The Travel Adviser: Continental rises to the task

Koby manages to get to LA on time.

airport (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
The morning started off ominously. The skies were dark with rain clouds, the road was slick and the drive to the airport had more than its share of impatient drivers. Koby arrived for his 11:15 a.m. Continental flight early. Coincidentally, his brother, Oz, an elite frequent flier, was “bringing” his plane to him with his family of five returning to Israel.
Actually, this was no coincidence. With an elderly father, the brothers had decided that one of them must be in the country at all times. Oz and his family had been attending a family simha in the Midwest and were returning with 15 suitcases.
Yes, Continental allows its elite frequent fliers and their family members to check in three pieces of luggage each, with a maximum weight of 70 pounds per piece!
When Oz landed, he phoned and told Koby that he had arranged permission for him to enter the Arrivals area to assist with the luggage.
Unfortunately, nobody had informed the guards at Ben-Gurion Airport and Koby’s incessant demands that he be allowed to enter the restricted area almost resulted in him being detained. Realizing there was nothing to be done, Koby cooled his heels.
With a big bear hug and an exchange of messages, Oz exited and Koby went to the Continental counter to check-in for his flight to Newark. Being an elite frequent flier as well, he was whisked through security, given an emergency exit seat in economy class and escorted to the airline’s airport lounge.
He boarded the plane, smiled politely at his seat mate and began working with his latest gadget, the Apple iPad.
He was finalizing his business plan for his meeting the following morning in Los Angeles with the Sony Music Group, one of the largest record labels in the world. A conference was scheduled with Sony executives flying in from across the US and Koby would have 45 minutes to make his presentation. If successful (the ground work had been planned for several months), a valuable contract would be signed.
His travel consultant had arranged a two-hour layover at Newark airport for him to make the connecting flight to Los Angeles and he was cognizant that it was the last flight of the day out to LA.
It was when the call from the overhead speakers broadcast a request for a doctor on board that Koby’s pulse began to beat a bit faster. A young woman scurried down the aisle. Fifteen minutes later, a second request was delivered and an older man left his seat to answer the call.
For the next hour, the flight continued smoothly – uneventfully, in fact, until Koby heard the request that passengers return to their seats and fasten their seat belts.
Some 1,800 miles away, his travel consultant had already been informed of the unscheduled stop. In fact, one of the sales managers, Moshe of Continental, called the travel consultant, warning him that the plane was landing in Zurich for a medical reason.
What Moshe couldn’t know was that the stopover in Zurich was the least of Continental’s problems. The travel agent explained that his client must be in LA that evening so he could be at an important meeting the following morning. Failure to arrive was not an option.
It was agreed they would talk once the plane was on the ground in Zurich and they knew how long it would be delayed.
The travel consultant updated Koby two minutes after he had landed in Switzerland. Koby relayed the news that two passengers had been taken off the plane, one on a stretcher who was showing little movement.
It was then agreed that once the plane took off again on its way to Newark, the travel consultant would follow up with two options.
The first was to arrange a helicopter to transfer Koby from Newark airport to JFK, where there was one last flight scheduled to depart that night to LAX.
Still, with only a 60-minute window, the chances for this to succeed seemed bleak. The other option was to take the last flight to Las Vegas that landed in midnight, and arrange a rental car, which Koby would drive the five hours to Los Angeles.
But, as luck would have it, this flight was completely sold out, even in first class.
Continental Flight 85 departed Zurich after a little more than an hour on the ground and commenced its eight-hour flight to Newark airport. A few hours later, the travel agency in Israel closed for the day, leaving only Moshe of Continental as the last buffer for Koby.
Keep in mind that Moshe wasn’t paid to work around the clock and overtime was not a perk of his employment contract. The travel consultant could only sit blithely, hoping that somehow a miracle would occur.
Moshe called everyone he knew at Newark airport, explaining the situation. Planes are no longer held for late-arriving clients, whether they are VIP politicians or harried business people.
If you show up late for your flight, you had better hope that it was delayed, because getting planes in the air on time is the paramount task of all ground crews.
The jet stream was pushing Koby’s flight hard, making up valuable minutes as he traversed the Atlantic. With a 6:40 p.m. planned departure from Newark to LA, his flight was scheduled to land at 6:09 p.m.
Wonders of wonders, Moshe’s plea for help fell on compassionate ears. As the plane descended, the air hostess cleared the path for Koby to exit first.
Upon exiting, he was met by a Continental representative in a golf-cart vehicle. He was driven to passport control and after entering the US was driven to the gate for the flight to LA.
With only one minute before the gate closed, he was escorted to his seat. Rarely in my quarter century experience in the travel business have I seen an airline and its employees show such dogged determination to help a passenger.
Little did the music executives realize at the meeting the next morning what it took to get Koby to LA on time!
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.

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