So, a week ago I flew out to the west coast to visit with some industry folks (keep an eye over at the work website for more information on who I saw and what I did). It was a straightforward itinerary, at least I thought: fly out Monday, visit Tuesday and Wednesday, fly home Thursday. I had an ambitious flight out, but an easier flight home.
Now, I'll stop right now and admit that, yes, under an hour between flights is cutting things extremely close. I'm very reluctant to book any series of flights that doesn't have at least an hour in between stops. A lot can happen, and a lot can go wrong, and if there's not enough time you really wind up scrambling. However, when someone else is booking your trip, you have to roll with what you're dealt.
I should have known things were going to go badly when we were 20 minutes late leaving Dulles. I hoped we'd make it up in the air, but given that we were flying out ahead of a storm and into Denver, where there had recently been a storm, that didn't happen. We arrived at Denver airport late, and I missed my connecting flight literally by minutes. They had just closed the door when I got off the plane from Dulles. This would be the ONLY flight that left on time this entire trip...
Okay, this sucks. Trudge over to the customer service booth for United, and I was greeted with this sight:
An hour and a half later, they had me on standby for a 7 PM flight to Portland (my destination). That was literally the best they could do, and there was no talk of other airlines, or early morning flights, or anything. Just "here's a standby ticket for the next flight to PDX".
Well, the 7 PM flight was delayed until 8:30.
At ten minutes 'til 10PM, the gate attendants loaded everyone onto the plane - including two people who had been bumped from the flight but were now able to make it - and informed me that the flight was full. I waited from 4:30 PM until 10:00 PM to find out that there was no way I was making it to Portland Monday night. Bear in mind, I missed a planned dinner already.
Back to the customer service line:
After an hour and 45 minutes, I talk to customer service. I explain that I'm traveling on business, that their delay has already cost me a dinner, and that I have a meeting at 9AM in Portland; is there any way they can help me out? As it turns out, there's two morning flights: an 8:05 AM that is full, and an 11:15 AM flight that has seats available.
I ask if they can book me on the 11:15 AM flight but also give me a standby ticket for the 8:05 flight; they respond in the affirmative. Great. I have two tickets now (this will be important later). They did give me a voucher for a hotel room for the night and cab fare to/from. Get to what can only charitably be considered a motel at 1 AM MST, pass out for 4 hours, then back to the airport by 6 to re-check in for (hopefully) the 8:05 AM flight.
The 8:05 AM flight did, in fact, have two available seats, and I was able to get to Portland only a couple hours later for my meeting. Since the folks that I was meeting were the ones that booked the flights, I wasn't too concerned, and the rest of the time was productive. Right up until my contact tells me that United contacted the travel agent with the news that they had canceled my seat on the return flight.
At some point, I was flagged as a "no-show". I don't know if it was for the original connecting flight to Portland or the second flight the next day, but I got flagged and my return seat was canceled. The travel agent contacted United Wednesday morning, and while I didn't get my requested aisle seat (that was already confirmed), they confirmed a window seat for me.
Of course you know what this means: When I went to check-in for my flight, I had a middle seat...
When I got to the airport Thursday morning, I went to the ticket counter. I explained the whole chain of events, even showing the agent not one but two "confirmed" seats. There were no aisle seats left, so they did upgrade me to one of the "extra room" seats for no additional charge. Okay, great. The story's done, right?
Wrong. Now, on my itinerary, here's what it said:
|United Airlines||Flight Number: 1528||Class: T-Coach/Economy|
|From: Portland OR, USA||Depart: 11:20 AM|
|To: Washington Dulles DC, USA||Arrive: 09:01 PM|
|Stops: 1||Duration: 5 hour(s) 45 minute(s)|
|Seats: 38C||Status: CONFIRMED||Miles: 2334 / 3734 KM|
|Equipment: A739/AIR||MEAL: FOOD FOR PURCHASE|
|DEPARTS PDX TERMINAL 1 - ARRIVES IAD TERMINAL 1|
That, to me, indicates that the plane lands, discharges passengers, takes on new passengers, and I stay on the plane. I've done this before. If I need to change planes, I'll get a second ticket for the second leg of the flight. This is how it has happened every other time. I had one boarding pass from PDX to IAD, one flight number, etc. No indication whatsoever that I needed to change planes.
You know that voice in the back of your head? The one I've said you need to listen to? Well, I listened to it. I approached one of the flight attendants and asked if I needed to get off the plane (I was the only person left), as I was staying on through to Dulles. She looked at me like I had three heads and informed me the plane was going to Tampa. I grab my stuff and hit the ground running, and make my way over to the departure board to find out where my return flight is located.
Of course, it's at the other end of the terminal. And it's currently boarding. I do my best OJ Simpson routine and literally run through the airport, arriving at the gate as they're boarding the last group. I think if I had missed that connector, I would have rented a car and driven home at that point. I had never heard of a flight that required you to switch planes where there wasn't SOME indication on the boarding pass - and every other time, I've gotten two boarding passes.
So, beware if you're flying United. At no point was there anything even remotely resembling customer service. When the first plane - the one that was late leaving Dulles - landed, I asked one of the flight attendants about my connecting flight. I was told that someone would be waiting at the terminal to help - the terminal, mind you, was empty. I ran to the terminal where my flight to Portland was, and they had closed the door - the plane was still at the gate.
- Over three hours waiting in line for customer service.
- Two hours and 50 minutes delayed on the connecting flight that I was waiting standby.
- 18 hours late arrival.
- Seat on the return flight canceled with no notice (I never got an e-mail or a text from United, despite leaving both methods of reaching me when I checked in).
- Despite a single boarding pass and flight number, had to change planes with no indication.
That is all.