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Posts tagged Continental

United Boeing 787
Texas Monthly’s recent piece, “Up in the Air” by Loren Steffy, has left me scratching my head. The by-line is “The 2010 sale of Continental Airlines has left Houston in a holding pattern” so I was expecting a look into dealings with the city or the airport. I braced myself for an investigative long-read.

The first two paragraphs focus on how terrible it was to lose Continental to the merger and then United to Chicago; How cultures are a problem.

As a management consultant, Heiland knew that the biggest hurdle for the two companies wouldn’t be integrating systems, processes, or technology but reconciling their cultures. “When it was announced that the headquarters would be in Chicago, I felt the war was lost.”

Then all of the sudden the article becomes a brief history of Continental. Details about former CEOs and what they did or didn’t do for the airline. All of it reads like a Wikipedia job. Then near the end there is some more meat.

And so, in 2010, Smisek struck a deal. Though he called it a merger, he basically sold Continental to United; the name “Continental” disappeared and the Houston headquarters was essentially vacated. Continental’s management team was supposed to be in charge, but it never took root in the cold climes of Chicago. “The Continental culture was a terrible thing to risk,” Bakes says. “United’s history is one of bureaucracy and arrogance, and it ended up culturally being more dominant.”

I get it, there are definite service issues with United. I’m not convinced it had anything to do with “culture” at either airline but more to do with the management not fostering a relationship with the front line staff and building trust. It has lead to distrust and unhappiness for the people who travelers see first and deal with most in their travels: flight attendants, agents, and other ground staff. Morale has been in the mud and it shows. The new CEO, Oscar Munoz, who is on medical leave due to a recent heart attack, mentioned the morale problems and customer service issues immediately after taking the job.

On another note, the part about the Houston offices being vacated is at best an oversight or at worst, poor research. There are a large number of employees who still work in downtown Houston. Just fly a Chicago-Houston morning flight or an evening Houston-Chicago flight, there are a lot of United employees commuting to or from the Houston office.

The whole article reads like a whine and never addresses the by-line. How is Houston in a holding pattern? If anything, United has helped the city before the merger and after. United has committed to paying for at least part of the renovations taking place at Terminal B and C at IAH. The airline also plays a crucial role in attracting other carriers to the city. Their membership in the Star Alliance means that other airlines can codeshare with them, drawing those carriers to offer service to airports where United is located to connect to surrounding cities. EVA, ANA, Singapore Airlines, Air China, Lufthansa and Avianca all offer service to IAH, building on the connections that United offers. And soon there will be a Houston-Auckland flight on Air New Zealand, another Star Alliance partner.

If United had truly left Houston in a holding pattern, it would have happened in a similar fashion to what they did to Cleveland or what Delta did to Cincinnati. Nostalgia is always fun to discuss and reminisce about, but the Texas Monthly article was far from that. I would have been much more of a fan had Texas Monthly found and licensed a bunch of old IAH and Continental photos and just told the history of the airline and the airport. Instead it was a let down.

The cover takes a look at the airlines from a chemistry standpoint. Overall, the article is pretty good and gives a look at the merger from a perspective we as consumers aren’t necessarily used to seeing.

The cover still throws me off a bit, but the story behind how they design covers at BusinessWeek is very interesting.

When asked about being edgy, here is what the designers said –

It’s funny because I don’t think we are [edgy]. Everyone takes covers, interprets covers in a slightly different way. When you’re privy to the process, it demystifies it a bit. When you’re part of the process it loses the surprise value. So, I don’t see this one as particularly surprising. I think it’s fun. But, yah, it’s nice that everyone thinks that.

I think it’s an edgy cover and pretty much unnecessary.

There are times I really doubt that businesses care about my concerns or praises. I am of the mindset that they are there to provide a service for a cost and as long as I receive that service, they have done their job. Sure, there are times that receiving a service is delayed or the result is not the one desired, but for the most part, things work out in the end. If I am not satisfied with a service provider, I will move to another one. A few recent events have me convinced that companies that focus on service quality along with final result quality deserve to be the winners and should be what all companies strive for.

One of our vehicles needed an oil change and I took it to our usual place. A few minutes after I walked in one of the attendants saw my vehicle, approached me, and very apologetically explained that the type of oil needed for the car was out of stock due to heavy demand over the weekend. He could have left it at that and I probably would have come back another day. Instead, he said, “we have another location, it’s a few miles away, but I can call them and make sure they have the oil in stock if you need it done today”. A phone call later and I was on my way to the other location. It took the attendant a total of five minutes to make my day a little easier. Some people may not want to drive further, but I needed the oil change before going out of town, so it was a welcome extra bit of service.

