Last night I blogged about my seat assignment on a Newark-Brussels Continental flight that "magically" changed from 17D (an aisle in the second row of economy class with in-seat power) to 35E (a middle seat near the back of the aircraft with no emPower port). Now that I’ve landed in Brussels and have some time before my connection to Frankfurt, I thought I would provide some more details.
I checked in for my flight online about 24 hour prior to departure and my seat assignment, which had been reserved for several months, still indicated 17D. I arrived at EWR about an hour and a half before my flight yesterday and tried to print my boarding pass using one of the self-service kiosks. An error message showed up and a CO rep had to print out my boarding pass manually. After handing me a BP for 35E, I asked her why my seat was changed. She claimed she did not know and asked me to sort it out at the gate. I asked her to take a look for alternate seats and she claimed there were none (this was at Platinum check-in). Security lines were long so I proceed through security and made my way to the BRU gate where two agents were chatting.
After calmly and politely explaining the problem, all I got in response were two shrugs and a weak, "Maybe there was an equipment change?" There wasn’t. I asked if they could take a look into my reservation and see why the seat was changed, but was rebuffed, with a sardonic quip that, "seat assignments are not guaranteed." Well, maybe they are not, but this was not the type of apathy I expected, especially directed toward a Platinum. I wasn’t looking for an upgrade in this case, but this happened on a LAX-LHR UA flight once and I was offered a seat in first (after being moved to a middle seat in the last row of business class).
Next I proceeded to the customer service counter. Same apathy, same rudeness, same "seat assignments are not guaranteed" mantra. I stopped by the FRA gate to check if there was any space (it was oversold by 14 and they were soliciting volunteers) and got the same treatment. Is this the customer service we have to look forward to once the merger is complete?
I finally returned to the Brussels gate to check once more if any seats had opened up. Boarding was now in the final stages and a supervisor (wearing a red coat) yelled at me to board the plane. I asked him why my seat was moved and he was even more indifferent than the previous people I had dealt with, telling me that there wasn’t time (it was still 20 minutes prior to departure on a flight that ended up being delayed almost two hours), but I refused to back down.
With a loud sigh, he grabbed my boarding pass and moved me one row back to an aisle seat. Enough was enough: I saw that further protesting would do no good. I thanked him and boarded.
As I mentioned, customs paperwork delayed the flight by almost two hours so I had a chance to visit 17D during the ground delay–I was just curious who took the seat.
Lo and behold, it was a uniformed Continental mechanic, with his buddy one row in front of him! I introduced myself and asked if he might know why I was booted back to row 36. His colleague interjected, "Oh, we’re Continental mechanics who have to work all day tomorrow and since there were no BusinessFirst seats left, we got these."
Ah. It made sense now. I thanked them for their explanation and asked why wouldn’t the gate agents just tell me the truth. They shrugged and said, "They never tell the customers that."
The irony is that I had work the next day as well–and work on the flight to do that required a laptop plug-in.
Way to take care of your customers, Continental…
Wow…United may struggle with customer service in some areas but I’ve never heard of them pulling something like this. Here’s hoping the way United treats elites carries over to CO in the merger.
That is terrible… hope you get some nice comp out of CO, especially given you found out EXACTLY why you were moved. I can’t believe they moved a Plat like that, and to a middle seat no less!
So much for that new airline optimism, eh, Matthew? 😉
@Darren – In terms of comp, I doubt it. CO is notoriously stingy when it comes to handing stuff out. Even overnight VDBs net something like 200 bucks. UA, they ain’t.
I’ve got to say, this would never happen to a high status pax on UA, perhaps a non-status pax, but certainly not a top-tier elite. Of all the bad things you can say about UA, they at least do a very good job protecting their elites in the event of unforseen circumstances.
I am seriously worried if this is what the future brings for the combined UA/CO.
I hope you survived your trip Matt, with strength to work the next day.
Sorry for all the spelling errors. The Flemish keyboard threw me off. They have been fixed.
@Sean: That’s the thing…this would not have happened on UA.
@Darren: As Gray pointed out, CO is very stingy, but I am going to complain anyways and see what I get. EmPower and IFE were out on the return, so maybe I’ll get even more…
@Gray: Yeah, about that optimism…
@smashr: I’m worried too, though the flights this weekend make me want to try CO again–just to see if they are always this bad at EWR.
The flights themselves were fine, though I sure missed E+.
@Matthew: Well, I wonder now if whoever changed your seat in the first place took a closer look at your fare. In your other topic you mentioned how inexpensive it was, and while they technically shouldn’t have, maybe they felt moving you was more justified than other elites on the basis of fare values.
I know, I know… a Platinum is a Platinum, and they shouldn’t have moved you due to “fare discrimination”. They probably would never tell you to your face, but I would put a couple bucks down on my theory if we were betting.
Back when I was a Premier Exec (now a 1K), we had a downgauge from a 744 to a 777. All of the seats were moved around, but an NRSA was still in C. GA pulled him out of C, and gave me his aisle in C. Fwiw, the CO agents should have done that for you. Not a way to treat a top-tier customer :td:
@friendlyskies – since I was sitting next to you on that flight I will take the liberty of adding that the NRSA was a 15 year old kid which means he wasnt a mechanic who would be potentially doing work that could jeopardize the safety of hundreds of people if he arrived at his destination tired.
That aside, CO should give their people enough time that they can fly in Y and sleep properly at a hotel before performing maintenance on the aircraft.
Also I could see UA doing this to a nonmember/generalmember because of their lack of status. Conversely CO doesnt seem to treat non-members or general members any more poorly than Platinums. Overall non-members seem to receive generally good service – something I definitely cant say happens at UA. Non-members and general members far outnumber platinums. Perhaps financially it makes more sense to treat everyone generally well regardless of status. I do admit that isnt my personal preference – I like the VIP treatment I get at UA, but I havent really had any complaints about service at CO as a general member, * Gold, or CO Plat.
Matthew, I was on the same exact flight as you. I was lucky enough to get on the EWR-BRU-FRA deal for a mileage run. Those 2 hours were horrible with the flight attendants promising to fly “within 10-15 minutes” every single time they came on the PA. I wrote CO an e-mail too, and got the same, generic apology response.