Why I spent the night at Dulles on Sunday….

This is why flying never gets old. There’s always a new adventure or something that can go wrong. On Sunday evening I was supposed to fly from New York JFK to Washington Dulles to Tampa. I was originally on the 7PM JFK-IAD flight, but due to bad weather at IAD the flight was showing a delay. Fortunately the 2:30PM JFK-IAD flight had a 4+ hour delay, so I managed to get on that. Of course nothing is ever that simple. They moved a bunch of people from the 7PM flight to the earlier flight, but as I was fully expecting the flight went out weight restricted, so they took some people off (although only standby passengers, so no compensation). I was happy that I didn’t get pulled off, but I guess 1K is worth something. I couldn’t help but laugh at the JetBlue pilot commuting home that was the last to board, proudly gloating how his flight landed just ten minutes ago and how he managed to make this flight. He was awfully quiet when he took the walk of shame as he was kicked off.

Anyway, the flight attendant was a hoot to talk to (she sat next to me while they de-iced) as I questioned how “legal” the crew was, so perhaps her answers would have been a bit unsettling for the passengers around us that overheard our conversation. Anyway, as usual I had gate checked my rollaboard at JFK, which I was planning on picking up upon deplaning at IAD. Fast forward several hours and a soar rear thanks to the uncomfortable ERJ seats and we make it to IAD. Everything was looking good and I already placed a few phone calls gloating about the fact that I’d make it home that night. It was around 9:40PM and my connection was at 10:05PM, so I’d just make it.

I get off the plane and stand in the bitter cold waiting for my gate checked bag. After about ten minutes they roll out the big cart that has the gate checked bags, but my bag and the bags of two Brazilian girls who are connecting to Rio de Janeiro don’t make it. I give the ramp agent standing there my claim tag and he goes to look into it.

It’s worth noting that since it was so cold I was wearing a hoodie and was probably looking more like a college student than a business traveler (God forbid). Up until now he hadn’t seen my boarding pass, so didn’t know I was 1K. Now that shouldn’t really matter, but at United it seems to. All the time I’ll see general members treated like crap while I at least get a smile from a gate agent as a 1K.

Anyway, he comes back and says he found my bag. “Great,” I say. He responds “but you’ll have to pick it up at baggage claim in the main terminal.” Having no clue why, I explain to him that I gate checked the bag at JFK and have a connection to TPA in a matter of minutes. He explains that the gate checked tag on my bag was negligently (his word, not mine) ripped off by mistake, and due to TSA policies they can’t let me take the bag airside.

I’d like to think I’m a fairly rational person, so at this point I recap what was going on — “So let me get this straight, sir. I gate checked my bag at JFK in good faith, and now you’re telling me I need to go landside to get my bag, causing me to miss my connection and overnight here?” He once again basically shrugs me off at which point I do something I otherwise never would — “Sir, as a 1K that has flown well over 200,000 miles this year alone with United, this is possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I realize it’s not your fault, but help me out here.” When he realizes I’m 1K his attitude starts to change. We walk into the terminal together and I ask to speak to a supervisor. My gate checked bag didn’t have any type of ID on it and I didn’t want to fly without, so I decided to prioritize getting my bag over making my connection.

He calls over a United Express supervisor and explains the situation. She was awesome and told him to go look in the cargo hold if they can find the other half of my tag. She says that even if it’s not connected to the bag we’d be good to go because we at least have a match. She tells him to hurry since the plane was doing a quick turn. He literally sprints to the plane and gets my bag for me. So now I have my bag, but in the meantime my flight to TPA leaves in six minutes.

I walk over to the moon buggy where I have to wait for a good ten minutes, so at that point I knew I’d miss my flight. I walk by my departure gate, see the door closed and several passengers waiting, so decide to go to the customer service desk by C16. The agents there were particularly cheery and I asked for a supervisor. Out came a service director, which is usually a huge no-no for me, but she was so nice that I was fine with it. She rebooked me for the following morning and gave me a hotel and meal voucher, but that’s it. She was so nice that I didn’t even bother asking for anything else.

Anyway, as I was walking towards the hotel shuttle I kind of said to myself “I’m not getting because an agent acted negligently, hmmm.” In this case I probably wouldn’t have asked for anything had it been a mechanical given that I knew I was cutting it tight with the connection, but this was just plain incompetence on the part of the rampers. So I decided to go to the baggage office where I was helped by an agent that couldn’t have been nicer. I explained that I appreciated United took good care of me so far, but ultimately I’m getting home half a day late because of the incompetence of some ramper. She said she’d take care of me and starting filling out some form of her computer, mentioning I’d receive an email very soon with compensation options. I thanked her and off I was to the crappy Holiday Inn….

Anyway, what’s the lesson to learn here? Not really sure. Gate checking bags is inevitable. I guess I always assumed gate checking was virtually 100% safe, but I guess not. The one lesson I did pick up, now that I think of it, is to always get a “fresh” gate checked bag for each flight. I used to just leave the same tag on for dozens of segments, but now I realize what kind of an issue that could be should something go wrong.

