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An Auspicious Beginning to the New School Year

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SEK is departing from an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest. He saunters up to the Alaska Airlines counter.

SEK: Hi! I’m four-and-a-half hours early for my flight to Orange County.

TICKET AGENT: Can I see your ID? (SEK hands it to her.) Here you go sir, enjoy your time in Seattle.

SEK: Seattle?

TICKET AGENT: You better hurry up, sir. Your flight’s already started boarding.

SEK: But I’m not going to Seattle. (Checks his boarding pass.) Why am I going to Seattle?

TICKET AGENT: Your flight was overbooked, sir.

SEK: So you’re sending me to Seattle?

TICKET AGENT: Yes sir.

SEK: You realize that’s in the opposite direction of Orange County, don’t you?

TICKET AGENT: I’m sorry, sir, but you need to hurry or you’ll miss your flight.

SEK stands there, dazed, in front of the Alaska Airlines counter. Right there, completely flabbergasted, in front of the Alaska Airlines counter.

SEK: Will I be able to find a flight to Orange County from Seattle?

TICKET AGENT: It will cost $100 to transfer the ticket, but you can take care of that when you get there.

SEK: You can’t just send someone somewhere and then charge them a transfer fee. What kind of airline is Alaska Airlines anyway?

TICKET AGENT: Sir, if you miss your flight, you’ll need to transfer two tickets.

SEK considers his options. The flight to Orange County from his undisclosed location is overbooked four-and-a-half hours before check-in. Seattle has a more robust airport … so he rushes to and through security and boards a tin-can-of-death to Seattle, where he currently sits typing this on free Google wifi. Will he make it home? Only time will tell.

 

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  • SEK

    This is one of those only-happens-to-SEK posts written as it happens. This way, when my feet wash up on a desolate Vancouver shore, you can feel the warm glow that only insider knowledge can provide.

    • Ned Flanders

      “..when my feet wash up on a desolate Vancouver shore..”

      Hey, there, you Negative Nellie! Look on the bright side – at least you’ll have clean feet!

  • wengler

    The free market provides nothing freely. Enjoy your overcharges.

  • Kal

    After the revolution, the airline execs will be second up against the wall, after the bankers.

    • MAJeff

      Can “banker” serve as a shorthand for the entire “financial services” industry?

      • L.M.

        I think we should spare the bankers’ drug dealers, if they’re willing to collaborate.

  • rm

    In a mythic narrative, that counter would have been the gateway to some kind of underworld, and I’m not sure you should have taken the gatekeeper’s bargain. I’m not sure the Orange County that Alaska Airlines is sort-of taking you towards is the Orange County which exists in this world, if you know what I mean. I look forward to this year’s posts.

    • Davis X. Machina

      There used to be direct flights to the sídhe, back in the days of the CAB, but deregulation and the triumph of hub-and-spoke ended that.

      I’m just surprised you didn’t go through Hartsfield-Jackson.

      • SEK

        If only I’d left a bowl of milk out, this all could’ve been avoided.

      • MAJeff

        I’m just surprised you didn’t go through Hartsfield-Jackson.

        Always something to be grateful for.

  • ploeg

    So please explain why you are four-and-one-half hours early to the airport. Is the bar that good?

    • SEK

      My hosts’ schedule. It was that or spend the money it turned out I needed to reroute myself on a cab.

      • Xof

        My goodness. I realize that being cynical about a corporation is rarely unrewarded these days, but they just crashed right through the law without stopping in this case.

      • ADM

        I can’t help but feel your mistake was being so early. Had you been on time, they wouldn’t have been able to check you into the previous flight. Maybe then some one else would’ve gotten bumped.

  • Bill Murray

    How is it legal to charge you for their overbooking problem?

    • rm

      Excellent joke — very tongue-in-cheek, yet retro.

      • Bill Murray

        I rock it old school, and I’m a wizard with a spatula

        • JohnR

          Ah, the old ‘Aunt Jemima treatment’ of fond memory. I wonder what PJ Soles is up to these days.

          • Larry from Tacoma

            I wonder what PJ Soles is up to these days.

            My heart flutters!

          • Big Al

            I always preferred Sean Young to P.J. Soles, myself.

    • Murc

      Ever actually read the terms and conditions on an airline ticket? Every time you buy one you’re basically agreeing to a contract in which they can do damn near anything to you.

      They can’t take your money and tell you to screw off, but that’s about all they can’t do. As long as they make a ‘good faith’ effort or replace your ticket with a flight that’s ‘substantially similar’ they’re in the clear.

      • Xof

        Well, what surprises me is that there are actually laws about that kind of thing.

        http://airconsumer.dot.gov/publications/flyrights.htm#overbooking

        Even if they are pulling the mother of all interpretations by saying, “Hey, if you run to the gate and connect via Seattle you’ll get there *three hours early*, so no compensation for you, sucker,” I have no idea how they can pull off the $100. Except to just hand it, steaming, to the passenger with a smile, and hope a lawyer doesn’t get involved.

