Why am I not surprised by the whining?

How sad. Continental puts together an incredible event that blows away 500 very frequent flyers directly and thousands of others indirectly, and the unions and disgruntled employees try to use this as a cheap shot against management. As a United flyer I was truly impressed by Continental this weekend, by their management team, their employees, and the company overall. It’s sad that some employees would be trying to work against this and ruin our impression of the company.

The most common argument I’ve heard so far is that there are pilots furloughed, which makes this event a waste. What am I missing here? What does one thing have to do with the other? Guys, this was a marketing event, and a good one at that. Why don’t I hear anyone bitching when Continental puts up a billboard at Newark advertising a new route? It’s virtually the same thing, both are marketing tools….

This was a marketing expense, something Continental did in hopes of increasing loyalty and revenue. Heck, if anything, events like this would bring back more pilots, since they hopefully bring additional customers to the airline. Is that concept so difficult to understand?

Captain Pierce, the CAL MEC Chairman even left a comment in the other post I wrote about the event. Here are a few of the highlights:

While I have no problem with promoting our airline and rewarding our high paying passengers, taking a couple of hundred bloggers on a couple of hour long joy ride around Texas seems excessive by any standard.

Sorry, but you don’t even have your facts straight. It wasn’t a couple of hundred bloggers, but instead a mix of your most loyal customers, potential customers and yes, even a few bloggers. It’s excessive by any standard? Boy, you really seem to be good at making generalizations.

Have they not learned anything from other companies’ bad press due their excesses with these types of events?

You’re kidding me, right? What company has done such a thing by rewarding their CUSTOMERS (and NOT their executives)? There’s a difference between a big bonus for an executive and rewarding your customers. One is disgusting and one is good business.

I hope everyone enjoyed the reported low pass over Hobby. It is very likely that one or more of our furloughed brothers was washing or fueling airplanes directly below in order feed his family. 

Noise.

The insensitivity is even greater with 147 pilots on furlough.

See above. The two things are unrelated.

No matter the expense of the event the perceptions of waste and excess far outweigh any possible benefits.

You really think what ultimately came out of this event was a perception of waste and excess? Not a perception of goodwill, generosity, good leadership, and a strong company?

Sorry, but your attitude is disgusting. Continental truly amazed us all with this event, and if you look anywhere except the ALPA website or crew forums, you’ll see nothing but positive reviews and responses.

You know, you guys really don’t know how good you have it. Being a United frequent flyer I’m used to the awful management style of Tilton & Co. You have a management team that is competent and genuinely cares about the success of the company, which includes the employees, customers, and of course shareholders.

Regardless, I will continue to post pictures of the incredible event, as I know all of my regular readers and even 90% of the people linked here will appreciate them. Spam away, ALPA and crew forums, as I’m sure you will.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Well I just read through some of the previous posts’ comments and well, I’ll have to go with you on the whining comment.
    People commenting when not knowing all the facts, well it speaks for itself.

    I think that this is great PR, for a company trying to get more people into its’ seats. An airline needs to differentiate itself as much as it can, and this worked wonders in my view.

  2. While I can easily see that this might be seen as a cheap shot @ CAL management, let me give you some perspective from a front line employee. The employees at CAL were asked in ’05 to give up $500million per year to help keep our company afloat ($214million per year came from the pilots alone in the form of paycuts/contractual givebacks/ and frozen pensions) At the time there were roughly 5000 pilots @ CAL, that equates to an investment of $42,800 per pilot to help keep our company afloat. While I can appreciate a good party as well as the next guy, I do have a problem with the way our investment was needlessly exposed by the multitude of pictures/videos which included alcohol in and around/on the aircraft. I can’t imagine any jury in the United States (or the general public for that matter) looking favorably towards CAL if someone (God forbid) got hurt either on CAL property or diving home.

  3. “Sorry, but your attitude is disgusting. Continental truly amazed us all with this event…” Why because they gave you all the dinnerware, first class blankets, and amenity kits all to take home. Do you know what happens to a crew member if they so much as take a can of soda off an airplane in a foreign country? Ask the pilots about how they were treated during the hurricane. I don’t want china, I want the loan that we granted repaid with interest and retroactivity!

