Working hard for my bumps!

I’m taking a mileage run from Tampa to Los Angeles via Washington Dulles today, and my flight from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles has been looking pretty full for quite a while, with most fare buckets being sold out for the better part of a week. When I woke up this morning the flight was all “9s,” meaning they were still willing to sell at least nine seats. When I landed at Washington Dulles, however, the flight was sold out. When I got to the Red Carpet Club I added my name to the volunteer list, and I headed to the gate an hour before departure.

The flight had zero seats remaining and listed ten people as “confirmed awaiting seats.” That’s usually a near guarantee that they’ll need volunteers. Sure enough, the monitor indicated that they were looking for volunteers. As soon as the gate agent was all set up I approached her and gave her the usual song and dance, confirming I was already on the volunteer list, and explaining that I didn’t have any checked bags and was very flexible. She quickly responded with “oh, we really don’t like to take first class passengers as volunteers, it’s more work to upgrade someone else and have to rebook you.” Of course I wanted to respond with “if you’re that lazy, find a new job,” but I didn’t. I just once again emphasized how flexible I was, mentioning that she could rebook me in a middle seat in coach on the next flight for all I care. Most importantly, though, I pointed out I would be sitting right next to the podium should she need me (in other words, I’m watching you). šŸ˜‰

As the gate area started to fill up, they made at least three or four announcements asking for volunteers. Never before have I seen so many people ask about the opportunity though not bite. There was another 1K that wanted to be added to the list, though he changed his mind four times, so literally every five minutes he added his name to the list and then took it off again.

In the meantime another gate agent showed up, who could only be described as “charismatic.” She was the type of gate agent that would call you “honey child.” A young Australian girl approached her, offering to volunteer. Their conversation went something like this:
Girl: “Yes, I wanted to volunteer please.”
Agent: “Are you connecting?”
Girl: “Yes, on V Australia to Sydney later tonight at 10PM.”
Agent: “Then we can put you on the later flight and you would still have over two hours to make your connection.”
Girl: “But is that enough time?”
Agent: “Yes.”
Girl: “But it took me 1hr30min to make my connection here, are you sure that’s enough time?”
Agent: “Yes.”
Girl: “But are you sure that’s enough time?”
Agent: “You know something honey, you better just take this flight, because it’s not about what I feel comfortable with, it’s about what you feel comfortable with.”
Girl: “No, I want to take the bump. I just want you to reassure me. Why don’t you be professional and reassure me.”
Agent: “I already told you that you would have plenty of time to make your connection, two hours is more than enough.”
Girl: “Okay, great…. but what if the flight is late?”
Agent: “Nuh uh, that’s it. You taking this flight.”
Girl: “But…”
Agent: “You taking this flight, no way I’m dealing with this.”

Sure enough, there were several other volunteers, though they kept making announcements. Typically bumps aren’t too stressful since they bump passengers before boarding starts, though this time around they were waiting till the last second. I was keeping a VERY close eye on things, since I suspected the other gate agent was going to skip me on the bump list because I was in first class.

So I approached the other “charismatic” agent and, in a joking tone, said “any chance you’re going to need me? But I’ll only bump if you can reassure me of…” She cut in laughing, and said “you hear her? She was crazy!” They had told all the passengers in the gate area that they wouldn’t need their seats, except for my seat and the seat of another 1K (notably, the 1K who added and took his name off the list four times). She offloaded us, verbally confirmed we would be bumped, and headed aboard to upgrade the two people in coach that would be taking our first class seats, further loading confirmed passengers in coach.

When she comes off the plane she says “we have one empty first class seat, which one of you wants to fly?” Now, not to throw the other 1K under the bus, but:
a) I was the first person on the list and am easy to work with
b) He changed his mind four times, so clearly wasn’t all that into it
c) The gate agent already had me sign the voucher for the bump, while she didn’t have the other guy sign the voucher

So of course I jumped in — “well, I was on the list first.” She immediately told the other guy to board, and off he was (though he didn’t seem too upset about not having been bumped). Besides, I had already signed for the bump, so I had a contract with United for it.

So I’m a $400 voucher richer and was rebooked in full fare first class to Los Angeles a bit later. I really had to fight for this one, though of course it was worth it.

Now I’m at the Lufthansa Senator Lounge at Dulles waiting for my next flight, which is in a little over an hour. Apparently it’s the lounge’s two year anniversary, so they have someone here videotaping everything, which is comical in and of itself. Stay tuned for that.

Filed Under: Mileage Runs, United
  1. Wow, by contrast I had the easiest bump today! originally booked on the BUF-IAD-LAX-SAN, showed up at the airport and just as i was opening my laptop to find out if the flight was full, they call my name (it wasn’t even on the volunteer list) and asked if i wanted to arrive an hour early. Asked about the compensation, and bang, $400 in my hand šŸ™‚ that’s the way it should be.

