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laustic Jul 4th, 2006 02:01 PM

Continental experience
I am a fodors regular and I know that often people will pop in only to make a complaint whom we have never heard from before and we never hear from again. I agree that is highly iritating and I hope I am not taken as such. I am honestly not prone to complaining, but I feel that what happened to me and my fellow passengers on this flight must be heard so that people can make a more informed decision when choosing an airline so here goes: (I also plan on posting my highly favorable experience with Maxjet Airlines)

All of this occurred on my domestic flight from NY JFK airport which was supposed to depart for Houston Bush Intercontinental at 4:30pm where I would connect with my flight to Austin, TX at 9:00pm. It all began as soon as I passed through security and got to the gate which was indicated on my ticket (B-20). As soon as I arrived at that gate it was clear that this was the wrong gate, however no signage was posted to that effect and no one would/could answer my questions. I noticed other passengers looking confused and we began to look for a Continental representative to answer our questions. When we found one she sharply told us that an announcement had been made that our gate had changed and that it was our responsibility to listen to the announcements. We all headed to gate B-23 where there was no Continental representative even though it was time to board the plane. There was a sign indicating that in order to board the plane we were to head downstairs yet there were no stairs visible. When Continental representatives did appear they would not answer our questions as to what was going on. There was no signage at either gate indicating the status of our flight at all. Finally, an announcement was made that we were to catch a shuttle at gate B-23 which would take us to our plane. There still were no Continental representatives. There was a woman who was there to pick up her elderly and handicapped father that was on the incoming flight and no one would assist her or answer her questions either. Me and my fellow passengers just stood around and chatted and waited for news. We had no idea that this was just the beginning and that we would get to know each other very well over the next 10 hours. Finally, a Continental representative appeared and told us to head to gate B-20 (the original gate) so we could catch our flight.

Once we finally boarded the plane we were about an hour behind schedule, but I noted that I still would probably have time to catch my connection. The plane began to taxi out and I was not too worried when it seemed to be taking a while because I knew from prior experience that JFK airport very often over schedules take-offs during this time slot and there will often be 30 to 40 planes lined up waiting for take-off. I find this practice extremely irritating since the clear purpose is profits at the expense of the passengers, but I suppose there is nothing I can really do about it. When the plane had been idle for over an hour all the passengers began to get a little restless and wonder what was going on. The pilot finally announced that there was bad weather somewhere (he never really indicated where) and that we had to wait for a new route plan. He told us this would take about 10 minutes. An hour later we still had not received the new route plan. The flight attendants were not only very unhelpful, they were actually quite rude. They made an announcement that we were not to ask questions. There were elderly passengers and children on the flight and we were told not to stand up and did not offer us any food or water. After 3 hours we finally received the flight plan, but we were also told that the plane now did not have enough fuel to make the flight. We would have to re-fuel. We were told this would take 10 minutes. After another 1 hour we still had not seen the fuel truck. By this time we had been on the plane for 4 hours. The flight crew finally broke down and gave us all one cup of water and a small bag of pretzels. It began to rain and lightening. I suppose we had waited long enough that the bad weather had reached us. Because of this they could not accept fuel and we had to wait for the lightening to subside. After another 2 hours we finally got refueled. We had been on the plane for 6 hours. The bathrooms had begun to smell foul and the plane was hot and uncomfortable. The flight attendants continued to be rude and abrupt with us, offering no apologies. I realize it was not their fault, but they are representatives of their company and some small token of sincerity and empathy can go a very long way. As is typical with JFK airport the take-off line was long and we waited another hour for take-off. The pilot then came on and announced that the flight crew had been on duty for too long and the flight was cancelled. We had been on this plane for 7 hours.

