There was no photo incident on this outbound trip, but a photo finish at San Francisco International Airport rescued my Singapore Airlines trip from the jaws of destruction.
In July 2012, almost 11 months ago, Singapore Airlines updated their systems and in doing so temporarily (and mistakenly) released saver award space intended only for its own KrisFlyer loyalty members to all Star Alliance members. A booking frenzy ensued and I was able to book first class tickets to Australia for my uncle and myself.
Singapore honored the so-called “glitch” and just a couple weeks after booking my 777-300 aircraft scheduled from Singapore to Melbourne was swapped for an A380 and I was re-confirmed in Suites Class.
Even during the Singapore system update, there was no Suites released on an A380 (at the time, Singapore as a policy never released “saver” space in Suites Class), so I had to book out of San Francisco in order to get first class on the older 777-300ER aircraft. In my haste to book—I literally booked seconds after discovering the availability—I did not add on a United flight from my home in LA up to San Francisco.
As the months dragged by, there was plenty of award space up to San Francisco, but I was just too afraid to risk endangering my flights on Singapore. I am on the phone with United almost every day of the week modifying award reservations for clients so eventually I decided that if I sensed I had the right agent, I would ask about adding in the LAX-SFO flight. That turned out to be a disaster, in which I almost lost the Singapore space, but that will be the subject of another post and for our purposes here, note that because Singapore rebooked the SIN-MEL flight into R Class, several United agents claimed it was impossible to re-issue the ticket with the added flight up to San Francisco.
No big deal, I thought. Tickets were only $89 ($59 if I had bought earlier) from LAX-SFO and I’d even earn miles and ensure PreCheck. I fly from either Burbank or LA up to San Francisco very regularly on my trips to Philadelphia and I know that fog leads to flow control programs and extensive delays at SFO. With that in mind, I booked a 10am departure to San Francisco, giving me a 2.5hour buffer to catch SQ15 in case of delays. In retrospect, I can only say I wish I had taken the 6am…
I left my house, only about 40 minutes from LAX with moderate traffic, at 7am on the morning of departure—I wanted to be early and be ready for any possible delays. The flights were all showing on time, so I thought I’d have a leisurely breakfast in the United Club, complete a couple award bookings, fly up to SFO, then have a couple hours to enjoy the United Global First or Singapore Airlines lounges.
At around 9am, my flight status went to delayed—the usual ATC reason. Only 45 minutes, so I saw no need to panic. I just sat in the United Club and continued to work.
At 10:15a, my uncle and I proceeded from the United Club to gate 84 for boarding—it was a 10-minute walk so scheduled departure was now only 20 minutes away. But the aircraft door was closed and no one had boarded yet. We arrived just in time for an announcement—our flight was further delayed to 11:45a…
That still gave us enough time, but I was getting worried now…
Back in the United Club, the agents were quite cheerful and one in particular—Bruce—tried to go the extra miles for us. He called his counterpart in the Singapore LAX office and asked them to send a message up to SFO that we would be delayed and if possible to have a golf cart waiting at our gate to take us to the connecting flight.
Meanwhile, I attempted to check-in for the Singapore Airlines flights online, figuring that might give us a few more minutes if we had to cut it close. I was unsuccessful, then it dawned on me that I had not bothered to arrange my Australian visa yet.
I called the 1K desk and was told that the $20 fee is no longer waived for 1Ks, only for Global Services members. I went up to the desk in the United Club and an agent confirmed that 1Ks were no longer exempt from the visa fees, so I had her process the visas for us. Once those were processed, I was able to check in for the Singapore flights…this turned out to be the critical move.
The flight was delayed again…to 12:30p. It was over, I thought. We’d get in just after 2pm if there were no further delays and that would make it virtually impossible to get to the international terminal in time to make the flight.
We took off at 12:36p and I sat in my exit row seat (did not even get the upgrade on the A319 aircraft) dejected over the possibility of flying United First to Melbourne tonight instead of my long-awaited Singapore. My only solace was my American Express account, which I have built up nicely and now allows for aspirational travel in Singapore Suites for a reasonable number of miles, but that did not cheer me up much.
The flight had internet onboard and I sat watching the GPS progress of the flight on my iPhone as our arrival time inched back minute after minute. We were now due in at 2:06p.
We touched down at 1:59p and did pull up to gate 75 by 2:06p, a godsend in that gate 75 is right around the corner from the corridor linking Terminal 3 to the International Terminal where the Singapore flight would be departing from. By 2:12p I was off the plane and running for gate G97.
At the end of the connector hallway between T3 and Int’l is a steep stairwell and escalator. The escalator was out so I grabbed my carry-on bags and sprinted up the stairs.
G97 is down at the end of the departure hall, on the left side, so I took off sprinting. At 2:17p I descended the escalator expecting the aircraft door on the Singapore flight to be closed, but it was still open! The agents were busy reconciling boarding passes and immediately asked if I was Mr. Klint as I approached the boarding gate. They had received no message from LAX, but they did note that we had checked in online for the flight…
Nodding in affirmation, my boarding pass was printed and I told them to wait just one more minute while I found my 86-year old Uncle…hopefully he wasn’t too far behind.
A SQ agent accompanied me and we went upstairs and found my uncle approaching the gate! We had made it.
Downstairs again, we were escorted onboard the aircraft and through the business class cabin by two smiling FAs with the aircraft door shutting promptly behind us. We settled into our seats for 12-hour journey to Seoul. We made it.