    Just curious are you returning on the 777 tomorrow from LAX-IAD, if so , we’re on the same flight

  2. ‘grats, Lucky. Are you still on target for tomorrow’s IAD-TPA, so that I can advise hobo13?

    -hobo13’s wife

  3. @Lucky — just so I understand, if one is Star Alliance Gold with United, and flying domestic First Class on United, you can use the LH Senator Lounge instead of the RCC (for which membership is required)?

  4. Must be your unlucky day – I’ve been having no problem getting bumped while in NF a few times recently now. If anything, my second to last time even got the GA to call someone in inventory to check if they can give me F on the re-booked flight (although to be fair, that same GA also zeroed out my return segments, but that took 30 seconds to fix at the RCC, so overall positive).

  5. Don’t take it the wrong way, but why should an airline bump a passenger from economy to first, when they can just rebook that passenger in economy on another flight. Especially if it is likely you are going to get bumped and clog up first on another flight (which was the case).

    I can understand if they can’t find passengers, but I don’t see the logic in the airline letting people “game” the system and bumping up people into first that aren’t their best customers (hence they are in Y). Then again, they could stop harshly overbooking.

  6. How much later was your new flight? One thing to consider during the bump process is the cost of your time. Everyone has their own value, and it can vary upon the situation, what else you have going on, etc. Someone would usually have to pay me $100+ an hour to sit around in an airport, as I could be making money by working, spending time with my family, or doing other more productive things. Therefore, a $400 voucher that required me to get to the gate an hour early and then take a flight three hours later would be around a break-even proposition for me – not one I’d view as ending up ahead. Do you value your time in airports more or less than I do?

  7. @Not as lucky as you

    You can use the LH lounge at IAD if you are a * gold.. Do not need to be in domestic F. I’ve used it as a 1K in Y.

  8. @sheepskin

    Keep in mind, these can be used on international flights, so the value increases. I’d gladly bump if I had to wait an extra hour or two.

  9. @ Sam — Congrats on the bump. I’m actually returning on the redeye tonight.

    @ intrepid720 — Indeed, I’ll see him aboard. Actually, he’ll have to climb over me to get to his seat (since I’ll likely be sound asleep). šŸ˜€

    @ Rob — Am here now. Where ya at?

    @ Not as lucky as you — That’s correct.

    @ Jack Ryan — Because I got a complimentary upgrade. There were 20 other people on the upgrade list, so they just processed the next person on the upgrade. The later flight still had plenty of first class seats (and there’s no way they’ll sell them an hour before departure), so United didn’t lose out on anything by bumping me over anyone else. And I was willing to fly coach on the next flight too.

    @ Sheepskin — Certainly a good point, though in this case I was on a mileage run and was flying back on a redeye. I was either going to sit at LAX for several hours or IAD for several hours. Either way, it wasn’t wasted time, since I got work done, with the exception of the fact that I go to the gate 20 minutes earlier than I otherwise would have. I don’t quite make $1,200/hour (and doubt I ever will), so I’d consider it a good deal for the time being.

  10. I love reading bump stories such as this one. I don’t do them and don’t do mileage runs because my travel and work commitment. However, I do admire those who are traveling on a low budget and have succeeded in taking advantage of the opportunities/rules.

  11. Do you have a strategy for finding all these bumps? Is Sunday the best day for it? I usually fly Monday mornings and Thursday evenings and I get nowhere near as many chances as you seem to get.

  12. Lucky – thanks for telling the story, I got a lot of good information from it, looks like you had quite the bump battle.

  13. Does this sound a little stalkerish/scary to anyone else? It seems Lucky bugs the hell out of the GA and forces what he wants. “I’m watching you” indeed. Yikes.

  14. @ Yikes — I don’t know, I happen to find it a bit creepier to anonymously post on the same blog under different names using the same IP, but that’s just me. šŸ˜‰

  15. @Jack Ryan – keep in mind there were no volunteers with a coach seat assignment, the only volunteers were Lucky and the other 1K, both of whom were status-upgraded to First – Lucky’s paid class of service was coach. It would make no sense to involuntarily deny boarding to someone with a coach seat assignment just to avoid not taking Lucky, since that passenger would be entitled to cash compensation, where Lucky is being given a voucher.

    In this particular instance, even if Lucky had been paid first class it still would have made sense to take him if he was willing to take the $400 voucher, since there were ample seats in First on the next flight.

  16. what happens if there ends up being a spot on the flight and they rescind their offer. do you not have rights after accepting it, to be able to keep the offer?

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