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Continental / United Airlines Customer Service Stinks - Off-Topic

Posted Oct 01 2011 12:00am

MimeStinky I seldom post unless it's related to Migraine or another headache disorder, but this post is off-topic. Well, mostly off-topic. It's slightly related because it's related to a business trip...

On Sunday, September 18, I was supposed to fly to Philadelphia to attend the e-Patient Connections 2011 conference. We live in a relatively small city in West Virginia. The closest airport is the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport in Parkersburg, about a 25-minute drive from our house. Flying out of Parkersburg isn't very convenient because the only flights are small commuter flights to and from Cleveland, Ohio. Still, it's closer than driving 90 minutes to Charleston or two and a half hours to Pittsburgh.

Anyway, my flight was to depart at 10:15 a.m. At so small an airport, you don't need to arrive as early as you do at larger airports, so I arrived at 9 a.m. My husband and I knew something was up because there was a line at the ticket counter. The problem was that the pilot was ill, so our flight was going to depart at 12:15 - MAYBE. It all depended upon a replacement pilot. That wouldn't help me because my flight from Cleveland to Philadelphia was to depart Philly at 11:30. There was another flight out of Parkersburg later in the day, but it was fully booked.

Another passenger called Continental customer service from her cell phone and asked them to issue her a refund. They told her that she'd have to remain in line at the airport if she wanted a refund because only the ticket agent there could issue a refund. Sigh. I was near the end of the line, so I asked my husband to take my Hertz card and walk around the corner in the airport to the Hertz counter and see if they had a car available. They did, so he and the agent did all the paperwork while I waited in line.

While all of this was going on, one of the other passengers was complaining about not being notified by phone before making the trip to the airport and having to stand in line so long because there was only one person there to handle all the passengers. The ticket agent replied, very snidely and loudly, "Well, if you'd prefer, we could just cancel the flight entirely. Then none of you would be flying out of her today." Gee, what a great way for a professional to handle paying customers. NOT!

Finally, an hour after we arrived at the airport, it was my turn in line. The ticket agent refunded the $25 fee that I'd paid online the night before to check my bag. Then, he issued a refund REQUEST for my flight, saying that it would take a week to get my refund. I wasn't happy because I was having to pay for a rental car too, but there wasn't anything I could do about it. So, off I went for a nearly eight-hour drive to Philly. I do want to note here, with thanks, that the service at the Hertz counter was quie excellent.

September 26 rolled around, and my debit card hadn't been credited for the plane ticket, so I emailed Continental customer service. On the 27th, I received a reply saying that my refund had been approved. Well, that might have been, but I still hadn't been credited for the ticket. My account was finally credited yesterday, September 30. Now, this wasn't a credit card account where refunds can take several days to appear on the account. This was a debit card on my checking account, and that kind of transaction shows up on the same day that it's initiated. So, it didn't take a week to get my refund, as the ticket agent said it would, it took nearly two weeks.

Now, I understand that this is a small airport and that things such as a pilot getting ill are going to happen. Still, there are three main issues that leave me pretty angry:

  1. The ticket agent at the airport should have been polite. After all, customer service is his job. Without customers, he'd have no job. Nobody was being rude to him either, so I don't know who tinkled in his Cheerios.
  2. Some of us needed refunds because of an airline problem. It wasn't our fault that the pilot was ill and we needed to make other arrangements. Continental/United customer service should have been able and willing to process refund requests over the phone so we didn't all have to stand in line so long. Without that wait, I could have been on the road and arrived in Philly nearly an hour earlier than I did.
  3. Again, this was an airline problem. I'd already put out $$ for the plane ticket, then had to put out $$ for a rental car. It should NOT have taken nearly two weeks to receive my refund.

I would prefer to fly from this airport for a couple of reasons:

  1. It's considerably closer than other airports.
  2. I want to support the airport and my community. If too few people use this airport, there's a chance that it will eventually be closed.

In the end though, I have to consider other issues as well. I'm not 21 anymore, and an eight hour drive by myself in one day is hard on me, especially when I'm not prepared for it. It seems that I take a chance of something like this happening if I use this airport. Cleveland isn't the best airport for convenient connecting flights.

In November, I have a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, and I've already made my reservations. I'm going to go to Pittsburgh the night before and stay at the hotel attached to the airport. The next day, I have a convenient, non-stop flight out of Pittsburgh at 11 a.m. Despite driving to Pittsburgh the day before, this will be more convenient and far less tiring. However, if I'd had a better experience with Continental customer service, I'd forgo some of the convenience and a bit of sleep and patronize our local airport. All in all, this is just pathetic.

Oh, one more little note here. For the November trip, I'm flying U.S. Air.

Live well,



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© Teri Robert, 2011
Last updated October 1, 2011

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