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: find out why you should never ask a passenger if they're traveling for fun or for work, how I got a free Dutch Brothers coffee, & why I was held responsible for a two-minute delay.
I took a mini non-rev trip to Los Angeles the day prior, & I was incredibly sunburn. Are you familiar with the color Candy Apple Red? That was me. I practically bathed in aloe every hour from the moment I got home to the moment I stepped foot in the airport Thursday morning. I was assigned to work Gate 7, which, shockingly, went off without a hitch. A very mild, successful day -- which was great, because my incredibly unsuccessful suntan was painful. I was glowing, but not in a good way... more like in a Donald-Trump's-hair way.
The best part about Thursday was the breakfast that was prepared for us. As a way for our station to say thank you for our hard work & dedication over the quarter, our supervisors prepared eggs, bacon, & potatoes. Win. I was working an oversale at the time breakfast was finished cooking, but Gia saved me a plate.
I spent Friday morning at the Ticket Counter. Still incredibly sunburn, still incredibly sore, but I had to suck it up & make it work. I had three passengers who were construction workers traveling for work. If there was one thing I knew about tools before I started working for an airline, it was that tools are heavy... but now I know just how heavy they really are. The toolboxes they were checking were designed much like regular roll-aboard bags, with two wheels & a handle that lifted out of the top, but they were hard plastic instead of soft fabric. For starters, the two toolboxes were overweight by about 10 pounds each, but the passengers didn't seem to care since they had the company card. They paid the $100 overweight bag fee per toolbox. I about choked. The second issue was in placing the toolboxes on the belt. What always accompanies tools? All kinds of fun, tiny screws, nuts, bolts, & God only knows what else. When placing any luggage on the belt, we always place the wheels up to prevent injury when the luggage goes down the belt. The baggage room is an entire level below the Ticket Counter, so the belt is pretty steep. If luggage was placed on the belt wheels down, the bags would roll right off the belt & into someone's face in the sterile baggage area. I advised the passengers that I would have to flip the box practically upside down on the belt for safety, & they said they didn't mind. So I lifted the 60 pound toolboxes one at at time, & gently turned them so the wheels would be up, trying my best to not throw every single item ajar in the toolbox. I failed pretty miserably. Sounded like someone dropped a glass jar full of coins by the time I was finished.
I had another passenger attempt to check-in, but he had arrived too late to do so. He was upset, but he also took responsibility for his actions -- he was more upset at himself than by the check-in rules. I honestly don't remember what city his final destination was, I just remember that he said he had a meeting he had to attend that evening. I asked if it was possible to conduct the meeting via Skype or FaceTime, & that's when I learned that he was a lead stylist for a hair company. Hair style & color meetings kinda have to be done in person, ya know? His only options out of Colorado Springs would put him in too late at his final destination, so I looked at his options from Denver... the only issue being that he would have to find a way to Denver, as his return itinerary was unchanged, he would still be returning to Colorado Springs. If he drove himself to Denver for a new departure, he would be without his car when he returned to Colorado Springs the following week. You follow? Colorado Springs didn't have many flight options, as the 33rd Annual Space Symposium had concluded just the day prior, so the 14,000+ attendees were making their way back home. The hair stylist decided to depart from Denver, which would get him in on-time for his meeting, & he could take the Front Range Shuttle service to Denver for $45. He even tried to give me a $5 tip for the service, but I shoved the money back in his sweater pocket & told him I was just doing my job & to have a great trip. And also to come back with some cool hair ideas.
I was at the ticket counter again on Saturday morning, running on about four hours of sleep. I was assisting a passenger at the kiosk by performing a military baggage fee override when I asked for her military ID. She opened her wallet & bam -- ladies, you know how it is. You open *one pocket* & the entire contents of your wallet spill all over the floor. I helped her gather the cards & receipts that went spewing across the lobby, one of which was a free, any size Dutch Brother's coffee coupon. She picked it up & handed it to me. Free coffee? Free giant coffee? I attempted to turn it down, but she made it clear that she had no intention of making the trip across town for free coffee. I told her thank you... and I also accused her of being crazy for giving up such a delectably delicious treat.