Also, I haven’t received the email yet from United. Any experience as to how long they typically take to arrive?

Filed Under: Mileage Runs, Travel
  1. I’m pretty sure this is a stupid question, but why are you gate checking your bag instead of putting it in the overhead bin? If you’re 1k, aren’t you always boarding first, so shouldn’t there always be room? I’m sure I’m missing something obvious, but just wondering…

  2. I’m glad you pulled the 1K card, though I’m sorry you had to resort to that. Hope you get a $250 e-voucher in your inbox soon.

    I was hoping you had a confrontation with the TSA! 😉

  3. Over the summer I had some problems making my connection and had to stay over too. My only friends at IAD seemed to be the people in the baggage office.

  4. Lucky – next time ask to be put up at the brand new Westin IAD, just opened 19 Nov. I realize you’re not a Starwood guy, but you won’t mind missing flights after staying here. It’s a 5 min shuttle from Dulles, and the people are great. Total pleasure to stay there, and a full night’s sleep in a Heavenly bed is one of life’s great pleasures.

  5. When I volunteered last time in IAD and had an overnight stay I went to the Landsdowne Resort. It was super posh and I got meal credits, travel credits, and everything. I got hooked up at the CS Desk.


    Why were you sent to a Holiday Inn as a 1k???

  6. @ magiciansampras — There’s plenty of stuff inside my bag with my name on it, but nothing on the outside. Never figured I’d need it given that I never let my carry-on out of my sight (or so I thought).

    @ Harper — Great question, should have clarified. I had a full sized carry-on and this flight was on an ERJ, so the bins were too small to fit my bag.

    @ Matthew — Unfortunately my interaction with the TSA was misinterpreted this weekend. I thanked the gate smurfs at my LAX flight for keeping our country safe and they thought I was being serious, so….

    @ Blandon — I was totally shocked. IAD employees aren’t usually that great, but all three agents in the baggage office seemed to be super friendly.

    @ Ace — While I’m no SPG guys, I’m a total sucker for Westin beds. Definitely requesting it next time!

    @ nmmercer — That’s actually the hotel the service director first printed by hotel voucher for, but for some reason I thought it was a crappy hotel and that the shuttle stopped running rather early, so I asked for a different hotel. Looks like I shouldn’t have!

  7. Lucky, United “misplaced” one of my bags on my last trip. I received and email offering me compensation about 3 hours after i left the airport.

  8. Landsdowne is a Benchmark Hospitality resort. It’s a full 4* resort, definitely a must do if you get the chance. I’ve personally performed a quality control inspection at this property and I can verify the excellent service levels.

  9. Lucky,

    If you do not get a response soon, then you should call the 1K number and ask for them to transfer you to 1K customer relations. Do call during the week and normal business hours and you should reach WHQ.

  10. this fall I gate checked a stroller on my FRA-FCO flight – handed it to the guy handling gate checks. I arrived in FCO. and so did the stroller… a week later. it is fun to carry a baby around for a week in rome. zero compensation, including no apology from LH

  11. @Lucky – I was delayed at SFO overnight due to a mechanical a few weeks ago and UA put me up in a hotel. When the GA was preparing the hotel voucher, I very calmly asked him, “I’d like the Westin SFO, please…” He was happy to oblige, and when I checked in they gave me the Presidential Suite due to it being so late at night. +$15 for breakfast voucher the next morning made for a great stay! (No points/stay credit on a UA-paid stay, but I was happy to get a great sleep in the H.Bed)

  12. What bad weather?

    I was on a 6PM flight out of IAD on Sunday that left right on time, the field was snow covered, but all the concrete was dry… I didn’t notice massive cancellations or delays posted on any of the airport monitors either.

    Was it weather at JFK? Otherwise I call shennanagans.

  13. I once stopped to remove a rather ragged green tag and the ramper told me no need.

    I explained I didn’t want to risk it coming off and causing the bag to get sent to baggage claim.

    Ramper said “don’t worry about that”–obviously I was properly concerned though!

  14. Dont be ashamied to be traveling as a college student. Many people do. Dont try to be something you are not.

  15. @lucky perhaps you avoided Landsdowne after reading Matthew’s blog post at http://upgrd.com/matthew/bumps-and-upgrades-a-great-day-of-flying.html

    I have to say, I agree with him. I’ve spent many nights there due to late night bumps and just wanting to go to sleep instead of fighting with CSRs about getting a different hotel. The shuttle there sucks – generally waiting forever with highly variable arrival times. The shuttle back to Dulles isn’t too bad. I don’t find their beds too comfortable and I always arrived too late and left too early to experience their 4* attributes. On top of that, the walls (or maybe just the hallway doors) weren’t any good at sound insulation. Staff all seemed friendly and helpful though.

  16. Lucky, I got a tip from another UA 1K – he took one of the UA Green Tags, tore it in half, and laminated both halves. One goes in his wallet and the other is attached to his bag with one of those super strong clear plastic ties.

    I have not done this yet but I plan to. I learned this trick after suffering the same fate at IAD where the Green Tag had come off. Like you I was able to charm the ramper into giving me my bag but did not miss my connection.

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