I don’t normally blog about this sort of thing, but it’s been such a source of frustration for me in the past few weeks that I feel it necessary to communicate to others if only to prevent similar frustrations for them in the future.
When I discovered that I would be speaking at ZendCon 2008, I made my flight reservation with Continental Airlines on June 26, a full 10 weeks before the conference was scheduled to begin. I was to depart from Baton Rouge, connect in Houston, and arrive in San Jose.
On the week before I was due to depart, Hurricane Ike began making its way through the Gulf of Mexico. The airport was preemptively closed from Friday afternoon through Saturday before the storm was scheduled to make landfall. Through this period, I kept a close eye on the Important Notices page on the Continental Airlines web site in order to stay informed on the status of my connection in Houston.
At 5 PM on Saturday 9/13, the page was updated to indicate that the Houston airport would be closed through 2 PM Sunday 9/14. My flight was not scheduled to land until close to 5 PM, so I waited. Later that evening at 7:30, the page was updated again to reflect that the Houston airport would be closed through the entirety of Sunday.
In speaking with customer representatives during this time, I discovered that the only hub for Continental in the southern half of the USA is in Houston. All flights go through the hub, even those from the nearby city of Dallas. Further digging on the Continental web site after the announcement of the closure of the Houston airport revealed that my departing flight from Baton Rouge had indeed canceled by Continental. I obviously couldn’t depart from Houston since the airport was closed, nor could I connect in another city because Continental did not have another hub in the southern half of the country. In short, all my travel arrangements were ruined.
I received no notifications of any type, e-mail or otherwise, from Continental during this time. Had I not been so attentive in monitoring their web site, I could have made it as far as Baton Rouge before knowing that my flight was canceled. I also received no offer of service from Continental to help me fix my situation by rebooking with another airline or flying through another hub in the northern half of the country. They did absolutely nothing for me.
At that point, I scrambled to file a refund request with Continental, then rebook my flight on American Airlines to go through Dallas, which was luckily far enough inland and sustained little enough damage from the storm that it was still operational. I was able to make it to and from ZendCon with no incident after that, aside from substantial additional expense gleaned from having to rebook last-minute.
Upon my return, I received an e-mail from Continental stating that I would not receive a refund because my ticket was non-refundable. As I understood it, the purpose of a non-refundable ticket was to discourage alteration or cancellation of reservations once they were made. According to Continental’s own Important Notices page, because my flight was canceled, I was within my rights to request a refund. Apparently that doesn’t mean I was within my rights to actually receive one despite the fact that I paid Continental to provide a service that, in the end, I didn’t get.
I responded to the e-mail with an explanation of the situation. That was eight days ago and I’ve received no subsequent communication from Continental since then. I will be pursuing the matter further, but the sheer amount of grief that this company has caused me is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. If you want to do me a favor, don’t fly Continental. If this is any indication of how they do business, they don’t deserve yours.