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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

That’s a Big Surprise United Airlines

I arrived a few hours early at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for my flight on Monday, hoping to get lucky and get on a much earlier flight to Chicago (ORD). As I passed through security and took a look at the flight monitors, I thought my chances may have slimmed a little with a cancellation of the 8:00am flight – I was trying to get on the 8:59am flight.

When I walked up to gate 75 in terminal 7, I was greeted with a rather big surprise from United Airlines – a Boeing 747-400 jet had been swapped out from our original Boeing 757-200 airplane. As those who fly often know, using a 747-400 for a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago is practically unheard of. Perhaps it is akin to using a shotgun to kill a fly – as the 747-400 is usually used only as an internationally plane.

In fact, the gate agent mentioned it may have been several years since such an event had taken place there in Los Angeles. Apparently they needed the plane in Chicago for an international flight – and we were going to ride on it. Given the change in seating capacity -- more than doubling, getting on the plane from the standby list was easy.

But yes, there is more! Once I boarded the plane and took my seat in a half-empty plane – the Flight Service Manager approached me.

“Sir”, he said. “Since you are a 1K member, I wanted to ask you if you would like to move up to business class. We will not have a full meal for you, but you will have more space.” I thought about it for about 1 second and replied back, “Absolutely!”

This was a first time occurrence for me with United. Generally speaking, given the number of upgrades and frequent flyers that United has – truly free and upgrades that you do not request rarely occur. This was a day that I was definitely glad to be a 1K flyer on United Airlines.

I moved up to my seat in 26B and was almost immediately approached by a flight attendant for that section of the cabin who asked if this was my assigned cabin. I stated it was not, but that the Flight Service Manager asked me to move up. The attendant seemed a little irked at the Flight Service Manager for asking me to move up, but warmed up a little throughout the flight.

In fact, I even ended up with a meal. Perhaps someone did not want their Special K cereal and fruit bowls. I gladly took the extra and ate it. :-)

Once I arrived in Chicago, the real question was would my good fortune continue on my next flight to Atlanta (ATL)? I was still on standby for the earlier flight – my original flight was due to leave some 4 hours later in the evening and according to the flight board, it looked like the flight was pretty full.

The good news was that I was first on the standby list. The bad news was that there was only 4 seats left and still 20 minutes before the standby passengers could be cleared. Over the next 15 minutes I watched as that number dropped to 3, then 2, then 1. Finally it held steady. I just waited for the clocks to change to 4:16pm, 30 minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart.

As the clock turned to 4:16pm, I walked up to the counter and overhead the lady telling a passenger that the flight was oversold by 10 customers. Although it seemed my chances were slim, I asked – since it is less than 30 minutes before the flight and the board shows one seat left, can you clear it for me since I am number one on the standby list?

With a smile, the agent checked, cleared the seat, and handed me my boarding pass. While it was a seat in the 2nd row from the back, I did not care – I would arrive in Atlanta 4 hours before I was originally scheduled. Awesome!

Overall, this was a brilliant experience with United – of which I may have only posted negative things on. Given the great experience I had, it was a great opportunity to balance them out.

Ironically, had this day not gone so well – I would have been stuck in Chicago for the night. My originally planned flight was delayed out of Los Angeles and did not arrive until after 11:00pm, quite some time since my plane to Atlanta would have taken off.

I guess someone was watching out for me. :-)