Sometimes I could kill myself for not anticipating problems before they occur.
Last Thursday (after my redeye nightmare) I flew from Chicago to Frankfurt on United. My upgrade to business class cleared, I had an aisle seat assigned, and I had worked the previous seven hours straight in the United Club so I could relax onboard. I figured that I would eat lunch, then sleep the rest of the flight, arriving in Germany free of jetlag. It did not quite work out…
Like any travel-related business, Award Expert has clients who travel on a last-minute basis. I had a client who contacted me shortly before takeoff needing a same-day ticket from New York to LA. No problem, I thought.
Rather than assign it to one of my colleagues, I texted the client that I would get her booked just after takeoff. Internet has worked so well on United over the last year (it has been nearly two years since I was on an international United flight with non-functioning internet) that I did not give it a second thought. I should have.
We took off and after we passed 10,000 feet I pulled out my laptop and attempted to log on to the internet. But there was no connection…I got nothing. I waited a few minutes and tried again. Nothing.
I flagged down an FA and asked her if she might reset the internet.
“No internet today sweetheart. They were trying to fix it before boarding but could not. There is some software problem. I forgot to make an announcement.”
My heart sank. Thanks a lot.
Good for United Airlines for having internet so consistently that I did not even think it might be down…it was my fault for not checking beforehand.
So now I had a problem. I could not book the client’s ticket, I could not contact the client, and I could not contact any of my colleagues.
I mused over what I could do and then it hit me…the Airfone.
United, like most carriers, ripped Airfones from seatbacks several years ago. In the age of cell phones and onboard internet, there was little need to make onboard phone calls. Until now.
I know my United and I knew that there would be an Airfone just outside the first class galley. The FAs were having some sort of gabfest in the back of the plane so I walked up to the front galley and a smile a mile-wide spread over my face.
The Airfones were still there…and they were on! (Right next to the modern ashtray)
This is 2016…
And it was even a GTE one (Verizon bought out GTE years before the Airfones became defunct). I reached for the phone but then stopped. As if my photo incident was not bad enough, imagine the purser coming back to find a non-first class passenger in the galley near the cockpit trying to operate an onboard telephone. That wouldn’t end well.
So I returned to my seat to wait for the purser to return to the front of the plane. Presently she did.
I ventured through first class and approached her, explaining that I had to get in touch with someone and without internet my only option was the Airfone. She immediately stated that the phones had been off for years. I said, “But look at them…there is still text flashing on the screen.”
With a look of disbelief on her face, she lowered her glasses to the brim of her nose and focused intently on the phone.
Suddenly she yelled out loud enough for the first class passengers to hear, “You’ve got to be !@#$%ing me! I can’t believe it!”
But now, two other FAs had come up to see what the commotion was.
“He needs to use the phone. He’s got a client he has to call.”
“Do those things still work?”
“I don’t know. It says $10/minute.”
There was only one way to find out. I unlatched the phone, and turned it over, encountering a menu with various options. This was going to be an expensive call. I chose the option to a place a call and slid my credit card.
I slid it again.
And again. And again. And again.
Not recognized. Not recognized. Not recognized.
I tried other cards.
I pressed the operator assistance button and received an error message to try again later.
All the FAs were standing around me watching.
I found a way to manually enter credit info and did so.
Credit card rejected.
I tried again.
I tried all my cards.
Declined. Declined. Declined. Declined.
At least that is what the Airfone said.
The purser called the captain to see if he knew whether the Airfones were working. He had no clue.
Each time I entered my credit card info followed by the telephone number I was trying to call, by the way, I got a dial tone, giving me a glimmer of hope. But it did not work.
There was another Airfone nearby and I tried that. Same problem.
I finally gave up.
This is the sort of client who leans heavily on me, so you can imagine how bad I felt. I thought I would lie awake all night, but thankfully was able to fall asleep and doze the rest of the flight.
Everything worked out in the end. The client traveled the following morning and was okay with that. But I was mortified that I had been so sloppy and will not make that mistake again…though you really have no guarantee wifi will work until you actually takeoff.
The Airfones may still be onboard some United flights and they may even still be on. But they don’t work … at least mine didn’t. Never assume your onboard internet will work.