Continental Airlines and a Loyal Customer
Randy, I wanted to let you know just how awful a recent experience my family had with Continental Airlines. My sister recently purchased a points ticket on Continental and flew to Italy with a couple of friends.
My sister has been extremely loyal to Continental for about 15 years and flies them almost exclusively. She arrived in Italy last Monday, Aug. 13th, and had a heart attack on Wednesday the 15th. She was released the following Tuesday and was approved by her physician to travel back to the U.S. on Friday, the 24th, morning. I called Continental to request an upgrade for my sister from coach using airline miles, but was told it could not be done. I called three times, but was given the same short, unsympathetic answer that the company would not make accommodations even for this type of medical situation. My sister then called from the hospital and asked if there were empty seats in business or first class and was told that there were available seats remaining, however, she could not upgrade using points.
After sharing this story with my co-workers and travel group, I was encouraged to send this in to you. This experience shows what loyalty means to Continental Airlines and just how far from a humanitarian company they have become. Continental Airlines would rather keep a business class seat empty and have my sister remain in coach — sitting upright for nearly 10 hours — than make an exception for a loyal customer just after they have experienced a heart attack.
The bottom line is all that now matters to Continental. To see their name on an award for customer service any time in the near future would make a mockery of the term customer service.
Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark
I have over 100,000 miles on United Airlines (not for the first time) and tried to get a single passenger ticket to Copenhagen four months in advance. There was a direct flight from Seattle, nonstop, but I couldn’t get on it either using online reservations or through the live service. Eventually a supervisor told me that “inventory” hadn’t released any seats “yet”, and further investigation revealed that their partner airline, SAS, was not going to release any summer seats — as there was nothing available for the entire month of June and into early July. This was a business trip, so I couldn’t have changed the dates anyway — but I was curious.
Not even using extra miles to get an unrestricted ticket would get me on the partner flight to Copenhagen. Follow-up calls did not result in any seats coming up later, nor did trying first class, because that’s what I originally wanted anyway. A certified letter to UAL went completely unanswered. On a back page of the UAL Web site it lists blackout dates for two partner airlines, but it hadn’t been updated in a year — and did not include SAS. Further, UAL promotions advertised (at the exact same time in several publications and on TV) no blackout dates, without making it clear that this didn’t include partner airlines in the Star Alliance. UAL doesn’t fly to Copenhagen, and trying to route another business trip to get to a further destination point in Eastern Europe, would have required several stops and an overnight stay — even four months in advance, because of partner restrictions during the summer.
Another problem with UAL is that they’ve now limited the availability of seats further forward in the coach cabin. On top of that, when I did finally get to the airport after having selected aisle seats in coach on a recent flight, I’d been bumped to a middle seat by “mistake,” which turned out to be a truckload of cheerleaders on my flight. The flight desk supervisor, however, was kind enough to give me a seat with “extra leg room” without charge — but even while extolling the value of the upgrade she’d given me, she rattled off the rhetoric that “frequent flyer miles aren’t worth any money” anyway. Of course, to me, they’re worth the price of a ticket — not to mention the effort I’d gone through to accrue the miles: the annual fee paid to the credit card company to accrue miles faster, dining at partner restaurants, renting partner cars — even though they might cost a bit more, etc. In addition, they’re supposed to be worth all that effort — as a carrot on a stick — because then you can look forward to upgrades and seats with better quality of service, once you’ve earned them. Ha.
After being a frequent flyer for decades, I’m now convinced that this has become a convoluted rip off. The fact that you even had to create a magazine — is simply further evidence. There are a couple of more trips I’d like to take in my life, but I have lost the joy of the spirit of traveling.
Small Town Flyers
I read with interest your advice to Marsha Iser. Your advice assumed the writer lived near or flew to or from an airport with multiple airlines, like Detroit, Grand Rapids or Traverse City. Many people in Michigan fly out of smaller airports like Pelston, Sault Saint Marie, Alpena, Escanaba and Benton Harbor, which have only one or two airlines. These are almost always Northwest or Midwest Express. The alternative is often driving long distances for an airport with an alternate carrier. This is not only true in Michigan but also in much of the North and the Great Plains where great distances and sparse populations make choices limited. The best frequent flyer program is the one that belongs to an airline that flies, either itself or through a partner, to the airport you want to fly to.
Senior HHonors Program Dying Off
Your “Editors’ Note” pondered whether the Hilton Senior HHonors program really ended because of lack of interest. I can assure you that it was not necessarily so.
About 10 years ago, Hilton ended all new applications for Senior HHonors membership. From that time to now, the membership has declined because the old reprobates like me have been dying off. Age 60 was the basic requirement for joining and no applications have been accepted for 10 years or more, so there is a constant decline in membership since no one can join to replace those that die off. I joined in 1990 and still use the advantages that I paid for until it will finally end on July 31, 2008.
I do still use Hilton Family Hotels exclusively because I think that the HHonors program is the best even though I will miss the reduced rates and meal discounts, etc. My loyalty to them shows as I continue to enjoy Diamond status when I travel to visit children, grandchildren, etc. They are handy every place and are still a great program.
John N Waldron
Captain of Marines, Retired
BA Lost Luggage
I have been a faithful subscriber to InsideFlyer for many years and have found it to be a most useful and informative publication. Thanks for the good work!
I am attaching a letter that I sent to British Airways on July 14, 2007 upon our return from a three-week trip to Denmark, Norway and Sweden (including a two-week cruise on Crystal) during which time we had no luggage since BA managed to lose it at Heathrow as we changed planes there en-route to Copenhagen.
Although not referenced in the letter, we ultimately did receive the second bag via Federal Express from Italy a week after we returned from Sweden on July 13. The first bag was sent back to Phoenix (our home) after being bounced between London and Copenhagen and it arrived here the day before we got back from our trip. Consequently, we did not have anything other than the limited amount of available carry on that one is allowed when going through Heathrow.
My reason for sharing this saga is that, as of today (Aug. 13), we have yet to even hear from BA regarding this matter. Needless to say, the service provided by BA on the ground side is the opposite of the service they provide in the air. Anyone checking bags with BA should be advised that BA has MAJOR problems at Heathrow and that they may wish to consider other options including another carrier and certainly another airport.
As outlined in my letter to BA, if they treat their first class passengers this way, I pity the poor coach passenger.
Thanks for letting me vent.
Well, I think your magazine just paid for itself. My nearly 17,000 frequent flyer miles with AA were going to expire (under their new 18-month time limit — curse them!). So I checked all their miles promotions in your magazine, and found I could get 125 miles if I donated at their Web site $25 for a USO care package. Getting the 125 miles would give me a new date for “latest activity”, and would preserve my miles, at least for a while. (I did have to keep reminding the USO about the miles, because it took over two months to get them posted.) Also, as insurance, I took the survey by AA, which will give me a few more miles after I have been on their e-mail list for three months. Your magazine told me about the survey.
Maybe some of your other readers could preserve their miles by finding cheap and easy ways to post additional miles, using the lists of airlines and offers in your magazine.