Thursday, June 18, 2009

Children Are the New Luggage

     Continental Airlines has been struggling lately. I mean, most airlines are struggling financially, we all know this, but that is not what I am talking about. I mean struggling in the way that you and I struggle sometimes, like when you have one of those days when everything you do just breaks or goes wrong. Yeah, it's struggling in that way. Except it is having one of those weeks, but I figure that since it is a gigantic corporation and you and I are just individual citizens, them having one of those weeks would be roughly equivalent to us having one of those days. Agree?
      Anyway, they are struggling because they have taken losing your shit to a higher degree. Everyone has experienced it, or known someone who experienced it where you are in Denver for a convention but your luggage for some reason is in Maryland riding around a conveyor belt at BWI. No big deal. It happens, you call and bitch, and within a couple of days, usually the day before you are leaving and three days after the convention is over, a van pulls up to the hotel and your well traveled bags show up, just in time for you to check them to take home. That is just how it works.
     So that is the norm, but like I said Continental and their subsidiary, Continental Express, has taken things to another astonishing level: they are now losing your childern. Yep that's right, two times in the span of less than a week Continental employees managed to put children under the age of ten onto the wrong planes that took them to the wrong cities. Now that's a big mistake.
     The big problem here is that children flying alone is a relatively touchy subject, and generally the airlines are really good about it, especially since you know that the airlines must hate it. Think about it, an eight-year old is flying all alone on a big plane full of random people. Nightmare. But lots of parents allow it because all the kid has to do is sit on the plane then walk out the only direction there is to walk out and they are set. But first they have to get pointed down the jetway to the right plane. That's where Continental is having problems.
     In both instances spokespeople for Continental have blamed the fact that two planes were loading through the same door in the airport for their epic failure. In one instance an eight-year-old girl flew out of Houston and ended up in Fayetteville, AR instead of Charlotte, NC. Those two cities are far from one another, just in case you didn't know. She was on her way to see her father, who lives in Charlotte. When it is all said and done, she did not arrive there until around 10:30 pm, which I am sure is way past her bedtime. THE VERY NEXT DAY ten-year-old Miriam Kamens was put on a plane at Boston's Logan International Airport and was supposed to fly to Cleveland to see her grandparents. If that isn't bad enough punishment, she actually ended up in Newark, which is even worse. She arrived in Cleveland about four hours after she was supposed to. Needless to say all the parents and grandparents were very, very worried and concerned and probably freaking out, man, during this whole episode, which I guess is to be expected.
      Now, before we paint them as the total villain, let's look at Continental and their response to these incidents. First of all, they issued both public and private apologies to both families. Second, each family had paid an extra $75 unaccompanied minor fee, which has been refunded. Kamens' father says that the airline has offered to refund his daughters fare, fly her back to Boston first class, and refund the cost of the tickets her grandparents had to buy to fly back to Boston with her, so you know, she didn't get lost again. That, to me, at least today, sounds like a pretty apologetic company that is abhorred such an incident could happen. On a more jaded and bitter day I would probably accuse them of trying to shut the people up so that they didn't get all that bad PR. I guess you can decide that for yourselves. In an event, the parents of both children are calling for an overhaul of the system Continental uses for uaccompanied minors. Let's take a look at the system that they want overhauled so badly, shall we?
     What you get for your extra $75 fee is that parents have to provide contact information for their children when arranging for them to fly alone. That contact information is then given to the gate agent at the time the child is ready to board. That gate agent will escort the child down the jetway to the airplane door, where a flight attendent will seat them and make sure they are taken care of. Once the plane lands, the flight attendent is supposed to hand the child off to a gate agent or an escort to be taken back into the terminal. At both ends, the family are given dummy boarding passes so they can come right up to the gate with their kids. At each of Continental's three hubs, there are specified areas, called Young Traveler Clubs, which provide supervised entertainment and snacks for the kids during layovers. Now I am not sure about you, but that seems like a pretty good system to me. Obviously not foolproof but pretty comprehensive. I mean, short of making the kids wear a radio tracking collar like they were a tagged elk or something I don't know what more the airline could do.
     Well, there is one thing. How about hiring smarter employees. It seems to me that was the weak link here. If the gate agents had the contact paperwork with them when they were walking the child out into the jetway, then there is no excuse for them putting that child on the wrong plane. If they couldn't read that paperwork or didn't know which plane was which they should not have been working there. And if the flight attendent didn't take a look at that paperwork when they received custody of the child then they are at fault as well. News flash people: You don't have to rebuild the whole engine just because the water pump went bad. Just because one or two people screwed up and didn't do their job doesn't mean the system had a fatal flaw. Any system would fail if the people within such system aren't doing their job. So no Continental, don't revamp your little systems. If it's that bad, in words of Dr. J. "buy a second round trip ticket and fly the kid there yourself." True statement.
     So here is what we need to do: first of all, everyone settle down. Second of all, if you want your kids to fly somewhere, fly with them. Third, Continental needs to hire smarter people. Fourth, put down the lawyers. These things happen, we don't need a lawsuit, okay? Because you just said you didn't want money, you would only sue to force Continental to revamp their system so this didn't happen again, but when that lawsuit comes out you are going to ask for $3.4 million for damages and you are going to look like a dick because you also took their very generaous offer of refunding your money, etc. So let's just calm down and relax. This is an isolated incident that I am sure won't happen again. It had better not. You hear me Continental? You just stick to losing peoples bags from now on.

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