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 weren’t 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 couldn’t 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 “wasn’t 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, “what’s more romantic than a
Valentine’s 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 night’s
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 CSR’s and their managers and
explaining our unfortunate story, though they were not able to attain
us a last-minute additional night’s stay at the hotel, they gave us a
refund for night we lost. Luckily, once we called Bally’s 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 o’clock 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 couldn’t fit either of us on one
until the 14th, because “today’s 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 CSR’s 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
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 it’s customers, especially when you figure
in how much more it costs than it’s 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)
CSR’s saying things like “I don’t have time for this.”, “There’s
nothing anyone here can do to help you.” And “It wasn’t 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
Don’t 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.
This is where you can sign our petition to boycott Continental Airline:
Thanks for reading and best regards.
Maria and Vincent Nicolai.