When to ground your favorite airline and put them in a time-out.

Filed under: rants Topics: , , ,

Those who know me know my affection for Continental Airlines… that was until a two days ago.

I flew Continental Airlines because of their no bullshit policy: a flight includes a seat, pillow, meals, and all the accouterment you’d expect from a high quality airline. Coupled with great customer service, smooth check-in, and fair prices, it all made sense.

Until today. Today, I checked in and was informed on the e-ticket check-in kiosk that there was a $15 charge per bag. I’ve heard of other airlines doing this, but not my dear Continental. I pay the $15 (I couldn’t carry on the bag if I wanted to due to TSA liquid regulations… but don’t get me started on that one) and walk through security.

Waiting for my flight, I call Continental for clarification on the change in policy. Mostly, I was concerned because nowhere within my normal routine of booking a flight on continental.com was any clear and obvious mention of a bag charge. The conversation went something like this:

“Hi. My name’s Michael Gruen and I have a question about your new bag checking charge. I don’t recall any mention of this when I purchased a ticket, nor in my frequent-flier mailings; I’m not happy about the change and I’d like to talk about it.”

“The website clearly states the baggage policy change. If you have a question about that, I can forward you on to our website technical team.”

“I don’t recall anything about that on the website while booking my ticket, nor do I think you’ve made an earnest (if any) effort to notify your frequent fliers and OnePass members of the fare change. Really, this is kind of bullshit.”

“Oh dear! I don’t have the patience to deal with swearing. Releasing call.” *click*

Oh, Continental, that was smart: hang up on audibly upset, albeit polite customer who’s willing to work with you. I call back.

“Hi. My name’s Michael Gruen and […] I’m not happy about the charge and I’d like to talk about it.”

“The charge went in to effect about a month ago. When did you book your ticket?”

…blah blah blah, and then the rep said…

“Yes, your ticket falls under our new baggage policy.”

“I’m sure it does. I’m saying I recall no mention of the change, nor any effort on your part to alert me to this charge between my purchasing the ticket and my showing up, with bag, at the airport. And I’d like to talk about what we can do here.”

“That’s a question for our website technical support team.”

“But, it’s not a techni—” *click-transfer-hold music*.

Seriously, Continental? You effectively hung up on me twice over a $15 charge on a $300 ticket to O’Hare from Newark on a Boeing 737-300. This isn’t a commuter flight, and I’ve flown Continental in nearly every month this year.

So, I immediately call American Express (a company I still strongly endorse) and, after a 5 minute discussion, they put in an inquiry on my behalf into the issue and will get back to me via e-mail. And, if they can’t work it out, they encourage me to dispute the charge.

In the end, I don’t mind paying $15 on top of my $300 ticket to check my bag. I just want the airline to be upfront about it and, if they’re charging for baggage, lower the ticket price accordingly.

So, congratulations Continental– you’ve earned your $15 bag checking charge (assuming American Express doesn’t nullify that) but lost a raving fan and customer. I encourage you to call your marketing department and learn how much it cost to earn my business in the first place.

Update: Continental just charged me $50 to fly standby.

Update #2: That “confirmed” window seat turned into a middle seat when I arrived at the gate. Then, they checked my carry-on bag because there was no more room.

Update #3: Ticketing agent blames me for delaying the plane by bringing a carry on. I am livid.

6 comments
Brittanie
Brittanie

Michael, are you a Continental frequent flyer? I ask because these rate changes were all over, and I mean really all over the news last fall when they went into effect. Several airlines implemented them at the same time. But maybe I'm more aware of this because I am a FF member and get mail updates on policy changes, etc.

Because I am a OnePass member I do not have to pay those fees. I don't fly very much but I have had a few international flights over the past few years, enough to earn me the FF miles to buy two round-trip tickets to from Houston to Prague at around $600 total in May.

It's free to be a FF member, and you really do get good perks. I don't work for Continental, I just don't see anything wrong with this rate change, especially at a time when fuel prices were the highest they've ever been.

Monica Danna
Monica Danna

Michael, I had nearly an identical experience this past weekend. I too have been an avid continental advocate. Imagine my surprise when I show up at the kiosk, only to be charged $15 for a bag I could have consolidated into a carry on, had a known aboutthe policy in advance.

Also, calling a day in advance to check for room on an earlier return flight "yes ma'am, there looks to be plenty of room on the earlier flight." no mention of the $50 standby charge. FIFTY dollars. To walk on an empty plane. For a $189 roundtrip ticket. I too was livid.

The standby policy will def make me think twice about continental again. When usually, I never consider another airline (in Houston, continental is usually king).

With you in disappointment,

Monica

Walt Ribeiro
Walt Ribeiro

Yea, the only airfare I take any more is Southwest, unless they don't have a flight in my direction, then I'm in trouble :(

Adam Hobson
Adam Hobson

I'm just not sure how these big shot airline execs don't understand basic economics. If you charge for checked bags, then most people will just try to carry on their bags, which will just make the overhead bins fill up and force half of the "carry on" bags to get tagged and checked at the gate anyway.

Many airlines used high fuel costs as the excuse for these charges, but I have to wonder now that fuel prices are going back down, will the airlines actually get rid of these supposedly temporary extra charges, or are these now just another permanent hassle of flying?

How I wish we had high speed rail outside of just the Northeast corridor.

Michael Gruen
Michael Gruen

Update #2: That “confirmed” window seat turned into a middle seat when I arrived at the gate. Then, they checked my carry-on bag because there was no more room.

Update #3: Ticketing agent blames me for delaying the plane by bringing a carry on. I am livid.

Scott A.
Scott A.

Dude that's crazy. I've heard that United and American are also charging bag check fees now. Flying's just getting worse and worse.

For what it's worth, I fly Southwest and Virgin almost exclusively and have always had top-notch service. Had a couple nice flights on Alaska not long ago as well.