Continental / United has figured out how to save money on those pesky oversold flight, bumped passenger fees now mandated by law: Bump the biggest group and only compensate one of them. Nice try. Thanks for spreading the word. United did finally do the right thing and reimburse us.
On a recent trip back from the east coast, my family of three got bumped from an oversold flight. In this case, the airline must pay the customers certain fees in accordance with the Passengers Bill of Rights. Continental Airlines has not lived up to these requirements.
How it Happened
We were very surprised when we were the last ones to be considered for a seat. We checked in for our flight about 9 hours in advance, and were at the gate two hours before departure. I kept asking the gate staff why we were not offered a seat in the order which we checked in, and they basically ignored me.
Continental's Trick: Three Bumps for the Price of One
After everybody boarded every last seat, (being told we were not getting on the flight at all as it is oversold, a discussion I have on video), we were told to go to the customer service counter. There the manager told us he would offer us three flight vouchers, or would only pay the required passenger fee *just once*. Their excuse for this obvious rip-off? The lady at the gate was saying I refused to board and so we really should get nothing. True, I was offered one seat at the last moment, as the gate was closing. I said I cannot leave my family stranded at the airport at night and said go ahead and let the other person (another party of two was the second-to-last group to be bumped) travel.
It really appears they decided to bump us because we were a party of three (two adults, one 3 year old), to be able to cheat two of us out of any sort of compensation. They're trying to bump three passengers for the price of one.
If you are travelling with a family on Continental Air, keep in mind you may be more likely to be bumped, and then denied proper compensation. At the end of the boarding there were two parties (our party of three, and another party of two), each group with one seat assigned. They tried to split us up, saying one of each party can go. I said no, not without my family, and that is an excuse for them to claim they owe us nothing as we "refused to board".
I have requested in writing that we receive two (2) fees for the bumped passengers (wife and child) as well as some compensation for me "giving up my seat" to the other bumped passenger. I thought this was a fair compromise from getting three (3) full bump fees. Continental has denied this request, saying if anything was due, I would have received it at the gate.
Actually, the gate staff was argumentative and said we get nothing since I refused to leave my wife and child. In reality, the staff was stressed out and very annoyed with my persistant line of questions around boarding order. Only after talking to the manager at the customer service center, were we offered a hotel and one bumped passenger fee.
So, between an angry gate employee who thought we deserved absolutely nothing (she was fed up with my questions, no doubt about it), and the Continental manager, they "compromised" to cheat us out of most of our required compensation.
Continental's official response:
9:52 AM (1 hour ago)
Dear Mr. Fabbri:
Thank you for contacting us via email on February 15, 2012 concerning
your family's experience at Newark Liberty Airport on February 15, 2012.
I regret that you were not accommodated on Continental Flight 1665 from
Newark to Portland on February 15, 2012. I am unable to grant your
request for denied boarding compensation. If any denied boarding
compensation were due, it would have been issued by the agents at Gate
C72 on February 15, 2012.
United Airlines Customer Care
Update: United did finally do the right thing and reimburse us. It wasn't easy but they saw the light. Thanks!