Avoid the service desk if your flight is cancelled

United
Photo by Shoreline

I was at Denver International waiting for my flight to Burbank. It was already on the screens as over an hour late, and it was the last flight out, so I was feeling nervous. The lady at the gate came on the loud speaker and announced that while it wasn’t officially canceled, unofficially it looked likely it would be. Her advice for the 50 people waiting was to head to the one customer service desk they had manned and sort something out with them. "Discounted hotel rooms" was one of the less-than-appealing offers mentioned. That resulted in a stampede in that direction, but I remembered the advice I’d received from veterans of business flying. Avoid the service desk at all costs, because if you’re stuck, so are loads of others, and you’ll end up spending hours standing in line. I was determined to get home that night, so I started working on my other options.

There were no more flights to Burbank, but Liz was picking me up so I could fly into LAX instead, which opened up several direct flights. I figured out what the next one I could catch was, and tried to use my iPhone to book it through the internet. The United site wouldn’t let me book that close to departure, but Expedia appeared to. I went ahead and booked the flight I wanted, and then headed over to a bank of self-service check-in machines to print out a ticket. After some futzing trying to use my confirmation number, I realized Expedia had actually bumped me onto the flight at the same time the next day, ignoring the date I specified, and I’d missed that in my rush. Next up was a trip to the bank of phones that went direct to the United reservations system. They also couldn’t handle a booking that close to departure. At this point it was only 30 minutes before the flight I wanted left, so I was getting worried.

I walked past the customer service desk, and sure enough there was still a massive line. Finally, I went directly to the gate where the LAX flight was leaving from. There was only one person in line at the desk, also a Burbank refugee. She booked onto the flight, though her luggage wouldn’t be following. I walked up, and I only had carry-on, so the attendant was able to print me out a ticket and get me a seat in under a minute, all for no cost since I had my Burbank boarding pass. I so pleasantly surprised I was grinning the whole flight home.

My high hopes of technology didn’t work out, but that advice I’d got about avoiding those customer service lines definitely paid off.

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