As much as I travel, I almost never miss flights. I think it’s partly lucky, partly good planning, partly being proactive when things go wrong, and partly hustling when connections are very tight, like my 20 minute international to domestic connection last year at JFK with a terminal change.
The last time I missed a flight was in Bahrain in 2014, when I stupidly showed up a day late. It was an American award ticket that I had changed and I know for a fact I told the agent the correct date, but she booked me on the wrong date. However, that’s on me for not double checking. So yeah, I missed a flight by 24 hours, but otherwise I don’t remember the last time I missed a flight.
Well, Friday a week ago I legitimately missed my first flight in I don’t know how long. And of course it had to be on the Friday afternoon before July 4th weekend. What happened?
An Air France to United connection
As many of you may recall, I flew Air France first class from Paris to Houston, and was planning on going to Los Angeles for the weekend. So I booked a United flight from Houston to Los Angeles (on a separate ticket, obviously, since the two airlines don’t partner). It was a last minute paid first class fare that was fairly reasonable, and I booked a 75 minute connection.
I know that’s risky when on separate tickets, but I figured that would allow me to be delayed by up to 45 minutes or so. Since I have Global Entry and don’t have checked bags, I tend to think 30 minutes will always cut it (which is really 20 minutes, since most airlines close the door 10 minutes early).
Go figure this time around it didn’t work out so well. My Paris to Houston flight was delayed for “security reasons.” Apparently all US-bound flights out of Paris have a security company come in and “clear” the aircraft before departure, and apparently they were running late. We ended up departing about 70 minutes late.
Everything that afternoon was sold out from Houston to Los Angeles, so I figured my only option was to hope for the best and that we’d make up time in the air, since there wasn’t much I could rebook on. Fortunately Houston hotels were wide open, so I guess my alternative was to spend the weekend at a hotel there.
Well, we arrived at the gate in Houston 65 minutes late, meaning that my United flight was scheduled to depart 10 minutes later. Since they typically close the door 10 minutes early, I figured the door was closing right as I was deplaning.
I checked the United app, and sure enough everything showed as being on time. Oh well….
Trying to get rebooked
I cleared immigration and looked at ExpertFlyer, and noticed that there was a single seat left for sale on a flight several hours later from Houston to Los Angeles. Fortunately it was in the same fare class I had originally booked in.
I sprinted to the terminal from which my United flight was scheduled to depart (which was pretty far away — rather than taking the train I ran, and arrived out of breath). I got to the Premier Access check-in counter, and explained the situation.
“Hi, I was hoping you could help rebook me. I screwed up. My inbound international flight was late, and I booked it on a separate ticket, so I missed my flight to Los Angeles.”
She huffed and puffed, and inched over to the counter ever so slowly. “I don’t know if I can do anything, this is going to be expensive.”
I just don’t understand the attitude of these agents, and how they have a job in a customer service industry, let alone in the area supposedly designed for “premium” customers.
Would an “I”m sorry to hear that, sir, let’s see what we can do” have killed her?
“I need to call my support desk. I don’t know how to do this.” She spent several minutes trying to dial up a number but it didn’t work, so she called over her colleague and explained the situation to her. You’d think a check-in agent rebooking passengers who missed their flight wouldn’t be an unusual circumstance?
At this point I said “I don’t want to be a pain, but there’s literally one seat left on a flight tonight. Do you mind just putting that segment in the record and then you can let me know what the fare difference is, because I don’t want it to disappear?”
“You’re gonna have to be patient,” she responded. Sheesh.
She spent quite a while waiting for someone to pick up, explained “we don’t need to help this passenger because it’s his fault,” and then she got disconnected and had to call again.
“There’s gonna be a big fare difference sir, I’m just telling you.”
I just stepped back and let her do her thing, because watching how she was doing things was driving me mad.
After about 15 minutes she waved me over and issued me a new boarding pass on the later flight, without charging me anything. The funny thing is that she wasn’t trying to be nice, but rather seemingly couldn’t figure out how to reissue the ticket and charge me more.
That flight ended up being oversold and needing volunteers, and they were offering a $500 voucher. However, the next flight out was 26 hours later, so as much as it killed me to do so, I passed on the opportunity.
I’m amazed I don’t miss flights more often, but I guess I’m just lucky. This was a situation that ended just about as well as it could have for me — I got the last seat of the night and they didn’t charge me extra for it. When I booked this I knew there was some risk, but 99% of the time it works out well for me, so it was a risk I was willing to take.
The only part of the experience that was bad was the United representative who couldn’t have been less helpful. It just amazes me how unprofessional so many frontline employees in the airline industry are. Where do they find these people?