Thursday, December 2, 2010

Travel Warrior Tales

I mentioned in a recent blog post that my experience as someone who has flown hundreds of thousands of miles all over the world in my past life has been dusted off, tested, and re-engaged in my current life.

Yesterday, I was scheduled to fly from Baltimore to Seattle via Philadelphia. I checked the flight status before I left home, and it said everything was on time. I was dubious about that, because we were having some very bad weather with high winds and driving rain. I know from past experience that it is common for flights to be delayed or canceled when a squirrel sneezes in our area, so I didn't think what I was reading on-line was correct.

I decided to get to the airport extra early, and I am glad I did. When I got there, an agent for my airline looked at my pre-printed boarding pass, and told me that she thought my flight to Philly had been delayed. She checked, and found that as it was showing at the time, I "possibly" could make my connection. But she and I both knew that the regional jets this airline uses to fly from Baltimore to Philly are more likely to be affected by bad weather than their larger brothers. If I waited until the departure time for my flight and found out the flight was canceled, then I couldn't make the only connection from Philly to Seattle leaving later in the day. In other words, I would not get there on the date I planned. And because the problem was due to weather, the airline had no obligation to pay for anything. I'd just have to go home and try again the next day, and miss my first meeting of my new job -- setting the stage for a bad impression.

So I began asking some questions. Here are some tips you can employ if this happens to you, and some questions that I asked the airline agent.

1. Will you look at what rebooking options are available?

While airlines have no obligation to rebook a passenger if a connection shows on their computer at the time they check that the flights will go, an agent can rebook you on the day of the flight if there is a good assumption that the departing flight may not actually go when scheduled. This is what happened to me -- the helpful, friendly agent tapped away at the computer and gave me an option. This option would result in my arriving in Seattle two hours later than I was originally scheduled to arrive. When the agent gave me that option, instead of just rolling over and saying, "okay," I asked again.

2. Are there additional options available also? (and gave her a big, broad smile, while thanking her for checking again.)

Usually, most airlines have multiple options, and they try to offer you the option on which they will not lose money (as fares are different), or on which they have more seats.

In my case, a second option was available (going through Charlotte-CLT), and resulted in my predicted arrival in Seattle a minute earlier than my original flight. I smiled and said, "thanks a lot! I'll take it!"

The agent tapped away at the computer again, and checked my bag. She printed new boarding passes and gave them to me. I looked at the seat assignments. The seating on the flight from BWI to CLT was toward the back of the plane, but an aisle. Certainly better than a middle. That was fine, as I realized that I was being rebooked and I was getting what was available last-minute.

However, on the longer flight from CLT to Seattle, I was assigned a middle seat in the back of the plane. I didn't like that, so I smiled again, and said,

3. Hmmm... the connecting flight's seating assignment isn't all that good. On my original flight, I was in 6F, up front on a window. I have been a loyal customer of [airline] for a long, long time. Look at my frequent flyer number and my record -- you'll see over 25 years of flying with you. I would appreciate it if you would consider my long-term airline loyalty and see if there is anything you can do about my seating assignment.

The agent could have refused and said, "that's the best I can do," or (this happens often), "you can change it at the gate." But instead, she got on the phone and called someone. I don't know who she called, but the result was my getting my original seating assignment back: 6F. Oh goodie, I can snooze and not be interrupted by people crawling over me to go to the bathroom.

I thanked the agent very much for her time and going to the trouble that she did to accommodate me. She really didn't have to do it. But by being pleasant, smiling a lot, and by being complimentary without being fake-sweet, the agent was willing to work with me to make my flight better than it could have been.

Will this happen all the time? No. The airline just may not have the options or seating availability, or some agents can be stinkers. Fortunately, I was traveling on a Tuesday which isn't as busy as other days of the week. I think I was able to get this accommodation because I was early in making such a request. I imagine that others in my predicament arriving at the airport after me may not get the same results.

Anyway, I made it to Seattle (a little late), got the rental car as reserved, and even found the hotel where this message was posted to appear today. I'm exhausted and tired, but that's no different from before. It's always harder for me to travel from east to west.

PS: A comment about all the stuff we've been hearing about the new security scanners at the airport: IMHO: much ado about nothing. This was the first time I went through it. It was simple and quick. The only difference is that in addition to removing boots and all the junk you carry in your pockets, you also have to remove your belt -- and run all that stuff through the x-ray (no different from before). The new scanner was fast and painless, and contrary to some of the ding-dongs who have been posting horror stories, your naked image is not broadcast on a TV screen for all to see.

Life is short: be pleasant, persistent, smile a lot, and remember to say, "thank you!"

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