Empty Seats Fly Free on US Airways

Some time ago a flight left me delayed and waiting at the airport for another option to reach my destination on time. Though my flight was originally with Delta, I learned they were not going to be an option. I saw a flight on US Airways would do the job, albeit diverting through a completely different part of the country.

While still in the airport, I search the flight on my iphone, see the price, but see there are no tickets for sale. Perhaps I was quick enough to pull it up but too slow to book. Either way, they’re now sold out. Already through security, I walk up to the gate and ask the agent if they’re booked. He tells me they’re sold out but he has five people who haven’t checked in yet. If I wait until the very last minute, he can release the unclaimed tickets. Sounds like a plan.

Over the next 10 minutes or so three people check in. He does the final call announcement and there’s no one to be seen. I’m excited. Two minutes to go before the doors close and he tells me he’s releasing the tickets from US Airways to Delta, but I have to hurry because the plane is leaving in a moment. Many carriers have agreements with one another that they will accept a displaced passenger if they have available space. I suppose then the airlines hammer out the financials between themselves.

This is the reason why an agent for Delta might say, “I’m sorry, but there are no seats available for that US Airways flight you want to get on.” even though you might be able to purchase the ticket online or over the phone from US Airways, right at that very moment. Unless the airline releases it, they’re still trying to sell it to a paying customer.

I run over to the Delta counter but nothing is showing up. The Delta agent tells me there’s nothing that’s popping up in the system that she can claim. Realizing the flight is leaving in about a minute I run back to the US Airways counter and tell the guy “hey don’t worry, I’ll just buy it and get a refund from Delta later. How much is it?,” as I open up my wallet.

He looks at his computer and tells me the cost right at that moment is $1100. As in Eleven Hundred dollars…. (This is a ticket that just a few hours ago I’d priced at being between $200 and $300.

I look at him (of course) like he’s a crazy person. “Eleven hundred dollars? Umm, okay, how about we negotiate that down a bit.” He says that’s the price US Airways will release the ticket for.” I ask him again, “Are you sure? Because right now we’re five minutes from take-off and the plane is going to leave with empty seats. At this moment US Airways isn’t going to get any money at all from that empty seat. How about I give you $200?” He tells me he can’t, and that the plane has to leave. The door to the jet bridge closes and no ticket is purchased. US Airways flys away with two empty seats.

Are these the seats I would have been sitting in? Sadly, I'll never know.

Are these the seats I would have been sitting in? Sadly, I’ll never know.

I’m always amazed at businesses and companies that put roadblocks in place to avoid taking a customer’s money. It’s kind of a hobby of mine. And for some reason they attract me like a magnet. Its funny all the stories I have over the years of me offering a business money and them turning it down because of some regulation or policy. I’ll probably have a dozen or so written on this blog when it’s all said and done. But see one example here.

This was the 1:25pm flight from Des Moines to Charlotte on January 8th, 2014 if any US airways folks are reading. Yep, a full year ago, so hey, I’m not too upset about it as I’m writing about it now.

Excellent Customer Service on a Personal Level

As far as the way IO was treated by the gate agent, I thought he was as helpful as he could be. He did what he could and was respectful. He’s limited by the parameters that the system has created for him.

In this instance, I don’t necessarily have a specific resolution in mind about what the agent should have said or the price he should have given me. I’m usually more chagrined at the inability or lack of desire to work out a solution. The gate agent was very helpful, very respectful; he looked up a few different flights for me and gave me a few different options when I had spoken with him earlier.

Certainly I would have personally liked him to take my offer of $200, but if I offered say a dollar, perhaps he should have rejected it just on principle? I’m not sure.┬áIn this case however, it seems an airline should allow at least some type of discretion to its gate agents when it comes to absolute, last minute deals.

If I would have offered $900, I feel very confident he would have still said no. I wasn’t about to argue with the guy when the time was limited, but there was never an instance I gleaned that he was open to a lower price. He was shaking his head and packing up to close the door just by me using the word, “negotiate,” before I even mentioned a price. Obviously he has a schedule to keep and he needs to help get the planes out on time.

Perhaps a Change in Policy

Perhaps US Airways could work on a fix to this, to give gate agents a better ability to make situations like this work. The plane left with two empty seats, so surely there must be a better way to get the money of a customer who wants to do business.

With flights it’s always a tight schedule, so there’s definitely some difference when it comes to taking the time to sit and negotiate a price with customers. Airlines have schedules to make and they just always accommodate the way other industries can. Understandable. Overall though, US Airways lost money that was going to cost them virtually nothing, save for the cost of extra fuel used on the weight of my bag and I. While an exaggerated offer of one dollar would be silly, even $100 would be a net gain, (again, determining the cost of my weight in fuel.)

Airlines do allow their gate agents discretions on vouchers for example. Upon over-booking a flight, airlines ask for volunteers. First they offer a later flight, then a couple hundred books, then a hundred more. I’ve taken advantage of this multiple times with I think $400 the most I’ve ever gotten for giving up my seat. Maybe $500. While the connection was tight and there wasn’t an opportunity to go into the full process, I was disappointed US Airways didn’t have a plan in place that allowed one of their employees to make money for them. It seems that’s something they should work on, so they can provide a better service to paying customers and allow their staff on the ground to increase profits.