Saturday, August 23, 2008 Nightmare with Continental Airlines: Cleveland Didn't Rock for Me

I received a complaint about my blog. Apparently, I made a promise on Tuesday, August 19th that my very next blog post would be about my layover experience.

"Instead, you wrote about furniture," said this person who we will call John Dawe. "I wanted to read about the day you called me crying."

Here is a snippet of that blog to show my promise there, in black and white-- pay attention to the big, blog line:

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

3-4 in Oklahoma

After I checked out of the hotel on Saturday morning, I didn't have Wi-Fi until very late Sunday night when I checked back into the hotel near the airport- then, I wanted to write my final OK vacation blog from the Tulsa airport- but they charged $5.95 an hour for W-Fi. Ugh. My Cleveland layover you'll learn about in my next blog. And Monday I traveled all day and crashed and went right to work this morning and went on a shopping extravaganza after work- so ah, the final vacation post isn't happening until just.... about.... now.

So, thanks to John Dawe, I will write about my fiasco in Cleveland. I don't travel much by air. Hell, I don't travel much period. So, I was pretty happy with how my trip planned out on the way there. Both planes were on time. My rental car was there. The hotel had my reservation. did a great job of getting me there safely, cheaply and without any hassles.

The way back was going fine too. My flight from Tulsa was on time. I arrived to Cleveland on time. As I walked to the gate in the terminal to board my flight home, to Wilkes-Barre I noticed something on my boarding pass. Well, it turned out it really wasn't a boarding pass.

"Please check in at gate," it read. What does this mean, I thought to myself.

The uniformed lady at the gate told me that the flight was overbooked and two of us did not have seats. They were actively looking for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for a travel voucher of $300. At this point, my flight was set to leave in about 45-minutes, which meant I was basically two hours away from being home. Four days isn't long, but I did miss my cat. And, I needed to be at work Tuesday.

"When is the next flight," I asked, feeling the tears well up.

"That's overbooked too," said the lady.

I told her about my job and my cat and asked how I could buy a ticket for a seat that didn't exist. I felt myself starting to get upset, which I don't like to do, when they lady said to me very nicely, "Please just have some hope."

When she that, it reminded me of "It is what it is" and that I really couldn't change anything. So, I decided not to get angry at her and try to think positive. I took myself over to an empty area and plopped down with my notebook, my laptop and cell phone. I texted my coworker John Dawe (who recently became a fan of Continental Airlines on Facebook, which is important to the story) and said verbatim: "I will not join you as a fan of Continental Airlines. I am stranded in Cleveland until further notice. Flight was overbooked." That was my form of venting to a friend.

I was going to call and speak to customer service. The only number I had jotted down was the hotel service line. I tried to hit "0" to talk to someone and maybe get the fligh department. No luck. The recorded voice simply said, "Goodbye" when I tried to trick the system. I then tried to log online- I was having wi-fi issues- said I was connected but yet not pages were open. So, I opened Google on my phone and found the regular number. That number only allowed you to buy something, not get service. In the meantime, Dawe had called me back and got me on the phone with one of the owners of our company who is a travel guru.

He had me walk to the Continental Airlines desk and ask if I could get on a flight to Philly on US Air-- they have a hub there. The lady was going to look that up, but then we had the idea to instead stay on Continental and fly into Newark. Then, I would rent a car and drive to Wilkes-Barre. I was so glad to have he and Dawe on the phone- they kept me sane. So, they switched flights, switched my luggage, gave me a deviation slip and all.

"No matter what airport I end up at, I am heading right to the bar, " I joked to the guys on the phone.

They were still on the phone with me to make sure everything worked out. I overheard someone on the speaker say, "We're still looking for one more volunteer to give up their seat for Flight # (I forget) to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton..." I asked the lady if that meant I had a seat... she said no, because I was second in line. The first lady got on the flight. Now it was just me. A few more minutes passed and a woman came to the desk- she would give up here seat. It was 3:45 and my original flight was set to leave at 4:10- the boarding just about ready to start. I asked if that meant I had a seat- Yes.

So, the woman had to change me back to the Wilkes-Barre flight, make sure my luggage was switched back, I thanked my co-workers for coming up with an alternate route for me and got off the phone and headed back to Wilkes-Barre. That woman was my hero- with not a minute to spare, she decided to wait for a new flight in exchange for $300.

I don't know who to blame. Continental Airlines? Myself for not consulting my travel gurus first before booking a flight through a site like Priceline? Why do they overbook flights? I theorize because so many people can buy flights from so many different sources that the inventory doesn't sync right away. Either way, I am thankful I didn't have to go to Newark and drive back to PA- which would have taken two additional hours, or that I didn't have to stay the night in a crappy hotel and miss a day of work to take a flight the next day.

If I did get stranded for the night, you can bet I would have taxited to the real Warsaw, where Drew, Louis, Oswald and Kate used to drink at on the Drew Carey show.

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