The early bird catches the worm… and I’m not the early bird… again!

I’d like to think that I learn from my mistakes, though there are days like today where I just want to bash my head against the bulkhead. In the past I’ve blogged about the importance of showing up at the gate early when you’re trying to get bumped off a flight that might be oversold. Last year I was flying from Washington Dulles to New York JFK, and showed up at the gate, only to find that they needed volunteers. Unfortunately they had already processed the volunteers (and compensated them), so didn’t need more. Bye bye, free ticket! But I learned from that… at least until today.

This morning I flew from New York Kennedy to Washington Dulles on a United Express flight operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines. The flight showed as being zeroed out in advance, though lately I haven’t had great bump luck, so I wasn’t counting on them actually needing volunteers. I showed up at the counter with 40 minutes to go till departure (20 minutes before boarding), and I see there’s one passenger on the “confirmed awaiting seats” list, and zero seats remaining. That means they’re oversold by one passenger. Great. They even had the “we are looking for volunteers” verbiage on the monitor

Of course all excited, I go up to the counter and get in line. I assumed the other people in line were just there to ask the typical questions, but no, they all wanted to volunteer. And what was the gate agent doing a full 40 minutes before departure? Printing out $400 worth of travel credits for another passenger that she already bumped. Nooooo!

What’s the problem here? First of all, from United’s perspective, it’s stupid to bump passengers so far in advance. There could be no shows, last minute cancellations, etc. Always solicit volunteers early, but only bump when the flight is ready to go. But more importantly (for me), the bump list is sorted by elite status. And that means as a 1K with United, I’m always at the top of that list. But because the gate agent bumped a passenger before the list should have “closed,” I wasn’t given a chance to volunteer.

Anyway, it’s entirely my fault, I’m not blaming anyone else here. It would have been nice if the gate agent would have waited, as she should have, but she didn’t. Oh well. But I think (hope?) that I’ve finally learned my lesson…

Fortunately the flight was actually quite entertaining. The flight attendant kept getting Delta and United confused. Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which now does some flying on United’s behalf, does most of their flying for Delta. This particular flight attendant was flying under the United brand for the first time on this trip. So she struggled a bit — “You’ll be earning SkyMiles for this trip, just visit to enroll,” and “welcome aboard Delta Connection flight…” That’s only the beginning, the fun went on and on. The captain had it down a bit better, though still referred to the flight as “United Connection” (as opposed to United Express).

Filed Under: Mileage Runs, United
  1. Coins, Maybe that pax was GS or 1k on a higher fare. I’d e mail 1k and complain. This way you’ll get a voucher without having to take that bump. Haha!! J/K.

  2. Just out of curiosity, have you reached 250K yet? Were you one of the people that won the elite choice award?

  3. I had a UA gate agent at MKE process bumps on perceived inconvenience to the passenger. So he put someone on Airtran to LGA (arriving within 30 mins of her plan) instead of getting me to DEN 5 hours late all on UA.

  4. Did you ask to be added to the volunteer list at the landside check-in counter?
    Good luck next time!

  5. Had something similar happen to me for an ORD-MKE segment.
    Worthless agent at T2 “Customer Service” at ORD wouldn’t put me on the volunteer list and said I have to talk to the gate.

    Went to the gate about 90 minutes before the flight and asked, and they said they weren’t even dealing with MKE yet as there were several flights departing from that gate before MKE. They told me to come back 60 minutes prior to departure, which I did, and by that time they had already VDB’d two people!! SIXTY minutes prior!!! Of course they didn’t need any more after that.

    Shame on me for not insisting on getting on the VDB list or finding another agent to do it.

    By the way, the flight left with one empty seat.

  6. Is it the fear of having to IDB someone and possibly get yelled the reason for doing this? I’ve seen it happen more than once as well, they ask for volunteers VDB one or two passengers and then there’s an empty seat when the door is shut.

  7. But it is the second mouse that gets the cheese. Don’t sweat it. They’ll be more worms and cheese.

  8. Dude, at the RCC put your name on the list as soon as you get there. Also, the RCC is much nicer about putting you on even when GAs will say “oh, we don’t need volunteers” and then later call for them and get a rush of people you have to fight through yelling you are 1K, take me first! Been getting a lot of volunteer requests and not having it come through lately. UA’s IM is getting very smart!

  9. Also, I laugh at how many times they have been calling for “volunteers who have a flexible travel schedule” and don’t state the compensation and wonder why noone is coming up… duhh…. this morning “you will get 400 travel credits”… what’s a credit worth? Maybe she needs to add the keyword DOLLARS that most people respond to šŸ˜‰

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