Continental Flight with Human Waste Running Down the Aisle? Yeah, I Was On That…
Sewage flows from a toilet on Continental Airlines flight 1970 from Amsterdarm to New Jersey on Thursday, June 14, 2007. Photo by Collin Brock.
If you are just finding your way to this story, please note that there is a now a dedicated blog about Continental Flight 71 / 1970 from Newark to Amterdam called Poop on a Plane
I don’t normally cross post things from my personal site, but seeing as this story is now the front page on the Drudge Report and has been picked up by Seattle news, I figured it was worth tossing into the NYC new arena.
On Wednesday June 13th at around 2:00 pm my boyfriend and I boarded Continental flight 71 from Amsterdam to Newark along with about 200 other passengers. Despite that fact that the flight was only scheduled to be 8 hours, it wasn’t until 32 hours later that we arrived in New Jersey. What happened in between is a tale of massive mismanagement, awful customer service and downright inhumane, unsafe and unsanitary conditions. This was a massive clusterfuck on Continental’s part–a screw up of Jet-Blue proportions; maybe even worse. It’s long and drawn out, just like the actual ordeal itself, and it goes a little something like this:
I cashed in all of my frequent flyer miles, all 200,000 of them, collected over the past 10 years to fly to Europe with my boyfriend for our first vacation in almost 5 years. We decided to blow all the miles on flying First Class so we could experience the flight with as much luxury as possible. Our initial flight over there to Frankfurt was delayed over 3 hours so by the time the food and drink started coming around it was almost midnight and a bit too late to enjoy. But the inconvenience of that flight didn’t hold a candle to our return flight.
After two weeks of touring Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, we left from Amsterdam on flight 71, scheduled to depart at 1:30 pm, about 45 minutes late. The flight attendant in First Class told us that the reason for the delay was the plane had arrived late from its previous trip from Houston with the bathrooms not working correctly. It took them a little while to fix the toilet but everyone was glad to wait for functioning restrooms on a transatlantic flight.
Shortly after takeoff there were some rumblings about the toilets still not working. Shortly thereafter, an announcement was made that there was indeed still issues with the lavatories. Of the 8 bathrooms on the plane, 4 on one side were not functioning properly. We were told that they operate on completely different systems in the event of one system failing so all the toilets would not go down at that same time. Everyone was directed to the other 4 bathrooms but just a few minutes later another announcement was made saying none of the toilets were working and they were trying to figure out whether or not to turn around and go back to Amsterdam or stop in another city to get them fixed.
We were on the plane almost 2 hours, with no working bathrooms mind you, before we landed in Shannon, Ireland. At this point it was about 3:30 pm local time. We were told we could deplane to use the bathrooms in the terminal and that they hoped to have the issue fixed within an hour. When we asked the flight attendant if we should take our carry-on baggage with us, she told us just to take valuables–stating that we would be allowed right back on the plane. We ran into the terminal, used the restrooms and headed back to the plane, only to be denied re-entry. We had to wait in the terminal without our things–no phone, no laptops, no books, no mp3 player, nothing to entertain ourselves, help pass the time or inform our family’s of our delay during the long, uninformative and downright rude wait that was in store for us.
After a while, a few passengers were allowed back on the plane to get their bags, but every time we asked we were denied entry by the snotty Irish ladies working at the terminal. Perhaps it was because they looked like businessmen and my boyfriend and I are in our early 30’s with jeans, t-shirts and nose rings. This was obviously a case of discrimination but there is no arguing with anyone who works at an airport unless you fancy being taken into custody by the TSA (edit–or the Irish equivilent thereof).
One important point to make is that the women at the terminal were not Continental employees–the Shannon airport was too small to have a real Continental presence at all. There was little to no communication with actual Continental employees during the entire ordeal.
Every hour or so, someone would make an announcement saying that they were working on the issue and that we would have an update in an hour. Sometimes two hours would go by without an update, but even when they did come they would completely uninformative. At one point, a few hours into sitting in the terminal and waiting with no idea what was going on, they passed out food vouchers. They gave 10 Euros to every coach passenger and 15 Euros to people in first class. Unfortunately they had waited so long to do this, all the restaurants in the terminal were closed for the night. So 200 people made a beeline to the only open food place in the terminal–a tiny little stand that sold prepackaged sandwiches and junky food. By the time we got to the stand most of the food was cleared out, leaving us with a dinner of mineral water and pretzels.
At one point I went up to the gate and one of the crew happened to be there. He was either the pilot or the co-pilot. I was trying to speak to the women behind the counter, telling them that we’d been waiting for hours and people were getting really upset about the lack of communication. This pilot stepped in and snottily told me that they were working on and I should just go sit back down. When I told him they needed to keep the passengers better informed of the situation he literally screamed at me, yelling “Don’t tell me how to do my job!” and then he stormed away. From that point on he earned the nickname Captain Customer Service.
