It has been our highest honor to sit on the Continental Airlines Customers with Disabilities Advisory Board (CACDAB) since 2008. When approached three years ago by Customer First and Regulatory Programs Manager Bill Burnell and his team, we leapt at the opportunity to help make a difference for one of our favorite travel providers. This company has always had the contagious postitive attitude towards PWD and act as family taking care of you on the road. The company's long-term dedication to going above and beyond the regulations for handling customers with disabilities is applaudable. Therefore to be one of their advisors on the topic is the hugest honor one could have.
We were invited to visit Northwest's board in early 2008 in Detroit just before their merger with Delta, and subsequent dissolvement, and as Burnell always says, we learned what not to do. From there Continental gathered an all-star team of representatives from the travelers with disabilities community, representing as many disabilities as possible including many levels of physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities. Each meeting the Continental crowd would grow larger and larger, with multiple employees from dozens of departments coming to listen, give input, and learn at these extremely productive and educational meetings.
This Wednesday, during the board's fifth and final pow-wow under the Continental name, the crowd grew to about 80 eager bodies including the board, Burnell's super team, a first-time appearance from the Pilot's Department and smaller regional airports, and three United Managers. The morning opened with a surprisingly heart-warming speech about marriage from Vice President of Airport Operations and Planning, Cindy Szadokierski, of "the New United," former French teacher who got the "jet fuel in [her] blood" used phrases like "team effort," "leaving the past stigma behind," and closed with Craig's favorite line of the two days, "at the next meeting."
As board members, we applaud the United team for sitting in open minded during this final and therefore sometimes emotional meeting, as the new step sisters and brothers to this family who has laughed and cried together for two years now. Their input was invaluable, and their note taking did not go by unnoticed. Hopefully this board can only continue to grow in the most beneficial ways as possible during this merger.
What the next year will look like:
You will start to see the airplanes and uniforms merging, with Continental's logo remaining on the tail and the United name down the body of the aircrafts (above). Pins combining both were handed out to employees.
Mileage points rewards programs will merge.
In the spring of 2011 on "Customer Day One" the policies will merge and customers will "feel a more streamlined experience."
Next, the FAA certificate as one formal airline will be awarded.
United is still "committed to Continental's slogan of "Offering the highest standard of clean, safe, reliable (and accessible) transportation."
The New United will become the largest, most powerful, and hopefully the most accessible airline in the world.
What has happened since March 2010:
* Stopped offering medical oxygen for rent and have approved 13 kinds of Personal Oxygen Containers (POC) for passengers to bring onboard. Also hosted POC Awareness Day.
* Ventilators now approved above 10,000 feet and when applicable can use onboard power to charge.
* The "Disability Quarterly" with articles from board members and passengers with personal stories receives hundreds of emails in response per issue.
* Continuing to educate and and merge policies with International Partners.
* Animal Relief Areas (guide dog potties) now listed on airport maps.
* Many airport ground crews received mobility equipment handling workshops to reduce annual damage expense.
* CACDAB's partners TSA, STAXI, and wheelchair providers have also made several changes to how they operate based on the CDAB's suggestions and experience.
It will take some time for this merger to shake out into a product that we all love and company we all patronize, but we are optimistic, and we hope you will be too.
Thanks to Continental for introducing us to an amazing team of dedicated employees and board members.