Friday, April 14, 2017

Thanks, United.

A couple of weeks ago I booked a flight with Delta Airlines to an international destination that I’ve been wanting to visit for a while now. For the sake of this narrative, let’s just refer to this place as “Aceland”. 1

The flight had one stop in Minneapolis – St. Paul before my international transfer.

Well… three days after I plunked my credit card down for my plane ticket, I get an email stating that my first flight to Minneapolis was rescheduled/changed/delayed, leaving me with a paltry 41 minute layover to rush across the airport for my flight to “Aceland”. 2

41 minutes for a transfer to an international flight.3

This airline only does one flight a day to this particular destination, so missing the connecting flight would force me to waste away for 24 hours in Minneapolis.4

So I called customer service and kindly asked if they could possibly put me on a different flight.5

The conversation went something like this:

Me: I’m concerned that the 41 minutes is… well… not enough time for me to make the transfer, especially since it’s an international flight.
Agent: Well, the airline policy is that 40 minutes is the minimum necessary time to make an international transfer.
Me: … uh… what
Agent: Yes. Since your transfer is 41 minutes, you should be able to make it. 6
Me: Well, I happened to check, and there is another flight that goes through JFK with a 3 hour layover, and that flight has the exact same cost as mine. Is there anyway to switch me over to that flight?
Agent: Unfortunately, since your current layover is above the 40 minute minimum, that would cost you a fee for a flight change.
Me: … How much is that fee?
Agent: [clicking of keys on keyboard]7 Three hundred forty-nine dollars, sir.
Me: What the… so basically I’m going to lose a day in “Aceland” because there’s no way in heck I’m going to be able to make that transfer in 41 minutes. And the only way to fix that is if I let you guys extort me for another $350?
Agent: …yes that is the bottom line. I am sorry but that is the airline’s policy.
Me: What?!?! This is… ($*&%*#$) Unbelievable.

And that put me in a pretty foul mood for this entire past week. Do I seriously fork up another $350 to preserve day 1 of my long-planned vacation? Or do I start hitting up the gym to practice for my cross-terminal dash in a couple of months? 8

Well the very next day after the above phone convo, there was an incident with United Airlines involving a bloodied-up overbooked passenger.

Mind you, I wasn’t flying with United, but the airlines tend to be very sensitive in competing with one another for PR.9

Four days later, I decided to give Delta customer service another call to give it another shot. Who knows, right?

This time the call basically went like this:

Me: I have a 41 minute layover to make an international flight, which I’m concerned about.
Agent: Hmm. We have a flight that goes through JFK with a 3 hour layover, would you like us to put you on that flight instead?
Me: Would there be a charge for changing my flight?
Agent: Absolutely not.
Me: That would be fantastic.
Agent: Great! I’m emailing you your new itinerary now…

Thanks, United.

  1. Of course it’s not actually named “Aceland”… but don’t worry about it. []
  2. Don’t try to guess. It’s not worth the chase. []
  3. If you’ve never flown internationally… 60 minutes would be more interesting than you’d like. []
  4. Emphasis on the words: “waste away” and “Minneapolis” []
  5. One that was basically not guaranteed to screw me out of a full day of my trip []
  6. Again: horse manure []
  7. or perhaps fake sounds of keys clicking on a fake keyboard…? []
  8. And would my baggage successfully even make the transfer in that short a time? I wonder… []
  9. This bit on using game theory to deal with overbooked flights was an interesting read, I thought. []