Fire in an FAA Facility shut down Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports for several hours this morning and it just so happened that I was flying from Los Angeles to Chicago this morning to speak at this weekend’s FTU Advanced. I made if safely to Chicago, in first class no less, but it took some effort!
I booked myself on the 6:44a United flight to Chicago this morning because of wi-fi. My upgrade cleared, so I was happy camper as I arrived at LAX, ready to enjoy my favorite hot breakfast and be able to work during the four hour flight.
On the drive in to the airport, I heard radio reports of the problem in Chicago, but thus far all flights to Chicago appeared to be on time and as I cleared PreCheck and arrived at the gate five minutes before scheduled boarding, I saw passengers lined up and ready to board.
There wasn’t time to visit the Untied Club so I made a phone call, then joined the line. Scheduled boarding time came and went and at 6:20a the captain announced to everyone that the flight had been cancelled.
Passengers made a mad dash for the already long customer service line across the way from Gate 70A as I looked on with astonishment.
Hello? It’s 2014. We have these things called mobile phones where you can call United or better yet, we have software called the United mobile app that makes it easy to rebook after flight cancellations. I think that beats waiting two hours in line.
Pardon my facetiousness. My own wife still uses a 12-year old Nokia cell phone despite my pleas to let me buy her an iPhone. “Mine is perfectly fine,” she maintains.
I just wish the captain who announced the flight cancellation had advised customers to whip out their phones and check on their options. I was offered several alternatives to get me into Chicago, but only in economy class…so it’s not like the mobile app is perfect.
No wait to reach United and a cheerful agent answered, “1K desk”. I explained the situation and she graciously said, “At this point you can do whatever you want,” but that wasn’t really the case. Two later flights had first class space but no “R” Class (upgrade) space and she would not confirm me in F. Rather than saying no, she just said there was no space. Only I was looking right at it. I had her move me to a 10am flight.
I called back and reached a great agent who said the 6am flight was delayed and there were still first class seats available on it. Scheduled departure was 6:30a out of Terminal Six and it was now 6:25a and I was in Terminal Seven. But what the heck? I told her to put me on it and sprinted to T6, where the flight had not even begun to board.
Mission accomplished? Not yet.
The 6:30a departure was pushed back to 7:00a, then 8:00a, then 9:00a, then 10:00a…
I started scanning for other options and noticed a business class seat had opened on the scheduled 9:00a departure, operated by an internationally-configured 757-200 with 16 lie-flat seats in BusinessFirst. Again no hold time and the agent was happy to move me to that flight.
Score! As I checked into the Alaska Airlines Terminal Six lounge for some pancakes and to get some work done, I thought I had done pretty well. A K-fare now upgraded to lie-flat business. No wi-fi, but I had an hour to work before the flight.
At 8:15a, boarding was scheduled to commence but as I was preparing to go downstairs I received notice that the flight was delayed until 10:00a. No problem, another hour of work would be even better and I would still get into Chicago early enough to make the FTU reception tonight.
Minutes later, the flight was cancelled.
Thankfully, there were still a few seats left in business on the 6am departure, including my old seat 2F, and I was re-confirmed on that flight…in full fare. Pushback was moved up from 10:00a to 9:00a, so I figured the flight was a go and headed to Gate 60.
Boarding was halfway through and I proceeded through Premier Boarding and through the boarding door, where the jet bridge was not congested.
The flight left about 9:20a and we were unable to make up much time in the air, but I made it to Chicago.
A couple lessons to draw from my incident. Each time I changed my plans, I was able to use the mobile app to check-in and make seat assignment changes. The mobile app worked very well and even offered me other options including flying to nearby airports or flying on a different date. The mobile app truly is handy and I find it far better to use than the American app.
Second, in case of irr/ops, I find Expert Flyer to be invaluable in terms of finding alternate routings if you are trying to preserve your seat in the forward cabin. I toyed with flying through Houston on the 787-9, which left at 7:30a on-time this morning, but business class was full and I have changed a great deal from my youthful mileage running days – I will always take a direct flight now when available. Time is too valuable to waste flying around the country, as even planes that are scheduled to have wi-fi do not always have functioning wi-fi.
United’s telephone staff was all very courteous this morning and every agent I spoke to answered “1K Desk” so while the real 1K Desk no longer exists as far as I know, it felt like the good old days today.
I know I have had clients impacted today and I hope that if your travel plans called for travel to/from/via Chicago, you made it safely to your destination.