Bamboozled: You can learn from vacation nightmare

Nicole Apice and Mike Riley were excited for their vacation to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. The recently engaged couple, BB brandingboth age 27, were celebrating their two-year anniversary.

Apice and Riley are both teachers at Robert Morris School in South Bound Brook with a limited vacation schedule, so they booked an early morning nonstop flight on Continental to maximize their time off.

“We knew we didn’t have too many days on vacation, being that we had to return to work, so we wanted to get there as soon as possible,” said Apice.

A series of mishaps at Newark Liberty International Airport resulted in the couple missing their flight, and they lost nearly two days of their five-day trip.

CHECKING IN

Apice and Riley arrived at the airport at 6 a.m. on April 13, ready for their 7:25 a.m. flight.

They were greeted with very long lines for both check-in and security.

The couple said the employee on duty directed them to a long check-in line. After they waited 30 minutes, they said the worker told them they wouldn’t make the flight. Apice said she saw other travelers pulled out of the line and escorted through security. She assumed employees were trying to help these passengers make their flights, and she wanted the same kind of assistance.

Apice asked to speak to a Continental manager, who “told me it was my responsibility to arrive at the airport early.”

Ten minutes later, at the check-in counter, they said they would be put on standby for a 9:30 a.m. flight. Still hoping to make the original flight, Apice and Riley waited through security and rushed to the gate, only to miss their flight by two minutes.

Frustrated, Apice and Riley waited at the gate for 90 minutes, hoping for standby seats to the second flight. When a Continental representative arrived, he told the couple they were not in the system, even though they had standby boarding passes in their possession.

They were added to the standby list as numbers 16 and 17. They didn’t get the seats.

Their next best option was a flight the following day with a layover in Charlotte, N.C., arriving in Punta Cana at 4 p.m.

When their shortened vacation was over, Apice and Riley said officials at the Punta Cana airport said their names and passport numbers had been deleted from Continental’s computer system.

“This was a 20-plus minute process after having waited in line for our bags to be searched and then in a separate line to have our baggage checked in for about and hour and a half,” Apice said.

The couple made the flight, sitting 19 rows apart on the crowded plane.

“It was a miserable way to end our trip after such a frustrating ordeal to start with,” she said.

Apice and Riley lost one night in their hotel, worth $228.47, and they had to fork over $28 for a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel because their transfer vouchers were no longer valid.

Apice and Riley wrote a letter to Continental chairman and chief executive Lawrence Kellner, then they contacted Bamboozled.

SOURCE OF INCONVENIENCE

Apice and Riley tried to fly out on an extremely busy travel day — the Monday after Easter — and they should have left more time. The Continental website suggests international travelers leaving between the peak hours of 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. should leave extra time — especially on Mondays.

Apice said based on past flight experience, she mistakenly thought they had plenty of time.

“Most of the time, we wind up sitting at the airport for hours waiting to board,” she said.

Despite their late arrival, could employees have helped them through the lines faster?

Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark said there are various reasons travelers are helped through the lines, and there are often different lines for employees, disabled travelers and members of the airline’s frequent flier program.

“We do not have a formal policy to expedite late-arriving customers through the check-in and TSA security checkpoint process, but we do our best to assist where feasible,” Clark said.

Plus, Clark said, because they didn’t make the original flight, their return flight information was canceled automatically in the system. She said Continental regrets it didn’t manually override the cancellation — something that would have made the return flight an easier experience.

To compensate the Apice and Riley for their inconveniences, Continental sent them each a $100 travel certificate to be used for future travel.

“It’s better than nothing,” Apice said. “However, no amount of money will make up for our lost time together.”

TRAVEL SMART

Take steps to minimize hassles on your next trip.

Check with the airline to make sure you understand its check-in requirements, and visit the Transportation Security Administration web site (tsa.gov). If recommended arrival time seems excessive, follow the guidelines anyway. Sitting for hours waiting to board a flight isn’t pleasant, but it’s better than missing a flight.

Bring all required identification, ensure your checked luggage meets weight requirements, only bring carry-on bags that are the permitted size and don’t bring disallowed items on board. (Check tsa.gov for those requirements.)

Airline and security employees don’t make the rules. They should be polite, no doubt, but they’re just trying to do their jobs. If you run into trouble, get names and ask for supervisors.

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