The winter break debacle

My first real vacation in three years was ruined by Continental Airlines.

[I was so broken up about this whole fiasco, I couldn’t write about it until now]

I was going to surprise Boyfriend on the east coast with a visit.  He’s been asking me to visit his family and friends with him for the past three years.  I’ve always been working.  I finally had more than three days in a row off.  Time for a real vacation.

I email his friends a month beforehand, and ask them if it’s ok if I visit for a few days, knowing it will distill the time he spends with them.  They’re all very enthusiastic and sweet.  Come visit, they say.  We’ll surprise him, they say.  So I book my flight.  Leaving Monday, returning home Thursday morning.

Los Angeles to Houston, Houston to Baltimore.  Simple enough.  I sit in the Los Angeles airport and wait for the flight to board.  40 minutes later, it’s finally ready.  We land in Houston.  We sit on the tarmac for a half hour.  I race to my gate only to discover it’s been changed, and my connecting flight left before my previous flight started disembarking.  I never had a chance.

Time to sit in line at the Continental desk with all the other poor jerks who missed their flights.  We average ten feet per hour (no joke).  I finally get to the front and the man says, “Ok.  Tell me your story.”  I tell him.  He says the earliest he can get me there is Wednesday evening, leaving me 15 hours of visitation time before I would have to leave to come back to LA.  I say that is unacceptable.  What else do you have, I say.  The next available flight after that would arrive in Baltimore on Thursday at 10am, just in time to make me miss my home-bound flight by three hours.  I’m speechless.

“What do you want to do?” he says.  Tears start to spill out of my eyes as I quietly think about all the fun we would have had, how surprised he would have been, how I would have complained about the cold, and he would have laughed and breathed on my hands.  My lost vacation with the man I love plays out before me as the man at the counter shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot, waiting for me to give up.  “I want to go home,” I mumble, eyes to the ground.

He says the next flight for LA is at 9:15.  I look at my watch.  It’s 9:13.

“So I won’t be making that,” I say.

“Uh, no actually it’s delayed, so you can still make it if you hurry.”  Then he looks me square in the face, and says, “See?  Sometimes delays are good.”  I didn’t bother drying my face as I stare at him in utter disbelief.  He cough and prints out my new boarding pass.  He tells me to hurry as he hands it to me.  “No,” I say.

“Pardon?”

“I’m not sprinting to a gate to make the flight back home.  Call them and tell them I’m coming.  Go ahead, I’ll wait while you do it.”

He makes the call, I walk away.  I feel bad for the people on the flight who might be waiting for me, so I pick up the pace.  I get there, and a woman makes me wait at the counter.  She takes my boarding pass and makes a face.  “What is this?”  I don’t answer.  If she doesn’t know what a boarding pass looks like, I’d rather not get on the plane.

I’m allowed to board.  I find my seat, a window, and cram my bag under the chair.  I sit down, buckle my seat belt, and start to sob.  I can’t hold it in any more.  I don’t care that the woman next to me is uncomfortable.  We take off.  The city lights distract me for a full thirty seconds before I start crying again.  I’m so full of self-pity that I don’t notice how long we’ve been flying when the woman next to me taps my arm so the stewardess can give me a cup of water.  Apparently they all think I need it.  It’s kinda sweet.

We land.  The woman next to me pulls her bag up from the floor and opens it.  A live dog pops out.  I laugh.  I can’t help it.  It’s so absurd.

Sister picks me up at LAX.  She gives me a hard time about putting on my seat belt.  I try to make a joke.  She gives me more crap about my seat belt.  I thank her for her support, and stare out the window.

I get home and call Boyfriend.  Immediately start to cry.  Tell him the whole story.  He feels loved and sorry for me.  But he knows I tried, and he’s happy about that.

Overall, worth it.

The Aftermath: Continental Airlines customer service call

1240pm on a Tuesday
Call Continental.  Computer lady tells me to push buttons to talk to a real person.

1250
Lady at Continental says, “Oh, you need to call United.”
“But you guys are the same company.”
“…True, we’re merging, but United has your ticket package.”
“…But it was a Continental flight.  You don’t have my ticket information for a flight on your own airline?”
“No ma’am, I’m very sorry about that.  Let me transfer you to United.”

