phone, or had a friend check the status of our flight on the internet site from their home, it continued to read as On-Time.
Perhaps, I thought, this is the reason they cost more! They will get us out of this mess today, out to sunny Las Vegas, even when the other airlines are grounded!
When we finally pulled up to the departure terminal at Newark, we were immediately greeted by a TSA worker who told us that the airport was closed, and that Continental had cancelled our flight. I was quite understandably devastated, and I started to cry. My husband gathered me and my things, and we headed back to the car, and back to Brooklyn. On the scary, hour and a half long journey home, my friend drove carefully, I pouted, and my husband re-booked us for a flight at 5 am the next morning via telephone.
Vincent and I spent the next fifteen or so hours regrouping. We began by negotiating with Vegas.com to try and get a refund on that nights room reservation and to book us an additional night at the same hotel. Although they were initially stubborn about their no refunds policy on the hotel room, after speaking to the CSRs and their managers and explaining our unfortunate story, though they were not able to attain us a last-minute additional nights stay at the hotel, they gave us a refund for night we lost. Luckily, once we called Ballys hotel directly, they found us a room for our last night, for even less than we had paid Vegas.com for the previous nights. Once that was settled, we had to find a way to get back to New Jersey for the following morning at 3 a.m. because, although my friend had been incredibly generous in driving us in the snow the first time, there was no way we would ask anyone we cared about to drive us back again in those dangerous conditions at such an ungodly hour.
Some seemingly endless busy signals and inevitable price gouging ensued with a number of different taxi services, and finally through some tough negotiation tactics we miraculously reserved a taxi to take us from our apartment in Brooklyn to Newark Airport at 3 oclock in the morning, for a mere fifty dollars. Once we secured that, sometime close to 11 p.m., Vincent and I attempted to take a nap before our big journey a few hours later.
We awoke at 2:45, confirmed our car once more with the cab company and put on our coats to bring our luggage to the entrance of our building. At 3 a.m., the phone rang and I assumed it was our driver telling us he was downstairs. It was actually an automated service from Continental telling us that this flight, too, had been cancelled. While listening to this message, we got a beep on the line that was indeed our driver. We sent this poor man on his way, fare-less, because of the last-minute cold and unprofessional nature of these lousy Continental Airlines representatives.
At this point, Continental had not only put us out, but it put out a dear friend and a taxi driver, not because of the weather conditions, but rather because of the lousy way they communicate these changes to their customers.
Unable to sleep, we tried to re-book, however, the Continental Customer Assistance phone line did not open until 6 a.m. At 6, we tried to rebook for that day, and were dismissed, told rather coldly, that though there were indeed flights to Las Vegas leaving that day through Continental Airlines, they couldnt fit either of us on one until the 14th, because todays flights were fully booked with other passengers. We asked that perhaps they could show us some favor, because we booked so far in advance and were so terribly unfortunate, and bump someone who booked their flight at the last-minute? No. They claimed that there was nothing they could do but fly us out on the 14th or give us a refund. We asked if they could help us find seats on another airline and again they refused to help us. So we accepted the refund and started searching the internet for another flight.
Within the span of fifteen minutes, we found a host of other airlines with flights to Las Vegas leaving from both LaGuardia and JFK airports, both much closer to us than Newark. We found it terribly unlikely that the CSRs at Continental would not have been able to do the same thing, but I suppose it would have been unfair to ask them because we would have been spending our money elsewhere, and not with them.
After all, they received $400 from our friends fifteen months prior and an additional $233.80 from us four months ago. The amount of interest they had already collected on our hard-earned money and the fact that they had provided us with NO services whatsoever up to this point was only of consequence to us, and not to them.
Of course, booking a flight the same day you plan on taking it means you are going to pay quite a bit more, so after a bit of quick searching we settled on a flight through ATA with a layover in Chicago, leaving from LaGuardia at 2 p.m. which cost us roughly $850 for both round trip tickets. I figured that I would pay for the flight with the $633 refund we were promised from Continental and use the $100 apiece we had put aside for gambling toward the difference. It was getting down to the wire, and we could not extend our vacation any further, since my husband was due back at work on Friday morning at 9 a.m. Due to the chaos the snowstorm had caused the day before, our flight through ATA took us eleven hours, and we landed in Las Vegas at 9 p.m. thanks to the time difference. Though the chaos was certainly not their fault, they offered to help us any way they could, and called us on our cell phone when any changes to our flights had been made. They were friendly, sweet and patient with all their passengers, as disgruntled as we may have all been. I would definitely recommend their airline, though the seats are small, and I had never even heard of them before.
We then spent the next two and a half days cramming in as much of the Vegas experience as we could, and indeed we did have a wonderful time. The weather was great and I have over a hundred pictures, if you would like to see them! The ATA flight back to New York was equally pleasant and this one was on-time, though I wish we could have stayed in Las Vegas a bit longer.
Alas, we fully intend on going back to Vegas one day, but definitely NOT with Continental. I would never risk booking another flight with an airline so dismissive of its customers, especially when you figure in how much more it costs than its competitors.
One week later I checked with my credit card company to find that Continental had yet to credit my account. I called them to clear up this discrepancy, and after a total of two hours on the telephone, being placed on hold for twenty minutes at a time, I was disconnected twice and had countless professional (and I use that term loosely) CSRs saying things like I dont have time for this., Theres nothing anyone here can do to help you. And It wasnt our fault, it was the weather.
I was also told that I was credited just $233 to my credit card (which they said would take seven to ten business days to appear on my statement, how convenient), but issued two separate gift certificates (one for $316.90 and another for $83.10, if you can believe it, because each ticket cost $316. 90 and they had to split the certificate because of that). This is thereby ruining our chances for selling or transferring our gift for any kind of monetary recoup on ebay because we will be charged by them for each certificate we put up for a bid, and who the hell bids full price for a gift certificate? I figure the most we would get for a $400 gift certificate would be $350, but who the hell would bid on $316.90 and $83.10 gift certificates, especially when Continental does not allow you to use two gift certificates for one purchase.
This reeks of the worst kind of corporate doublespeak. It is designed purposely to obfuscate the truth and generate profit for themselves without providing any services whatsoever to its customers. So essentially, even if I did theoretically take the risk and book again with this lousy, overpriced excuse for an airline (within a year, because these certificates will also expire), I would have to book one ticket in excess of $316.00 and another in excess of $83, thus ensuring two more horrific experiences with this crappy airline.
Dear readers, I ask that if you have taken the time to read my lengthy petition, that you take another minute to sign it, and to post a link to it in an email to all of the people on your mass email list as well.
Dont let Continental Airlines, or any airline for that matter, get away with treating its customers in this way. Despite how you may feel about the government these days, and how big corporations are more and more frequently taking advantage of their disenfranchised customers, the very people they are supposed to be serving, this is still the United States of America, and in a capitalist country, when the customer still has choices as to where they spend their money, the customer is always right.
If even one person who was planning to fly Continental Airlines instead picks from the dozens of better choices there are out there, then the money we have lost is essentially taken out of the hands of Continental Airlines as well, and following it, the power they once had over us, their customers.
We may have lost our money this time, but it is Continental who will pay in the long run, because they have already alienated our families, and the families of the friends who bought us this gift. Bad publicity is sure to cost them far more than the $400 they stole from us, as long as you pass this message to everyone you know, before they book their next flight.