At the beginning of the month, I went out to the PDX area with a colleague. We had some nice productive meetings and were able to get out to the Oregon Coast. The Pacific NW is really a wonderful place — good food, good coffee, beautiful scenery.
United Airlines provided some good adventures on the way home. I had to fly a rather ridiculous routing for this trip — BOS-EWR-SFO-PDX and then PDX-SFO-IAD-BOS. I don’t actually mind routings like this too much since I can get a lot of work done during the flights. The flights out were thoroughly uneventful. UA provided some good entertainment on the way back.
Before I begin, I should say that UA usually treats me pretty fairly. I don’t usually have issues with their service. I tend to fly them more often than not when I travel. Also the Wifi and standard outlets in their new cabins is pretty sweet.
As a bit of background, airlines can more or less setup their own systems for numbering flights. A few rules of thumb apply, low numbers tend to be long-haul routes, and high numbers tend to be codeshares or regional jets. One particularly annoying thing that they do is assign a single flight number for a non-contiguous flight. I ended up on one of these on my way back - UA1644. On my itinerary, the flight showed up as simply PDX-IAD. When I looked into it a bit further, I found that it was really PDX-SFO-IAD. To confuse matters more, there was a flight leaving at the same time going from PDX-IAD without stopping. This is the difference between a direct flight and a non-stop flight. A direct flight can stop somewhere on the way to its final destination. Airlines really shouldn’t play these games.
I was scheduled to have a few hours to spend in SFO while waiting for the second leg of my journey. I noticed that there was a direct flight to BOS leaving around the same time as my flight to BOS. A friendly UA agent was kind enough to change my booking and handed me my new travel documents with some additional paperwork to hand to the gate agent when I was supposed to board.
I arrived at the gate shortly before boarding and waited in my assigned group. When it was my turn to get on the flight, my boarding pass read as invalid. I handed the additional paperwork to the gate agent and he said “Oh, this is you. I deleted your seat assignment because I didn’t know what it was.” He then began to berate me for changing my flight and wanted to know how I even got to SFO since my flight was from PDX-IAD on a single flight number (with a stopover in SFO). This direct flight with stops nonsense is confusing to everyone. Apparently I wasn’t taking this seriously enough — I’m comfortable enough with United to know that they would get me home eventually, even if it took all day — , so he yelled at me a bit more and sent me to my original flight (which was now boarding).
I had a pleasant enough flight to IAD and headed to the airline lounge when I arrived. I have Star Alliance Gold status on a United partner which gets me in for free. It took the poor agent in the lounge at least fifteen minutes to get me back on my flight to BOS. He was very friendly and accommodating — the sort of agent that I’m used to United having.
Moral of the story - direct flights that aren’t non-stop are lousy and cause confusion to everyone.