        • heckblazer

          Looking over those rules, the only possible way I can see to justify the $100 charge is if the overbooked flight was supposed to be on a plane for less than 30 passengers, as the compensation rules don’t apply in that situation. And even that strikes me as an extremely dubious interpretation.
          If the airport is small and lightly trafficked I can see being sent to the nearest hub being the best way to get to OC, as the next flight on any carrier going that way may not leave until the next day. As long as the overbooked flight wasn’t on a plane smaller than 30 passengers or a 30-60 passenger plane that had to be substituted with a smaller one, I’d say you’d still deserve compensation.

        • rea

          Well, try hiring a lawyer to sue an airline over $100.

      • Walt

        Come on, there’s no way this is legal. If Scott pursues it, they’ll cave.

  • smelter rat

    He’s lucky he didn’t end up as a guest of Homeland Security because of his insolence. Imagine… arguing with an airline employee!

  • Xof
    • SEK

      I don’t see “Send you to Seattle” on that list, so no, they don’t do that.

  • redrob64

    You carry some worryingly bad karma. Were you a Republican in a previous life?

    • Malaclypse

      I think SEK was an unnamed Belgian cartoon character previously.

      • DocAmazing

        Careful! S,N! might start thinking copyright infringement!

        • Malaclypse

          It is also possible that SEK was some sort of Friendly Ghost. I read that somewhere on the internet, so it must be true, right, Donalde?

  • mpowell

    What kind of ticket did you buy? The ‘take it from all directions at the same time’ fare? I’m kind of curious to know whether this is legal. I’ll bet you could eventually get this fixed, but it wouldn’t be worth your time.

  • First, didn’t Jimmy Carter deregulate, or being the deregulation of, the airlines in 1978? In the bad old days, you probably couldn’t have afforded the flight at all. As Justice Breyer wrote,

    “But how many now will vote to go back to the “good old days” of paying high, regulated prices for better service? Even among business travelers, who wants to pay “full fare for the briefcase?””

    Indeed, the risk of remembering a past that never existed. As Scott McCartney writes,

    The DOT says it isn’t concerned about the rise in bumping because the rates are still lower than historical highs. During the 1970s and 1980s, bumping rates were routinely four times as high as today’s rate.

    • DocAmazing

      You’re absolutely right: deregulation started under Carter. Therefore, I expect that you’ll agree that it could not possibly have been a good idea, and remains a bad idea. So: can we undo all of that deregulation already?

      • I’ve always regarded that and home-brewing as proof that there’s good in everyone.

    • Bill Murray

      just so you know, price rates were regulated so that they weren’t too expensive for the more rural areas served. It is much more expensive now to fly if you don’t start in a hub or alatge city

      • I buy the argument for heavy regulation of safety. The government has a compelling state interest in ensuring safety, and only the federal government can effectively provide the standards necessary. It’s a market failure, so even the crazed libertarian in me gets it.

        But witless customer service, odd pricing structures, pointless overbooking that does nothing but antagonize your customer base, or the refusal to subsidize low-traffic routes, those seems to me to be outside the government’s proper purview. It’s the pursuit of happiness, not the achievement, that’s promised.

  • brent

    I have honestly never heard of anything like this. Airlines have done some crappy things to me over the years but deliberately send me to the wrong city? I am not even sure how it is to their advantage to do such a thing. How weird.

    • Murc

      If they straight-up deny him service they have to give him his money back.

      If they at least make a half-assed attempt to get him closer to his destination (and getting him to a major hub counts) they don’t. All they did here was give SEK a seat that hadn’t sold on a plane that was about to take off, literally costing them nothing.

      • brent

        I guess I can see how they might think that might work. Hey maybe they were high when they thought up the policy. But this is not some sort of complicated contract and sending him to some random city, hub or not, is in fact denying him the service they are contractually obligated to provide. Its not even a tough case. For certain, they can’t reasonably expect to get away with charging him extra for their need to reroute.

        I have had airlines mess me up in various ways – missing connecting flights, overbooking, etc. but there has never been any question that they are responsible for getting me to where I have paid them to take me. How could there be?

        In one case, I missed a connecting flight to Miami from Orlando and there wasn’t an available seat until the next day. They offered a hotel but instead ended up reimbursing me for a rental car and the gas for the 3 hour drive.

    • newsouthzach

      Airlines will occasionally do some exceptionally odd things to you. I had the misfortune of flying Delta from GSO to DCA on Labor day, and had to connect via ATL. The connection was short, but not that short — I had time to stop for a Chick-Fil-A before they even started the boarding process for the flight to DCA. My bag didn’t make the connection. They said the bag would be on the next flight up and would be delivered to my hotel, probably by 10 PM… no such luck. Around 10:30 I called them, found out that the bag was definitely at DCA and would be delivered by 5 AM. No such luck, of course, and I needed the clothes in that bag for a job interview. Bastards.

