I was supposed to be in Seattle by now. Megan and I took a short weekend trip to Las Vegas, and I flew on Alaska Airlines on purpose in order to get nonstop flights that would allow us to leave after work on Friday and get back home while it was still daylight on Sunday. This was my first flight not on United Airlines or a Star Alliance partner in over 18 months, and it didn’t work out at all as I expected.
We left our hotel knowing that the flight was delayed by an hour and a half, but figured we could still hang out at the United Club in the adjacent terminal. Fortunately, after 30 minutes in the club I checked our flight status and found that it had been shifted from “Delayed” to “Cancelled.” The one time I fly another airline, and with no elite status to boot! I have had mileage runs cancelled on me before, but this was the first time I absolutely needed to get home. Or at least Megan did. As a graduated PhD, no one cares what I do anymore. 😉
Let me preface the rest of this story by saying that at all times Alaska’s personnel were extremely friendly and polite. I can quibble about the long lines at the airport, but at least there wasn’t any yelling, which I sometimes see on other airlines even when the flight departs on time. I hope my response gives you some ideas, because there were quite a few people around me who had no idea what to do and saved themselves a lot of time by following these suggestions.
Take Charge of the Situation at the Airport
Because I had been paying attention, I was actually the first person to get to the podium and ask for information about reaccommodation. I had looked up Alaska’s schedule that evening and the next day on our walk over, and I made the agent aware of my Executive Platinum status with American. I knew there was some elite benefit overlap between American and Alaska, but apparently that doesn’t help in this situation.
She told me they would be prioritizing individuals with connections first, then first class and Alaska’s own elites, then everyone else. She also made an announcement to this effect and said that Alaska’s reservations agents “behind the scenes” were already making efforts to rebook people, and she would call us up by name.
This turned out not to be the case. After waiting 30 minutes, the two agents had only helped two parties, and I started looking for other options, at least for Megan. Award space on United Airlines, US Airways, or Southwest Airlines was no-go. There is a benefit of having elite status (no close-in booking fees) and a diverse array of points and miles, but long connections or limited availability will still cause problems. Our best option was to wait to be rebooked nonstop on Alaska.
Instead of waiting, I got on the phone with Alaska’s reservations desk and was surprised to get an agent on the line immediately. When I call United’s 1K line these days, I usually get put on hold. 🙁
I explained our flight was cancelled and made it clear we were willing to split our reservation. This was crucial because there was a flight at 9:15 AM with only one seat, so Megan was able to get to work by lunch. I’m writing this in the United Club the next morning while waiting for my flight at 1:15 PM. I started alerting others around me that they should also call reservations. If we were to wait in line, I’m sure all these earlier flights would disappear. Indeed, after a few calls I started getting reports back that my flight was full and people were now being rebooked for 2:30 PM or later.
Focus on Finding a Place to Sleep
With our flight taken care of, my next priority was a place to sleep that night. The cause of the delay had still not been announced, but I’m guessing it was the crew going overtime because of the late inbound aircraft. Mechanical and crew issues like this that are within the airline’s control typically get you some vouchers to cover during your delay. Alaska was providing them for meals, a taxi, and a hotel.
I headed one gate over where these vouchers were being printed to ask if we could pick them up since we didn’t need help being rebooked. No dice. If we wanted Alaska to pay, we needed to wait in line. So I spent 30 minutes inching forward and anticipating at least another hour. I checked with a few people leaving the podium and found that the hotel we were being sent to was nothing special–most were considering paying for something better.
Finally I pulled out my iPad again and used Hipmunk to evaluate my options. (Great iPad app, by the way. I actually think it’s better than their website.) A Hyatt Place was only a short drive away with an airport shuttle and a AAA rate that included a free bottle of wine for under $90. Score! Although a strip hotel might be cheaper, extra cab fare and a resort fee would leave me about even. Besides, I need to renew my Diamond status.
I also realized this was the same hotel, formerly an Amerisuites, where I stayed on my first trip to Las Vegas over six years ago with a group of college friends. It was nice to go full circle, and I actually enjoyed my one night at the Hyatt Place more than most of my past hotels on the Strip (review to follow).
Food, Bags, and Transportation …In that Order
If we weren’t waiting in line, we certainly weren’t going to get any meal vouchers, but that was okay. We didn’t want to eat in the airport anyway. Similarly, no taxi vouchers would cover the cost of getting to our hotel, but I had already confirmed that the Hyatt Place had a free airport shuttle (Hipmunk can filter this for you). We elected not to wait around some more for the shuttle, so we just paid $20 for a taxi that evening.
But after food and before transportation, our final priority was our luggage. Megan and I had checked our bags since we did some shopping that put us over the carry-on limit. We also had toiletries and clothes that we wanted if we were staying overnight. So we had to get our bags back. Fortunately this was the easiest part of our journey. We didn’t need to talk to a gate agent to get this handled and instead went downstairs to baggage claim and talked to Alaska’s baggage office. Five minutes later they were on the carousel.
My biggest annoyance is that the gate agents were so slow and didn’t deliver as advertised. My success rebooking on the phone suggested there was no one rebooking our tickets behind the scenes. The incredibly slow progress of rebooking people only led everyone to wait in line without being called. I’m really surprised they didn’t send us back to check-in given that most of us had no chance of leaving that evening anyway.
But it’s important to remain calm. I did and ended up with a solution much better for me than if I had waited around. Some other people were just wandering and loudly complaining that Alaska didn’t rebook them on another carrier, but I already knew this wasn’t an option during my research. Our fastest way home was still to work with Alaska, and it made sense to prioritize connecting and elite passengers, so I don’t hold a grudge against them for that. I just knew that it put me on the bottom of the totem pole and tried to (politely) see what I could do to improve the result.
I waited over an hour in the airport to get help from the gate agents before giving up on that. Perhaps it was longer than I should have waited, but I really expected things to move more quickly and wasn’t expecting the helpful solution on the phone. If I were a general member on United, good luck!
The biggest risk was paying for the hotel, taxi, and meals on my own. Alaska will probably reimburse me for these, up to a limit, and the ticket agent this morning encouraged me to write to Customer Care. She also printed some meal vouchers for breakfast and lunch. Maybe I should have visited them last night to see about a taxi voucher? I stupidly refused a receipt from our driver, but will make a claim anyway. I’m pretty confident the hotel will get reimbursed, which was under $100 including tax for two delayed passengers.
Our dinner at the Hofbrauhaus, however, is up in the air. An $80 tab and most of it beer is not going to be repaid in full, if at all, but we had lots of fun drinking and dining with with a raucous group of people!