March 13, 2008

Continental Airlines I Loved You This Past Week

This past trip to SXSWi was filled with more than one's fair share of travel drama (including being heavily doused in gasoline, changing 6 flights, 2 hotels, and adding a drive from San Antonio to Austin). To get to a SXSW that was over booked and made for a completely un-SXSW experience. But, along the way I learned a little something. I love Continental Airlines. This is an open letter to Continental on the appreciation for customer service that was fantastic. I am a Gold Elite status (because I fly a fair amount for work and conferences) with Northwest Airlines (NWA) and I am a huge fan of their customer service and wonderful kindness, but I am not a direct member of Continental (they do honor NWA status and provide similar service).

When I was completely covered with gasoline on fueling up on the way to the airport and had to turn around, shower, and change clothes I also had to reschedule my flight. I called Continental and they were utterly swamped with massive weather delays and cancellations. They were kind, courteous, and very accommodating. They constantly were apologizing for the delay on confirming my changes. When my new flights were badly delayed I had to work to find a new route and worked to get to San Antonio instead, which later needed to be cancelled as it too would not work. I cancelled the flight to Austin, but they were accommodating on helping keep my flight still schedule for the return trip back. Continental also did not charge me a change of flight penalty only the difference in the cost of the ticket.

Southwest and its Non-plus Attitude

I ended up switching to Southwest to get a direct flight to San Antonio, which was not going to be impacted by a transfer through a city having weather problems. Southwest was not rude, but they did not exist nor really extend the courtesy and kindness that Continental did. To Southwest I was a number, B55 to be exact. When I checked in they were not helping the woman next to me who was having a horrible time with their kiosk, so I was pointing out the what she needed to click as I had just gone through the same confusion (JetBlue used to have the best Kiosk interface for clarity of task and ease of use, but they have changed it). The flight was good and the crew funny (scripted funny) as is the Southwest norm. But the loading process is really bothersome (I paid more for my Southwest flight at the last minute than all the changes I made on Continental and that leg of the ticket combined) and the price I paid got me near the end of the loading process on a very full flight.

Continental Return Flight

My return flight from SXSW was on Continental and I had messed up my return time and had cut the flight much closer than I thought (35 minutes to make the flight after I walked in the airport). Many times on United or Delta (Delta is partner with NWA also) I have been less late and they have not let me get on the flight and have been rather discourteous about it (I had Premiere status with United last year thanks to their seeing my status on NWA, but that only helped when I would complain about them being discourteous, at best to the Premiere Desk). But, Continental staff in Austin helped with their kiosk interface (even though I had no problem), they were very kind pointed out how to get to the gate most quickly. Once on the plane the staff had its hands full with a passenger across from me who refused to put her bag fully in the overhead bin, complained when they asked her to turn off her phone, was nasty when they said she would have to wait a moment for change for a $20 for her drink (they gave the guy with change a free drink), and when she refused to sit back down as we taxied to the gate. On the next flight the there were issues and they were rather kind with the people who were so large they did not fit in their seat and had to have the person who was so sit next to them in the middle seat take another flight (and get a free ticket), could not understand the quite sweet but elderly Latin American woman with a difficult to understand dialect. The staff on that Houston to Baltimore flight was kind and courteous, and the male flight attendant said I was very patient and kind, which was only a reflection of the Continental staff.

Fans Get Positive Feedback

I am a fan of NWA and now Continental for their great kindness and help to their loyal customers. The Southwest experience is even, but its fans get roughly similar treatment as do the non-fans. With Continental, it seems their non-fans or irregular fliers are getting courteous, helpful, and kind service. This is far and above the Southwest experience. But, in a world where we see companies embrace their fans online and encourage interaction and fandom there is not better thing than great service. In this space Continental rocked it this past week, it was flat out wonderful.

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