How Continental Raised the Price on ALL Their Tickets, (at least to me).

I’m back from JR’s Family’s Lake Erie Reunion. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and indeed, I actually had a little fun. However, the major excitement was Sunday when we arrived at the airport to fly home. Somehow, I made the colossally idiotic mistake of buying my ticket for Monday the 18th instead of Sunday the 17th. I’m not quite sure how it happened because I AM quite certain I never entered the 18th as an option for flying. I do take responsibility for not confirming the information on my ticket was correct before buying it and for not checking it sooner to make a change.
I hoped the flight hadn’t sold out and that I would be able to sweet-talk my onto the plane at minimal extra cost. At worst, I figured, I’d pay the industry-standard $100 change fee. When I went to the Continental counter, the woman told me Continental has a strict policy of not allowing people to fly standby until the day of their original flight. She also informed me it would be $320 on top of what I had already spent in order to change my ticket to fly that day. Flabbergasted, I asked her how much it would cost to skip my original flight and buy a new ticket on the flight I had planned on taking. Incredibly, buying a new ticket and forgoing the next day’s flight would only cost $280. I didn’t understand how buying 2 tickets could be cheaper than changing my old ticket and if I was going to buy a new ticket, I wanted to do some comparison shopping.
First stop was Southwest Airlines where the woman was shocked Continental wouldn’t change my ticket or allow me to fly standby. She seemed genuinely offended as an employee of the airline industry that another airline would have such ridiculous policies. She informed me that the best she could do was a flight from Cleveland to Baltimore to Providence for $185. She even reserved the ticket for me without making me pay so I could check with some of the other airlines. She also suggested I call Continental to try to talk to a supervisor. United was $611 and Independence was $250.
Having collected my facts, I dialed Continental’s 800 number and waited on hold for several minutes before reaching Helen. Helen told me the same thing the woman behind the counter had, that there is a strict policy against allowing people to fly standby unless it’s the day of their original flight, that the cost to change the ticket would be $320, and that a new ticket would be $280. Helen didn’t seem to care when I argued that it didn’t make sense they would charge me so much (or charge me at all) since they obviously had seats available. I mentioned that Southwest was willing to fly me for $185 and told her that they may get the $280 out of me because I was desperate, but I would never fly Continental again. I also mentioned I would spend the next month telling everyone I knew how stupid I had been to buy the wrong ticket, but especially how greedy Continental had been in trying to take advantage of it. Helen told me there was nothing she could do and something to the effect of “You should probably fly on Southwest if you don’t want to pay $280.” She then suggested I try to get someone at the airport to do something about it.
I got back in line steeling myself for what I knew could be an epic battle. The problem as I saw it was my total lack of leverage. Continental didn’t need to do anything for me because I had already paid for a ticket for the next day’s flight. They didn’t need to do anything for me because they had their money and that was final regardless of what I decided to do. I had a minor scuffle with the woman directing people to the counter after she was offended I was talking on my phone while in her line. I don’t remember much about the incident, but I include it as further proof that Continental needs to focus harder on customer service.
I approached the woman at counter 19 tingling with trepidation and excitement. I felt excitement because I envisioned an intense match of verbal sparring where I could pontificate loudly on issues involving efficiency, logic, customer service, money, and right and wrong. I felt trepidation because the last thing I wanted was to spend $280 more than I had already spent.
And then nothing. I explained to the woman behind the counter that I had mistakenly purchased a ticket for Monday’s flight when I really wanted to fly today. She nodded and told me she could change my flight, but she’d have to charge me a $100 change fee. I quickly handed her my credit card before something happened to increase the price of my fare and walked away stunned after telling her she had made my day. I think she really appreciated me saying that. I had never been so happy to spend $100.
I don’t know if Continental thought someone else was going to rush into the airport 25 minutes before boarding willing to pay the premium price they had assigned to the ticket. That can be the only explanation for not allowing me to fly standby on a flight that clearly wasn’t full. And I don’t understand why 2 different employees refused to let me fly standby or pay $100 to change my ticket citing strict company policies before a third employee did so without pause. You’d think Continental and every other company would try to fill up every plane all the time and would willingly sell tickets to people at some small margin above cost 25 minutes before the plane boarded. Much like an ice cream store giving out ice cream in the event of a power outage, giving it out in exchange for good will and nothing more, Continental should have welcomed me aboard in an effort to fill up every sellable bit of space on that plane. (Empty seats are giant tubs of melted ice cream, as it were) In the end, the flight took off an hour late further lowering the value of the service Continental provided me. As far as I’m concerned, every flight I take on Continental leaves at least an hour late as my flight from Boston to Cleveland took off an hour and a half after it was supposed to.
In the interest of full disclosure, what I said to Helen about never flying on Continental again isn’t totally true. At this stage in my professional career, I can’t afford to be so stubbornly principled. The next time I’m looking for flights, I’ll fly on Continental if it’s significantly cheaper than any other option. This means that the Continental flight will have to be direct and cost at least $40 less than the next lowest option. So in reality, what I should have said to Helen was “You may get your $280 out of me, but it’s going to make each of your flights appear $40 more expensive than they are for the next 5-15 years. However, I will certainly stop flying Continental as soon as I make enough money to base economic decisions on terrible prior experiences.”

How Continental Raised the Price on ALL Their Tickets, (at least to me).

0 thoughts on “How Continental Raised the Price on ALL Their Tickets, (at least to me).

  1. AP says:

    I once purchased tickets for a trip to California and got tickets for a day later than I’d intended.

    The people at the airport were more than happy to switch my tickets for free because it meant they would have more time to sell tickets for my space on the flight the next day.

    If you think about it, letting people switch to undersold, earlier flights is in the best interest of the airline. It is more likely that they will sell a ticket for a flight that leaves in 28 hours than for one that leaves in 2.


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