Monday, July 03, 2006

My Daughter's Airline Horror Story

My daughter Chandra returned from London today with a story about flying on Continental Airlines. After listening to her story, I decided I would give Continental some free publicity by posting her story here.

All went well on her return trip until she got to JFK Airport in New York and boarded her Continental flight for Texas.

No sooner were all the passengers seated than they were informed that take-off would be delayed due to bad weather somewhere. Two hours passed. At the end of the two hours, they were informed that take-off would occur as soon as the plane could be refueled.

Other planes had to be refueled first, however, so more time was spent waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Hours passed--hours of claustrophobia, crying babies, and an ever-worsening stink coming from the bathroom. From the other end of the plane wafted the aroma of food being served in first class. No food was served in coach, however: only water. Flight attendants rudely dismissed questions and barked orders at the passengers.

Finally, after eight hours, the plane was refueled. Then it was announced that the flight was cancelled, due to the crew needing rest.

Everyone was herded onto a shuttle bus. It was extremely crowded. Many people had to stand. The bus went to a place where everyone had been told they would be met by a Continental representative who would answer questions and assist them in the transition to La Guardia Airport for another flight.

When the bus arrived at its destination, the driver got off and disappeared. Everyone waited. Someone tried the door. It was locked.

Until this moment people had been relatively patient, all things considered. Now they began to explode in a fury. They were beating on the windows of the bus, screaming. Chandra became frightened.

Armed security personnel appeared and surrounded the bus, staring at the passengers as if they were animals in a zoo. It was a horrible, degrading experience, Chandra said. For all practical purposes, they were prisoners.

She also said that she and others felt ill due to the exhaust fumes in the bus. It was difficult to breathe and even more claustrophobic than the plane had been.

Finally, after a 30-minute wait that seemed much longer, they were let off the bus. However, there was no Continental representative to greet them.

Somehow or other, somebody managed to find somebody who’s job it supposedly is to deal with situations of this sort, and they were told that the airline was not required to compensate them in any way, due to the fact that the cancellation had been caused by weather, not by mechanical or some other problem.

They were, however, told they would receive food vouchers, as well as vouchers for cab rides to La Guardia. So everyone went to wherever-it-was they were supposed to receive their vouchers. The food vouchers were good for four (4) dollars (!) at any airport concession stand. Unfortunately, all the concessions were closed at that hour, but I suppose it is the thought that counts.

As for the cab vouchers, Continental had “run out” out of those. Everyone had to travel to La Guardia at their own expense.

Hours later, Chandra’s plane took off from La Guardia. She sobbed with relief.

Well, I’m just glad she got back safely. That’s the important thing. But, still, the treatment she and her fellow passengers received at the hands of Continental Airlines is reprehensible.

There is no good excuse for confining people against their will--many of them children, others elderly--for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours on end. And then, cramming these people like sardines onto a bus and keeping them there for no reason, while they were stared at in intimidating manner by a bunch of armed airport security goons.

One other thing: The only reason Chandra flew Continental on this trip was because she had received a free ticket from Continental as compensation for their destroying her husband's luggage on a flight back from Mexico a few months ago. At first the airline had only wanted to give them fifty bucks, but she and her husband fought hard to receive a better deal. Needless to say, she now wishes she had never flown Continental a second time.

At any rate, Chandra assures me there will not be a third time.