There is one tip I haven’t yet been able to develop into a habit even though it seems obvious: Always check the status of your international flight before leaving the hotel.
Part of the reason for my failure is that I usually do this on my phone, but I usually only have Internet access on my computer when I’m in another country. Another reason may be that I’m not especially worried about delays with most trips. I often travel within the continental U.S., where alternate routings and departures are plentiful.
Checking my flight status on the morning of departure has certainly helped me before. Once I had a first-class award ticket, but the final (domestic) segment was in economy class because that was all that was available when I booked it. A quick Skype session with the reservations agent helped me confirm a first class seat before I even left for the airport. Had I waited until arriving in San Francisco, it probably would not still be available.
I just had one of the most disastrous travel experiences in recent memory during my trip home from Milan. I credit a good share of the blame to United and the local airport authorities (understaffing, poor signage, a generally unhelpful demeanor) but I deserve some blame, too, for not being more proactive — even though some might argue that a Premier 1K member ought to be able to leave it to the airline to be proactive on his behalf.
Had I checked my flight status when I woke up in the morning, I would have seen that it was delayed over 2.5 hours such that I would miss my connections. I would have enjoyed the breakfast buffet at my hotel and, I admit, a view of the unusually attractive hostess. I would not have had to walk through the dark to the train station. I might even have been able to talk to an agent on the phone about getting a more direct routing via Delta or British Airways, arriving 8 hours earlier in Seattle.
But no. Instead, I faced a huge line for check-in, which I bypassed because I figured, “Hey, I have a mobile boarding pass!” even though security and check-in are on opposite sides of the airport and require a 10 minute walk each way.
Once airside, I learned that the flight was delayed, there was no gate agent, no transfer ticket agent, the information kiosk was closed, and the police were thoroughly uninterested in helping me get back to the check-in desk for assistance with my reservation. Several attempts to call the Premier 1K desk were unsuccessful. The @united Twitter team was unresponsive (big surprise). All other flight options came and went.
After an hour I managed to get back to check-in. I scarfed down a croissant while waiting 30 minutes in the Premier 1K line. Crumbs flew everywhere. I’m sure the Italians were horrified. I don’t care. Milan may have fashion sense, but I’ve seen little else to recommend the city as a tourist destination.
The agents typed and typed and typed, arguing with each other in Italian, switching agents as they went off duty, before finally putting me on a connection via San Francisco that gets me in an hour later. I don’t particularly mind that. I do mind that I will be earning fewer miles.
The check-in staff seemed unimpressed. My request that they mark the change as “Involuntary” (it wasn’t my fault the flight was delayed) was met with scorn. My explanation that it was critical to earning my elite status was met with more scorn. And these were uniformed United employees, mind you, not generic contract agents. They suggested I fly American Airlines next time — seriously!
[Upon further investigation the lounge, I now see that the difference is only 30 miles. Will I squeak by with only 6 miles to spare this year?! Maybe I should appreciate this change. Then again, the last SFO-SEA segment is almost always delayed an additional hour…]
So blame is due all around, but a lot of this could probably still have been avoided had I checked my flight status at the hotel. Hopefully I’ll learn from my own stupidity some day.