A snowstorm and a five hour delay… how I finally got on a flight to Hawaii

As we speak, I am flying to Denver to connect to a flight to Maui. Natalya is already there and is picking me up from the airport once I land. I had a pretty hectic morning with some flight delays and a snowstorm and thought I’d share my experience for how I approached it. In particular, I want to make everyone aware of the United mobile site and all the nifty tools it has to help in these situations. Oh, and despite a hectic morning, I passed 1000 Twitter followers as I was working out my flight issues in the airport this morning!

When I woke up this morning, I saw my United Airlines flight from Newark to Honolulu was delayed an hour from 9:30 am to 10:30 am. Already not a good start. We were expecting a snowstorm to start any minute. I knew, the longer the flight is delayed, the higher the chance of a weather cancellation. Although I technically had an extra hour, I decided to head to the airport anyway. Options are better when I’m on the ground and past security than when I am an hour away.

We went straight to the United Club and took our seats and started having coffee and bagels and snacks. I checked my phone and saw the flight was suddenly delayed four hours! The new departure time was 1:30 pm. Still airplane service issues. There are a few reasons this is very alarming. At 9 am, they estimate fixing the problem will take about four hours. But it’s a mechanical problem. If they said an hour, that’s believable. But a four hour estimate suggests they don’t have a very good grasp of the problem. There’s no telling how long it will take to fix and it becomes questionable whether the plane will even be able to fly. Regardless, if that plane flies today, it won’t be until 1:30 pm and the snow is piling up. 

Finding someone helpful, but doing my own research…

I went to speak to the customer service agent at the United Club to look at our options. I, of course, brought my laptop with me so I can search flights, check standby lists, look at seat maps on my own too. The United mobile website is extremely helpful for this. It lets you quickly check the status of any flight, look at seat maps, see how full it is, check on standby lists and upgrade lists. This proved to be invaluable in my search for an alternate route.

There were a few connections through Los Angeles and San Francisco in the morning that she had suggesting, but most of them were completely full or not arrive in time for a reasonably timed connecting flight to Maui. 

I eventually found a flight connecting through Denver leaving Newark around noon and arriving in Maui around 8 pm a little more than two hours past my original schedule. That seemed like my best option, but only a single seat was available for booking and the flight was even oversold. There were two of us so I chose to be the one to take the standby ticket and not the official ticketed seat.

Separate if you have to…

We agreed that we should split up if we have to. I can standby the flight to Denver, but I will stay behind myself if I can’t get on. I know it’s not great to separate when you’re traveling together, but it’s much easier to get one person out left behind than two. Also, among the two of us, I am by far the more resourceful one so we thought I’d somehow “find a way.”

Status Matters…

Once she placed me on the standby list, I went right to the top with my United 1K status I have until February. The list was 10 people deep and the flight was oversold. There were still 5 or 6 open seats, but it was 3 hours to the flight so not everyone was checked in. Chances were slim already, but at least I was at the top of the list.

I then obsessively refreshed the seat map and standby list for the next hour and a half and saw the plane filling up with seats being taken. By 10:30 am, the seat map to Denver was full in both cabins and I was seriously concerned about my ability to get on the flight. More options were in order as my original flight to Honolulu showed no sign of progress. 

Always have a plan B…

I found a flight through San Francisco leaving around 1 pm getting me into Maui around 8:30 pm. Again, the agent was super helpful and knew exactly how to move the buckets around and take care of the problem. She got me seats on the flights through San Francisco and gave me some more information on Denver. With the flight oversold, my chances increase if:

  • Passengers don’t check-in by the cutoff time.
  • Passengers don’t make it to the gate by the cutoff time.
  • Passengers on a connecting flight are delayed and don’t make it in time.

She found a few passengers were coming in from Toronto and their flight was delayed. They would be landing from Toronto only 30 minutes before the departure to Denver and at a different terminal. This means they’d have to make it from one terminal to another and get to the gate fairly quickly. Definitely an opportunity there… provided that the flight to Denver is not delayed. I know it’s not the best to hope others don’t make their flights, but I’m sure they’ll be rebooked on the next flight to Denver in a few hours. I need to get to Hawaii!

Back to the mobile site…

The United Mobile site actually lets you see where your plane is coming from. Around 10:47 I saw the plane for my EWR-DEN flight came in from West Palm Beach. Chances looking good to an on-time departure.

We headed down to the gate and took a seat hoping for my standby to clear. The flight would depart at 11:56. At 11:24, I saw on the mobile website the Toronto flight had landed so things were not looking good for those connecting and, if another 20 minutes passed without them showing up, I was good to go. Finally, the agent called my name and reorganized my itineraries and put me on the connecting flight to Maui from Denver. I was handed a boarding pass and got on the plane… even with a window seat. 

A few final touches…

Once on the plane, I did see I was first on the upgrade list from Denver to Maui. I tweeted @United to see if they can keep an eye on that for me or work that out. They tweeted me back saying I got the upgrade!

And, finally, as I check on the United mobile website, I can see that they did not fly the Boeing 767-400 plane that day that was intended for my flight to Honolulu. As we speak, they are still delayed due to an aircraft change. I made the right choice getting away from that flight. We did have to separate from one checked piece of luggage and I’m optimistic they can deliver it to the hotel within a day or so.

Hopefully, my connection to Maui works out better!

Here are a few lessons to learn from my experience this morning. My flight was on United, but I’d use a similar approach with other airlines too.

  • Do your own research for flight options and find someone willing to help you make changes. A long delay and a bad situation may just be the time to use your United Club passes.
  • Don’t discount good standby options, but make sure to have a solid backup.
  • Be willing to separate if you can. It’s better to arrive at your destination on separate planes than not at all.
  • If you’re an obsessive compulsive impatient person like me, the United mobile site lets you track everything from standby lists to seat maps to flight status to where your actual physical plane is. 

Comments

  1. Hope You Make It! says

    Awesome post in real-time and very happy you finally made it on the plane! Have fun in Hawaii and keep us updated :)

  2. Natalya says

    OMG. What a morning!!! But don’t worry we will pick you up and already have a bottle of champing waiting for ya :-). Safe flight and see you soon my dear!!!!

    • says

      Andaz does not have a lounge. I actually booked two nights in a suite with my certificates from signing up for the Hyatt credit card back when they offered these so that’s the room I got. I still have Diamond status so I am getting free breakfast and that’s quite nice. The buffet is $45 per person!

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