Totally Booked? Not So Much

The kid got a chance to apply her air travel survival skills in Newark on Saturday, and she did her parents proud.

Her flight was delayed for more than an hour and a half out of San Diego, first because the crew was waiting for passengers who were stuck in the security line and then because of a mechanical issue. (Why it’s OK for the kid to miss her connection because other passengers didn’t arrive early enough is  beyond me. But that’s another post for another day.)

So Kate missed the connection in Newark. Meanwhile, the husband and I had determined that there was one flight left to Bradley that night. But when Kate got to a service desk at Newark, the  Continental agent told her there were no seats on that final flight and that she had been booked on a flight out the next day – Sunday.

Continental should have been on the hook for Kate’s hotel that night. But her chances of getting stuck another day were pretty high, with a winter storm forecast for Sunday. And the airline wouldn’t have had to provide a hotel for a second night. It’s not responsible for the weather, after all.

(Turns out, the flight the next day did make it to Bradley on time. But cars were flipping over like pancakes on the highways, so it’s just as well we didn’t have to go get her.)

So Kate was not interested in an overnight in Newark. No way, she told the agent. There’s a nor’easter forecast. You have to get me out tonight.

The agent made a call and said it was impossible, the flight was booked. Could Kate fly to Boston or Providence instead?

No way, Kate said. The people picking her up would have to drive five or six hours and snow was on the way.

The agent made another call. Oh, turns out the last flight to Bradley wasn’t full any more. Did Kate want a window or an aisle seat?

Moral of the story: don’t automatically accept an airline’s automatic rebooking when you miss a connection. You’ll be reassigned at the airline’s convenience, not yours.

Oh, and be polite. It’s not the agent’s fault.


6 thoughts on “Totally Booked? Not So Much

  1. ashleystravel

    I would like to know why that situation is not the agent’s fault. I was trying to fly out of Boston yesterday and the agents kept telling those people standing in line at ticketing to rebook their canceled flights that all evening flights were full and all flights out on Monday were full so we all just needed to go home and rebook for Tuesday.
    Well, Boston is not my home and that was not an option. I called the airline booking and got on an evening flight. But I was concerned that even the evening flight was going to be booked, so I waited in line to see if I could get a “back-up” confirmation for Monday. When I got to the counter they told me that all the flights on Monday were booked. And this after the guy standing in line in front of me got a flight out 7 am on Monday (same destination as mine – and no, he was not a frequent flier).
    After walking away from the ticketing agent, I got on-line to see that there were still plenty of flights available on Monday.
    Was I (and many other people in line)being lied to?
    Or does their system just pick and choose randomly who gets those precious seats?

  2. Jeanne Leblanc

    Hi Ashley,
    What a frustrating experience.
    I believe that it’s not the inidividual agent’s fault in most cases like this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the airline’s fault. The agent has only the information available from the gates and the reservation system, and he or she has to follow the airline’s rules on filling those seats.
    In my daughter’s case, I think there were two possibilities:
    1) There were open seats on that plane all along, and agents at the gate were trying to hold them open just to stay flexible. If they could scrape my daughter off for a day, they’d have one less problem.
    2) The seats opened up at the last minute, during my daughter’s conversation with the agent.
    I’m leaning toward explanation 1, in part because I had seen open seats online just half an hour earlier.

  3. john

    Hi Jeanne,
    I too was travelling on Saturday. I was returning from St. John, USVI, with a flight from St. Thomas through San Juan to Hartford on American Airlines. I was scheduled to arrive in Hartford at 10pm, but AA decided to cancel the flight. I also was concerned that Sunday would have bad weather, so I tried numerous options with the ticket agent. Many flights were either full or also cancelled. Finally I settled for an incredible two-day endurance trip from St. Thomas to San Juan to Miami to Chicago to Hartford, and I figured I’d be stuck in Chicago overnight on Sunday because of the weather.
    Later in the terminal, I talked with a woman who I knew was also headed to Hartford (and originally booked on AA), and she told me that she had gotten onto a U.S. Air flight through Charlotte to Hartford getting in that night! My agent never checked other airlines’ schedules, nor had I thought to ask.

  4. Sumit

    There are some lazy gate agents but my experience has been that they are a very small minority. Usually, under these situations, a majority of the agents get into a “trance” – working their magic to accommodate as many people as possible. But, remember that they have to cater to various needs and special interests. In some cases, I am one of those special interests – I will explain later.
    Here is my suggestion.
    1. If you are every delayed, take a look at the departure monitors before heading over to your gate. There may be another flight to the same place (very unlikely if I am flying home to BDL). If so, go to that gate first and try your luck.
    2. When you are at this alternate gate, the only thing you should ask is to be put on the standby list – don’t ask anything else first. If there is a seat and you are on standby, you are better off than asking “is there an open seat for me?”.
    We often feel agents lie to us esp. when there are open seats after we get on to the flight. There could be several reasonable explanations –
    1. Weight considerations (esp. in bad weather) would force them to fly with some open seats.
    2. There had been a missed connection(s) that kept ticketed passengers away. These seats will show booked until the system opens them up just before departure. This is the reason to put yourself on the standby list. Once you get on the list, ask this follow-up question “What are my chances?” and the agent will tell you if you have even a remote chance of getting onto the flight. Remember, if you are not on the list and just hang around, you will not be called. And, if you keep lingering around the counter and asked the same question repeatedly, you tend to annoy even the most patient agent.
    Sometimes, a frequent flier comes up to the counter at the last minute and gets on the standby list. What looked like a sure bet for you just a few minutes ago is probably gone now as they get priority in getting that empty seat. I did feel a slight tug the few times I did that myself – grabbed the last seat with minutes to go. To me, it is one of the privilege I can still use as a frequent flier – I have nothing against you and I know “special interests” more important than me have bumped me several times.
    Air travel is complicated and once you figure out the system, it is actually an adventure – almost an “amazing race”.

  5. Joe Farrell

    Last winter, immediately after a March snowstorm, Delta canceled a flight which was to be my outbound to their hub. As a result of the storm, all of the flights into the NE airports were 100% booked due to the canceled flights during the snow. Thus, while I had a precious confirmed flight from the hub to BDL, I did not have a way to get to the hub. Delta’s offer to me was to put me up for a night in a hotel [and this was at 10am in the morning for gosh sakes!].
    The DL agent in CHS was very nice, but was firm, claiming he put 6 other families heading to northeast into hotels that day. I refused to say no since I really needed to be back in CT for business the next day.
    I inquired about DL flights to Providence, Boston, Manchester, and Albany – I did not even try the NY airports – fat chance after a major storm closed them for a day. Not a seat to be found, allegedly. However, I had one last ace up my sleeve – New Haven or Groton. I knew that USAir flew into New Haven. Since it was DL who canceled the flight for scheduling reasons [my inbound was 2 hours late leaving its overnight someplace else] I had some Rule 240 rights and I exercised them.
    While it took TWO stops to get home from Charleston SC, one in Charlotte and one in Philly, DL got me on a USAir flight that had open seats from PHL-HVN [think of people who might have wanted to get home who spent the night at the airport in CHS!!!?] and paid vouchered me a rental car to drive back to Bradley, my original destination.
    The Gate Agent in Charleston had NO clue that there was any other destination in CT with air service except for BDL – it never occurred to him to look. For $12 an hour I guess you get what you pay for . . .


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