Monday, December 6, 2010

When a flight is oversold...Work it!

I spent two years of my life working in the airline industry as a corporate customer service trainer. You know all those folks at the front counter that have the power to make your life amazing or miserable when you are stuck in the middle of a pile of travel %#*#? Yea, THOSE folks? Well, teaching them to be nice under pressure was my job. I have to admit - I loved it! Had it not been for the post 9/11 airline restructure, I would probably still be there.

Though my position was caught in the cutbacks, I kept a few skills that still come in very handy. Just consider this: I just returned home from a trip to Orlando in which I easily secured three full fare roundtrip tickets to ANY destination that Airtran flies to. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider they fly to the Bahama's....well, sounds like a spring break trip is on the Horizon. FREE! How? easy!

First, before I tell you how I got free flights, let me brag about Airtran Airlines. This was my first experience using their company for travel and, immediately, I made two quick observations about them. First, the crew, customer service AND ground folks were all amazing. They were pleasant and helpful...even when they were busy. Yea, I said it. They were ALL pleasant. Seriously, they make United and Delta employees look silly. Second, their equipment was amazing. They have the newest fleet of Boeing Jets in the industry. Every flight has internet and XM radio. I was happy, kids were happy. That makes one very happy family travelling through the skies!

In addition, after doing a little bit of research about Airtran, I learned that they were just purchased by Southwest. What a great marriage. That was like finding out that the two nicest people in the neighborhood just got engaged.

Enough bragging - time to get back to my story! When I went to check in for my return flight to Columbus, the (very friendly) agent at the counter couldn't assign me a seat. TIP: When they cannot assign you a seat, it means they don't HAVE one. So, I quickly hustled through security and straight to the gate area. TIP: Don't waste your time at the front counter. ONLY the gate agent controls the seats after a certain period. Regardless your whining, pleading or begging, front counter can't give you a seat that doesn't exist on their screen. At the gate, I inquired about whether the flight was oversold. Well, yes, it was. TIP: If you know that the flight is "close to" or "absolutely" oversold, and you have some flexibility, insist on having the customer service agent place your name ( and your entire party) on the volunteer list.

If you don't get pro-active at this point, you are either going to get a crappy seat on a full flight or get bumped off and then reimbursed via check in the mail, ( and of course re-routed). If you VOLUNTEER, you can control your destiny. After I asked to volunteer my family, an elated agent looked at me and said, "Really? You don't mind?" I did him a favor and he got his flight out much quicker. He never had to ask for volunteers, nobody knew the flight was overbooked and everyone was happy! It took me less than 7 minutes and a few questions to walk away with a great deal.

What DID the kids and I get? We were rebooked on a direct flight home the following AM, free dinner and breakfast at a nice restaurant, an excellent Hotel room for the night AND ( drum roll), 3 completely free roundtrip tickets to any of their destinations...including International. Basically, one simple question just paid for approximately $1,500 worth of tickets for spring break. :D Can anyone say..."Beach?"

So, the lessons of this blog are simple:

  • Airlines overbook flights all the time - especially during the Holiday season.
    If you are travelling during a busy time of the year, plan for an extra day or two of flexible travel.
  • Check in close to the 45 minute limit ( after others have all checked in before you and taken the seats).
  • If they cannot immediately offer you seating at the self check, inquire at the gate about volunteering to be bumped.
  • Make sure they give you vouchers for food and hotel. ( Yes, they are required to but sometimes they "forget".
  • Finally, when you get your voucher, immediately book your new ticket. If you lose your voucher confirmation number, you lose everything.

    Oh, and if you are travelling on strict deadlines, do everything exactly opposite of what I just suggested. Remember, just because you have a ticket does not mean you have a seat.

    That's it folks! Happy Holiday travelling! Time for me to book a flight for Spring Break. Based on the map below, hmmmm.....where DO I want to go?

    Yea Airtran! Yea Me! :D