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Giving up your seat for a voucher? Only on one condition!
It's always pretty tempting. You're sitting in the gate area and hear the voice on the loudspeaker, offering travel vouchers and other perks if you'll give up your seat because your flight is oversold. You know the drill ... "if your travel plans are flexible." Well, while en route to the Gadling meet-up in Chicago, I got this opportunity and decided to roll the dice. Along the way, I learned a bit that you may find useful when the gate agent is trying to seduce you into seat sacrifice.
Don't give up your seat on one airline to accept a seat on another.
Right away, I felt uncomfortable. It's natural to hesitate when you're giving up a sure thing. Next, the gate agents were hunting for flights ... never a good sign. I was on Delta, and the next Delta flight was fully booked ... even though the original announcement promised volunteers a flight on the next Delta flight. The whole arrangement left me doubtful, but the thought of $800 worth of free travel (I was with my wife) pushed me forward. Gadling top dog Grant Martin was egging me on via e-mail, along with several other members of the team.
So, I pulled the trigger.
The Delta gate agent was able to get us booked on an American Airlines flight to Chicago leaving two hours later. So, we picked up our carry-ons and trudged across the Cincinnati airport to Terminal 2, where we'd check in and catch our new flight.
A shock awaited us at the American Airlines counter: our flight had been canceled. Fortunately, the airline was able to get us on a flight that was leaving earlier ... though it had been delayed five hours (i.e., it was supposed to leave at 1 PM but was pushed to 6 PM, while our canceled flight was supposed to push back at 8 PM). Unlike everyone else on that flight, we got lucky. But, I wondered, what if we hadn't been put on the earlier American flight? How screwed would we have been?
I called Delta's media relations department while waiting for my flight on American and heard back rather quickly. The rep wasn't able to point to a specific policy and rushed through an explanation that wasn't terribly encouraging. The moral of the story seemed to be that Delta would welcome you back ... because that's the airline with which you started.
A media relations rep without some form of corporate-speak to quote chapter and verse is unnerving. These are the people responsible for making the airline look
good less bad. If PR can't give you a straight (if biased) answer, what are the chances of that gate agent being able to deliver?
"It's easier when it's a Delta-to-Delta" change, the rep explained. So, that tipped me off. If you can't get a flight on the same airline, don't chance it. I was told that there is more the airline can do for you if you're on one of its flights. That's true. They can bargain with first class upgrades, exit row seats and other perks. But, if they send you to another airline, you lose all that leverage.
Now, if you are moved to another airline and they cancel on you, you can always go back to the one with which you started, but keep in mind that the options available to them are more limited. If they've spent the day accommodating bumped passengers from oversold flights, there may not be as many slots available. You've lost time, which means you've lost flights.
And, since you've already given up your flight, there's little you can do. You're at the airline's mercy.
With my episode last Friday, I'm still a bit confused about the gate agent's choice of flights. To have a plane canceled in the 15 minutes it took to walk from one terminal to another felt a bit fishy. I have no evidence of a decision from convenience, but I am certainly suspicious.
Of course, I did learn something, albeit the hard way: do not give up your seat if you can't be booked on the same airline. You're guaranteeing a world of headache.