Story from a reader!

Here’s an experience a friend/reader emailed to me last week, and it was so refreshing to read on so many levels. While it might be long, trust me, it’s worth every word and says so much about what’s possible with a positive attitude.


I never expected this to get this long, but I suppose this is what happens when you have an entire flight to write something? Ah well, grab something to drink – here’s the entire story!

So, I’m on my way to DEN from ORD for business and using all the tips, tricks and tactics I’ve learned from you, I made sure that when I originally booked this trip that I look for the best possible connecting route to maximize EQM/EQS/RDM. As you can imagine, that can be fun when going hub-to-hub, and also factoring in work hours (i.e no flying on company time). Normally my only hope had been to connect via a direct path (i.e. ORD-FSD-DEN, ORD-OMA-DEN, etc.) in the hopes of segmenting my way to 1K by the end of the year. Thanks to ITA, I’ve now found far better options – like today’s ORD-IAH-DEN, which took a 888 mi flight to ~1700 mi (thank you for teaching me ITA!). Since the connection to DEN was only 31 minutes apart, my hope was that they would then be forced to route me back to ORD from IAH and then on to DEN (even more miles!).

Unfortunately, WX hit ORD (shocking, I know) and the kiosk wouldn’t let me check-in to IAH at all! Having received ground stop text messages from the FAA on my taxi ride to ORD, I decided to be a good MRer and do my homework just in case. While still in the taxi, I took out my laptop and brought up ITA. I made a list of five alternate (and better) itineraries! So, I took my list to the Premier line and explained the situation. Immediately the dragon at the counter told me that there’s no way she could put me on any of the itineraries I had since they had direct flights available (she wouldn’t even look at my list). She said that the only way she could reroute me on a connecting flight was if all directs were full (and that she would get into trouble if she did otherwise). I declared defeat and took the direct routing instead. I thought, “Only moments ago I was about to get ORD-IAH-ORD-DEN, and now I’ve got nothing at all – a measly direct flight!”

Alas, I don’t have RCC access either, so asking them for help wasn’t an option. My experience is that the general customer service counters at ORD are a complete nightmare, so I was about to throw in the towel when I noticed that there were only three people in line at the Concourse B counter. I figured, “What do I have to lose – I’ve got some time before I have to get to the gate”. Little did I know that three people in the general service line translates into a 45 minute wait! On the bright side, it gave me time to rehearse my speech (read: begging and groveling). I eventually got to the counter and explained the situation. This CSR was unbelievable. The first thing she did was re-explain my situation to another, more senior, CSR and asked whether my request was doable. The other CSR said that it was doable as long as the same booking class was available on the new route. I was booked in S, so I didn’t get my hopes up. While she was doing her research, I thought that since it was nice of her to even bother looking in the first place (unlike the Premier check-in counter CSR) that I was going to christen my first “Superior service deserves to be recognized” card on her. I just got them for the first time the other day – I didn’t know they existed. After I filled it out and handed it to her, she was first pleasantly surprised, and then said, “It’s going to take a lot more than just one to make up for this!” She was hilarious!

Sure enough, literally 10 minutes later, she went through all five itineraries on the list (i.e. via SFO, via LAS, via CLT, via DTW and via OKC). It became apparent that she had thrown in the towel when she said, “How about via OMA?” (i.e. essentially a direct route with an on-the-way stopover) With a sad, puppy-dog look on my face, I said, “No SFO?” She thought about it some more and then told me to hold on while she walks off to go call someone for approval (I think she said at HQ?). Another 10 minutes goes by and when she got back, she muttered something to the senior CSR that sounded like she wasn’t able to get an answer from whomever she was calling. The other CSR then suggested she try the next booking class up. Again, no joy. She looked over at the other CSR again and without saying a word to her, the other CSR blurted, “Alright, alright, try E class then!” Tada! It worked. I was shocked to be getting my wish after all!

While she was punching up the changes on her computer, she joked, “See what you’re doing to me – I’m gonna need a coffee to relax after this!” So, seizing an opportunity to show my gratitude, I asked her what kind of coffee she likes (especially since Starbucks is right behind the Concourse B customer service counter). Since she was clearly too humble to actually let me get her coffee, I had to spend the next five minutes fighting tooth and nail to get answers to things like: whether she likes cream, sweetener, etc. But, I managed to get the necessary details! Five minutes after she handed me my boarding passes, I was back with a Venti Iced Coffee with cream and classic syrup! As I walked off, I could see that she was blushing as she began explaining to the next customer why on earth a random person just bought her coffee. It felt great to be able to give back!

Now, fast-forward to the first leg: ORD-SFO. Like I mentioned in my email, as I boarded the plane I saw the captain handing out Boeing 757 spec cards. That struck me as unusual, so while the aisle was clogged with passengers putting their bags away, I took the opportunity to lean in and read his name tag. That’s when it hit me that this could be the captain you blogged about. I tried to visualize the news video you hyperlinked to. I still wasn’t sure it was him since my memory was fading, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. “You’re that famous captain, right?” As humble as he is, he smiled and said something like, “Who? Me?” Still trying to make sure it was him, I asked, “Aren’t you attending an upcoming FlyerTalk dinner?” He lit up and said, “You’re a FlyerTalker?” He asked me what seat I was in and took note. That’s when a frustrated passenger nudged me from behind and pointed down the aisle, indicating that the congestion had long cleared. Embarrassed, I quickly moved along. I was convinced at this point that it was him, so as soon as I got to my seat I fired off the email to you and hoped for a response in time. I didn’t get one before takeoff, but figured that it’s a long enough flight that the chances of getting one when we landed were good.

