Friday, August 17, 2007

Adventures in Flying (Or...Why Continental Sucks)

I should preface this story by saying that on my outbound flight to Buffalo, form Seattle, I voluntarily gave up my seat to help Continental in an “over sold” situation. This is how the return flights went….

My Continental flight from Buffalo to Cleveland was delayed because the incoming flight, from Newark, was stuck due to "Weather" even though Northwest had no delays from Newark...hmm. The gate agents said the connection in Cleveland would be close…a matter of minutes. Needless to say we were all surprised when the plane from Newark finally arrived and stopped short of the gate because the Tarmac Crew was standing down below, in plain site of the gate agent and everyone else, having a smoke break. After what seemed like 5 minutes, they finally stomped out their cigs and brought the plane in. After everyone exited we quickly boarded the plane and were underway in less then 20 minutes. We departed the plane in Cleveland at 8:39 for an 8:45pm flight. Another Seattle passenger and I were told where to go and sprinted across the airport and arrived at the gate at 8:43….we made it! Not. Continental had made the decision to leave 2 minutes early, so we actually got there as they were pushing the plane back.

After vehemently complaining and having two very grumpy Seattle bound passengers on their hands, Continental’s “customer service” finally said, the best we can do it offer you a cot, a discount hotel coupon, and tickets out of Cleveland going through Houston the next morning. The entire time we complained we NEVER did get an apology from anyone associated with Continental until I pointed that fact out to the supervisor "Pam" who wouldn't give me her last name or employee ID number. We did get a lot of "corporate" lines such as: "That's our policy" and "we have the right to leave up to 15 minutes early for any flight" and "we do not offer anything for passengers due to weather"

We arrived early for our Cleveland to Houston flight and everything went off without a hitch. We had an hour and a half layover in Houston. Unfortunately, due to weather we are told, we can’t push back from the gate (even though they’ve closed the doors). We’re told it would be about a ½ hour. We finally push away from the gate and are told, due to backups on the runway, we are 17th in line to depart. The Captain actually says, “at about 3 minutes per departure, doing the math, that should be about 35 minutes.” Everyone on the plane starts laughing because 17 x 3 = 51 minutes. Over one hour later we are told we are 6th in line so it should be another 15-20 minutes (hey, at least this time the math is right).

Our plane inches forward three times, so everyone is thinking we are now third, when the captain comes back on and says they’ve now discovered the route they planned for us doesn’t give us enough fuel to get to Seattle. We will need to wait until they re-route us before we can take off and he is going to shut off the engines until they do so.

About 15 minutes later, he comes on again and says we are going to move over to a different runway. On the way there, hw again comes on the line and says we are going back to the gate to refuel. He doesn’t know if it will take 5 minutes or a ½ hour, but if we get off the plane, it may not be there when we come back. But we can leave at our own risk.

Meanwhile, the other passenger traveling to Seattle sitting next to me has called the customer service line and, in the middle of telling his story, been hung up on by that agent.

Some people get off the plane to go find food (because it is now 12:25 and we’ve been offered NOTHING except a cup of water. As we come back to the plane at 12:40 the ticket agent yells at us down the hallway saying they are shutting the doors and the plane is going to leave without us. We scurry over to the gate only to have the stewardesses tell us we have at least 20 minutes still because they haven’t even begun fueling the plane yet.

As we start to go back up the jet way, the other Seattle bound passenger says, man – the customer service has sucked so far on this trip. The ticket agent says, “what did you say?” in a very confrontational way. I turn to him and say – he said the customer service has sucked so far this trip. The guy turns to me and says, “if you’d like you can follow me and we can have that discussion downtown.” I said – what are you talking about? He says, “or I can just have the police officer come down here and get you.” I say, “for what – for saying the customer service has sucked?” He says “come on, follow me” – At this time there are about 12 other passengers and the stewardesses standing there and the other 12 customers all start yelling at him to get out of there & the stewardesses finally tell him to go away.

We go stand around in the airport for another 20 minutes and finally load back onto the plane at 1 pm because, as the captain tells us, we’ll lose our place in line if we don’t push back by 1:10pm…but before I can get on that same agent stops me from getting on the plane and says, “you know, this whole thing could happen again, so you could be right back here in 2 hours”. I say I don’t want to say anything to him and I get on the plane. The lady behind me yells at him to “get out of our way and let us onboard the plane”

We all get back on the plane and the captain comes on to tell us that, due to lightning, we will be sitting there for another 20 minutes because the ground crew can’t take the risk of getting hit by lightning. No one is allowed to leave because we need to push back as soon as the ground crew is cleared.

At 1:50 PP (5 ½ hours after our original departure time), we taxi out to the runway and are told we are 6th in line (again). Captain says we should be taking off in about 30 minutes (6 x 3 = 18).

At 2:19 pm, we finally take off from Houston en route to Seattle. Yippee.

So, instead of being home at 10:30 pm on Wed. Aug 15, we arrive home at 5 pm on August 16…after having slept on a cot, been offered no food or drink from the airline and, of course, no sleep.