  4. I understand the employee whining but the employees should be trying to help the airline grow, part of any employee’s job is to help make satisfied customers. Sounds like the sour grapes employees do not understand that they need the customers to get the jobs back.

  5. HUH? You are aware that CO serves alcohol on its flight every day, right? What makes this flight different from any other?

  6. Lucky, you’ve always been my hero, but i think i’d have to side with the pilot on this one, although the event was truly really cool and i deeply regret not going, the first thought i had when i saw the posts on flyertalk was “why would CO do somthing like this”.

    Let’s think about all the people that went to this event.

    CO medium – high rev FFs, who really wouldn’t increase their travel activity just because of this DO.

    FFs from other airlines, who might be thinking about switching to CO because of this DO, but after all most flyertalks are calm calculating decision makers, we think about elite benefits, hub locations, fare prices, routes & destinations and everything, and the DO dosen’t really change any of that. For example, lucky, as much as you’ve enjoyed the event, are you willing to swtich your 1k for a onepass plat?

    Low-rev bargin flyers, MRers, and “bloggers”(LOL) with all due respect (because i’m in this group when i travel on my own dime) are probably people that CO could do perfectly fine without.

    So in terms of incresing Rev, i think this kind of a strech, now with that said, i think CO did get a huge bunch of really solid customer review data on their new or exsiting products, which might be worth a lot to them. but i really don’t think that justifies the extravagent DO, and i can see how it could be upseting, espcially if my “emergency investment” is being used to fund the event.

  7. Thanks for the thoughts, guys. First of all, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t know whether this event made sense or not at the end of the day from a financial standpoint. There are people much smarter than me that I’m sure put plenty of research into this. I could see how it might not pay off, but at the same time I think it was incredible marketing, and really solidified Continental as the premium US carrier in the minds of many. There were several United flyers there that were amazed and for that alone considered switching their loyalty, because unlike United, Continental seemed like a truly functional company (which it is, except for a few people, it seems).

    I’d like to once again give the example I gave earlier. What’s the difference between this and a billboard announcing how many destinations Continental flies to in Europe? Do those billboards directly pay off, or is it just part of Continental’s overall marketing strategy to emphasize what a solid airline they are? Along the same lines, what about adding LiveTV, power ports, and new premium seats? Should Continental not be doing that either because there are furloughed pilots?

    Sam, thanks for the thoughtful reply. While I would agree with you in general, I would check out the Do thread in the Continental forum. You’ll be surprised by how many people have switched their business or increased their business to Continental in the past thanks to these Do’s.

    Again, I just don’t think a comparison can be made between how many pilots are furloughed and what kind of marketing Continental does. Do those that are furloughed want Continental to also take down all billboards, advertisements, etc.? Something tells me that wouldn’t get you your job back any faster….

    Oldman, one thing has nothing to do with the other. Continental has strict policies, so trying to compare what happens if a flight attendant takes a can of soda to giving some of your most loyal gifts is a bogus argument. Are you also angry that customers earn miles, while you don’t when you work? What made this event so great, you ask? Once again, the fact that Continental showed us what a straightforward management team they have, what a great overall product they have, how awesome (most) of the employees are, and how they’re willing to invest something to gain new customers.

  8. I can see this from both sides. I would say that Lucky’s right — the DO is basically a very targeted form of advertising, unlike the billboards. However, in this economic environment, perception can be more important than reality…..

    my favorite quote though is about the bloggers, as though the money was wasted on these guys….. do they realize that the blogger act as a force multiplier on every dollar that is spent? Not only does Lucky become impressed with CO, but all of his readers learn about it too. And yes, I trust what I read from Lucky far more than if the Houston paper had reported it!

  9. I feel that using the word “bloggers” as a collective noun, tinged with negativity and derisiveness, only renders the this ALPA rep ignorant and out of touch. It sort of reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s speeches in the 1960s about the “hippies” on the UC Berkeley campus – how he lamented how, and I paraphrase, “several long-haired individuals are wreaking havoc on the campus!” Replace “long-haired individuals” with “bloggers,” and you have the same idea.

