Last night was quite a spectacle at the United Express gates in Terminal A at Washington Dulles. I’ve found over the years that United chronically overbooks these regional jet flights and have had the good fortune of getting bumped off many of them. Last night was another successful evening.
I flew down from Philadelphia–an airport I have never scored a bump at despite flying out of it on nearly a weekly basis–and arrived into Washington Dulles with plenty of time to get some work done (and down a couple cups of surprisingly good Ghirardelli hot chocolate) at the Untied Club before heading over to my flight. I looked to the flight departure board for the Columbia, SC flight (on my way down to visit some family) and saw three items that made me smile–a “We are looking for volunteers” announcement, four people on the “Confirmed Awaiting Seats” list, and zero seats remaining.
Boarding was about to begin and I immediately presented myself to the gate agent, who thanked me for volunteering and instructed me to hold off on boarding to see if my seat would be needed. Boarding was delayed for some reason, but begin about 15 minutes prior to scheduled departure. One annoying passenger who simply had a departure management card saying “Confirmed in United Economy” but no seat assignment kept pestering the poor gate agent–who was boarding three flights simultaneously on his own by the way–for a seat. I would hate that job…
Boarding continued and I soon learned the problem was not exactly that UA overbooked the flight (they did overbook it by one), but that the 50-seat CRJ could only accommodate 46 passengers due to weight restrictions. We went down to the wire–people continued to board, but the flight still hadn’t fully boarded. Finally it happened, the 46th person boarded and it looked like I got my bump. Not so fast. The gate agent walked out to consult with the pilot and came back telling me to board, saying the Captain could take one more person.
Crestfallen I reached down to pick up my bag when a toothless man wearing a sleeveless shirt with a Confederate battle flag and a silver pony tail came running up to the gate and asked me “Columbia?” I smiled and told him, “Yes sir, the flight has already boarded but just go around these people [an Atlanta flight was boarding] and get on your airplane.” He responded back “Much obliged” and made a beeline to the front of the line. The gate agent saw exactly what I did and just laughed. I got my bump.
But I had to wait for my hotel voucher and travel credits. You see, the Atlanta flight had just closed when a woman and her two kids came running up to the gate. The gate agent informed them that they were too late, and the woman went ballistic–screaming at the top of her lungs that she had been in the gate area for two hours and had never heard the boarding call. She started wailing, “What are you going to do. I have CHILDREN with me!” (teenage children, BTW). The gate agent kept his calm and reminded her again that numerous boarding announcements were made, which certainly was true.
She continued to scream, and sadly, demonstrated why screaming and temper tantrums work. A supervisor who happened to be walking by interceded, asking the Atlanta pilot to open the door and let the family on, and he did–the woman got on her flight.
The poor agent finally got his three flights out and I walked over to him, commiserating with him about how bad passengers can be and joking with him that things will be a lot easier with SHARES (I’ve heard a lot of bickering this week from United airport staff about how archaic SHARES is while the telephone reservation folks seem to be excited–that’s because SHARES will make dealing with irregular/operations and other matters airport agents have to deal with quite difficult while it will automate and make life easier for many tasks United res agents contend with–like auto-pricing mileage awards for example).
I chose the Dulles Hilton for a change of pace (my thoughts on that tomorrow) and was booked on the 12:35p flight to Columbia today (no morning flights).
Fast-forward to this afternoon. The Columbia flight was again oversold with no seats left and five confirmed awaiting seats. But I flew down as scheduled. Why? As much as I love $ 400 United vouchers and could have used another $ 400 today, sometimes spending time with family is worth more. UA couldn’t get me a seat until the 9:50p flight (which I likely could have bumped from as well) and I just did not want to spend another day at the airport when family had been waiting for me the previous evening. It always hurts to give up a VDB, but I trust there will be more opportunities in the future for bumps–like Monday morning when I travel back to PHL!