Be nice to your airline agent

By James A. Thorson
This item appears on page 35 of the April 2014 issue.

In her letter “Air Travel Tips”  (Jan. ’14, pg. 10), Ms. KT Porter could not have been more right about the value of being nice to airline agents.

My wife and I were ticketed to fly on United from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to Las Vegas on Dec. 4, 2013. Shortly before boarding time, it was announced that the airline had delivered the wrong equipment, an airplane with 40 fewer seats than the one originally scheduled. It was also announced, “If you have a boarding pass with a row and seat number printed on it, then you’re okay to board; otherwise, please check at the counter for rebooking to our next flight.”

I was not beguiled into thinking we could be sanguine just because we held printed boarding passes with row and seat numbers. I got in line. Sure enough, I was told, “This airplane has no row 13 (our row). We’ll have to rebook you. Please take a seat until we get this flight out of here.”

We waited an hour and 20 minutes to be rebooked from our noon flight to one at 3:45 p.m., then we were rebooked again, then we found out we weren’t getting a direct flight; the flight we got would land in Denver for 40 minutes. 

We each were given a voucher for $7 to buy a meal plus a voucher for $150 for future United travel. I thought that was fair enough, even if $7 doesn’t go too far toward lunch at O’Hare.

Needless to say, there were 40 people who were inconvenienced, not by the weather or a mechanical problem but because of human error. I think 38 of them felt compelled to comment about this to the gate agents, citing incompetence and using a few choice terms. A few really ranted and raved, so much so that one man was told to sit down before airport security was called.

It took four agents a full two hours to straighten things out. As they were laboring along and when nobody else was in line, I went up to the counter and said to the agents, “We know this was not your fault. No doubt God is in his Heaven smiling down on all of us, and this little thing will be just a memory by tomorrow.”

United (like many other airlines) charges a premium of $37 for some of the better economy seats. Somehow, my wife and I found ourselves seated immediately behind first class in seats that had the most legroom I’ve ever seen, and we were given priority boarding as well. This was at no extra charge, and now we have $300 to apply to our next flight.


Buffalo Grove, IL