Business travel is anything but glamorous. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I was lucky to travel for a living, I’d be a rich man. But, it’s not all doom and gloom, either. Two recent trips reminded me of that. I thought it would be worth sharing the good and the bad. Timing (or lack thereof) makes this a tale of two different emotions. I had planned to write a post about my frustration and just didn’t get to it the last few days. At any rate, let’s just get to the story.
Last week I had a short flight from my home airport of Washington-Dulles. The general rule of thumb for my home airport is if it’s a short United flight it’s on a regional jet unless you’re going somewhere like Newark. Regional jets are those tiny planes that people love to hate. I don’t mind them, but I’m neither overly tall or wide (two conditions that make them much less enjoyable).
Now, I’ve been on an airplane almost every week in 2018. Some of them have been larger jets. But, plenty have been regional jets. It’s for just those types of flights where I’m only going to be gone for a day or two that I bought this bag:
If you’re curious, it’s a Briggs & Riley Transcend Rolling Cabin Bag. And, like all my Briggs bags, I love it. The bag comes with a lifetime warranty that’s pretty limitless. More importantly, their bags hold up really well.
At any rate, I went to board my regional jet last week and the conversation went something like this:
United Express Gate Agent: Are you heading to XXXX?
Me: Yes (this was after she scanned my boarding pass, so it seemed like an odd question).
Agent: You can’t take that bag on this flight (points at my little Briggs bag).
Me: I’m sorry. Why not?
**NOTE: It’s so key to be polite in these situations.
Agent: You’re not allowed two carry-on bags on a United Express flight. You’ll have to check one of your bags (I had my backpack on as well).
Me: Are you sure? I’ve never heard that rule.
Agent: Yes. That’s the rule on all United Express flights.
Me: So, I can only have one carry-on bag?
Agent: Well, you can have two carry-on bags. But, you can only bring one on the plane. We have to take the other one and stow it in the belly of the plane.
Me: This bag fits in the overhead bin of all United regional jets. Is this a new policy? I flew with it just a few days ago.
Agent: No, this is the policy.
Me: Is this a policy just here at IAD?
Agent: No, this is all Express flights. Everywhere.
Me: I understand. But, our flight is delayed. I have to be on stage to give a presentation shortly after I land. I’m already going to be late, and waiting a few extra minutes to get my bag when we land only makes me later.
Agent: Sir, the bag will be waiting on the jet bridge even before you get off the plane at your destination.
***SIDE NOTE: In 10 years of business travel, I don’t think this has ever happened. But, whatever.
Me: I understand. Is there any way I could speak to a supervisor?
The supervisor pulled me to the side and asked what the problem was. I politely explained the situation. It turns out he wasn’t aware of the flight delay. Still, he was pretty insistent that they don’t allow passengers to carry two bags on to a regional jet, regardless of size. He says it helps speed up the boarding process. Can’t say I necessarily agree or disagree. If it’s a bag that obviously doesn’t fit in an overhead bin or under the seat, it sure would slow down the process.
At any rate, I was polite in reiterating my need to save every minute I could. He ended up escorting me to the plane and letting me board with the bag. I’m still pretty shocked he did. My experience is, even when you’re really nice, airline employees don’t frequently change positions.
Nothing in this story is devastating. It’s just one of those frustrations of travel. Instead of doing 15 minutes of work on the plane, I spent those minutes trying to get my bag onboard. Some would argue that I wasted my time. As it turns out, I had just about a spare 5 minutes when I got to the venue for my presentation (pretty much long enough to go to the bathroom). That was after sprinting off the plane and to the rental car facility.
Fast forward to last night. I had flown out for a one-day meeting. United didn’t have a non-stop flight home late enough in the day for me to attend the entire meeting. I booked a connecting flight on American instead.
I finished my meeting and headed to the airport. On days that I don’t get to go to the gym, I usually walk the concourse while I take phone calls to squeeze in a bit of exercise. As I walked down to the end of a concourse I noticed a plane that I didn’t expect to be there. Apparently, the last United flight of the day back to Dulles, which was supposed to have departed 4 hours earlier, had a significant mechanical delay. I approached the gate agent.
Me: Hi, there. Is that the delayed flight to IAD?
Me: Has it started boarding yet?
Me: If I was able to purchase a ticket for that flight, is there any way you could squeeze me on?
Agent: No. I’ve already closed that flight out. There’s no way for you to get on.
Me: What if I went out to the ticket counter?
Agent: No, sorry.
Me: OK, thanks.
At that point, I still figured it was worth calling United to see if they would sell me a ticket. After all, getting home roughly 4 hours earlier sounded like a gift to me after getting up at 5am.
When I reached a United 1K agent, he was able to ticket me on the flight. I had explained my brief conversation with the gate agent. When the phone agent confirmed my ticket, he asked if I wanted him to stay on the line while I spoke to the gate agent, just in case there was a problem. Wow! That’s customer service you don’t see every day in the airline industry.
Turns out the agent didn’t have an issue with squeezing me on the flight once I had a valid ticket. There was a funny bit after that where she told me I still had time to grab a quick bite to eat since the captain wasn’t ready to board. The bit ends with me sprinting back down the concourse when they announced final boarding with no other calls that they had started the boarding process. Sweaty but smiling, I slumped into a seat for my flight home.
The Final Two Pennies
I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to write about my frustrations right after last week’s little baggage snafu. Yesterday’s experience is a reminder for something I already know, but had lost sight of just a bit. There are good days and bad days with business travel. You really can’t get too worked up about the bad days, or you’ll end up driving yourself crazy.
I really do wish that United enforced policies consistently. But, that’s like wishing for a pony for Christmas. Some things just aren’t meant to be in my lifetime. But, I should take the good with the bad. And, you might want to as well. After all, life on the road is stressful enough.
My original flight home on American had posted a small delay. Maybe it would turn into something longer and I had dodged a bullet? Maybe the United plane would break again?
As I boarded my early flight home with hopes of seeing at least one of my kids before they went to sleep, a good friend of mine texted me. Alas, he was stuck with a four-hour delay on his flight home. He’d be missing the chance to see his wife and child that evening. I could sense his frustration, once again feeling thankful that I would make it home just a bit early for a few minutes of precious family time.
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