The Travel Adviser: Untied or united?

One minute is all it took for an storied airline to be resigned to the dustbin of history.

Ben Gurion, departures/arrivals_150 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ben Gurion, departures/arrivals_150
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As the clock struck midnight, it ceased to exist. Continental flight 1267 departed Phoenix Friday, March 2, at 11:59 p.m. When it landed in Cleveland on Saturday morning it was known as United 1267. Originating back in 1934 under a mishmash of different names, Continental Airlines had drawn the final curtain.
One minute is all it took for an storied airline to be resigned to the dustbin of history. Its name may still appear on some planes, and to be sure those United Airline counters will still show some collective memory of the Continental name, but its name is now history. To be fair, though, this was planned for almost two years, and carried out with military precision.
First, some of the fun facts you need to know as the harsh reality continues to unfold: United Airlines in Israel flies twice daily, 14 times a week, from Tel Aviv to Newark. Staffed by one of the most professional teams of airline executives I’ve ever encountered, they are hoping their Continental spirit be absorbed into the corporate culture of Chicago-based United Airlines.
Until recently, each airline issued its own tickets and passengers had to use separate ticket counters. No longer. One reservation system, keeping the Continental computer system, allows travel agents, airline employees and customers to see all reservations on one site.
Frequent flier members have been bombarded over the past few months with requests to merge their Continental and United accounts. Today it’s called the United Mileage Plus. All miles have been merged and can be found (or so one hopes) at Continental frequent flier members were informed their number would stay the same, as would their Personal Identification Number.
Wise people know not to be so trustworthy and have been checking online to verify. If not, do everything possible to fix any bugs before you plan your next trip.
Troubleshooting guide: Let’s say you purchased your ticket prior to March 2 under the Continental name. There is no need for a new electronic ticket; in fact the only thing that “should” have changed is that instead of you flying from Tel Aviv for example on CO #91, it’s now UA #91. You should of course ensure that your frequent flier number, that appears on your boarding pass that you get online or at the airport, shows the correct number.
If not, make sure ground employees change it in their system and print you out a new boarding pass. Moreover, save said boarding pass until you can verify online that you’ve been credited.
Keep in mind that on most days, over 250,000 people fly on United Airlines.
One can hope that while there were some glitches at the outset, the vast majority were solved quickly and efficiently leading to few flight delays.
Don’t forget that Continental, like United Airlines, belonged to the massive Star Alliance. This means that if you had your ticket issued prior to March 2 on any of their partner airlines, you must also check that your new United frequent flier number has been entered.
I’ve written in the past that no matter how much technology has impacted our industry, the role the airline executive plays is a far more important one than the average flyer realizes. So as not to embarrass him, we’ll call one such executive Special K.
His title is United Airlines Sales Executive for Jerusalem and Southern Israel. With South African parents, he must have been raised in a household where superior service and high ethical standards were drilled into him. Married with two small children, his superiors expect him to provide insight and intelligence, excellent service and problem solving for the hundreds of travel consultants that fall under his purview.
His demeanor is modest and I’ve never seen him raise his voice to anyone in the industry. I’ve seen him challenged by massive levels of incompetence and stress from both customers and travel consultants, all the while showing the patience of Job.
For me he epitomizes all that I expect from an airline sales promoter. I certainly know he doesn’t work for me; I don’t pay his salary or provide him with a car or a phone. I don’t make him work 24 hours a day or speak to VIPs late at night or at the break of dawn. His employers do all that.
I’m often surprised to get an e-mail from him at midnight informing me that a truculent client had received the coveted upgrade that he had requested.
I don’t expect him to acquiesce to my every request. I don’t expect him to solve every problem. In fact what I like most about Special K is that rather than give an outright “no,” he meekly answers that he’ll try. How much greater is his influence when he can report back that he was able to solve that problem, get that kosher meal to the gate.
Working with him has made my job considerably easier over the years. In fact one of the reasons we sell so much Continental, and now United, is the knowledge that we have Special K to assist us if an emergency arises.
I have no doubt his employers in Tel Aviv and in Chicago realize what an asset he is. Just in the past few months, he’s rerouted snowbound clients, brought a wife home to her soon-to-be-hospitalized husband after the airline told her there was no chance, and found a missing child who was “lost” in the airport.
So as United Airlines truly attempts to unite with the esprit de corps that we’ve come to expect from Continental, having employees like Special K will make it far easier for them to succeed.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments, e-mail him at [email protected]