  10. I used to be a marketing and branding consultant (for some destination/travel clients, but not directly involved with the airline industry). I think the Continental event should be viewed as an excellent form of targeted and pass-along marketing and public relations. And it was probably a lot cheaper than many other forms of PR and advertising.

    Continental employees should be glad that management is trying to attract new business, and trying to keep and create more jobs.

    All you “blogger opinion leaders” can spread the word to thousands of other customers and potential customers. Your billboard analogy is right on. Some advertising is shotgun (billboards) while some is excellently targeted (like this event).

    I think the best “brand” an airline might have today is good customer service. The airlines that have differentiated themselves with good service and good brands (Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska, maybe Virgin America) seem to be the ones most successful and profitable.

    Posts like yours and others I’ve recently seen actually make me want to try flying Continental again for my personal travels.

    Ken

  11. I found that to be pretty funny too, hobo13. Nowadays bloggers make up quite a bit of the “new media,” to the point that Southwest invites them to their media events. So I’ll take the comment of “a couple of hundred bloggers” to actually be a good thing. I also agree with you about the perception of this, and up until ALPA got involved it seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately for ALPA they’ve lost so much credibility over the past few years that there aren’t too many people listening to them anymore, especially when they try these emotional appeals about furloughed pilots washing planes to feed their families. Even if it were true (which I doubt), give me a break.

    To the ALPA guys (as I see I’m getting a lot of hits from their forums), let me once again say that I see both sides here, I really do. I have no clue whether it paid off or not, but I still find the comparison to furloughs to be bogus. I’d love to hear what you guys think management’s intentions were with this flight? Can you at least see where some of us are coming from, given that this is merely a targeted form of advertisement which spreads like crazy?

    Thanks for the thoughts, Ken. It’s nice to hear the view of someone with experience in the area.

  12. jetdriver, you seem to be conveniently forgetting that all but one of those pictures were taken on the ground on a plane we only toured and didn’t fly in. The champagne bottle picture actually involved an EMPTY bottle of champagne. It was merely for a picture, if I recall correctly. Chill.

    BTW, I don’t think you have permission to “steal” those pictures.

  13. I don’t think any of the Continental pilots are angry that CO had this event in Houston. It was published in the internal Continental news updates. Also published in that update was the fact that CO was not paying for anyone to come down to IAH and that all the people invited were going to be paying their own way. The excess came with the flights, (which was kept secret from the employees) not the event. To take a 757 on not one but two joyrides around Houston in this economic environment I think was overkill, and showed bad judgement on the part of our management.

    We as pilots go out of our way to save the company millions of dollars per year in fuel costs, they literally have management people walking around the ramp asking why we are running our APU’s , all in the name of saving fuel. Then they take a 757 and treat it as if it is a party boat breaking rules, that if any line pilot broke, they would be severely disciplined. Pilots have had severe discipline for allowing a spouse into the cockpit on a retirement flight, but then they allow a group of bloggers, and others who have been drinking, into the cockpit in flight over the city of Houston, all potentially in violation of FAR’s and TSA regulation. I think if you asked the average employee what they thought about that you would get an earful.

    Also, we actually do have furloughed pilots who are washing airplanes to make a living now, not at Hobby, but at Ellington field in Houston.

    We are all glad that you had a good time, we have a wonderful company that we want to see prosper. We have fantastic employees that have seen this company through good times and bad, and everyone has a vested interest in seeing CO succeed. Our ALPA group has had one of the best relationships with management of any ALPA group in the industry, that is why this is such a shock to us.

    Once again, we hope you enjoyed yourselves, and we hope you will continue enjoy our hospitality on our flights.

  14. I didn’t get the opportunity to go down to IAH (not that I was even invited), but after reading all the complaining from ALPA, I will never set foot on a CO aircraft unless there are NO other choices (and that includes the bus).

    Marketing is marketing. I have yet to read either of the ALPA posters discuss different types of marketing that they would like to see stopped.

  15. If the goal of CO was truely to make the “bloggers” write more positive reviews about them, I don’t see how that’s any different from outright bribing them, and frankly i think that would be a pretty unethical thing to do. (I’d like to think i was just targeted marketing attempt to increased rev from the people who where there, and get some marketing data in the process)

    I don’t think any of the regular services changed, and if i remember correctly Lucky’s last report on CO was somewhat negative, now i’m sure you’ll still be as subjective as you’ve always been, but if some other bloggers chance their reviews on CO simply because of their experiences from the DO, then i think it’s i’d be losing my faith in those blogs really quickly.