We were all crammed onto a shuttle. They assured us that Continental agents would be there to greet us and help us. Once we arrived at the airport security came and surrounded the shuttle and would not let us out. As you can imagine people were getting very tense. I myself had been awake for 24 hours having already made an international flight. People were starting to panic since there was no fresh air and we were breathing in the fumes from the shuttle and they were begging for the doors to be opened so we could at least get air. People started to bang on the doors and scream. It was a truly horrifying and scary scene. They still would not let us out. After we sat on the shuttle in this way for 30 minutes they let us out and we headed into the airport and upstairs. There was no one to greet us! We were all stunned. Everyone was hungry, tired, angry, scared, sad, etc. Finally one person was sent up to deal with us (along with a security detail). He announced that the flight crew would be going to sleep and this flight would go out at 9:45am. It was now almost 2am. We would not be compensated in anyway, no accommodations, no food, nothing. Nothing was even open in the airport for us to purchase food. As you can imagine the crowd was not happy and began to loudly complain. But they had sent only this one employee to deal with us that knew nothing and had no power to do anything. We demanded that the manager be sent up to talk to us. Around this time the flight crew and pilots slunk by, headed to a hotel to sleep. They did not say a word to us. No one ever offered any apologies or sympathy. Finally a line was formed for those of us that had connections. I got in the line and told that I had to get on a flight out of La Guardia at 5:50am to Houston and then catch a flight to Austin at 9:30am. She told me to meet someone at the airport chapel for a taxi voucher. I waited half an hour and the lady finally met me and explained she was out of taxi vouchers and that I would have to wait until 4:30am for a voucher (meaning I would miss my flight). So, I paid for my own cab to La Guardia. When I arrived at La Guardia at 3:30am there were no Continental agents there. I just sat and waited. A few other people from my flight began to filter in. There were 5 of us total. As soon as the self serve kiosk opened we went to them and tried to access our tickets. 3 were successful and 2 of us were not. Of course I was one of those that were not successful. There still were no Continental agents there so we called Continental. We were told that this flight was full and that we would have to get on another flight at 8am. I was devastated, but we somehow conveyed to her our situation and she said she would work on it. Finally a Continental agent arrived, but we could not get her to help us because she said she was not logged in. The line was then extremely long and she would not help many of the customers that were having trouble at the self-serve kiosk. While we were on hold with the phone representative we began to help all of the passengers that were having trouble while the real employee just sat and watched. The phone representative finally got the situation fixed and we were able to get our tickets printed. I was so grateful to her for realizing that our situation was special and that we needed to be on that flight. We got on the flight and once one flight attendant heard our story she immediately got us upgraded to first class. This was an extremely nice gesture, but really very little, too late in my opinion. She did it of her own free will and compassion, and from what I have seen of Continental is a very rare thing among their employees. Most of the employees know nothing about customer service, refusing to accept responsibility for their companyís actions. This tells me a lot about the company as a whole. We did of course arrive in Houston late and I had to run to my connecting flight. I had been up for 36 hours at this point.

Continental continues to maintain that it was weather related, thus they have no culpability. I do not believe this to be entirely true. I do realize that flights get delayed and even cancelled and although this is can be irritating it is a fact of life. I want to stress that I am not upset about the flight cancellation, rather it is the treatment that I find unacceptable. However, I believe that many poor decisions were made at our expense to further the companyís monetary goals. Even if all the problems were related to the weather as they claim, there is absolutely no reason that we should have been kept on that plane in those conditions for 7 hours and then treated as we were once we got off the plane. It is unacceptable. I honestly want nothing from Continental at this point. I would not take a ticket voucher from them for anything.

The horribly ironic part of this story is that the only reason I flew Continental for this flight is because I had a ticket voucher from a previous flight in which they had destroyed our luggage completely. At that time we were treated horribly and had to go out of our way to get the destroyed items replace, some of which were irreplaceable. We then had to submit the receipts to Continental, who then tried to contest some of the purchases. It wasnít until we complained about the treatment that they gave us a $200 flight voucher in return for some of the irreplaceable items. There were actually other cheaper flights that were direct to Austin from JFK, but I chose to give Continental another chance so I could use the voucher and save some money.

If you have made it this far, I really appreciate you reading through this. I am sharing this very long story to all of you because this really was a very horrible experience. I love to travel, but at this point I canít imagine getting on a plane in the near future. I hope that you will understand that I am not typically a negative or complaining person. I have never been treated so inhumanely in my entire life. It was a frightening and traumatic experience and we were all treated almost as if it was our fault. I would never want anything like this to happen to any of my friends or family. I may be naïve, but I like to think that word of mouth can make a difference with a huge corporation like this.

Carrybean Jul 4th, 2006 02:37 PM

Good grief! That sounds like an absolute nightmare! I hope there weren't any unescorted kids on that flight.

