The inadvertent painful self experiment….

As I hinted at last night, I had quite a mileage run this past weekend. While it started off on a good foot with a $600 bump (and then some), yesterday wasn’t quite as pleasant. Let’s start from the beginning. I got off a PS redeye at around 7AM after a decent night of sleep. I was booked on a flight from JFK to IAD departing shortly after 10AM, which made for a 40 minute connection at IAD to catch my flight to TPA. There was an earlier flight to IAD at around 9:30AM, so I had the agent move me to that, given the bad weather that was expected later in New York later in the day. The agent confirmed me, and even commented “that’s a really smart decision, you know how to travel.”

I got to the gate at around 9:10AM, and boarding had already begun. Great, we’re early! I had an exit row seat (which doesn’t make a huge difference on a CRJ) and more importantly had an empty seat next to me. The flight was half full at most. 

The flight attendant did the safety demo and we pushed back just like any on-time flight. I’d like to point out that I take this flight at least 20 times a year, and in the past year I don’t think I’ve had a single delay on this route, as surprising as it might be. 

We start taxiing, and then stand on the apron for about ten minutes. At that point I knew something was up. We then continued taxiing, only to stand still for another ten minutes, at which point the engines were shut off. The captain then came on the PA and explained that JFK was shut down due to weather, and that once it re-opened we’d be number 25 or so for takeoff. She explained that it would be at least 50 minutes until take-off.

We sit and wait and sit and wait and sit and wait. The flight attendant did a good job (taking into account that this was a flight operated by Mesa), and she begins a beverage service. After nearly an hour the captain comes back on the PA and says it will be another 30 minutes at the very least until the airport is re-opened.

At this point the pilots had to use the restroom, which was a first for me on a CRJ, given that there’s only one flight attendant and that the lavatory is located in the rear of the aircraft. The flight attendant went into the cockpit, leaving the cabin “unsupervised,” while the pilots used the restroom one at a time. Isn’t that a “security concern?”

Anyway, after nearly two hours we were told the airport was re-opened, but they were only releasing one plane every ten minutes or so. At this point I told myself “Um, yeah, as if we’re going to have enough fuel by the time we get to the runway.”

The engines stayed off as they were apparently telling planes to restart their engines in clusters, so it was another 1.5 hours before anything happened. I texted FlyerTalker FortFun to see if he had any reroute ideas (since I had no internet access), and I also called my brother and put him on Seatcounter duty to check the nonstops out of JFK, since I was convinced we weren’t leaving. At this point I got an EasyUpdate saying my original JFK-IAD flight was canceled, and I wished I had never switched flights and could have just been rerouted out of JFK.

Eventually our engines started up and we waited another 30 minutes or so. At that point we were about number five for takeoff, at which point the captain made an announcement saying we were low on fuel and would need to return to the gate to refuel. Now, I kind of knew that from the beginning, although I don’t blame the crew for waiting to tell us, since there was no way we could have gotten out of the queue otherwise. Still, it was frustrating.

We taxied back to the gate, and the flight attendant said that anyone wishing to get off should ring the call button. By this point we had been on a CRJ for over four hours, so me and two others rang our call buttons. They re-opened the door and we went to see the agent upstairs. I figured I had a better shot getting out of JFK that night than TPA, given that there was only one other Ted flight which was already sold out. My gate checked bag was removed from the plane. Strangely enough the gate agent insisted that the plane wait for one more passenger that needed to get on that plane (I have no clue who it was, but it didn’t look like an employee). Eventually I decided I’d be best off going to IAD, since the agent insisted nothing was available out of JFK that day, so at the very least I could get a free hotel and a nonstop the next day if I stuck with United. I got back on and had to re-check my gate checked bag.