  16. Yes, there was a “cost” to CO for this event. And personally I have not been (nor will ever be) to one of these CO Dos because of the way it is publicized (or not) on Flyertalk.

    My argument is that this is basically a marketing event for CO that has a cost component to the company. However, (and this is a big however) it generates significant revenue for the company simply from people flying in to attend the event.

    Now I don’t know if there were 500 people attending the event – but say 400 of the people flew in on CO at an average ticket cost of $200 each – that’s $80,000 in additional revenue for CO just for having the event. While the total cost to the company is probably a bit more than that this year due to the “private” flights, the net cost isn’t really as high as people may think.

  17. CO’s event was a smart businees and public relations move. Its cost is not near the cost of employing the salaries of the furloughed pilots, and I certainly do not think CO would furlough pilots unless they are not able to deploy them on flights. AFAIK, COs business model is not cut costs at any cost as United seems to do.

  18. In the watch, jewelry and fashion industries, companies have special events and ply gifts on bloggers to generate positive PR for what they are doing. Flyertalk isn’t bloggers per se, but a community of frequent fliers. In fact a decent percentage of the community does “Mileage Run” paying for air travel out of their own pockets to attain status on their favorite airlines. This is true incremental revenue. Members of this community are often sought out for advice on what airlines to fly, what programs to favor and other tips from less savvy members of the general public. The information I gained at flyertalk was critical in my decision to switch airlines, and one of the beneficiaries was actually Continental.

    I certainly understand when unions take events out of context to make a point, or make a point by highlighting poor management practices. Insulting an important customer base is a counter-productive approach.

  19. As an employee what I really resent is the number of people willing to get in fist fights in the boarding area, and spend hours to game the awards system, all for the chance to NOT RIDE IN THE BACK! You want to ride in First Class? Pay for it!

    We have a product in our Business First that everybody seems to want but few are willing to pay for it. Because of blogs like this and Flyer Talk we now have the first class of the airplane full of lowlifes wearing shorts and flipflops sitting next to passengers who actually bought the product.

    Our loyal customers… not really. These bloggers and the people that spend the hours figuring out how to get their “points” were never meant to be in First Class anyway. They would cross the airport to pay three dollars less for their trip to Europe. Soon enough there will be a cascade of mergers, lots fewer seats in the air, and less carriers going there way and we can finally ditch this insane give away of our First Class product.

    Gee…. how many Ford Escorts due you have to buy to get a Mercedes Benz?

    We have to bring the elegance back to air travel and kick these blogers and their low lifes friends back to economy where they actually paid to be. Frequent flyer miles have to go the way of the S&H green stamps. Also lets bring back the First Class dress code.

  20. Roll Up For the Mystery Tour

    You really have to hand it to our CEO, Larry Kellner; when he throws a kegger, he throws a kegger.

    Mr. Kellner, never one to pass up the chance for a good toga party, recently tossed the keys to Continental Airlines to a large group of his most intimate friends—or at least those who could show up with their hands out for another freebie at our expense—and pretty soon Bluto and the rest of Delta Tau Chi were out on a road trip cutting up the skies over Houston.

    In a tribute to the fine art of wretched excess as can only be practiced by managers such as ours, Mr. Kellner scraped the deadwood from an internet web-board called FlyerTalk and invited them all to “roll up for the Mystery Tour”. All they had to do was get themselves to Houston and our management team would do the rest. Hotels, dinner, drinks, more drinks, cocktails, wine, beer, and a few more drinks, and then a couple of aperitifs followed by nightcaps were the primary ingredients of this tribute to Bacchus. Then they all got to go flying—after watching Mr. Smisek drive away in his Turbo-Porsche. That was probably worth the price of admission—if they had actually paid for anything.

