Welcome to Terminal Tales, the weekly blog series where I highlight my favorite personal encounters with passengers while fulfilling my job duties as a Ticketing & Gate Agent. In this week's edition: when passengers want compensation for their free passes (yes, this is real life), when passengers think we are Frontier, & when passengers attempt to bypass the rules.
But first, let's define the term reblock. This happens when a plane takes off, but encounters a mechanical error of some kind that requires the aircraft to return to the gate. In some cases, passengers can stay on board the aircraft while the repair is completed, depending on the severity of the issue. In the case of what happened on Friday, passengers had to be deplaned... from not just one of the outbound flights, but two. At the same time. Okay, is there a full moon I didn't know about?! I'm usually off work at 9 A.M., but on Friday, I didn't leave the airport until after 12:30 P.M. The flight departing to Houston was reblocked & deplaned, which resulted in a 4.5 hour "creeping" delay for a mechanical repair -- no fun for the passengers, & definitely no fun for those of us who had to rebook said passengers. What is a "Creeping Delay"? That's when an anticipated one-hour repair turns into two hours... and then three hours... and then four, & so on. You get the idea, & yes, it's just as unpleasant as it sounds. Gate Agents are required to make delay announcements every fifteen minutes, whether there is new information available regarding the delay or not. Who do the passengers fault for the creeping delay, or any delay for that matter? Of course, the Gate Agent. Listen, it's not that we are being dishonest about the delay -- sometimes repairs just take longer than the original quote time, so we are just the middleman in relaying that information to the general public. Safety first, no one wants to fly in a broken plane, right? Didn't think so. Moving on.
I took the center podium in the terminal to assist in rebooking, as practically every passenger was going to miss their connecting flights in Houston due to the now-four-hour delay. I had a passenger traveling for a wedding, another passenger trying to connect to Budapest (who talked so loudly on her phone in the gate area that I wanted to mute her), & a family of five traveling to Panama. The family originally had a six hour layover in Houston, which was their intention because they had complimentary passes to visit the airline's Club, which offered a free buffet lunch. Score. Due to the delay, however, they likely wouldn't have time to use their free passes on this trip, so the mother approached me after my line of passengers had mostly dissipated to ask, "What kind of compensation will we be offered, since we won't have time to use the passes today?" Well. The passes were free & they didn't expire for another 12 months, so, unfortunately nothing. Now, had they purchased a one-time pass (usually $59/each), & were unable to use them, that would be a different story... but they were, again, given these passes for free & they still had one calendar year to use them. I apologized & explained why she wouldn't be reimbursed or compensated. I can't exchange a free pass for a currency of some kind. If I could, I probably wouldn't be working at the airport, na'mean?
I was ecstatic when the Houston flight was given clearance to board at Gate 9. Now, because the passengers had already been boarded once, I had to reset the Gate Reader & deplane all of the passengers (the computer thought passengers were still on board). We have to verify our passenger count against the passenger count of the Flight Attendants -- this is a legal requirement -- & the Gate Reader helps us accomplish this goal, as well as track passengers who are onboard or who are yet to be boarded. Of course, that unknown full moon would also have its hand in the Gate Reader application, as it wouldn't deplane any of the passengers. Technology is great... when it works... so I resorted to an old school way of tracking passengers: rock & chisel. Okay, paper & pen. I wrote my passenger totals by sequence numbers & last names so I would be able to manually board the passengers after the plane took off. No sense wasting time calling the Help Desk & prolonging boarding further when I could just write down sequence numbers & names, literally fixing the issue while the plane was airborne with the assistance of the Help Desk. It took quite a bit of time to fix the computer problem after the plane took off, as some of the passenger's records were manipulated by the automated rebooking system, which had removed them from the flight to Houston altogether. For those passengers, I had to document their record to indicate why their flight segments were out of whack, then search for & assign a seat for the correct flight numbers, & reprint their boarding pass so I could manually board them in Gate Reader. Now do you understand why we dislike delays just as much as you do? I'm so happy we agree on that. I've never been so happy to wave a plane goodbye.