      Two days later, I flew US Airways to PDX via PHX. When I got to PDX I found that my bag was sitting in Philadelphia. How it got there is a mystery. I suppose I’m just lucky they didn’t route it to Guam.

    • John

      Rerouting him to Seattle doesn’t seem particularly problematic. Rerouting him to Seattle and then forcing him to pay for his connecting flight home is what is ridiculous.

  • Stag Party Palin

    You should have connected to Orange County via Heathrow. There are laws in Europe that actually have teeth. I got a reservation LAX to HRW canceled less than two weeks before departure, and was not notified (I found out when checking my account on the BA site). This is a very long story (6 months) but eventually I was given 600 Euros compensation when I wrote to the CEO and included the relevant sections of the law. Customer service wouldn’t return my calls (go figure).

    I’m sure quoting their own policy back at them will get the $100 charge obliviated and, if they keep you from OC for long enough, some extra buckos as well. If not, then you’ll have to threaten them with the Power of The Blog …….

    • John

      How would a flight on a British Airline between the United States and the UK result in compensation in Euros?

  • M.

    China’s taking over America after all. Or at least our notions of inefficiency and illogical customer service in our bureaucracies.

    • Ken

      But we don’t yet have the component that keeps the Chinese system from collapsing completely – the possibility that one of the people getting poor service might be a Party boss, or a relative of one, and can simply have the company managers shot for providing such poor service.

  • Western Dave

    Scott,
    Did you really pay the $100? Clearly you should have stayed at the ticket counter refusing to move until this was straightened out, politely but firmly insisting they must be wrong… until you missed the flight to Seattle. Re: the whole $100 thing… I smell class action law suit, which would totally be worth your while as lead plaintiff. (Not so much if you are merely part of the class.) Quick polite letters to the appropriate people (at the airlines, and the D. o Transportation and FAA cced on the letter – no phones) will get your money back if you did pay, plus some other perks.

    • c u n d gulag

      If he does that, he’ll be lucky if he only ends up on the “No Fly” list, and not on the “No Longer Breathing” one.

    • UberMitch

      File in California. Business & Professions Code section 17200 here we come!

  • djw

    Damn. I complain about Delta a lot, usually with very good reason, but when they did something similar to me recently (sending me through a different airport to my final destination, arriving about 90 minutes later than my originally scheduled itinerary), they gave me a $100 dollar credit, and had the decency to ask my permission first.

    • Stag Party Palin

      Lucky you. I arrived for a midnight Delta flight once and they had no record of my reservation and no space. When they found me a flight 8 hours later, they tried to charge me $60 fee for a “late booking using miles”. I pulled the pin on the grenade I always have with me and a supervisor agreed to waive the charge. When I got to my destination there was a little ceremony at the gate because I was on the last Delta flight to go there. Yeah, I applauded.

  • dave

    SEK? SEK? Where are you SEK?

    • rea

      I’m sure that just as soon a he got to Seattle, they put him right on a flight to Orange County. So, he’s in New York, Florida, or North Carolina.

    • SEK

      I made it, I made it … fifteen hours later, after having had to pay $200 out of pocket. So yes, I’m going to be a good Jew and scream at people on the phone as soon as O-Week is over at Irvine. I think they count on the fact that the people they’re fucking over have other responsibilities, but I’m patient, poor, and very good at yelling. They’ll be hearing from me, have no fears. (And yes, I’ll post that too. There’s no point in being clever if only bureaucrats hear it.)

      • newsouthzach

        You actually went out of pocket? Why on earth would you do a thing like that?

  • Oh good lord. I’d cancel the ticket and rent a car.

  • Eli believes this blog is called lawyers, guns and money. At least one of those should have worked

  • Trollhattan

    I used to prefer Alaska Air for getting to and from Seattle from California until Flight 261 and the ignored jackscrews. After that it’s Southwest for me.

    Nothing about this tale makes me want to reverse my choice.

  • David W.

    I had something similar happen to me when I arrived three hours early to LGA about ten years ago and my wife and I were switched to an earlier flight for the airline’s convenience. They at least had the courtesy not to charge us more.

  • newsouthzach

    So what happened? I now have visions of SEK aimlessly wandering the halls of SeaTac for eternity, never being able to make a flight home. And since I haven’t heard otherwise, I assume this is actually the case.

    • Wrye

      There are trains at SeaTac that operate in a loop. I understand that they are fully automated and would keep running even if humanity were snuffed out. So hopefully SEK has some food with him.

  • Manju

    I hear Alaska Airways is doing this to anyone spotted carrying Joe Mcginniss’ latest.

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