Ok, confession time. I made a huge blunder yesterday that cost me $1,000. I underestimated something very important, but have learned an important lesson that I want to pass on to you.
My Choice To Visit An Airport Lounge Cost Me $1,000…
I have been in Pittsburgh for several days and flew home yesterday afternoon on United Airlines via Houston to Los Angeles.
When I checked in for my flights, I saw that the Pittsburgh to Houston flight was oversold and United was offering a number of alternate routings or an opportunity to add myself to the voluntary denied boarding (VDB) list. In essence, by joining the list I would indicate a willingness to give up my seat in exchange for compensation plus alternate routing.
Unlike last time when this opportunity arose, this time I had some extra time…not because I did not want to get home, but because I could have connected in a different hub and still reached home around the same time, but with a generous flight credit in my pocket that could be used to offset my family trip to Europe this summer (which I still have not booked, as I watch award space in dismay).
I got to Pittsburgh quite early and went to The Club, a Priority Pass lounge, simply to pass the time. This was my thought process: my name was already on the list and we would not know until 45 minutes before departure (check-in cutoff) if there were no-shows. I assumed United would not proactively bump me until it was confirmed that more passengers checked in than there were seats available. In fact, I figured that even if everyone checked in, I’d have to wait around until everyone boarded, just in case any stragglers missed the flight. Furthermore, I did not even think there would be a gate agent working the flight more than an hour before departure.
So I sat in the lounge for an hour, then proceeded over to the gate an hour before departure. I thought that left me plenty of time.
Since the flight was full, one of the gate agents was soliciting volunteers to check baggage for free, and there were about a dozen takers.
When the line emptied, I went up to the gate agent and identified myself as a passenger on the volunteer list. That’s when my heart was broken.
“Oh, Mr. Klint. We’ve been paging you. That’s a shame because we would have sent you home via Newark with a $1,000 flight credit. Now I can’t get you home same-day.”
My heart sank, but I clarified, “So you would have preemptively bumped me and rebooked me via Newark?”
Yes, said the gate agent.
You know what made that realization that I was too late even sadder? I was flying via Houston on two 737 jets. Had I connected in Newark I would have been flying home to Los Angeles on a 777 with a lie-flat bed.
“Do you still need me?”
“Well, probably not, but if we do you’re the man. We sort VBD priority by status and you’re the only 1K who volunteered.”
(1K is United’s top-tier elite status in the MileagePlus program)
As expected, there were a few no-shows and no volunteers were ultimately needed. However, that does not change the fact that had I been at the gate a bit earlier, I would have been on my way home with a lie-flat seat and $1,000 in future flight credit.
Since the David Dao incident, United has (wisely) empowered gate agents with more discretion. Bumping someone early on a heavily oversold flight makes a lot of sense, even if it ultimately would not have been necessary, because had there been no volunteers late, an involuntarily denied boarding situation would have cost more cash and potentially delayed the flight.
Thus, I could have been the insurance policy. And yet I was sitting in a lounge instead.
Now, I know. A very painful lesson, indeed.
So next time you want to get bumped, show up to the gate more than an hour in advance and see if you can take care of things proactively.
p.s. my flight ended up being delayed…
Guess what that did for my connection to LA?