On Thursday afternoon, I picked up my mom from the airport in Cancun. She was coming to Mexico for a quick holiday and even though her JetBlue flight had arrived 3 hours late, she was in quite a happy mood upon arrival. Actually, I would have understood had she been in a worse mood, considering what she went through to get here.
A few minutes after her flight from Fort Lauderdale had taken off, the air-conditioning system on board the airplane malfunctioned and the Captain flew the plane in circles for a while as they attempted to fix the issue. Unfortunately, they couldn’t fix the problem and after 30 minutes, with the air on board the aircraft barely breathable, the Captain decided to return to Fort Lauderdale.
Once back on the ground, the passengers waited 30 minutes on board the airplane before being told that they would have to disembark and wait for a new plane to arrive. The problem simply couldn’t be fixed quickly.
After sitting around for another hour and a half, the passengers all boarded a new aircraft that had been flown in and off they finally went to Cancun.
Three hours later than scheduled, the flight arrived.
MY FAVORITE AIRLINE
I’m a huge fan of JetBlue Airlines. If they are flying a route that I need to take, I’ll choose them over any other airline without hesitation. The reason is simple. When I fly with them, I feel as if they care about my business.
Here’s a perfect example: While waiting for a new plane to arrive in Fort Lauderdale, all of the passengers on my mom’s flight were informed that they would be receiving a $50 flight voucher for the inconvenience. Then, upon arrival in Cancun, every single passenger was handed a letter by a friendly JetBlue representative as soon as they stepped off the airplane. The letter consisted of an apology for the day’s events and written documentation that a $50 travel voucher would be received.
Later that night, my mom received an email from JetBlue confirming that the $50 travel voucher had been added to her JetBlue Frequent Flyer account.
That’s customer service.
MY LEAST FAVORITE AIRLINE
After my mom received the email from JetBlue, I commented that, “I wish Continental Airlines was the same. I’ve been waiting 3 months for a hotel room reimbursement that they owe me.”
I’m not very fussy about customer service. As long as I’m treated adequately, I’m happy. However, what does bother me is consistently bad customer service, the kind that leaves me feeling as if a particular company couldn’t care less about having my business.
And that’s exactly how I feel about Continental Airlines.
Back in March, when I had to suddenly change my plans and return to North America from Singapore, I went ahead and booked a flight with Continental Airlines. Then, due to the earthquake and tsunami that took place in Japan, my flight had to be re-routed at the last minute. In the end, I was given a route that required me to spend a night in San Francisco before continuing on to Mexico the following day.
The agent who changed my flight told me not to worry and that all I needed to do was book a hotel room myself and then submit the receipt for reimbursement once I reached my destination. She then strongly recommended that I use Hotels.com to book my hotel, telling me that they are a partner of Continental Airlines, and that booking with them would make the reimbursement procedure much easier.
It sounded good to me.
Three flights and an overnight stay at the Best Western Plus in San Francisco later, I was where I needed to be.
CONTINENTAL’S VERSION OF CUSTOMER SERVICE
It’s been 3 months since that journey and I’ve still yet to receive my reimbursement.
Continental Airlines keeps asking me to provide the original receipt from the Best Western Plus. And I keep explaining to them that this is impossible.
When using Hotels.com (again, the hotel booking website that Continental told me to use), you end up paying Hotels.com directly and they then go ahead and pay the hotel. As a result, the hotel that you stay at will either provide you with a receipt that has a $0 balance or simply not provide you with a receipt at all (as was my case).
So, despite explaining this upon submitting my hotel reimbursement request, as instructed, using the online form on Continental Airlines’ website, I kept receiving emails telling me that:
“An original check-out receipt from the hotel is required for reimbursement purposes.”
And I kept replying with emails such as this one:
“I just want to clarify. The Continental Airlines customer service rep that I spoke with recommended that I use Hotels.com to book my hotel and then submit it for reimbursement. And by using Hotels.com, customers pay the website directly and therefore do not receive a receipt from the hotel. However, you require a receipt from the hotel, which the hotel cannot provide? Clearly there is something wrong with this.”
Eventually, back in April, I was instructed to send all of my documentation (the same documentation I had already emailed) by regular mail to the Customer Care Center’s office.
And that’s exactly what I did, along with another letter explaining the situation.
After 2 months passed without any response, I decided to call the Customer Care Center a few days ago and find out what’s going on.
Of course, it took two days to actually reach a Customer Care representative because every phone number I dialed led me to the reservations line. I would then wait on hold for 30 minutes only to be transferred by a reservations agent to the Custom Care department, leaving me to wait on hold for another painfully long period of time.
And when I finally did speak with someone, this is what happened:
- I asked for the direct Customer Care telephone number, and was told that Continental Airlines no longer has a direct number to the Customer Care Center. Everybody is now required to wait on hold to speak with a reservations agent before waiting on hold again in order to speak with a Customer Care representative. Not a good start to the conversation.
- After looking up my case ID number, the representative gave me a long run around that included such statements as: ‘your case is pending’, ‘the manager in charge of your case is off duty today’, ‘only two executive managers in the company have the power to approve hotel reimbursements’ (really?), ‘these two executive managers are very busy and the claims process is complicated and takes time’, ‘the assistant manager working on your case does not have the ability to approve reimbursements’ and finally, ‘there is a chance that the executive managers will deny your claim’.
- I then informed the representative that denying my claim was not an option I would accept and she simply replied that nothing else could be done at that moment to help me.
All of this nonsense for a $113 hotel reimbursement.
Continental Airlines has so far required me to wait 3 months, write 9 emails, make 5 phone calls and wait on hold for a total of 2 hours while an assistant manager and two executive managers go through what should not be a ‘complicated process’ in order for me to receive my legitimate claim.
JetBlue, on the other hand, had a letter and a $50 flight voucher waiting for passengers upon arrival in Cancun because of a simple 3-hour delay. JetBlue not only showed that they care about their customers, but they also avoided receiving 150 angry phone calls from those passengers.
Continental could learn a few lessons here. I’ve been growing increasingly frustrated with each phone call and email I’ve had to make as I repeatedly discover that Continental really doesn’t care a walrus’s eyelash about having me as a customer.
Not only that but I just can’t understand how such a large company won’t provide the public with a dedicated Customer Care telephone number. I don’t think that Continental Airlines could say “We don’t care about customer service” any more clearly than that.
And if that’s the case, I’ll make sure that the 20+ flights I take each year are all with other airlines.
End of rant. Although I’d be happy to take bets on whether or not you think I’ll ever receive my reimbursement!
Anyone else have a Continental experience to share?