Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Normally, we never run into these issues where we get denied boarding because the airline oversold the flight. We thought it was due to my father and mother having United Gold and Silver status, respectively, but it turns out that stuff can go out the window.

Flight Cancelled
We were originally scheduled to fly out of Charleston on 7:29PM Monday evening (connecting through Washington DC) back to Newark. About 7 hours before our first flight, we received a notification that it was cancelled due to Air Traffic Control Issues.

Undaunted, my father went online to see what his options were to get us all home. As it turns out, the best alternative was to fly direct CHS-EWR the following morning at 6AM getting us into Newark at 8AM. This posed a few frustrating issues:

1. We'd have to overnight in Charleston at our own expense. The airline will only pay for your hotel if it's their fault (i.e., overbooking, mechanical, flight crew, etc.). It will not compensate you for weather or air traffic control related delays/cancellations.

2. 6AM departures are painful!

3. We couldn't get confirmed seat assignments.

Our Plan of Action
We bit our lip and just booked another night at the Aloft Charleston Airport hotel (about an 8 minute free shuttle ride away from the hotel) where my father had Starwood Platinum status. For $109/night + $14 in taxes, it wasn't that painful.

Now, I realize I'm a 3 year old toddler, but I don't wake up early like you other kids do. I'd snooze til 9AM if my parents would let me.

In order to safely make a 6AM departure time (at an airport that doesn't have TSA Pre-Check or priority security lines for elites), we were required to wake up at 3:30AM to get on the 4:30AM shuttle from the Aloft Hotel to make it to the Charleston Airport by 5AM.

However, the last item was the one most troubling to my father. Because of the situation, all the confirmed seat assignments were taken, so we'd have to get them at the airport when we physically checked in.

As the airlines will tell you, "Oh don't worry, they always leave a few seats available for just this situation," or "You've got United Gold status, they won't bump you," or the classic, "Seat assignments are just request, not actual confirmation."

My father was savvy enough to know all those statements were just plain mis-information. Having a seat assignment is HUGE. In fact, we always make sure to get confirmed seat assignments as soon as we book tickets. If you have an actual seat assignment, you're pretty safe from getting bumped off the flight. If you don't have one, then you're the first target.

The Morning At the Airport
So after checking out of our hotel (4:30AM) and arriving at the airport (4:50AM), we were told at the front check-in desk that we couldn't be assigned seats until we were at the gate. That's when we knew we were in trouble.

As it turned out, the flight was oversold by 7 seats. Chances were that a few people wouldn't make the early morning flight, so we were still hopeful. However, the fact that we were flying as a group of 3 really hindered us (versus being a single traveler).

Of course, at 5:15AM, the gate agent started making requests for volunteers. First, she offered $400 vouchers per passenger. Then she went up to $500. Realizing that we were likely to be bumped anyway, my father went up and inquired about what the alternative flight options were for us. We figured we had a better chance of getting the re-routing of our choice if we could be useful before they too were sold out.

A. There was a 4PM direct on Delta that would get us into LaGuardia around 6PM. 

B. My father found there was a 7:30AM Delta routing through Atlanta that would get us into Newark by 12:30PM. 

Option B was a lot more flying (backtracking a bit), but it would get us into New York a lot earlier. Plus the CHS-ATL and ATL-EWR flights were on real Boeing planes (737s) with headrest TVs and wifi (versus the regional jets without any amenities). So we asked her to reserve us on the connecting flight through ATL and said we'd potentially volunteer if we needed to.

"Now Boarding..."
As it turned out, we didn't have a choice to volunteer or not (since we didn't have assigned seats and it was easier for United to re-route a family of 3 rather than 3 independent solo travelers). But by then, the vouchers being offered were at $600/person! Pretty great since United vouchers are as good as cash in my family.

As the 6AM flight to Newark started to board, we were taken to another gate to process our new tickets. Then we were told that Delta didn't accept us being moved to the 7:30AM Atlanta flight. So we were now going to be on the later 4PM flight which meant my father would lose a full day of work he needed to get done.

On the (small) bright side, we were each given three meal vouchers each to use at the airport for up to $7 per voucher. Fortunately, we could combine them to get a larger breakfast and/or lunch, but we didn't really want to eat $63 worth of airport food. So we just picked up some coffee and juice and some breakfast sandwiches, saving six vouchers ($42) for later. That's on top of the $1,800 in United flight vouchers that we received.

Since my father had booked us into the nearby Aloft hotel room the night before, we called again to see if we could "check back into" our same room, since it was paid for through the afternoon anyway. Thankfully, Aloft agreed and let us back in (and granted us a late 4PM checkout). Thank you, Starwood! I needed those few extra hours of beauty sleep.

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