I play “confirmed same day change” roulette… and don’t win

“Sir, is this your first time on an airplane?”

For some odd reason there were three United redeyes from San Francisco to Washington Dulles last night. Usually there are just two, but there was a super-early one at 9:30PM. I was booked on that one, and my upgrade hadn’t cleared in advance. At the gate I was number one on the upgrade list with first class having checked in full, which is the worst place to be on the waitlist. I’d rather be last on the list than first to miss the upgrade.

Anyway, I had an idea — the slightly later redeye was a 757, and while first class was full, I figured I’d make a “confirmed same day change,” which is free for 1K members, to that flight. Since there are 24 first class seats there’s a good shot there will be some no shows, and  I should be somewhere near the top of the list. Beyond that, there had been confirmable upgrade space at the 1K window for the flight, so my upgrade would have cleared, had I booked it. But I wasn’t convinced it was worth the gamble, since I had a decent exit row seat.

For the original 9:30PM flight I had stuck around the gate area for a while, trying to see whether there would be a no show for first class or whether they might need volunteers, since the flight was zeroed out. I went down the jetbridge with seating area three, and they were already gate checking all bags. This is something that frustrates me as of late. Look, if people store their bags properly (or the carry-on policy would be enforced), there would be room for everyone’s carry-on. Even with everyone carrying on a kitchen sink, there’s still room. But you have some gate agents and flight attendants that would rather gate check 100 bags than store them in the overhead bins.

So by the time I got to the bottom of the jet bridge the agent informed me my bag would need to be gate checked. I explained I’d just take another flight instead, since I had valuables in my carry-on and couldn’t check it. I went back to the counter, and asked them to offload me. They seemed annoyed by my plan, so I didn’t even bother to ask them to rebook me.

I went to the customer service desk, at that point, and told the agent I wanted to make a confirmed same day change to the 10:30PM flight, which was wide open. She said “no, this flight is actually sold out.” I thought she was just being lazy, but no, she was right. In the five minutes that passed between me checking the load and getting to the desk, the 10:30PM redeye was sold out, because the 11:30PM redeye was delayed by two hours, causing them to transfer a lot of people to the earlier flight. That meant this flight was now sold out. I would have accepted full responsibility here as I made the change at my own risk. Fortunately availability was rather fluid, and after refreshing the page a few times, one seat opened up on the flight.

The good news is that I got rebooked in full “Y,” which is the highest coach fare bucket, meaning I should get 50% bonus elite qualifying miles. The bad news is that I was assigned seat 13E, a middle seat.

I went to the gate for the new flight, with the hope that I might just be bumped from this flight too, given that it was zeroed out. I was number three on the upgrade list (I’m guessing I was the top 1K based on my “full fare” fare bucket, so that meant there were two Global Services ahead of me), but first class had checked in full. I asked the gate agent whether she had any other seat available, but she indicated she didn’t. I pestered her a few more times before boarding, and she eventually printed me out a boarding pass for seat 8D after offloading a passenger that would misconnect.

So in the end the two Global Services did clear, and the flight left with me as number one on the upgrade list. Ultimately I didn’t brilliantly fool the system. But I ended up with a decent seat and some bonus EQMs, plus a bit of an adventure. And I’m betting I would have cleared had the 11:30PM flight not been delayed, since I’m thinking the two Global Services that were ahead of me on the upgrade list must have been moved over from the later flight.

The flight itself was also quite interesting. First of all, I sat next to a 777 captain that’s based at IAD but lives in San Francisco. Based on his conversation with the crew, he was a reserve called last minute to work the Washington Dulles to Narita flight today. I realize commuting is a way of life for many airline employees, but how it’s safe or responsible to take a redeye and then five hours later be in command of a 250 seat plane for 13 hours is beyond me. I’m guessing he usually commutes earlier but was just called in last minute, but still…

On another note, I found it quite funny when the guy seated across from me (in row nine) asked the flight attendant sitting across from him in the jumpseat quite randomly, “excuse me steward, do you know why they discontinued the Concorde?”

Yet the flight attendant asked me if it was my first time flying…

Filed Under: Travel, United
  1. So you earned more EQMs for full Y, and who knows maybe that’s the segment that’ll put you over the top for Global Services (hah!). Sounds like you were no worse off for the strategy, and you didn’t have to gate check your bag!

  2. @ Gary — Yeah, came out slightly ahead, though was really hoping for the upgrade. It was my first failed upgrade since UDU started, of 50+ flights. And I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but coach just isn’t comfortable. While first class is far from luxurious, I really appreciate the elbow space, which is missing in coach. So didn’t really get any sleep.

    @ Iceman — My seatback pocket was attached to the bulkhead, and it was basically falling off. I tried to place my Bose headsets in there, and the whole console fell off. I quickly fixed it and made it more “secure” than it was before, but the flight attendant had to comment “is this your first time flying?”

  3. @ Dan — There was a Global Services coordinator at the gate, and I overheard her saying that they have to find a way to upgrade the two Global Services on the upgrade waitlist.

  4. The part of this story that seems weird to me is that the 777 captain was in a middle seat, yes? That makes the story read “take a redeye in an uncomfortable middle seat and then five hours later be in command of a 250 seat plane for 13 hours…” Ouch.

  5. Steve, there’s no 8F on the 757. So while 8E is a “middle” seat, there’s no one to your right and you get unlimited elbow room, plus generous floor space for your bag after takeoff. It has a rather private feel, especially if you’re traveling with someone and they get 8D. Plus, the two row 8 seats are often offered excess beverages and cookies from First. 🙂

    Hopefully you can see why 8E is actually my favorite economy seat on that plane (and I have no trouble sleeping in it). So, the good captain could have done worse.

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