Later that morning, I had a woman in her sixties practically proclaim her age with pride (you go, girl), so I jokingly asked what her skincare regiment was in an effort to quiet her down. She told me to feel her face -- what?? -- & proceeded to tell me about the products she used to keep her skin looking young. Thank you for the free advice at the expense of me awkwardly petting your face.
I am mostly against the use of kiosks for airport check-in, but flying has become such a regular, non-luxury commodity that we need the kiosks to help passengers check-in more efficiently. At one point in the morning, I had just one other agent manning the counter with me. A handful of passengers approached to check-in all at once, so priority in tagging bags went in order of which tags printed first -- but we always make a point to acknowledge each passenger when they approach the kiosks to make them feel welcome. As I was confirming a passenger's ID, I heard a couple at the next kiosk over, mumbling. "Why are we being serviced last! I don't understand!" so I rushed to them the moment I wrapped up business with the last passenger. I greeted the confused couple by name, using the identifying information from the bag tag that had just printed out. I smiled & asked for their ID's, but the woman was still clearly upset, so I began to engage in conversation. "Are we getting to travel for fun this morning, or is it for work?" You think I'd know by now that asking this question of passengers is just as dangerous as asking any woman with a belly when she's due. "Funeral," she responded, avoiding eye contact. My heart sank. This was my second passenger traveling for a funeral & it shredded my guts. I apologized for their circumstance, I thanked them for their patience, & told them to let me know if there was anything I could do to further assist them that morning. They avoided eye contact the entire time I spoke to them, which made me want to jump over the bag scales & hug them... you could tell, this funeral was the end result of a long, brutal suffering for their friend or family member.
Mondays are my Friday, which is always interesting. As I celebrate the conclusion of another work week, people all over the nation are having their Monday pity parties. I secretly enjoy this. I was scheduled to be at Gate 7, where I would have two outbound flights during my entire shift. I know, that sounds simple enough, right? HA!
My first flight of the morning was a departure to Denver on an ERJ-175, which has a 76-passenger capacity. I had one open seat, so I looked to see the booked capacity of my later Denver departure to try & fill the empty seat. My 8:00 A.M. departure was overbooked by one, so I had a plan in place to solicit one passenger who may be in the boarding area for the later flight, to reaccommodate him to the earlier flight free of charge to eliminate the oversale. I got lucky, because I had one passenger approach me before I even made the announcement, asking if there was an open seat on the earlier flight. I put him on Revenue Standby until I started boarding, just in case something came up last minute that would require his seat, as last minute changes are the norm in this industry. I began boarding on-time, & everything was going well... until the time came to assign a seat & scan the boarding pass for that Revenue Standby passenger. Despite the passenger's ability to get through the TSA checkpoint, his SFPD (Secure Flight Passenger Data) wasn't clearing on the computer, in which case, I could not permit him to board the aircraft until I confirmed his information. At this point, boarding was closed & I had ten minutes to get this plane pushed back from my gate. I viewed his itinerary to confirm the information was accurate, & called my supervisor to assist. We had to call our Help Desk to re-enter his information in Shares (which is like a Matrix-y program that we are mostly discouraged from using unless absolutely necessary). We were able to fix his SFPD at the expense of an on-time departure. The plane departed two minutes late... which was on me. I had to sign paperwork explaining why the plane went out late, even though, the plane eventually arrived 14 minutes early in Denver. But that's neither here nor there.
I was looking forward to the next Denver flight because I wasn't oversold anymore thanks to that passenger standing by for that one open seat. But, when I got back to the podium to start working that flight, guess what -- oversold AGAIN by one seat. How could this happen the day of the flight, with less than two hours before that flight is schedule to depart? Every airline's overselling capacities are regulated by the Department of Transportation. For our CRJ-200 aircraft, which has a 50-passenger capacity, we are federally only permitted to oversell by one passenger. The DoT takes into consideration the size of the aircraft, the destination, the destination's popularity, what time of day the flight departs etc., in setting these regulations. In the case of my next Denver flight, a passenger could have booked that ticket online, or it could have been a passenger who was reaccommodated from another airline who didn't have seats available on their own mainline, or this was a passenger who was reaccommodated from a later flight to my earlier flight -- regardless, we are permitted to oversell by one passenger, in which case for anyone who was looking to rebook this passenger, my flight looks like it has one seat, even though there isn't actually one seat available. It sounds way more confusing than it actually is.