Up next: in an effort to compete with budget airlines, a new class of service launched which permits a personal item only in lieu of a full-sized carry-on, which has resulted in many disgruntled-passenger encounters. I was at the Ticket Counter, minding my own business, when I heard a woman complaining to another agent about the new budget-fare she had purchased herself. These are always my favorite. Now, to test out what our passengers see when booking this new fare, I went online & did everything except purchase the actual ticket for this fare class -- & you are prompted with giant, orange & bold highlighted words, more than once, to confirm that you understand the restrictions (which even had a beautiful infographic to detail what you don't get for buying the cheapest fare). This woman continued to argue as to why she was entitled to a full-size carry-on... & the agent continued to explain why she was not permitted said carry-on. Then she asked for a Supervisor. Heck yes. Ron came upstairs to assist in the discrepancy -- & was incredibly patient with this woman... meanwhile, I wanted to chuck her bag across the terminal & book her on a flight with Allegiant instead. Do. You. Know. What. She. Said. This woman said, "Well, when I called Frontier, they said--" HOLD ON ONE SECOND. Let me get this straight. You called Frontier Airlines... to discuss a confirmed ticket... that isn't a Frontier Airlines ticket?! Do you see the giant placard behind me? It's not green, nor does it say Frontier, so therefore, those rules don't apply to you or your bags. I still remain dumbfounded by this. Fun fact: it took a solid 30 minutes of arguing & causing a scene before she finally agreed to pay her bag fee. This is why I take vacations every chance I get.
For my last story, I'm going to first pause for a moment of silence. Not in remembrance or respect for this passenger, but so I don't fly off the handle in a fit of rage. I was at the Ticket Counter, working the first bank of outbound flights, when a passenger checking in at the kiosk interrupted me while I was assisting another passenger. First of all... how old are you? Great. Second of all.... where are your manners? Please don't forget to pack them next time. He was flying to Houston with his carry-on item, personal item, & one checked bag, which is pretty standard practice. Because he had checked-in online, he already had his boarding passes; he just needed to check one of his bags. But, unfortunately for him, he arrived too late to have his bag checked-in (all checked bags need to be checked-in no later than 30 minutes prior to a flight's departure, as every bag goes through a screening process by TSA in the baggage room, which requires a minimum of 30 minutes). He said, "I have to get on this flight! You don't understand!" If I only had a dime for every time I heard this. "Sir, I will rebook you on the first available flight when I am finished assisting this passenger. I'll be with you in one moment." He was displeased & continued to berate me about how necessary it was for him to fly to Houston, but I refused to budge -- despite multiple interruptions. Was I doing this intentionally to be rude? Absolutely not. I just refuse to reward negative behavior -- you arrived late, the other 75 passengers on your plane did not, so I am not going to make all of them late because of you. "I'm just gonna go down to the gates, I won't check my bag." Again, not okay, because that meant he now had three bags, & he was only permitted to carry-on two. I was tagging the passenger's bags who I was working with prior to King of Interruptions when I explained why this was not possible. "Sir, you are not in compliance with our carry-on baggage policy." Blah blah blah & I explained why. Did he care? Of course not. He said, "I'm just going to the gate!" And he took off... woosa. Moment of silence. Think about chocolate. I thanked my other passenger for their patience before grabbing the radio to call Jesse on Gate 3, to warn him about the passenger who refused to comply with my requests to comply with baggage/rebooking requirements. I have never wanted someone to miss a flight before, but I was so flabbergasted by the complete lack of respect & manners that should be learned by age three that I silently prayed he would be denied boarding. I called Jesse after the plane departed to inquire whether the passenger was able to get onboard. Are ya'll sitting down? Turns out, he was traveling with his wife. When they arrived at the airport, he sent his wife through security while he attempted to check one of the bags. When he got to the gate with three bags, Jesse told him he wouldn't be allowed to carry the three bags on the plane. So the passenger called his wife to explain what was happening. She came off the plane, walked up the jet bridge, took one of his three bags, & they both boarded. You got lucky this time, mister. Had he explained that he was meeting his wife with any amount of tact & politeness, I likely would have permitted him through the checkpoint. Just another friendly reminder, folks: kindness goes a long way, especially at the airport.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.