Was it the Way I Looked? Part III

Part I

Part II

Back in the United Club, I sat down to plot out how I would get back to Philadelphia. Flights were full--very full. Premium cabins were zeroed out ex-SFO through all legacy Untied hubs as well as Cleveland and Houston. That left Newark, where the late redeye was still showing five seats for sale in first class. The flight had a tight connection to a US Airways Express flight down to Philadelphia.

While not ideal, it was that or SFO-PHX-ORD-PHL (and I just hate the three hour PHX-ORD redeye) so I chose the Newark option. Despite all the talk about not being able to book me directly into first class earlier, my friend in the Untied Club was quickly able to book me directly into first class on the United flight (single-cabin only on the US Airways Dash-8 flight) and issue my boarding passes.

Now I had 7.5hrs in front of me before the flight. Thankfully, my family bailed me out and we had a great dinner together in the area. That took a few hours, so by the time I got back to the airport, it was after 9:00p. I was quite productive in the United Club before walking over to the gate...where I got a glimpse of what an oversell looks like in the Continental world.

United has done a great job in handling VDBs over the past couple years. Volunteers are solicited at the gate, not at check-in, compensation is a flat $400, and volunteers are prioritized by MileagePlus status, meaning I would always get the bump.

Not so on on the new United, at least not yet. When a flight looked oversold on Continental, they would solicit your seat during check-in, where the airport kiosk would tell you the compensation amount (generally between $300-500) and spit out a form you could fill out agreeing to give up your seat. I can see that such a system could save time at the gate, but it was a waste of paper, and as I saw--doesn't really cut down on time saved.

The flight to Newark was delayed and "oversold by nine" according to the gate agent. She was actively soliciting volunteers, even raising the compensation rate from $300 to $400. There were many passengers interested and I got in line.

When you want a bump, sometimes you have to fight for it. Some people ahead of me were told that they already had enough volunteers. I walked up to the agent and said,

ME: Doesn't status ultimately determine who gets the bump

UA AGENT: On United it did. [Turning to her ex-Continental colleague], How about now?

CO AGENT: No, it's...uh...first come, first serve.

UA AGENT: That doesn't seem right. Our elite customers are used to having preference.

CO AGENT: Umm...

ME: [Handing over my boarding pass] Well, you can sort that out later, but I would ask that you take me as a volunteer on this flight.

CO AGENT: Oh, okay. Sure.

The flight begins to board and everyone past boarding group six was forced to check their bags pre-emptively. I was standing at the podium waiting for a VDB, and watched as over 50 bags were checked. That solved the space problem onboard, but certainly seemed so inefficient.

As the flight filled up, the CO agent (and I know she is a UA agent now...) determined only three volunteers were needed. I made the cut, along with another couple. Six other passengers, expecting to be bumped, became irate, but she did a good job of pacifying them.

Finally, when all had boarded, the CO agent took a look at the seat-map and determined there were a number of no-shows. No volunteers needed afterall.

Onboard, I have to admit, I was look looking forward to a Continental cheeseburger, historically served on transcon redeye flights. Sadly, the hot meal has been a casualty of the merger and only a pasta salad with chicken (rather tasty) was available. I chowed that down and went to sleep, thankfully getting about four hours of shuteye.

We got a late start from SFO and landed about 30 minutes late in Newark. That meant a misconnect (less than 30 minutes to change terminals and go through security). The next flight did not leave for four hours, so that left the Amtrak codeshare option into Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. That didn't sound bad at all, actually, but getting the ticket would prove problematic.

I stopped by a Customer Service desk where I was met with attitude and indifference rather than a helping hand (typical Continental Newark attitude, in my experience...).

The agent tried for awhile to get me on the Amtrak flight, but when she couldn't figure it out, told me I still had time to make the US Airways flight if I moved quickly. I told her that was silly, but she insisted and actually said, "Just go to the flight. They'll help if you don't make it."


No sense in arguing, so I took the bus over to Terminal A, left the United pier, and went up to the US Airways counter. Of course it was too late to make the flight. I proceeded over to the United check-in counters where a legacy United agent said, "Amtrak? What?" At least she was jolly about it and called over one of her Continental red coat colleagues to help.

Whether it was the nature of my ticket or just the infrequency of booking passengers on an Amtrak codeshare, this agent could not figure it out either. In fact, she worked on it for 1.5 HOURS and still couldn't figure it out--despite two phone calls to her help desk.

By now it was 25 minutes before train departure and the  s  -  l  -  o  -  w  AirTrain to the rail station takes about 20 minutes from Terminal A, so I told her we needed to rush. She converted my e-ticket to a paper ticket, wrote "Rule 120.20" on it (an agreement between two airlines to transfer passengers between the two airlines), and told me to go--that Amtrak would accept the ticket (which still said US Airways, EWR-PHL).

I had no idea if Amtrak and Continental/United had a Rule 120.20 agreement, but just took the ticket and ran--barely making it to the station in time. There was no one at the Amtrak counter (figures), but I navigated down to the train platform and after explaining the situation to a conductor, he graciously accepted the ticket. I have a feeling Amtrak will never get their money for this...

So that was my trip home...all because of a little fog in San Francisco. I will not be asking United for compensation (though I do think some is warranted) and am just happy that now I know a little more about how SHARES works.

Let's review:

  • If you are booked in first class and run into irr/ops, don't settle for getting booked into economy class
  • SHARES does allow agents to rebook passengers directly into premium cabins and book on partner airlines (something Continental has always sought to avoid)
  • There is a special "displaced passenger" upgrade priority code, but agents may not know how to locate it
  • Make sure that your reservation is "synced" if you are re-booked

As a final note, when I saw that Amtrak had cheeseburgers in the Café Car, I had to have one. And it was tasty.


oneeyejack March 22, 2012 at 03:21 pm

so what do you say to the agent if they don't even know what it is, please find the special "displaced passenger" upgrade priority code? What is this used for?

also, what does typing INVOl mean (as you mentioned in your Part I)?

jason March 27, 2012 at 03:21 am

oh please tell me you did NOT have that amtrak cheeseburger. i now question your taste entirely.

LOL. Yes, it had 40 grams of fat and was dripping with grease, but I've got to say--after craving a Continental cheeseburger all day, it hit the spot. In fact, I bet Continental and Amtrak get their cheeseburgers from the same place!

@oneeyejack: Good question--I don't have an answer. Maybe Fozz knows?

INVOL means involuntary, versus a voluntary change. That allows the agent to make changes for free.

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