I travel often. I deemed 2011 the year of trips - all 12 months of this year I will be flying somewhere. So I have plenty of experiences with airlines and various staff and crew along the way. I don't necessarily feel like an expert, but I know what good customer service looks like, and I know when I am appreciated as a customer of a particular company. I also can tell you that social media can do wonders for a company, and it's disappointing that in 2011, a company won't utilize it.
This trip was just like any other. In fact, my flight out to Burlington, Vt., from Colorado Springs went smoothly. We made our connections, our baggage made it to our destination (although a co-worker was not so lucky, and her bag has been missing for nearly a week), and although United/Continental is not my favorite airline to fly, I sometimes don't have a choice.
On Sunday, Aug. 21, we were scheduled to leave Burlington (BTV) at 6:13 a.m. ET and land in Colorado Springs (COS) by 1:15 p.m. MT. This would have given us plenty of time to get back to real life, which was part of the appeal. When we arrived at the airport, there was no sign of a delay. However, around 5:10 a.m. we noticed there now a delay on our flight to Newark (EWR). No big deal, we've experienced delays before.
However, we were then informed that our flight was more than just a little delayed. Because of an FAA regulation that requires flight crews to receive a certain amount of rest between shifts, we were not going to leave at 6:13. We would now be leaving at 8:45, at the earliest. This meant we would miss every single connection we were scheduled to be on for the rest of the day.
Past experience would indicate that we would still get home on Sunday. It was still early, and we would be gaining two hours as we traveled back across time zones. But then we were informed that the earliest we could fly out of EWR to Houston (IAH) was 7 p.m. ET. Not only that, but there were no flights from IAH to COS after we were scheduled to land. We'd have to stay in Houston for the night. Lovely.
Accepting this as an option for the time being, we thought of other options. When we landed at EWR, we went to a Continental Customer Service Center. The man there said he could put us on standby to Houston on a flight that would leave at 11:50 a.m. Well, alright. The standby list had 10 folks on it ahead of us but we still thought we'd give it a shot. We didn't make it.
Then we went to another Continental Customer Service Center. The woman there was much less understanding, and told us that there was no way we could get to IAH earlier than our 7 p.m. flight. She told us it was pointless, and refused to put us on standby. Somehow this was surprising, but considering that customer service with United/Continental really means no service at all, we accepted this and left the airport for a while. Why should we spend our day in an airport when New York City is only a train ride away, and no one with Continental would add us to a standby list? Later we find out that they switched the aircraft on an earlier flight to IAH to a larger plane - if we had been on standby, we would have made a connecting flight to COS and been home on Sunday night.
Our 7 p.m. flight was delayed, as a crew member wasn't on board. Great. When we finally start boarding the plane, the system showed that we had no seat assignment on that particular flight. Excellent. Once we are assigned seats and get on the plane, we are delayed again by a family who would not split up in order to have oxygen masks for their children on their laps. They were escorted off the plane by four police officers. I almost cheered when we finally took off.
When we landed at IAH, we went to the gate agent to get our hotel information, since at least Continental had the decency to provide us with a place to stay. We were told that they couldn't help us at the gate, and that we needed to go to the service center. At the service center, we were told they couldn't help us (they were closing), and that we needed to go to ticketing. At ticketing, we were told that she couldn't help us (she was closed) and that we needed to go downstairs, to the train, to the baggage claim area to the 24-hour baggage claim office. Finally someone hooked us up with our hotel room.
This morning was slightly less aggravating, aside from the fact that we were told yesterday that we were on a United flight, and when we tried to check in at a United kiosk, we couldn't because we were on a Continental flight. I thought they were the same company? Or were supposed to be? Either way, we couldn't simply check-in.
When we finally made it back to COS, we went to pick up our baggage. No surprise at this point - my suitcase didn't show up. Apparently when it was re-checked at the Burlington airport, it was not in the system that it needed to go to COS, so it only went to Houston and stopped. At this point, I still don't know exactly where my bag is. (EDIT 9:48 p.m.: my suitcase made it! Whew.)
And though this doesn't have to do with the airline, the trip ended on an extremely low note when my car wouldn't start in the airport parking lot. However, that was a short-lived disappointment. The car started, but not before I had a breakdown because absolutely nothing was working in my favor.
While United/Continental may act as if they are creating some sort of super-airline, as far as I know they are simply a disappointment in customer service, whether it's over the phone, through social media or in person. Not one of my tweets was responded to - a far cry from the service I receive on Delta. Not one person we spoke to was apologetic or offered compensation besides the meal vouchers we received. Not one person seemed to know what to do or say to help us.
It's unfortunate that a company that obviously has thousands (if not millions) of resources (read: money) to improve their image won't take the obvious steps to do so. From what I understand, the services provided by United/Continental have gone downhill in recent months. What United/Continental fails to realize is that people are going to keep talking about their poor service much longer than they will talk about a success. And people are talking on fast-moving, readily available streams (like Twitter) where word travels fast and furious.
This should be a lesson to companies that you can't ignore social media, and you can't forgo quality customer service. I travel on United/Continental from time to time, but whenever I have a choice, I will no longer choose United/Continental when there is another option, because I do not want to give my money to a company that doesn't think that my time matters.
What experiences have you had with awful customer service? What did the company do to rectify it, if anything?