    The photos commemorating this event are proudly displayed on several internet web sites. Look, there’s Flounder sitting in the cockpit (after stacking his empty rum bottles—six, I think) wearing a lampshade. No, wait—it’s a Captain’s hat! And there he is again, posing with Chavon, former star of the Continental Airlines safety video! Next we find him in repose, cuddled in Continental’s new economy sleeper berth—actually, upon closer inspection of the photo, it’s an overhead bin. He must have levitated there because I know our management eagle-eyes would never let him put his feet all over our seats to climb up there.

    Viewing these hundreds of photos plastered (ha ha) all over the internet, I’m reminded of Bill Dana’s classic “Jose Jimenez” bit from the dawn of the space age:

    ED SULLIVAN: Now what do you consider the most important thing in rocket travel?
    JOSE: To me, the most important thing about rocket travel is the blastoff.
    ED SULLIVAN: The blast off?
    JOSE: I always take a blast before I take off.

    They must have printed new seatback briefing cards for this flight: “Your seatbelts must be fastened at this time—unless you’re too drunk to slide the metal end into the buckle until it clicks.” In the old days, you couldn’t get on an airplane if you were intoxicated; on these flights you couldn’t get off unless you were.

    Now, I’m the last guy to criticize our exceptional management team for spending over a million dollars courting a bunch of guys and gals who collectively spend about $3,000 a year flying Continental; I’m sure they analyzed the cost/benefit-thing and it came out “Cha-Ching!” Or maybe their Magic 8-Ball said: “Toga! Toga! Toga!” Of course, these same management whizzes send us to the Chief Pilot’s Office for leaving an APU on for 30 seconds longer than they think necessary and keep trying to cheat us out of our pay by manipulating our ACARS times so maybe their calculator is on the fritz.

    I’m sure Mr. Kellner has dozens of easy justifications for his mile-high Mardi Gras. In the mean time, hundreds of our pilots are out of pocket many thousands of dollars as they subsidize their families medical care—medical care that used to be covered under BCBS—but is now no longer covered under Aetna. This is the Aetna sold to the employees as being exactly the same as BCBS. “There’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield and then there’s ‘Not Exactly’”. Aetna falls under “Not Exactly”.

    While our friends from FlyerTalk were yukking it up for the camera and seeing if they could empty every drink cart on the airplane in less than 90 minutes, 147 of our hostages (often called “furloughees” by management) are still trying to figure out how to consistently feed their families. Most of these guys probably don’t grasp the fine art of the airborne food fight.

    Then there are just a last couple of things to think about. Sure the TSA “screened” these “passengers”. Did they wand them? Pat them down? Bring a metal-detector to plane-side and make them march through? Roll out an X-ray machine to examine what they carried on? I hope so—because every one of these folks had free, unfettered, and, apparently unsupervised access to the cockpit—and this after doing their best Beldar Conehead impressions by “consuming mass quantities”.

    How hard is it to join FlyerTalk? Sign up on the internet? There’s a background check, right? Nah, Al Queda could never pull it off—they’re just not that smart.

  21. In this economic mess we are going through, I have a bad taste in my mouth with all of this excessive corporate greed. What comes to mind is AIG, and B of A guys going on lavish trips on taxpayer money. While I understand Marketing and PR are necessary, shouldn’t there be limits when you are using someone else’s money. These executives have run these companies down, gone to employees and taxpayers for bailouts, and then pull events like this one. Continental is losing money and employees are funding it while executives are still making their millions. If they were doing their jobs well, and using company profits that would be a different issue. The way things run in this country are wrong, and we need to realize we are all on the same side…….and that is against corporate greed, whether they throw us parties or not.

  22. William Newland,

    I personally hope I am on one of your flight, so I can show up wearing jeans and a t-shirt and sit in first class on an upgraded $100 fare. However, I fly United for work and pleasure for the sole reason for their frequent flier program, so I am doubting I will ever get to drink champagne in first class while dressed like a low-life on a flight with you. Too bad.

    According to you, people travelling on cheap fares on a mile run are low-lifes. I guess I’m naive, but how does it hurt for examply United Airlines this last weekend, when there were 6 flyertalkers contributing towards the fuel bill on a half empty LHR-ORD flight? Even though they were probably not making a profit on any of our tickets, they filled what would have otherwise been 6 empty seats.

    It’s pathetic how some people despise people on a mileage run and they are the best customer when they are flying on business. There’s no cheating or manipulation going on, it’s simply taking advantage of a good deal.