I've been on long delayed flights (not that long though) & the attitude of the crew makes all the difference in the world.

I don't blame you for not flying Continental again & I too, understand that delays are sometimes beyond control but that is ridiculous.

LoveItaly Jul 4th, 2006 05:03 PM

Hi laustic, I tried to read all of your post but I couldn't..paragraphs please. Obviously you had a terrible flight experience but without paragraphs I do not think I am the only one who could could not read all of your post. Best regards.

laustic Jul 4th, 2006 05:31 PM

I am sorry, I really did try to write in paragraphs. I cut and pasted from a word document. I apologize if it was hard to read. I'm afraid there is not much I can do about it now, unless there is an edit feature that I am unaware of...I hope you will understand that this experience was really quite recent and I am still a little upset and flustered at the moment.

laustic Jul 4th, 2006 06:36 PM

Carrybean -- thanks for your response. It is so true that just a little effort on the part of the flight crew can go a long way. On my flight with Maxjet there was a 2 hour delay in taking off which meant we were on the plane for 3 hours before takeoff, but the crew handled it so well and the pilot kept us informed that it was barely worth mentioning. I didn't even think about it until this happened with Continental.

Again, I really do apologize for the format of my first post. I am thinking I should have waited to post until I was a little calmer. I just wanted to make sure I got all the details correctly while they were fresh in my mind. Thanks to anyone who takes the time to read through the mess!

rkkwan Jul 4th, 2006 08:00 PM

I would say that this could happen on airlines, at many major airports. The weather has caused havoc in all East Coast airports lately.

Having said that, I think you should call CO at 1-800-WE-CARE2 and tell them your story and see what they think.

Also, make your post easier to read, and add date and flight numbers, and post it on's Continental forum. CO has a high-level customer service rep that reads and responds to posts on that forum.

And I suggest you should place emphasis on the main complain in your post - which is the 7 hour on the plane, and that the passengers were not given correct and update info about the situation. Skip the part where the gate was changed, and don't put too much emphasis on having rep "greet" you at the gate. The shuttle isn't CO's responsibility either.

Also, keep the following in mind. First, the pilots and the FAs are on the plane with you. They are as "trapped" as everybody else. The FAs have to deal with all the passengers as well. Second, JFK is not a major CO hub. They use DL's terminal and is a really minor carrier at that outpost. Third, CO filled over 85% of their planes in June, and load factor is way up across the industry. So, any airline will have trouble rescheduling passengers on cancelled/delayed flights.

Again, I really feel for you, and you should be heard. I just want you to emphasize on the important things, and don't let the small stuff makes it like you're just whining.

And let me say this one more time. This can happen to anybody on any airline anywhere. Trust me, CO's overall customer service is already better than average. You should therefore focus on the incident and the persons involved, and not the organization.

laustic Jul 4th, 2006 09:00 PM

rkkwan -- I do appreciate your advice. I really hate to appear as if I am whining. That really upsets me and makes me feel even more horrible about this whole situation. It really is not in my nature to complain and I guess I did not adequately convey in my post what I meant to say. I suppose by adding all the details I was just trying to emphasize the overall poor service that I experienced through out the day.

I really do realize now that my post was hard to read and I really hope that everyone understands that I wrote it when I was still feeling a little upset. I don't think that there is anything I can do about it now.

I also did want to point out that there were a couple of staff members that were very nice and helpful and their efforts really were appreciated.

I also want to emphasize that I do realize that delays of this nature do happen and that is not my primary concern. It was the overall level of customer service that was so upsetting. I know that things like the gate situation may seem minor, but I guess to me they aren't. I don't think it's asking a lot to have a representatives at the gate to explain things to passengers, especially when a flight is clearly running late.

I am really not trying to sway any loyal Contintal patrons. I am honestly happy for people that have positive flying experiences with them and I hope that continues. I just thought it was important to tell my story for those that are interested and to those that it might make a difference.

I have to say that since this was my second negative encounter with Continental I have to direct my complaint against them as a company. The way in which employees treat patrons reflects on the entire company. They have lost my business because of this.

