Live Free, Fly Hard

TB and I have been in the Midwest visiting family and friends for the holidays. We left out last week flying from Seattle to Denver to Chicago to Dayton on the first leg. The bulk of the outbound leg went relatively smoothly despite the customary delayed, overcrowded flights. There were two notable things that happened during this part of our trip.

First, the captain of the United flight from Denver to Chicago had one of the flight attendants give me a handwritten note he jotted on one of his business cards. In it he thanked me for my loyalty to United and apologized for the delays and inconveniences TB and I had experienced. I felt special. I felt like I mattered. It only took him a few moments and about 40 words. Well done.

Second, our connection from Chicago to Dayton was too tight after the Denver-Chicago flight had been delayed over two hours. We ran from B7 to B8 (lucky!) to catch the connection only to find the jetway door closed (unlucky!) but the plane was still there and baggage was still be loaded. The flight wasn’t scheduled to leave for another 5 minutes but the gate agents and United flight operations decided to button things up early despite knowing incoming flights were arriving late. We pleaded with the gate agent. She said no. We showed her we only had carry-ons. Still she said no. I flexed my United 1K status. No dice. She directed us to the customer service line where we had to queue behind a dozen other marks.

I was livid. I wasn’t about to stand in that long line and risk not making it onto that plane which was still at the jetway being loaded with baggage. I unapologetically got out of line and went straight to the customer service desk since the woman who shot us down at the gate was now there assisting other customers. I wanted to give her a piece of my mind. She tried her best to avoid me; she wouldn’t make eye contact. I decided to take my frustration out on the more junior guy working with her. I relayed the story, flexed my status, issued hollow threats, cajoled, criticized and critiqued. I did all that without raising my voice or using colorful language. The guy offered a hotel, the first flight out the following morning and profuse apologies. I was quickly losing the battle but kept pushing for an alternative: Get me on my original flight.

It had been about 20 minutes since we arrived and I knew it was highly likely the flight had already departed or would depart soon. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, the woman from before finally came over. She chatted with the guy, barked out some orders and watched the screen over his shoulder. A few moments later, something caught her eye behind me, over by the gates, and she fired up her walkie-talkie. After a few more moments, she told the guy to stop what he was doing, told TB and me to follow her, and took us back to gate B8 where, lo and behold, the jetway door was open. She explained, as we neared the gate, the captain had requested more fuel for the plane and the flight crew re-opened to door. Since the door was now open and due to my status, they had to get me on the flight. The only problem was our seats had been given to standby passengers and the flight was full. Oops.

That turned out not to be as big a problem for us as it was for a couple standby passengers. An agent went on the plane, found two unsuspecting passengers, who thought they were leaving for Dayton on that flight over 30 minutes ago, and told them they had to go. Ouch. Two middle-aged passengers got off. One was a man, the other a woman, they weren’t together, they had checked bags, their bags would not be unloaded. They were pissed. As we boarded the plane to take those two now-vacant seats, all the passengers looked at us incredulously with a hint of bewilderment as if they were wondering, “Who the hell are they that United kicked two people off the flight 30 minutes after we should have departed?” I just smirked and took my seat. Membership has its privileges.