    In regards to the “First Class Dress Code”, that went away in the 1990s. Though not only elitest sounding, you must have forgotten about most people in the tech industry that have a healthy income, yet wear jeans and a polo shirt to work.

    Finally, I wish I had attended this DO to see what Continental Airlines is like. It’s good for them to have customers loyal to United Airlines attend this event, for the sole reason that they will be partner airlines this fall and for people such as myself that have never flown Continental, this would give me a chance to see what Continental is like compared to the underperforming management team at United Airlines. It’s great to hear how management is engaged at Continental, and I would like to compare that with what’s done over at United.

  23. Here’s a link to a picture, or rather set of them. I can see why CAL is so intent on impressing “high dollar” customers. Is this the caliber of customer to which you all were referring?

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=38462785&id=11309400&l=b18dd

    The internet is flooded with pictures like these. While I will not and cannot speak for my company, please accept my personal apology for having your weekend invaded by this level of immaturity.

  24. redflyer, that’s classless and disgusting, I completely agree with you. Let me simply say that this was a group of over 500 people. There are bound to be some classless people among them, no? People like that make me ashamed to be a member of FlyerTalk, and I’d like to apologize on behalf of 99% of customers for their actions.

    I certainly didn’t engage in that type of activity, and neither did most of the people at the event, so please don’t put us all in the same category.

  25. Marketing expense is one thing. This escapade was a gross misjudgment which was full of negligence. Numerous FARs and policy procedures were broken and now videos of it all are flowing over the internet. How can the TSA/ FBI honestly take security seriously when they allow unfettered cockpit access by a bunch inebriated passengers, none of whom have had background checks? US airline crews go through 20+ year rigorous FBI checks to verify we are indeed to be trusted with what could be deemed as a loaded weapon. We are trained, instructed and strictly required to protect the cockpit door at all costs. I cannot divulge our security procedures but, trust me, they are extremely comprehensive in the interest of security and safety. All of that was thrown out the window while even greater risk was placed on aviation security as a whole when passenger after passenger joy-rided the cockpit jumpseat, drunk or not.

    As a professional pilot, I care not to see such mediocre stunts played out over the internet, especially when it is my airine.

    As far as the furloughed issue… well, there is obviously no convincing you, but you’d better believe it we will look at every unnecessary expense with a mircoscope while our pilots pay the price for mgmt mistakes. I’m sorry you see the plight of our jobless pilot as “noise”. Good thing you’re a UAL flyer… wait, I thought you said this stunt was for our frequent flyers.

  26. Outraged CAL pilot,

    I’m surprised that you’re second-guessing your company and union pilots who were flying that aircraft. Wouldn’t they have made sure the flight was safe? After all, it was their responsibility. If CAL pilots do not control the aircraft they fly, you have much bigger problems than sour grapes over a party.

    I’m also amazed at the vitriol directed against the idea of maintaining a good relationship with high dollar pax. These FlyerTalkers are not purely miles-scroungers; they also shape their companies’ travel policies and pay high fares to fly on short notice on business. And they have a choice – many have elite status across multiple alliances, and it’s easy for them to defect from CAL.

    Marketing efforts like this are the reason that even more pilots are not furloughed. These customers are the ones paying your salary. Don’t you want to keep them around?

    (P.S. Lucky is a presumably high-dollar UAL flyer but when CAL joins Star Alliance he will have strong incentive to fly CAL too. Would you rather UAL get his business?)

  27. This was a stunning waste of resources- Will anyone on this flight buy another CO ticket that that they would not have bought with out this joy ride? NO Was this event for new corporate account buyers that could actually generate some business? NO Is this the type of service you will recieve on CO if this stunt had actually prompted you to buy a ticket on the airline? NO, muchof the behavior chronicled would have generated a divert and removal from my airplane.

    If the goal was to show off CO aircraft and service (which is still better than most others) this could have been done while never leaving the hangar saving thousands of dollars and thousands of tons of carbon emissions.

    I am beat over the head everyday about how to save 100 pounds of jet fuel. These flights burned more than I will be able to save in my entire career. A silly stunt that leaves most of us shaking our heads.

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