From ambassador to vigilante

When United and Continental merged, the move was accompanied by the usual marketing hoopla.  AaaaaaaaaaaaE-mails promising 'increased efficiency,' 'greater service,' and 'expanded routes' were routinely pushed to this long-time Continental customer.

But, almost immediately, I noticed a slow, but steady, deterioration. First, my long-time Gold Elite status simply disappeared with no explanation whatsoever. Then, my regular routes began experiencing far more delays than before.

But, the real clincher occurred over the past few days as I attempted to fly home from Portland, Maine, to Newark.

My original flight was scheduled to depart at 1pm on Monday. At about 6pm Sunday evening, though, I received a trip alert e-mail notifying me the flight had been canceled. No explanation was provided. A second e-mail followed shortly thereafter. It provided a URL and 888 number for me to call "…with any questions." I had a question all right, "How the hell was I supposed to get home?"

We dutifully called the number provided and, after the usual 15-minute wait and countless bilingual prompts, we reached a live person. She told us she'd book us on the next available flight from Portland to Newark. The scheduled departure time was now 7pm on Monday night. Oh, she said our original flight had been canceled because of weather. Yeah, sure.

Once I arrived at Portland airport on Monday afternoon, the Continental trip alerts began pouring into my blackberry. They said the originating flight was late departing Newark, but would only be delayed by five minutes. No, make that 35 minutes. No, wait, make it a full hour. Oh never mind, the plane just arrived. We were told by a gate agent to board immediately so as not to lose our departure slot. Yes ma'am. Will do, ma'am.

The pilot apologized for the delay, but promised the flight would be '….a very short 59 minutes.' About 90 minutes later, the pilot sighed and said, 'Ah, ladies and gentlemen, you may have noticed we've been circling for the past half hour.' Damn straight I'd noticed. I was tired and hungry and wanted to get home pronto. The pilot explained that '…weather at Newark had deteriorated and that we had about 20 more minutes of fuel.' Now, that was comforting to hear. What would happen when the fuel ran out? Would be asked to flap our wings?

The pilot came back on the P.A. a few minutes later to tell us we were being diverted in order to re-fuel. Nice. So, now, instead of being home at, say, 3pm Monday afternoon I was, instead, parked on the always scenic Albany, NY, tarmac at 10 pm.

We eventually arrived home at midnight, some nine full hours later than originally planned.

As I deplaned, I noticed the countless placards and banners boasting about the United/Continental merger. They all said the same thing: 'It's not who's merging that's exciting, but what's about to emerge.' Ha! I can tell you what's emerged: a third rate airline that can't get its act together.

Sadly, Continental is just the latest in a long line of brands that promise one sort of experience but deliver a totally different one. As a result, I've gone from being a brand ambassador to a vigilante.

So, caveat Continental. I'll be gunning for you, or United, or whatever it is you're now calling that steaming mess of a merged airline. Keep messing with me and I'll keep spreading news about your delays, disingenuous explanations and diverted flights.

Epilogue: when we met our driver at Newark Airport, he asked what had happened. I told him Newark Airport had been closed because of severe weather and we'd been diverted to Albany. 'Severe weather?' he asked incredulously. 'It hasn't rained a drop here all day long.'"

9 thoughts on “From ambassador to vigilante

  1. Maybe your trip would have been quicker if you had flown from Portland, Oregon instead of Portland, Maine.

  2. Interesting quote from the former Continental CEO..maybe they need to get Gordon back…”Speaking of tough times and basics, Gordon Bethune, the former CEO of Continental Airlines who took an airline that was rated 10th out of 10 for customer service in the mid-1990s and made it No. 1, observed recently that for all the changes he oversaw and the policies and practices put in place, really, it all came down to one thing. “The difference between winners and losers,” said Bethune, “is people who care.”

  3. I KNEW this post was coming and it so met my expectations, hardly like Continental meeting yours. I have had problems for years, notably the Newark to/from Fort Lauderdale route where you always hear we are waiting for a part, the plane, crew, whatever, to arrive from “fill in the blank”. When you see a group of people you know won’t fill the plane; however, you and the next group departing will, well what does that make you think? Just a horrible experience all around.

  4. I never understood why the business community considers a merger of 2 “challenged” companies a savior.
    Do the math: Crap + Crap = Crap

  5. Spot on, Julie. We once represented a small consultancy that said mergers such as these as tantamount to admitting neither company was smart enough or strategic enough to go it alone.