Now here’s where it goes from rude and inconsiderate to a flat out, serious fuck up on Continental’s part. At around 8:00 pm one of the guys in the terminal called his wife to tell her the non-update on his flight status and she told him that she had already checked the Continental website to find out the information for herself. Evidently Continental had listed the flight as being cancelled for quite some time, even though there was no update to the passengers. When news of this development made its way through the terminal, a lot of the passengers surrounded the gate desk and demanded to know if the flight was cancelled. Minutes later they made the announcement, telling us that we should go to baggage claim, get our luggage and proceed to the buses in the parking lot that would be taking us to hotels for the night. That was all the information we were given, nothing about flight times the next day or how exactly the problem was going to get fixed overnight. We wondered how long they would have let us sit there if we hadn’t found out about the cancellation ourselves.
The baggage claim took almost 2 hours, a preposterous amount of time considering they had already mentioned that most of the luggage had to have already been offloaded to work on the toilet system. After all this time, half the people on the plane didn’t even get their luggage and were told that it would be following them to the hotel. Of course, that never happened.
We proceeded to the buses in the parking lot where we were split up into groups with couples and groups with single people. We saw our first actual Continental representative in ages, who told us we would be spread across multiple hotels and when that became clear the people who didn’t have their luggage enquired as to how the airline was going to know what hotel to send the luggage to. This scattered and non-communicative Continental rep told us that they would figure it out, but didn’t convince much of anyone.
It’s also important to note that many elderly people were on the flight, and there was no one from the staff to help them lifting their huge suitcases into the bus. One elderly gentleman took a nasty fall trying to get his bag into the bus himself and if he’s still hurt from that I hope he sues the pants off Continental.
We proceeded to sit on the bus for over an hour before leaving, even though our bus was completely full and our driver was sitting outside for some time; yet another case of Continental being completely clueless as to what they were doing. We also got to hear the driver argue with the Continental representative saying that the hotel was too far from his home and he didn’t want to have to take us there. Way to hire professionals, Continental!
The Continental representative told us our flight was scheduled for 7:00 am the next morning and we would be picked up at the hotel at 4:30 am. While that was little to no rest, everyone was happy to hear that we would be leaving so early.
We drove about 25 minutes through what looked like the wasteland of Ireland to our hotel, a local place branded as a Best Western. We got our luggage and queued up on line to get rooms and were told that the flight had been rescheduled for noon and we will be picked up at 7:45 am. Great. Most of us had rooms right next to one another, in one long stretch of hallway so we mostly all went into our rooms at the same time. Half of the people we were with opened their room’s door to find luggage and or people already in it! One elderly woman opened the door to her room and found a naked man sitting at a computer! Well, that’s really not Continental’s fault, but it’s funny and shows how crappy this hotel was.
At this point it’s about 10:30 pm and they serve us a plain and mediocre dinner banquet style. I use the bathroom in our room and the door handle jams so I’m trapped in there and my boyfriend has to get me out using the credit card trick. There is no AC in our room and the window has no screen so when we open it up tons of bugs fly in. The room is disgusting and old and doesn’t look like it has had a thorough cleaning in years. We get about 4 hours of restless sleep, above the covers, before getting up to make the 7:45 am bus.
Why on earth they picked us up at 7:45 for a 25 minute ride to catch a 12:00 pm flight is beyond me. They obviously wanted the passengers tired, restless and surly. And we were.
The people who didn’t get their luggage at baggage claim never had their luggage sent to their hotel. It stayed on the plane overnight. Also, we heard later that at the single people’s hotel they ran out of rooms because none of the passengers were willing to share multiple room suites. One passenger got up amongst the group and chastised them for not sharing and finally concessions were made and everyone got a bed.
Back at the airport, we stand on a disorganized and packed line to make it through the “did you pack your own bags” security checkpoint and then another long line to get checked in, get seat assignments and check luggage. It is important to note that our new flight # is now 1970, as there is another flight 71 leaving from Amsterdam that afternoon. Thus our original flight now counts and being officially cancelled, not just delayed. We are also given 10 Euro vouchers for breakfast, no extra for First class this time, but at least there is a real restaurant open to get mediocre airport food from.
We then go through full screening security complete with shoe removal fun and proceed to sit in the center of the terminal waiting for our gate announcement for the next 3 hours. At one point they announce that passengers on our flight will not have to go through customs and we can proceed directly to our gate and they tell us the gate number is 14. So about 50 or so of the passengers head towards the gate which is a good 15 minute walk down this long, narrow hallway that is the Shannon airport. As we walk down the hallway we see our plane, nowhere near the gate, just hanging out in the middle of a field–this does not bode well.
When we get there we don’t see anyone at the gate so everyone has a seat and waits. A few minutes later an airport worker comes over and tells us we are not allowed to be at gate 14 since there are no employees there and that we need to wait outside the corridor at gate 11. We walk back to gate 11 but the doors are locked and they will not open them for us to go in. Everyone stands in the hallway, some people sitting on the floor, for about 30 minutes, not wanting to go all the way back to the main terminal if we don’t have to.
