“I’ll pay someone $40 for their seat! Please! I have to get on this flight!”

I flew United Airlines from Burbank to San Francisco yesterday morning aboard the usual Skywest-operated CRJ-200. The flight was zeroed out in availability for a couple of days, and the seat map had only two seats left to assign (exit rows), so it indeed was looking full and perhaps in an oversell situation.

While I normally jump on just about every opportunity to volunteer my seat, I had a complex itinerary this time and decided to forego the chance for a bump. There was no page in the boarding area asking for volunteers, and Burbank isn’t equipped with the overhead display monitors showing key oversell-likely data, so I assumed they were just fine.

There were people without seat assignments, though, and the agent cleared maybe two or three at about 20-minutes from departure. They could have been stand-bys, but likely not since the same agent made a page 10-minutes prior mentioning she’d be calling those without seats up shortly (slightly different from a standby-type of announcement).

Boarding commenced and I was one of the first on, settling into my seat 4C. I used to always book the exit row on this bird, but have since decided I’d rather be nearer the front, as the extra legroom is negligible in row 8, especially for such a short flight.

Four stragglers eventually boarded at T-5 minutes from departure, and then one more came aboard to an amazed flight attendant who said, “I’m completely full, what’s your seat assignment?” After confirming the potential seat poacher’s credentials, she made a page ensuring everyone onboard was going to San Francisco, instead of the also boarding Denver flight next to us. Everyone was headed to SFO.

The gate agent came on and confirmed there were no standbys to pull off, so the last person standing (the woman who boarded last) had to be taken off. She pleaded with the agent and flight attendant to no avail, eventually disappearing out of sight off the airplane only moments later to reemerge calling out to the cabin, “I’ll pay someone $40 for their seat! Really! Please! I need to get on this flight!”

Murmured chuckles filled the cabin & she acknowledged her defeat and left for good. The flight attendant closed the door, made the typical “all electronic devices and cell phones need to be turned off…” and we were on our way.

Now, a couple of observations. First, either someone’s boarding card didn’t “bleep” with a seat error, or that last woman on wasn’t scanned in the first place, probably rushing to make the flight & waved through with a cursory glance at her boarding pass. Second, to the recently denied boarded… $40… really? Come on! You’ve gotta make it more attractive than a couple of Jacksons!

An incredibly brief thought crossed my mind that had I jumped off and taken the offer, United would have issued me $400 in vouchers, but again, I wanted to fly this trip. My apologies to the woman this morning with hopes for more fortunate travels in the future. Oh… and… maybe sweeten the deal up a bit from $40.

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