When it Pays to Have Frequent Flyer Status

I had a tight connection in Washington Dulles that involved a terminal change and actually missed my connecting flight yesterday. All flights to Philadelphia were zeroed out, but I was put on the standby waitlist for the next flight out.  All I can say is that status does mean something on United.

The flight was booked full, but one person had not checked in, so one seat remained. One of the perks of elite status on United is waitlist priority, and after being added to list, I quickly found myself #1 on the list.

That alone wouldn’t have been worth a blog post, but the reaction of the passenger I bumped down to number two was too entertaining not to share. He bolted, and I mean bolted, to the gate agent and demanded to know why he had just dropped to number two. His drama then unfolded, with me standing by trying to keep a straight face.

PASSENGER: Hey, why did I go down to number two?

GATE AGENT: Waitlist position is determined by Mileage Plus status.

PASSENGER: What’s that?

GATE AGENT: Essentially, people who fly a lot more, get a preferred place on the list.

PASSENGER: You mean based on miles? I have 16K in my account!

GATE AGENT: Something like that.

PASSENGER: But that isn’t fair. United SCREWED ME UP. It isn’t my fault that the phone agent booked my connection to Philadelphia leaving the same day as my overnight flight from Seattle to here.

GATE AGENT: Well, you do have a higher position on the waitlist than you would normally have due to the unique position you are in, but our frequent fliers still would have priority.

PASSENGER: But the lady said I would be number one!

GATE AGENT: You were number one and now you are number two, but the list is subject to change. It might well change again in the next few minutes.

PASSENGER: That’s not fair! What am I supposed to do? It’s not my fault and now you’re telling me that other passenger will get the last seat?

GATE AGENT: Unfortunately, yes.  

[Passengers storms away in a huff]

I do not mean to make fun of him—on the contrary, I felt bad for him, bad that United had screwed him up and that now he would have to sit a few hours in the stale Terminal A gate area at Washington Dulles (where at least wi-fi is free). But boy was I thankful that status still means something on United (and yes, I mean that as a dig at Continental, not legacy United).

I made the flight. So did the disgruntled passenger and two others on the waitlist. All’s well that ends well.


Dan February 21, 2012 at 02:11 pm

The best part about the A gates at IAD... 5 Guys.

Rob February 24, 2012 at 01:48 am

I don't get your dig on CO; does status not get you priority for standby on CO?

Steve March 1, 2012 at 02:52 pm

I don't get the dig at CO either - they've put me and my entire family above others on a wait list before.

@Rob and Steve: I simply mean that as we make the final transition from UA to CO, er I mean UA, tomorrow, we will see transactional loyalty (ticket price over status) now valued over long-term loyalty, at least when it comes to upgrades. That's not a change I like.

Rick March 3, 2012 at 05:29 pm

Continental rules also mean no automatic upgrades to/from Hawaii on so-called First/Business class flights. (2 class metal) Expect to be stuck in straight economy seats unless you want to pay miles and a co-pay.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

e.g. http://www.example.com/