It started out as a pretty normal day in Seattle, wrapping up presentations at Frequent Traveler University and doing a bit of shopping for gifts to bring home to my kids. I headed to the airport, joined by Gary Leff as well as our friends Tommy and Melinda (technically, I had already dropped Melinda off at the airport earlier so she and Tommy could get on the standby list). We were all on the same American Airlines flight from Seattle to Chicago O’Hare. Gary was continuing on to DCA and I was switching to United to head home to IAD.
I cleared my upgrade shortly before heading to the airport and the 4 of us sped through security and had a bite to eat at Anthony’s Fish Bar. I had the Ahi Tuna Poke and Steamed Manila Clams, both of which were pretty good.
Tommy headed to the gate a bit early and convinced the gate agent to clear him and Melinda off the standby list a bit early and we were all confirmed. Gary and I sat next to each other in First and watched as a few FTU attendees walked by and chatted us up. We left the gate a few minutes late but nothing too horrible. And, then we taxied a bit and now I was starting to get a big nervous. I started with exactly 55 minutes to make my connection in ORD and I’d need to change terminals (though not re-clear security). As we got to the front of the line for takeoff, we were now running about 20 minutes late. That’s when the pilot came on and said a rain storm just to the west of us was going to hold us for a few minutes.
Gary and I were discussing various strategies and I figured I would check to see what availability looked like on his flight to DCA. It would delay my arrival at my house by about 2 hours but at least I’d get home if I missed the United flight. Expert Flyer showed me that the flight had exactly one seat left in coach and first class completely sold out. This is when one of the benefits of Executive Platinum came in handy, as I knew I could book an award seat and cancel later if things smoothed out. So, I grabbed the last seat for 25,000 miles and had a solid back-up plan. That was certainly a preferable path to the $1,200 one-way ticket for sale.
We finally took off approximately 30 minutes later than we should have and now showed an on-the-gate time of 8:57pm local time. My departure was 9:10pm from a different terminal. The picture wasn’t looking good for United but I had the American flight in my back pocket. The pilot had told us there would be turbulence on our way across the country, and that was about the only thing standing in our way.
A few minutes later, our arrival time changed to 8:54am. Solid! Probably still can’t make the United flight but things are looking great for the American flight because when we checked the status on that flight we found out our same plane from SEA to ORD was serving as the aircraft to DCA. Score!
I celebrated with a glass of sparkling wine and promptly must have pissed off the karma gods. The next time I checked a flight update our arrival time had moved to 8:58pm and our plane from Seattle was no longer the aircraft continuing to DCA. Okay, don’t get too nervous. We can make this happen. The gates weren’t that far apart. H9 to K8 is a fairly short run and we would legitimately have 8 or 9 minutes before they were to close the doors. I would have felt more comfortable with a few more minutes but we weren’t in a dire situation.
Then the arrival time changed to 8:59. Then 9:01. Then 9:05. Things were officially bad.
Gary suggested I hop on the American Airlines app and tweet them to see if they could help. Apparently, Executive Platinum members get a bit of priority tweeting through the app. Shortly after sending a note to American I received the following:
Okay, that’s a good start. I gave them Gary’s info and waited a bit. Meanwhile, Gary and I were scouring options. I looked for other flights that night which was a dry hole. Gary looked at Monday morning which looked just plain bad. There was a chance at a seat on United to DCA but IAD was completely toast. Gary had a bunch of important meetings and I had obligations to my family that would have been very painful not to fulfill. We started hunting for hotel rooms as the picture looked grimmer.
As we landed, it became clear I couldn’t make my United flight. Tommy texted me that we had landed at runway 27R which likely meant a 15 minute taxi. Since it was now 9:01 things had started to look pretty glum again. That’s when I got another message from American via Twitter:
Sweet! Our flight was delayed. Big high five for Gary and I and a collective sigh of relief. But, why not a bit more drama? The 15-minute taxi ride turned into 20 minutes. The app wouldn’t let me check-in at all. Then, Gary’s boarding pass disappeared from his phone. Ugh. And, the flight was not showing as delayed by the app, Google, Flight Aware and any number of places Gary and I could find. Again, we looked pretty dead in the water.
As we finally taxied into the H gates, we could see our DCA plane through the far window. I could see someone standing on the jet bridge in a plaid shirt waiting to board through the tiny window on the jet bridge. There was hope!
Gary had no rollaway bag. He checked his suitcase, which was never going to make the connection even if we somehow lucked out. He got to the front of first class and was first off the plane. I had a handful of very slow people in front of me to get past and then I set after Gary who had a healthy head start. I’m a bit more built for speed than Gary, though not a bastion of good health myself. I caught Gary as he got to the gate for our departing flight and there were about 15 or 20 folks still waiting to board. Yes!!!
We went to the counter and the gate agent knew we were coming and had saved both of our seats for us even though we were no longer checked in. Gary had his seat in F and I had my exit row aisle. See if that ever happens to you on United. It occurred to me that I wasn’t going to find overhead bin space because everyone was boarding through the Priority Access lane and already lined up. I went back up the gate and said, “I know beggars can’t be choosers, and I’m very thankful for your help. But there’s no Priority Access line left now and I have a bag that needs overhead bin space. It sure would be great not to have to wait for it in DCA before the hour drive to retrieve my car and head home.”
She took pity on me and let Gary and I board then and I was able to find a spot for my bag, slump into my seat and text my wife before they closed the door a few minutes later. That’s when I noticed this message from American on Twitter:
That’s pretty awesome. The folks with sour grapes about American will say that I likely would have made the flight even if the Twitter folks hadn’t gotten involved, and AAdvantage did bad things, and Doug was going to beat us up and take all our candy. They might be right. I doubt we would have had our seats, though. And, there were folks sitting in the gate area on the standby list, so I totally could have seen them clearing our seats for someone else once departure time hit.
But, they didn’t. It’s not the only reason I fly American, but it’s one of many little things they do to make sure I feel good about my loyalty to American Airlines. And it’s quite possible we don’t make that flight without getting the Twitter folks involved.
Thanks for getting me home tonight, American Airlines. My daughter and son (and wife) will all appreciate seeing me in the morning!