Upgraded, downgraded and well compensated yesterday flying United Airlines

I flew back to Los Angeles from the Chicago Seminars yesterday and encountered what ended up being a fun screw up on United Airlines’ part. The agent working the first flight began boarding as usual and I was about the sixth or seventh person scanned and made my way onto the jetway. The flight attendant stopped everyone from actually boarding the airplane while the captain seemed to be finishing a briefing with the crew.

As it turned out moments later, the same flight attendant came back onto the jetway and said to us all, “you might as well turn around… the captain is refusing this airplane.” Before I was back in the boarding lounge, I was on the phone with the 1K desk and they quickly rebooked me on the next flight. Surprisingly, a First Class seat remained and the agent grabbed me the last one (as an upgrade… didn’t get full F for the redeemable and EQM bonuses). I hung around the gate for a moment just to listen in and the agent eventually advised that they’d be rebooking everyone. Cool, I headed for the club.

I got some snacks, booted up and worked a bit. After about 20 minutes I noticed the departure monitor across the room didn’t show my original flight as cancelled yet, so checked it out on United’s website. They ended up finding a replacement 757 and the flight was now leaving at 1:00pm. My rebooked flight left at 1:03pm and while I initially thought about changing back – in part to hopefully get an automatic “We’re sorry…” email with compensation as is common for elites experiencing mechanical delays– I decided to just stick with the 1:03 flight hoping the 1K desk booked me in full Y for the bonus EQMs.

I walked by my original flight’s new gate and their 757 wasn’t yet there whereas my A320 was at the gate already, so figured I made the right choice and would beat my original flight back home. Boarding came and the gentleman in front of me – with a first class boarding pass – got the dreaded loud error beep when he attempted to board. The agent apologized claiming there was an aircraft swap, which was sort of B.S. as all A320s have 12 seats in First, but it could have indeed been swapped to the other A320 configuration with six fewer coach seats. He clicked away and advised the passenger First Class was no longer available.

Instead of continuing boarding, the agent attempted to find him an alternate flight at the customer’s request. Nothing was available in First until 5:30pm and the customer said “no way.” The gate agent paged a service director and then scanned me successfully and I boarded and took seat 2E.

About 10 minutes prior to flight time the service director boards, approaches my row, looks both at my seatmate and me and says, “I have a situation that I’m hoping one of you can help with. I have a passenger who purchased a full-fare First Class ticket and I’m going to need one of your two seats as they were complimentary upgrades. He originally had your seat (she looked at me).” She continued, “I’ll ensure whichever of you agrees to give up your seat that you’ll receive appropriate compensation for the downgrade. The best seat I have available in economy is a middle seat, 7E, but it’s the bulkhead right behind First Class.”

I, of course, jumped at it and replied, “No worries, he had my seat, so I’ll go ahead and move.” The service director was thrilled at my ease of acceptance and made it a point to let the flight attendants know how helpful I was. I moved to 7E and as you might know, those bulkhead seats on the Airbus twins have more pitch than First Class.

Both the purser and one of the coach flight attendants approached to thank me and ensured they’d take very good care of me. And they did just that. Airlines don’t overcater First Class meals, but I had my choice of any multiple items from the coach menu. I went with the Thai Chicken Wrap, which is actually very good, and a can of Pringles.

When first class meal service began, I received hot towel service, warm nuts, beverages in proper glassware and the finishing First Class cookie. I wrote up a couple “Going the Extra Mile” certificates that praise flight attendant service and handed them to my stellar angels. It really wasn’t any big deal for a “relatively” short flight and my seatmates on both sides obviously wondered what was up. They both nervously yielded the middle armrests to my pleasure and I had an incredibly comfortable flight. Better room forward than First Class and access to both armrests? Not a bad deal.

When I landed I had two emails from United awaiting me. One included a $200 travel credit and the other was advising 9,000 Mileage Plus miles would be added to my account within 14 days. Besides regional jets, I hadn’t flown on United in coach in a very long time and yesterday’s flight was by far my most comfortable and enjoyable ever.

Kudos to United’s flight attendants on that flight for taking very good care of me and I’m incredibly happy with my compensation. Win-win times two, three and four. And yes, if you care, my rebooked flight arrived before my original. Those minutes count on the I-405!

Comments

    • The service director was simply amazed I provided no hesitation… little does she know how I can turn that $200 cert into about 5k EQMs and 10k RDMs on a future mileage run.

  1. I got downgraded on United one time because of some sort of “operations” delay and didn’t get any compensation other than the “priviledge” of not missing my connecting flight. Ended up in a middle seat in the row without a window on a 757 LAX-IAD instead of first on the 777 out of SFO.

  2. What a fine outcome! We’d been hoping for a possible bump ORD-SEA Oct 30 and actually left during Randy’s talk to get a jump on it, but all we had was a very pleasant flight in F, still not too shabby. 🙂

  3. geezzzz DELTA would have given you 25k skypesos worth,… well in Canadian…, covered to USD would be…. uh… one of the free drink coupons at the HI at the DO!

    happy you are home safe and sound and look forward to next year bro! – DGF

  4. Had the same opportunity IAH-SEA yesterday, but I passed. $200 travel credit, CO metal (so no E+), and the two open seats were middles. I was quite tired and hungry (I’m trying to rationalize passing.) Not sure I made the right choice, but I do already have some CO travel credit.

    Wish I would have been more “awake” – I might have taken up the offer, or at least tried to barter for $200 + food/drinks or something.

  5. About 6 months ago, I had received an M class 1K instant upgrade to first on a EWR-SFO flight. I checked in the night before my flight without a problem. In the morning there was an equipment change an my seat no longer existed on the new craft. I obviously had to be downgraded; the gate agent came on board and gave me a $500 voucher… I hadn’t asked for any comp. I was obviously very impressed with now they handled the situation.

    • @Fhelicia: By purchasing and flying on a cheap mileage run ticket around $200 that earned 5k+ elite miles. Living in L.A. at the time, it was pretty easy to find great mileage run fares for $200.

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