Kindness of a stranger

Weather at OHare April 19, 2009   On Sunday, I flew from SFO to O’Hare (radar on right) on my way to Wilkes-Barre, PA and when I arrived I found my next flight canceled. I headed to the United Customer Service desk which was completely unattended (I so wish I’d had a camera, chairs scattered everywhere) and used a self help monitor and got on the standby list for a 9pm flight then picked up a support phone and talked to a rep who, after telling me I was well down the standby list and that the next available seat was two days later, directed me to talk to a United person at the airport. I asked about alternatives and was informed every other United flight out of O’Hare to PA sold out.

I returned to the gate I’d arrived at having seen the neighboring gate was a flight to Philadelphia, roughly 100 miles from my destination thinking if I could make it I’d drive the remainder. No luck, that flight was booked with a long standby list. I got redirected to another terminal and another United Customer Service desk which had what must have been over 100+ people in line. After waiting for over an hour I spoke to a rep who had no better news and offered only a 6pm flight the next day to Philadelphia. Feeling rather dejected decided to grab some dinner. I got seated at a Chili’s and few minutes later a gentleman was seated next to me and we started chatting and exchanging stories. He’d come from SFO too and his next flight had been canceled and that he was on standby as well. When I explained my situation he said “You can’t stick with that plan, it’s a loser so consider yourself adopted.”

He went on, explaining he was a 300K mile traveler and would help to try and get me a confirmed seat or alternative flight plans. We finished dinner and headed to the United Red Carpet Club, got on the web and started looking for alternatives. He walked me through the process telling me that it was possible to get United to pay for an alternate route. While I was looking for alternatives he called is “special” United travelers number and worked that angle but they couldn’t improve my situation. I managed to get a seat confirmed on a Delta flight to Philly so he called United back and got them to agree to buy the alternative route but at the last minute their flight got delayed sinking the deal. We’d spent over an hour on the phone working on alternatives to no avail. Finally, he said “Let’s go try the desk here in the club.” Given he’d already talked to United on the phone he wasn’t optimistic. We walked up to the counter with my canceled ticket in hand where he explained my situation and the rep took my ticket and offered to review my ticket. Not more than a minute or two later she was printing me a boarding pass for a confirmed seat! She then offered to check his flight and got him confirmed as well! At that point, we returned to the lounge, smiling and laughing over our combined good fortune. By then his next flight time was approaching so we exchanged business cards, I thanked him and he left.

A couple hours later I boarded my flight and made it to PA about 7 hours after my original arrive time. The next morning I had an email asking if I’d made it to PA.  🙂

So, here’s to the generosity of a complete stranger who not only helped me catch a flight but taught me a few travel tips along the way.

Thanks Don!

3 thoughts on “Kindness of a stranger

  1. President Obama is right when he says USA needs a high-speed railway network. It will beat hands down airplanes on the shorter routes, will free capacity for longer ones – and competition will improve airlines service as well – high-speed trains could travel from Chicago to Philly in four-five hours or so.
    It is a pity that a nation that owe so much to railways and developed many of the most legendary trains didn’t believe in them anymore.
    You were luck anyway… 🙂

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