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

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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.