1255
“Transferred” to United.  On hold.

102
Computer man tells me to push buttons to answer questions.  On hold for a representative.  “Your wait time will be greater than 30 minutes.”

135
Quick chat with lady (Mavie).  She puts me on hold.

150
Lady comes back!  Asks me to repeat my confirmation number.  Suddenly back on hold!  Ninja!

203
Lady comes back again!  Says she can only refund the flights I didn’t take.
“But the first flight is the one that caused me to miss all the other flights.  Why would I pay for a flight that ruined my trip?”
“Well, that was the flight you used-”
“Right, but it’s not the flight I booked.  The flight I booked was scheduled to leave on time, and arrive on time.  The one I “used” didn’t do that.  All it did was ensure that I would miss my remaining flights, and miss my first vacation in three years.”
“…Yes, I understand ma’am, but we can only refund you for flights you didn’t use.”
She tells me to call the travel agency through which I booked the flights.

208
Call Expedia.  Computer man insists on asking more dumb questions.  I push buttons until I get a person.  Explain the situation.  Lady says she needs to call United to confirm my story.  On hold.

238
Lady finally comes back.  Her supervisor is “working on it.”  She asks if I used my flight back to LA.  I wonder how much sleep she got last night if she thinks I somehow used a flight from San Francisco booked for Thursday to get home from Houston on a Monday night.  I explain the situation.  She says she’s gonna put me back on hold, but I tell her another half-hour hold is out of the question, and ask for a time estimate.  She says she’ll be back with me in less than 5 mins.  I say ok.  She puts me back on hold.

240
She’s back!  My total refund will be $352.60 out of $515.30.  A difference of $162.70, in theory the cost of the first, delayed flight I took that screwed up everything else.  I ask if that includes tax.  “What’s the cost of each flight?” I ask.  She can’t tell me.  On hold!

250
She says everything is done.  My case number is S18682291.

UPDATE: Friday, April 8, 10:28am

One of Boyfriend’s buddies told me to file a complaint on the Department of Transportation website, so I did, including the part about how I missed my first vacation in three years, etc.  A full two months have passed and I finally got a response from them.  Here’s a snippet:

In regards to your refund request it appears that your travel agency submitted your refund request on your behalf. As the refund request was not done by either Continental Airlines or United Airlines this explains why you were only provided a partial refund as an agent with either airline would have had to go in manually to refund the portion that was previously used.

This is bullshit.  I was specifically told to go through the travel agency through whom I booked the flights.  And what does manually mean?  Are they gonna get their hands dirty getting me my refund?  Ridiculous.

I have requested a refund with United Airlines of the used portion.

This part confused me.  Who is this person?  I thought I was already reading an email from someone from an airline.  Turns out it’s just someone who feels sorry for me?

I offer my heartfelt apology for your vacation being ruined [thanks a BUNCH]. Your feedback is a valuable resource and I have included your additional comments to in a formal complaint that is shared with Senior Management.

What is senior management going to do once they read my complaint?  Take pity on me and give me vouchers for flights I can’t book?  Karate Job doesn’t offer vacation time, so I would have to get someone to cover every single class I’d be missing (and losing money by not teaching), thereby making a vacation totally impossible until this one winter break comes along and everything serendipitously lines up.  I had family in town from Australia this week.  They asked me what my next travel plans are.  I don’t have any.  At all.  So depressing.

Sincerely,
Kimberly Hamilton
Customer Care Manager
Continental Airlines
Case ID Number 4775848

Hey, it is a person from an airline!  And my refund was more than I was told it would be:

Cost of flights: $515.30

Refund offered: $352.60

Refund given: $422.60 (a $70 difference)

Leftover: $92.70

So I have another ninety bucks coming my way, potentially, and I might finally getting a full refund.  So overall… I’m still pissed at Continental and United.  Fuck those guys.  Seriously.

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About Toph Beifong

www.tigerlilytoph.com View all posts by Toph Beifong

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