I have contacted Continental already and told them the entire story and offered a few suggestions of how I think that the situation could be avoided in the future. I am not trying to single handedly shut down the company. My motives are just to inform fellow travelers and hopefully make a difference in some of Continental's policies. I just don't think that people should ever be treated like we were on that flight. I can't think of any other business in which it would be acceptable.

I am starting to regret posting this here. I feel a little foolish and naive because I thought the post would be received a little differently. I guess this is all a learning process.

rkkwan Jul 4th, 2006 09:26 PM

Your post here is fine. I don't see why you should regret it. I really feel sorry for your experience. All I am saying is that it's probably worthwhile to post your experience on because things may change for the better if you post it there. Here, I doubt anything will happen because of your post.

The suggestion I gave is if you want to post there, as well as how to write/talk to CO's customer service. Well, you've already done the latter, but I was giving your suggestion on how to get a constructive feedback on

BTW, I do not think or say you're whining. Just saying there are things you can do with your post to avoid further any chance of someone feeling you're doing so.

Unfortunately, customer service is really lacking across the whole industry. And if you want yourself heard, you will need to get it done a particular way.

rkkwan Jul 4th, 2006 10:38 PM

Let me break this down a little and address some specific things in this post. But before I start, let me just state that I don't work for CO, and have no financial interest in them. Just a customer that lives in Houston, and have come to understand their operations quite a bit. Trust me, there are plenty of stuff I don't like about them.

Now, back to your horrible experience, and your complains:

1. Gate change and lack of signage. It's insignificant in the grand scheme of things, so just drop it this time.

2. The shuttle and lack of food at airport. It's really not a CO issue, so while unfortunate, it's also really out of scope.

3. Why you're on a plane for 7 hours and didn't go anywhere. Now, this is a complex issue, and CO's operation philosophy is quite a bit different from other airlines. You may or may not agree, that's the way they do things. The short version is this. <b>CO does not cancel flights</b> unless absolutely necessary. [This happened on 7/2, correct?] I have posted in this forum about this after the February snowstorm on the East Coast. This company believes it's best for itself and its customers to try every effort to get a flight off.

In your case, the New York area has weather issues that afternoon, and affected a bunch of flights. CO doesn't have a lot of clout at JFK and it's up to air traffic control to &quot;release&quot; flights to go. That's out of CO's control. All I hear your describe is that CO was trying to get this flight out, and hopefully disrupted the travel the least for its passengers. If the flight had eventually taken off that night (even after all the delays), you probably wouldn't have posted here. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. Now, I don't know what's a better alternative - call it quits after say 2-3 hours and simply cancel the flight? That's not really going to get you to Austin faster, is it?

But back to my point. CO doesn't cancel flights. On that blizzard day, they sent all flights back from Europe, fully knowing Newark was snowed in. Most flights diverted to alternate airports, sat there for 2-3 hours, and then continued to Newark. Few people complained as they knew the alternative is probably sleeping on the floor at a European airport. Same blizzard day, their flight to Hong Kong still departed, 8 hours late, and arrived in Hong Kong at 3am local time. But again, it's probably better for everybody than to cancel the flight.

Anyhow, with all the terrible stormy weather this past June on the east coast, CO only cancelled like 0.5% of all its flights. That's their philosophy and your experience confirmed that. At least on this point, I don't see how you can say they do this mainly for their monetary gains.

Now, should they have called it quits sooner than 7 hours? Perhaps so, but it's a judgement call. But I'm with you. They should be said &quot;enough&quot; sooner, especially after Northwest experience at DTW and MSP some years ago.

4. The lack of customer service at the airport. Well, I'm not trying to make excuses for them, but like I said earlier, JFK is a minor outpost for CO. They use DL's terminal, and may have a handful of their own agents to handle 3 flights to IAH and one regional jet flight to CLE each day. They simply cannot handle effectively and efficiently when a significant delay like this occurs. CO709 is the last flight, so those staff usually should have gone home after the flight departs. So, just think for a moment if you're those workers. But since JFK is so close to EWR, what they really should have done in this situation is to send a supporting crew from Newark over to assist you. I don't know why that didn't happen - maybe EWR is just as swamped. But definitely you guys weren't treated right.

5. Complains about the crew. Don't forget, these people were on the same plane for as long as you did. They also wanted to get home as much as you did.

