I spent this past weekend in New York City and scheduled my return on Monday to get on the United 787 Dreamliner for the trip back to LA. As Scottrick mentioned in my intro, I have elite status with Delta but not with United. While I have Star Gold status with Aegean Airlines, that’s not going to help me get Economy Plus for free (not to mention 9-across in coach is somewhat cramped on the United 787).
I decided to plop down 25,000 United miles for a domestic first class ticket from Newark to Chicago to Houston to Los Angeles, with ORD-IAH-LAX on the 787 with the BusinessFirst product. Sure, domestic trips aren’t usually the best ways to use miles, but I’ve been earning Ultimate Rewards at such a frantic pace that I felt I could “splurge” for 2 domestic segments on the Dreamliner. If anything, I had to avoid Delta because my next flight would take me over to the next elite tier and I’m trying to maximize my rollover MQMs to begin next year.
Last week, one of the United 787s had to make a detour to New Orleans due to some electrical problems. I kept my eye on the United iPhone app to make sure that my segments were still intact — I had half a mind to check availability on United’s p.s. flights from JFK to LAX in case things went awry — no way was I going to use 25K miles on regular domestic first!
On Saturday evening, I found the first sign of trouble — my seat assignment for 2L on IAH-LAX was missing, likely because the flight was no longer on an aircraft WITH a seat 2L! I immediately sent a direct message (DM) on Twitter to @united, who promptly responded that they would look into it. Already I was intrigued, since the airline’s social media game has been lacking. Having a strong social media presence is a must nowadays and with SMM services like Social Zinger where you can buy Instagram comments it’s now easier to project a good brand image online.
An hour later, while at dinner with a group of friends, I got the news that the flight had been subbed with another aircraft, and that I could be scheduled on a later IAH-LAX flight on a 757. I got on ExpertFlyer and saw that there was one first class seat (F1) left on the Houston-San Francisco Dreamliner flight, as well as a first class seat connecting down to LAX on an Airbus A320. I immediately responded to @united requesting that routing, effectively making my trip EWR-ORD-IAH-SFO-LAX. United hub tour, anyone? I really wanted the 787!
Apparently, this reroute forced a connection greater than 4 hours, thus splitting the ticket in Houston and increasing the airport taxes from $5 to $10. The representative at @united asked me for my phone number in order to get my credit card number, and thought it wasn’t best to do it over direct message. I was in the midst of a group dinner and asked to have the call as late as possible. It ended up coming in at about 10:30pm, or about 9:30pm where the rep was, given the Chicago area code. While I wasn’t happy about the $5 charge, I understood the fare structuring reasons behind it and just sucked it up. More importantly, I was pretty happy to see that I got most of the rebooking done over Twitter, with my credit card information done over the phone. I’ve done similar things with @AmericanAir and @DeltaAssist, and it’s so much easier to DM rather than call and possibly wait in a hold.
However, there was a bit of a delay in eventually getting my question answered by @united. It took about an hour from having my inquiry passed to the Social Media Desk until I actually got a response from them regarding the equipment change. To put that into perspective, I’ve had a reservation glitch fixed within 5 minutes at 2AM eastern with @DeltaAssist. That actually seems normal for Delta, and I have a feeling that this is because of Delta’s almost fleet-wide WiFi implementation. I’ve contacted @DeltaAssist while inflight a number of times to bring up issues or to commend a great flight. As more and more globe-tailed aircraft get WiFi installed, United is going to have to kick their Twitter game into high gear, since I am sure that customers will use Twitter as an avenue to contact agents while inflight.
As for my eventual return back to L.A. — since one 787 aircraft is timed for Newark-Houston-San Francisco and another for Chicago-Houston-Los Angeles, my ORD-IAH flight was predictably subbed out with a Continental 777 as well. In the end, I ended up flying Newark to Houston to San Francisco on the 787, connecting down to LAX, thanks to doing a same-day change. The experience taught me never to book a ticket simply for the aircraft, especially a new one like the Dreamliner. Too many things can go awry. Fortunately, I got my 2 Dreamliner segments in, albeit on different routes than I had previously planned!