At that point we were refueled and ready to go. The guy that they were waiting for was sitting across the aisle from me, and he didn’t strike me as a FAM or employee, so I really have to wonder why we waited for him. This time around the flight only took about 1.5 hours gate-to-gate, and it was much more fun since I spent most of the flight talking to the family behind me. Anyway, by the time I got off that plane I was beat. Over 5.5 hours on a regional jet is NOT fun.

Upon arrival at IAD I tried to get confirmed on the IAD-TPA flight. It was sold out, and despite trying my luck with several agents, all of them just offered to add me to the standby list. Damn! I was getting pretty exhausted by that point, so headed over to the Lufthansa Senator lounge which just opened at IAD (I’ll write a separate report about that). By around 4:35PM I was at the gate for the 5:35PM flight which I was on standby for. It wasn’t looking good at all. For the first time that I’ve seen it, the board showed “Capacity: 156 and Checked-in: 156,” which I haven’t even seen on flights that were way oversold.

I stayed near the gate as they repeatedly asked for volunteers. They were even talking to the two people they thought they would have to IDB. They were still waiting on a family of four connecting from Frankfurt. At the same time the flight attendant came out to the gate and said “there are a bunch of seat dupes, you need to figure this out.” At that point I thought I was out of luck, but the gate agent called me over and said “you’re the lucky one today.” She handed me a boarding pass for….. 22B!!!! I jokingly responded with “Getting seat 22B makes me lucky?”

As I got onboard I saw what looked like a Jerry Springer show, at least based on the crowding. There were at least a dozen people in the aisle trying to figure out seat assignments, and the purser looked at me and said “I can already tell this is going to be a fun flight.” She saw my boarding pass and that I was a 1K and said “Wow, I feel bad.” I headed back to 22B, where I stowed my bag below my seat.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciate Economy Plus. These seats are TIGHT. I couldn’t even reach down to my bag as soon as the guy in front of me reclined. Furthermore, I was surrounded by a swim team which consisted of 40 Germans. They yelled around the cabin for nearly the whole flight and also didn’t understand the concept of the seatbelt sign. A few of them were even retrieving their carry-on bags as soon as we touched down, while we were still taxiing.

What impressed me was that I had an (unprompted) email this morning from United apologizing for the delay from JFK to IAD, and they already credited 5,000 miles to my account. It certainly doesn’t make me appreciate the delay, but it does ease the pain a bit. 😉

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. Yeah, I am with Oliver. If that is common, I can’t wait to make 1K in August. 🙂

    Lucky, does your experience in 22B take some of the shine off of you recent good experiences with AA? No economy plus….

  2. That’s why it impressed me, Oliver. I wasn’t expecting anything and I sure as heck wouldn’t have complained.

    Justin, it’s tough to say. This is the first time I’ve had to fly regular economy on United since I’ve been an elite with them, which I’d say is a pretty good record. I’m still considering flying with American, but there are a few things I have to take care of before making the switch.

  3. A one time 5 hour stint in the back of a CRJ is still better than riding on them exclusively every trip for a couple of years. If I sort my spreadsheet by aircraft type I think (CRJ+ER4) is still more than the first mainline jet in the list by an order of magnitude.

    I never book the exit on a CRJ since it’s pretty much the same as any other seat – just get the first aisle towards the front so I get off sooner. ER4 on the other hand the exit is pretty good.

  4. Loved the “these seats are tight”comment. My wife and I came home early about two years ago, giving up F seats on a later flight for the last row of coach. I thought they were tighter than the other rows, but during the flight determined all the rows of coach are spaced that way! You brought back memories, although bad ones! See you in July.

  5. Regarding exit row, last time I was on a LH CRJ200, I was assigned exit row. No real upside — on the contrary: the FA forced me to remove my backpack from the seat in front of me and squeeze it into the overhead bin (which I could only do by removing a whole bunch of items).

  6. Just like the short stories in Hemispheres! Row 22, Seats A & B!

    As an aside, does the LH Senator Lounge in IAD accept Priority Pass? Did you connect into JFK from an international flight? How did you get past the matron?

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