Carrybean Jul 5th, 2006 03:53 AM

I read every word of your original post do don't worry about that &amp; find it extremely unbusinesslike to handle gate changes that badly.

The delays were unavoidable. How this situation was handled WAS avoidable &amp; showed really poor customer service.

Rkkwan does have some good suggestions on how to handle it but I wouldn't drop the gate change &amp; lack of info when you were finally able to get off the plane. While CO's reputation might be great, these particular employees need to be dealt with in order to CO's rep up to snuff. JMO.

laustic Jul 5th, 2006 04:46 AM

Rkkwan: if I do decide to post on I will definitely apply some of your suggestions to my letter. I do understand where you are coming from and I appreciate your input. Thanks for taking the time to address my post.

I have actually learned recently that Houston citizens are quite fond of Continental and have received great service. I really think that is wonderful. Maybe then the one thing that people can take from my post is to be wary of Continental flights that pass through JFK. I am afraid, however, that I just can't accept the excuse that we received that treatment because JFK is not a major hub. It may seem foolish, but I expect a consistent level of service across the board from a company no matter where I am.

As for the flight crew, please believe me when I say I really can understand what a stressful and horrible position they were in. I have worked some very high pressure customer service jobs and I do know what it can be like. However, I wish I could convey to you what it was like on the plane. The passengers really kept it together quite well through out the duration of the flight and I myself was quite pleasant to all the staff. I don't believe in making a bad situation worse by venting on people that have no control over a situation. However, their general attitude and demeanor on the flight from start to finish was really poor. I really do not expect much. Like I said a small amount of compassion and empathy can go a very long way.

I really hope that my fellow passengers are more saavy/eloquent/experienced and can get their point across better than me in their dealings with Continental. I don't really feel that there is much I can do anymore. I guess compared to many fodorites I am a young and inexperienced traveler and have not yet become jaded enough to accept that this is just the way of things.

wills Jul 5th, 2006 08:14 AM

Laustic, I think you're being waaaaaaaaay to humble. What you went through is dreadful, pure and simple. I fly on average once a week and luckily (knock wood) I have never had such an experience. JFK is a wildcard, I have sat on that runway for four hours before an international flight, but 7? And you received abysmal service. I usually fly USair, so I only know what their rules are, and their pilots are required to make update announcements every 20 minutes or so, their flight attendants usually do water services after a certain amount of time as well, from what I have seen it is after an hour at the gate or on a runway depending on takeoff status. They also usually let passengers move around on a runway if they know we won't be moving for a awhile. All in all I think that the Usair pilots are usually pretty humane and informative, definitely not what you experienced. I tell you this because that would be my comparison and I would have been livid by your experience. You're not naive, you had a terrible experience. You do have a choice of air travel and I would suggest against Continental next time. First time, okay, second, that's it. I judge a company on how they handle things when they go wrong, not when everything is optimal. Anyone can succeed then. Better luck next time.

Patty Jul 5th, 2006 09:38 AM

I just read your entire ordeal (I had no problems reading and understanding your post by the way) and I really feel for you :( What an awful experience! I think CO really dropped the ball in this particular instance.

The last time I experienced sitting on the runway for several hours at JFK was on a Jet Blue flight. They kept us updated frequently and were constantly distributing snacks and water. They couldn't have done more to make us as comfortable as possible and keep us informed during this delay. I wrote them a letter praising the flight crew when I got home.

I agree that while delays are unavoidable, it's really how passengers are treated during that time that makes a difference.

Again, sorry to hear of your poor experience.

LT Jul 5th, 2006 12:28 PM

So sorry to hear about your horrible experience. I really think that better regulations must be enacted so airlines canít keep people ďhostageĒ on aircraft for an interminable period of time when things go awry.

Iím especially surprised that your bad experience was on Continental. Iíve had generally good experiences with them. Iíve had some horrible experiences on US Airways (sorry wills!), and I will NEVER fly them again. Guess it just goes to prove that every airline is capable of dropping the ball at one point or another.

As I mentioned to someone else on this board, I would strongly encourage you to write a letter to the CEO of Continental (go to to get the info). As I told that person, donít waste your time with customer service Ė start at the top.

