why one should be at the airport early


Last night, I got to the airport forty five minutes before my flight left. I didn’t count on the fact that I had to check bags though. And thanks to security laws, my bags have to be on the same flights as me. So if it’s too late to check bags – especially the kind that are as big as I am and have the contents of the CODEPINK store in them – then it’s too late to get on the plane. And I was so used to jumping on my Alaska flights twenty minutes before departure, with only my backpack, that it never occurred to me I’d miss the cutoff for a Delta flight with my luggage.

I went through a skycap, an agent, a direct customer service line phone, another agent, and finally the phone again. I was told to try to go to the gate – but couldn’t because of my oversize bag. I was told to go from desk to counter to phone until I’d missed the plane and knew it. Then the anonymous voice on the black phone told me I’d have to rebook for the morning. And not only that, but I’d have to pay the fare difference because I was changing my itinerary at the last minute:

$451.75.

“Is there anyone else I can speak to?” I asked the phone handset, as I fought back tears. I knew, if it came down to that, I couldn’t go, and I was about to start wailing. I’d been stupid enough to leave packing until the last minute, had been reloading my MP3 player with music, had been charging my phone – doing everything except get to LAX on time. And now it was going to cost me the weekend I’d been looking forward to for ages.

But I couldn’t explain all that. All I could do was try to smile into the phone, and get someone to help me. “I can’t help you. You can try a manager at the counter,” the phone said. So I did. I caught an agent who, while frazzled and unsmiling, had a kind look to her. She found a manager, an older European woman in a skirt and white blouse. And that manager, after realizing that it was too late to put me on the next plane (there were only two overbooked flights on my route out of LAX that night) said, “Take her down to talk to Mary Anne.”

Mary Anne turned out to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met (and I include the Alaska service staff in that, who are the reason I fly that airline almost exclusively). She was especially wonderful for Delta customer service, which is well behind in that area. If their entire fleet of people was like Mary Anne, they’d never have gone bankrupt. Mary Anne was an elfin, adorable, fortysomething Hispanic woman in a T-shirt instead of the blouses and scarves, who laughed and smiled the whole time she was working. She tried to get me on a wait list for a flight at 11:30, and couldn’t, because “there’s only four seats, and ten people ahead of her.” So she got me on a flight for today at noon. “Nonstop?” she said.

“Yes!”

“Window OK?”

“Yes!”

And so, she rebooked me for a $50 change of flight fee, instead of $450, and told me to be back at LAX on time today. For a flight that will be six hours shorter than my original flight, because I don’t have to go through Atlanta. And it’s on an Alaska plane, so I’ll get more of my home airline miles.

I almost fell over in relief then. And racking my brains for a way to thank her, I handed her the slab of low-sugar loaf I’d baked on Thursday night that I’d packed for a snack. “I can’t thank you enough,” I said. “Could I give you this pumpkin-orange bread?” And she was delighted. “Oh!” she said, holding it up to smell it through the plastic wrap. “This is wonderful. Thank you.” And later, when I heard her telling the other booking agents, “homeade, baked from scratch,” I was so happy I had something to give her. Even a small thing.

And now, I still get to go to Washington. And more than that, I had my faith in people restored, that it’s still possible for one really nice customer service agent to change things completely for a traveler. Many of them are too constricted by stupid rules and wouldn’t have even tried to help me. If Delta survives bankruptcy, they’ll do it by giving all their agents the calm ability of that one woman who got me on my flight today. I’m going to DC today, and I’ve been very lucky about it.

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2 responses to “why one should be at the airport early

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