After some time they send more security guards over who tell us we must go back to the main terminal as our gate is going to be changed and they are not sure where it will be. When everyone expresses outrage at this we are told that a Continental rep will meet us in the main terminal to answer questions and explain. Begrudging we all trudge back to the main terminal and of course there is no Continental rep there–they’ve been non-communicative this whole time what made us think they were about to start now?
After another hour or so in the main terminal they call our gate again and it’s the same one–gate 14! So everyone trudges back that way and right outside the gate they have another security checkpoint setup where they search through everyone’s bags again even though we have already been through security. They gave me some crap about a bottle of gin I bought at the Amsterdam duty free because it wasn’t dated for that same day but when I reminded them that we were stranded there from the previous day and supposed to go straight back home they were snotty but ultimately allowed me to keep it. We waited at the gate for another half hour or so, at this point the time is almost 1:00 pm even though the flight is supposed to have left at noon and they have not updated the departure time. We see them remove the previous day’s trash from the plane and wonder why this wasn’t done in the 24 hours the plane had been sitting there.
One of the passengers tries to take a picture of the trash removal and the 12:00 departure sign with a nearby clock reading almost 1:00 pm, and he is yelled at by those same two Irish ladies working the gate. They threaten to call security to confiscate his camera and detain him, stating that he is not allowed to take pictures inside the terminal. Have you ever heard of that rule?
Finally they board us and we take our seats but after sitting around for another 20 minutes or so they make an announcement that one of the redundant instruments in the cockpit is not functioning and that we cannot be cleared by the FAA until it is. When everyone flips out the flight attendant makes an announcement saying that they have a different crew working on this issue; thus implying that the people working on the toilet issue were incompetent and that they should have it fixed soon. Another 30 minutes or so later it is.
If you are still reading this you are about to get your payoff. This is the part that you will not believe. This is the part that will make you say, “holy shit you have to be fucking kidding me”
The flight attendant in first class alludes to that fact that the toilets are still not functioning quite right, but that they have assurances that once we are in the air that they will. However she doesn’t seem convince that this will be the case and basically tells us to get off the plane and use the bathroom now since we might need to hold it for the next 8 hours. So, my boyfriend and I get off the plane one more time to use the bathroom in the terminal just in case. Then we take off and once we have reached our cruising altitude they announce to the whole plane that the toilets were not fixed. They are in the same shape as they were 24 hours earlier, most of them are completely unusable but 2 are limping along. Shortly thereafter they announced that one of the two working toilets is now completely broken, that we will all–almost 200 of us–need to share the one toilet in first class and that it is not quite fully functional. We are literally told not to through any paper down and to only go “#1” if we can help it.
So here we are on an 8 hour transatlantic flight with one semi-functional bathroom and they start serving food and drink. I had two bloody mary’s hoping that the sodium levels would make me retain water. My boyfriend and I both refrained from eating or drinking–a real bummer when you paid for first class and all that good food and alcohol that comes with it. Everyone on the flight was told to “limit their consumption” and to “control what comes out on the other end” We heard that in the coach cabin that sewage backed up from the toilets and started flowing down the aisles, getting all over people’s feet and belongings. We didn’t see that but we certainly smelled it–that does explain the ungodly odor we were forced to endure for the next 8 hours. Any why all the coach passengers were hanging out in First Class.
The other fun part of all this is that the one working bathroom is right by our seat so we cannot sleep the whole time with all the other passengers queuing up, talking and bumping into our seats on their way to the one semi-functioning bathroom. The passengers sitting in the middle row in first class had the pleasure of having all the coach passengers step over them in order to get to the bathrooms, instead of just going around like normal people. I’m glad we had the window seats, even if it was closer to the stench.
Eight hours later, 32 hours into the whole ordeal, we are in Newark, ready for the fun of customs and immigration, and on our way out of the gate Continental issues the final slap in the face–a voucher for one free drink the next time we fly with them! I wanted to tear it up and tell them where they could shove that drink, those bastards.
It would appear that most of the passengers have opened up a complaint against Continental for this, as they have a dedicated representative taking people’s stories and requests. I have requested all 200,000 of my miles back. They are telling us we will need to wait 7-10 business days for a response.
All in all this was the most poorly managed, indecent event and the worst customer service I have ever experienced in my entire life. Continental ought to be ashamed of themselves for treating people like this, like dumb cattle, depriving them of basic human functions like food, sleep and waste capabilities. Not to mention all the potental health hazards that come along with exposure to human waste for extended periods of time, slim but certainly a factor. I’ve seen absolutely no local news coverage on this, which I find completely apalling. Hopefully they will pay dearly for this massive screw-up. Any tips on how to hold them fully accountable?