So what do we do when a flight is oversold? I start by updating the banner that will appear on the kiosk screens when passengers for that flight are checking in -- an automated screen will pop up after they confirm their itinerary, asking if they are interested in volunteering & at what rate of compensation. I then make announcements informing passengers of the situation, & asking if any of them are interested in a travel voucher. Thankfully, in this instance, after updating the oversale banner for the kiosks, I wasn't oversold anymore -- I'm not sure what happened. Perhaps the passenger decided to keep his original later departure? Or he rerouted through a different city altogether? I'll never know... but that was too easy. Which is how I knew that something bad was about to happen.
I got my crew on board thanks to Debbie's assistance, & boarding began. Every passenger was on board, every bag was loaded... & then the Captain requested maintenance. Crap. I was told that I could pull the jet bridge back, so I did just that & returned to the terminal to watch (read: hope & pray) & ensure that the plane departed. With no new updates to guide me, I went to Gate 5 to assist with their security checks for the Chicago outbound that arrived about 30 minutes late from the hangar. I didn't want to stand around & be useless, this job is a team effort. I had barely finished one row of seats when I was called back to Gate 7 to pull up the bridge -- we would have to deplane all passengers & luggage until maintenance could fix the issue or until we could get another aircraft to fly in its place. My supervisor stood at the center podium of Gate 7 to rebook passengers while I assisted with returning the gate-checked bags to passengers in the jet bridge. When I completed that task, I ran up to the podium to remove passengers from Jaci's line one group at a time so no one was cutting in line.
The first group of passengers was four women traveling together for work to New Orleans. They had been a ray of sunshine from the moment they sat down to wait for boarding to begin, so I didn't foresee any issues in rebooking them. I apologized for the inconvenience & delay, but they all seemed to understand the severity of the situation. "We would rather be safe!" they said. Thank you for understanding, you are some of the few who get it. I was able to cab them to Denver to take a flight that would get them to New Orleans just two hours later than their original itinerary, which they appreciated. They said they were also excited to have a cool story to tell -- boy, if only every passenger understood this well.
Throughout the duration of the rebooking process, most passengers were incredibly friendly. Many commented how they felt sorry for me, which I said wasn't necessary. This was just a part of the job that I willingly signed up to do. I was able to get bags pulled & reaccommodated when my relief Gate Agent came in around 9:30. I was scheduled to be off at 9, but I refused to leave until every passenger had been assisted, especially on a flight that I had started. The Ops department was able to bring in a new aircraft entirely, as it was going to be quicker than waiting for maintenance to fix the issue. By the time all of our passengers were rebooked, we had 10 passengers remaining from our original 50 -- they were all going to get the entire aisle all to themselves.
Good news travels fast... when we were able to begin boarding for those passengers who chose to remain on the original flight to Denver, every single passenger who had decided to rebook for a later departure tried to board. "But I was originally on this flight! This is ridiculous!"
This is what's ridiculous... that you think I can push a button & give you a seat on an airplane. I wish it were that simple, I wish it worked that way. But my teammates & I spent the last two hours working with each passenger to reaccommodate them as necessary, be that through a later departure out of Colorado Springs, or by cabbing you to Denver to make a connection to your final destination from there. After we had each of your itineraries in order, we worked with our Ramp Agents to make sure that every single one of those 42 bags were re-tagged properly for those new itineraries that each passenger chose at their own discretion. You chose to take a later flight from Colorado Springs -- I understand that, I would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes. But if I were to take the time to rebook you & the thirty people behind you who want to get back on this plane, which would involve re-tagging each of your bags again, this plane would be delayed two more hours. I'm not inconveniencing the passengers who chose to wait for this aircraft. I sincerely apologize that you don't understand or that you think this is unfair on my part, but I stand behind my decision to get this aircraft out as quickly as possible for those passengers who chose to keep their confirmed seat.
Smile. End scene.
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.