As long time readers know, I have a tendency to speak my mind regardless of the issue, for better or for worse. So this afternoon I was waiting for my flight from Washington Dulles to Chicago O’Hare, and at the gate across from me was a flight to Miami (operated by United Express on an E170). I sat down in the seating area for that gate since it wasn’t as crowded. Out of curiosity I always look at the “status monitors” at the gate, just to get an idea how full the flights are (since I love bumps I learn as much as I can about loads on flights on certain days, and I was curious to see how full the Miami flight was).
Anyway, this flight was supposed to depart at 12:23PM, and at around 12:05PM I noticed two people sitting in the gate area right by the podium, while the rest of the gate area was empty. The monitor had the “We are looking for volunteers” sign, and there were two people on the “confirmed awaiting seats” list. So the situation quickly made sense to me — the two people sitting in the gate area were confirmed passengers but the flight was oversold and they didn’t have seat assignments, so the gate agent was hoping for no shows. I’ve been in the situation many times before as a volunteer. A few more people show up, but the gate agent says “I’m pretty sure we’ll get you on.”
At 12:10PM the gate agent prints these two passengers boarding passes, as they let out a sigh of relief. The second he lets them on he goes down the jetway with them. Now, keep in mind that the rule is passengers have to show up at the gate ten minutes before scheduled departure time, which would be 12:13PM. I was quite curious to see what would happen at this point, given that there may very well be a few more passengers running to make the connection. At 12:12PM a guy shows up at the gate. I verified the time both based on the clock on the departure board and my Blackberry.
The agent returned a few minutes later and the passenger in the gate area said “I’m on this flight.” The gate agent said he arrived too late and that the flight was closed. The gate agent printed out some papers and brought them down the jetway. So the jetway hadn’t been pulled and the door was open. Typically people get angry when they miss a flight, either in the form of cussing or tears. This guy was amazingly calm. He didn’t say a word. The gate agent offered to rebook him tomorrow morning or via Chicago (as a mileage runner I loved the sound of that). The guy was just so calm and friendly, that I felt like I needed to help him. The fact is that he was involuntarily denied boarding, because he did show up 11 minutes before departure. I can’t blame the gate agent for closing the door with a full flight of confirmed passengers, but this guy was entitled to compensation.
I thought about it for a few minutes, and at around 12:20PM as the guy continued to stand there, I walked up to him in plain sight of the gate agent and said something like “Sir, while I’m not on this flight, you were here more than 10 minutes before departure and were bumped because the flight was oversold. The gate agent was definitely doing his best, but you are still entitled to involuntary denied boarding compensation.” The gate agent overheard this and in a nice tone said “no, he’s not, because I had already pulled the jetway.” I said something like “Sir, I realize you were trying to act in United’s best interest, but you were in the jetway 13 minutes before departure and completely missed when this passenger showed up. I was looking at the terminal clock and my Blackberry.” The gate agent disagreed yet again, and claimed that he can close the flight whenever he wants and that’s final. The passenger agreed with me but didn’t seem willing to fight. Anyway, I explained one more time to the passenger what he was entitled to, and left the rest up to him. My flight was boarding in the meantime, so I didn’t see the result, but I’m guessing he didn’t get anything.
So yes, my actions were definitely out of place (mind your own business, Lucky!), but were they wrong? I thought about this beforehand and couldn’t reach a conclusion. I always try to help people not as familiar with the rules, and this guy was plainly being screwed over. I felt bad for him.
What say you?