Overbooked & Overwrought

August 26, 2010

in Odds & Ends Stories

I was flying from SFO to Delhi (India) during February on a quarterly business trip. From SFO to Newark (EWR) it was United, and then Continental to Delhi (approx 14 hours non-stop). My flight is fully confirmed all the way and I am looking forward to the ordeal armed with a laptop and a book. The whole trip started on a pretty bad note; they tell me that I will get the EWR/Delhi boarding pass at the Continental “gate.” I should have just gone home; Bangalore could wait.

We all got in the plane and the pilot announced that a video monitor is not working. Then they went looking for a part somewhere in the airport. Replacement was done and things still didn’t work. It was already getting late and my four hour margin at Newark (EWR) was quickly shrinking. In reality I shouldn’t have bothered given what was coming next, but I did. We all got out of the plane looking for an alternative route to Newark (there were none). But then suddenly the problem was fixed and soon we are in the air headed to EWR from SFO.

We land in Newark. By this time I have found a wonderful Verizon lady headed to Delhi on the same flight. We all make our way to the gate where the Continental flight will leave with about 45 minutes to spare. I ask for my boarding pass and there is none to be had. The flight is overbooked. Lots of people are milling around and it is nearly 10 pm. Apparently some other international flights were canceled and everyone is booked to India on this single plane. It is as complete pandemonium as I have seen in a US airport.

An hour goes by and the plane is full. Now they look at overbooked people. There is no logic to who they ask to board; there is no list or priority order at all. All of a sudden the key “guy” (I know his name but will omit here) asks me to board. I am half the way in, and then he changed his mind to let someone else go. Then someone else was a family with a kid, so I didn’t really get upset but the whole process was frustrating.

Finally, the “key guy” said you come back tomorrow and we will have a place for you. There were several people in the same situation. We all said fine, and were given hotel/food vouchers and about $1000 (or lower) which was OK. Frustrating, but these things happen. Next flight is after 24 hours.

An hour later and we are in a hotel with cake for dinner (very late for food, everything is closed). At least I had made a couple of friends by then.

Next day we all visit Times Square courtesy of Continental. We are dutifully back at Continental’s counter at 6 pm for our “boarding passes.” Guess what – there are none to be had. The “key guy” is missing; customer service can not find him. There are no “reserved boarding passes.” We are back with the crowd just like the day before.

Again, the same drama plays but it is only $400 this time. I decline; going to Times Square again is not fun. And my yesterday’s clothes are in a bag and I now have brand new clothes thanks to Continental. They are now feeding, clothing and providing me shelter with some spend money. Perhaps some aggravation is worth it.

I see many passengers being visibly upset; maybe that is why the “key guy” does not appear. Life is too hard for him. I wonder how Continental expects to be in international business given the high standards set by multiple Asian airlines, including carriers like Jet Airways from India, a country which is not exactly known for its high standards of customer service.

Meanwhile I am deciding whether to head back to SFO some $600 richer or take the $400 and wait another day. I did get a seat on the plane but… never again.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim August 27, 2010 at 10:56 am

Are you saying they gave you flight vouchers worth a $1000.00 then $400.00?

Surely, you are not meaning they gave you cash?

When I have been bumped or delayed, I have only been given food and hotel vouchers. I have never been given "spending" money. Nor, have they ever given me money for clothing.


david August 29, 2010 at 9:58 am

either they added a 0 or this story is BS as no airline would offer $1000 and then $400 on top

$600 is the max they would go to and that would be credit not cash, and that is with Delta who is anticustomer


Teddy September 7, 2010 at 3:14 am

The joys of Newark Liberty….my rule of thumb is never fly through New York/Newark. Bad things always happen because of air traffic congestion.


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