BTW, I didnít have any problems reading your story! And donít feel bad for complaining. Thatís what these boards are all about Ė exchanging travel experiences Ė both good and bad. Perhaps if enough people communicate, we can help get the regulators/airlines to sit up and take notice!

rkkwan Jul 5th, 2006 02:30 PM

As I have said, CO is a very aggressive company when it comes to operations. They try very hard to get flights off, but sometimes this policy may backfire like in this case.

I think the OP doesn't really want to pursuit this too much further. I already said that CO has an official who reads and responds to threads on

What I forgot to mention is that it's not hard to find CEO Larry Kellner's email address by doing a search on that forum. [You may have to register to use the search feature, however.] People there have been getting good responses from his office when there's a legitimate complain, which is the case here.

FainaAgain Jul 5th, 2006 02:53 PM

Laustic, so sorry it happened to you! I would be angry too posting something like your report.

I've heard lots of complains about JFK, and none about CO. Maybe it's the airport?

Fare to say, the gates are being changed often. I remember coming from Europe to EWR(?) New Jersey, an aiport employee (not a CO employee!) was directing people who'd checked in for domestic flights to different gates offering help to get there.

Over the years I've learned to double- and triple-check the gate numbers, usually by asking AND by looking at the TV displays.

I feel your pain, but I wouldn't generalize as there is no ideal company, plane or not.

rkkwan Jul 5th, 2006 03:43 PM

I am going to go off-topic a little here, and will give a few suggestions as to what to do after the OP gets off the damn plane. This applies to all airlines and airports.

I book a lot of travel for my parents and relatives. Most are senior citizens, not all fluent in English. So I worry about things like this all the time.

- First thing is that when there's a crisis at the airport, it's ALWAYS better to call the airline and deal with the phone reps rather than the agents at the airport. The 2 or 3 overworked agents there always have trouble dealing with 100+ angry passengers.

[And CO has some of the better phone agents - none of them outsourced, and while the wait may be long, you'll not get cut off like Northwest. I do have a problem with outsourcing phone agents for airlines, as many of them don't have personal experience of airport setups and delays in the US.]

- Second, once your flight has been cancelled, there are lots of choices how to get to your destinations, and many travelers don't know they do get to choose. You don't have to take that very next flight available to you.

Anyways, I don't know about the OP's situation. Laustic may need to get back to Austin ASAP, but like my relatives who don't (and most can afford a hotel), if they call me to suggest what to do, I would tell them once they get off the plane, go find an airport hotel ASAP. Forget about vouchers. Go eat, go freshen up, go sleep. Then either they can call the airline in the morning or I will do it for them from here overnight.

And if time is not an issue, I'd get them something confirmed next day, either from LGA or JFK. No standbys at the airport. With planes so full these days (CO reported that on 6/30, they filled a record 94% of their seats), I wouldn't go for a standby on most routes.

LoveItaly Jul 5th, 2006 04:36 PM

Hi laustic, I have been gone today but this morning I did read your report. Guess my eyes were tired last night. You had a terrible experience IMO! I have had some bad flights but nothing compared to what you experienced.

It seems you handled all of these problems with a lot of composure and grace. I can only imagine how tired and stressed you were, especially after a transatlantic flight.

Wishing your better flights in the future!

SandyBrit Jul 5th, 2006 04:36 PM


I just wanted to add how sorry I was to read of your recent experience with Continental.

I found it quite easy to read your explanation of what happened and you were treated very badly.

rkkwan - I do think getting a hotel is a good idea when your flight is cancelled and it is late but when you say forget about vouchers etc. and wait till the next day to make these arrangements - is the airline obligated to provide you with a ticket or would you have to pay?


rkkwan Jul 5th, 2006 04:49 PM

Sandy - If the problem is mechanical, the airline needs to provide accomodations. But in this case, its weather/ATC related, all they'll do is give out some coupons that nearby hotels will honor for a discount rate.

In my last post, I'm describing what I'd do for my senior relatives. They can afford to pay a night of hotel with or without discount. It's worth it for them, in my opinion, compared to having to wait in line for vouchers, and then again for the shuttle - remember, there are 100+ other passengers in the same situation. Think about how long it'll take a hotel at 2am to check-in that many people.

That's why I suggest head straight out the door to a hotel first. Take care of the rest later.

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