Here’s where it gets interesting. After the in-flight movie ended, I decided to get up and move around, and eventually camped out in the spacious open area by the main entrance of the 752 to stretch my legs. All of a sudden, I saw a flight attendant walking down the aisle with a stack of hand-written cards, passing them out to specific passengers. If I still had any doubts that this was the man you blogged about, they were gone after seeing this. He was all the buzz. Everyone was sharing their Flanagan stories and talking about how extraordinary he is. Since I wasn’t at my seat, I figured I would ask the FA, “You don’t have one for 15D, do you?” She replied, “Yup. I came by with yours earlier, but you weren’t there. I’ll grab it in a minute.” I have to admit, I was a little dumbfounded by her answer. I thought, “Honestly…how cumbersome could a little card be, that you would go and put it away?” Well, I quickly realized how naïve my thought process was. She came back and handed me a pile of goodies and I soon became the envy of everyone who could see me from where I was standing. In my hands I was now holding a hardback copy of The Age of Flight with a hand-written message inside the cover, a Frank Sinatra Come Fly With Us CD, another 757 spec card, and of course, a business card with a hand-written note.

What I saw next, though, threw me for a complete loop. Both the note inside the book as well as the note on the business card were addressed to Bill! I thought, “Oh shucks, I got the gifts meant for a different seat.” But then I saw “15D” written on the “Final Weight Manifest” that he had folded up and used as a bookmark to indicate which seat it was meant for. Also, when I read the note inside the book, he brought up the FlyerTalk dinner in Denver. All I could do was assume that he had some sort of outdated passenger manifest that showed a “Bill” in my seat at some point prior to an hour and a half ago when I was assigned the seat by that wonderful CSR back at ORD. I’m still not sure what happened exactly. In any case, I returned to my seat and showed my seat-mates what I had gotten. I said, “See, I told you our captain was famous for this stuff – look what he gave me!”

As the flight went on, I grabbed for my stack of “Superior service deserves to be recognized” cards and began scribbling a thank-you note to Denny. A few minutes prior, he had announced that we should all look at our Boeing spec cards that he handed us when we boarded to see if there was a signature on it, which would mean that we won a bottle of Chardonnay. I remembered seeing that on the CBS video you linked to, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he was still keeping up the neat idea. I had looked at my spec card that he handed me when I boarded, and alas, there was no signature. Coincidently, an FA had just gotten on the PA and announced that they were still looking for one of the signature holders since they still had one bottle left. I thought, “I bet someone threw theirs away thinking it was trash – how foolish!”

Meanwhile, I could tell that we were descending into SFO, so I quickly rushed to the FA in the back galley as I put the finishing touches on my thank-you note. At the same time, the seatbelt sign went on, so I hurried back to my seat after I handed it to her. I decided to flip through the book Denny gave me and noticed the extra 752 spec card by chance. Sure enough, there was a signature on that one. It turns out the fool who failed to claim their wine was me! I had only checked the spec card he handed me while boarding, not the one in the book! I looked up and saw the FA putting the bottle of wine away in the front closet, so against better judgment (for fear that I would lose my chance), I rushed up and handed her the card. Irritated that I was out of my seat (understandably so), she grumbled while handing me the bottle and I made a mad dash back to my seat. I thought, “I’ve never met anyone so generous! A book, CD, and wine? Nice! Ben is right about this guy!”

As we touched down, I quickly turned on my phone to see if I had gotten a response from you. Sure enough, I got both! I quickly read both messages and thought instead of conveying the message verbally, I’ll show him! So, as soon as we got to the gate and began deplaning, I stepped out of the passengers’ way once I got up to the exit where he was waving them goodbye. I pulled up the first of the two messages (your shorter one), said, “Captain Flanagan, there’s a message for you!” and handed him my PDA. He read it with a smile and a laugh and handed it back. Then, he added a little further to the identity crisis by turning to the FAs standing next to him and said with a tone of commendation, “Hey! He’s one of our Million Milers!” and pointed at me. While that’s definitely a goal of mine, I’m nowhere near it. “Obviously,” I thought, “he must still think I’m Bill.” He asked me if I would be making it to the dinner and I said I wasn’t sure yet. Given that passengers were still deplaning, and I had the rare opportunity to spend 10 minutes with my dad at SFO before moving on to DEN (I called him to tell him I would be connecting through there and to meet me after he gets off work), I decided not to dig into the name confusion, and simply thanked him for everything and went on my way. I did, however, notice that my thank-you note was in his shirt pocket!

So there you have it. That’s my first Captain Flanagan story. I almost didn’t even have the opportunity to get on the flight had it not been for the WX messing with my original itinerary and the unbelievable service from the ORD CSR! What a day!


Filed Under: United
  1. What a great note, thanks for sharing! Flying through Chicago 2-4 times a week, I have been able to run into several CSR and RCC persons that go above and beyond again, and again. Remember their name, thanking them, etc, always seems to go above and beyond.

    The Coffee is always great, having flown to Atlanta almost every other week for 2 months, the agents were very kind. One particular UA person loves steamed soy, with an almond shot. It makes her day everytime I fly through, and I agree, always great to be able to do something for someone else. Even better when there is nothing much in return, except kindness in future interactions.

    Thanks again for sharing.


  2. I flew ORD-SFO every other week from 10/2007 to 04/2008 and never got Capt Flanagan. You guys suck! (and by suck, I mean rock, cuz I’m totally jealous!)

    Great story!

  3. I still have my card from DEN-ORD back in February. The inbound aircraft was late from NY and he was more than apologetic to each and every one of us waiting at the gate

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