In an opposite example, a recent experience with Continental Airlines had to be resolved by going through outside channels, rather than having an issue resolved by the agents who created it. I had made a number of bookings for our Christmas trip and since I was not able to find availability to Miami to start it, I decided to focus my energy on refining another booking I had made From Austin to Boston to Munich. I had found better availability through Seattle and onward to Frankfurt and called in to make the change. The agent was helpful but said that there was no availability from Seattle to Frankfurt, even though I could see it. I asked to be transferred to the electronic support desk to see what the issue was.

The agent I was connected to was very helpful and quickly had a Lufthansa representative on the phone, trying to sort out the problem. Eventually, I was told that the Lufthansa representative was going to do some work on the ticket and that the Continental agent would add my new segments into my reservation to hold them while leaving my original segments intact. The helpful Continental agent also took my phone number, telling me she would give me a call on Monday and if I didn’t hear from her, to call back as my record had notations added explaining the issue.

Monday rolled around and I had not heard anything, so that afternoon I called Continental. The agent saw the notations and called Lufthansa again. This time, she assured me that they were working it out and after I convinced her that I did not want to fly business class to Berlin-Tegel and take the train to Dresden, she started to confirm my existing reservation. A few minutes later and my old flights had been removed and replaced with my desired flights, minus the segment that Lufthansa was working on. Again, she assured me that that flight would pop in whenever Lufthansa fixed it and that I was good to go.

Fast forward to Tuesday evening. Nothing had posted from Lufthansa and when I called back to Continental and asked for a supervisor, I was put on hold, then told they were contacting Lufthansa, and eventually hung up on. I called again later and received the same result. The result of all of this was me having a ticket from Austin to Seattle, then from Frankfurt to Dresden and that was it. Panicked, I contacted a corporate representative I know and while driving to meet up with Family on Wednesday I received a call from a Continental agent that my ticket had been fixed.

Why did it have to happen this way? Why was I required to go to a corporate contact, who I know has more important things going on? Why did the agents fail to shoot straight with me and end up leaving me with what amounted to a worthless ticket?

Will I stop flying Continental because of this one incident? No, but the entire incident was unnecessary and could have been avoided, saving me time and Continental resource hours. It came down to agents not wanting to put in the work required to fix the ticket and instead, passing me off to other agents, hoping someone else would figure it out.

I’ll leave you with one more positive example. While in Chicago I have been jumping around to different hotels on each stay. One week, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency. The room was nice and quiet, the only downside was that for some reason, the internet was not working. I tweeted about it and within an hour I had a reply from the Hyatt’s Twitter account. I was at work but when I returned to my room there was a phone message from a hotel manager, asking about my issue and when a good time would be for them to check it out. Needless to say, I will be staying at the Hyatt more often.

Is all of this to say that I want businesses constantly following up with each Twitter complaint? I am not even sure that’s feasible. There is only so much a person with a Twitter account can do. Writing in 140 characters is not the most fun, so getting on the phone with the customer or sending an e-mail is definitely a way of escalating an issue. No, what I want is service industries to be more service oriented. Even if delivering bad news, I want businesses to think about how they deliver such news and what they can do to turn a negative into a positive.

Some of these things are training issues, others are tied to the types of personalities your business hires. If you are just trying to put a body in a chair then you may just be doing it wrong. I do not need or require “bow to me” service, I simply desire respect, honesty with candor, and a clearly defined method of escalating issues. If your business nails those things, even without social media, it will be worlds ahead of the competition.

A lot of people think I’m nuts. Maybe I am. Or maybe I’m crazy like a fox. My weekend was spent flying between Spokane, Washington and Seattle, Washington. Doesn’t sound crazy right? What’s crazy is that what should have been an hour flight on a lawnmower with wings was really a bunch of flights taking me from Spokane to Denver to San Francisco and finally to Seattle. Yeah, I guess I am crazy. That is, until I tell you it cost me $44 before taxes. See, crazy like a fox. The route looked something like below.

All told, I flew around 7,000 miles and rounded out my mileage balance on Continental Airlines. Why? A good friend and I stumbled across the fare a while back and decided it was too good of a deal to pass up. At first I bought a few of them, but ended up only keeping one, figuring I didn’t really have the time or energy to do a bunch of these back to back. The only hiccup in the whole trip was on our positioning flight to Spokane from San Francisco. The plane had a maintenance issue and was delayed, getting us into Spokane a little later than we had originally planned.

Continental ERJ Landing at IAH

What did I do on the flights? Watched some television shows I had stored on my iPhone, caught up on a bunch of reading, wrote a little, and talked to other passengers. Flying is relaxing to me, so I actually got a little bit of rest as well. It was a fun trip that transited a lot of airports and got me the miles I wanted at a price point that is very, very reasonable. I guess I am better at “mileage running” than the guy in this video.

I thought I would try something different and post links that I have bookmarked during the past week. I will try to do this every Friday.


Those are the links for this week, though I may find something interesting during the day and add it here.