An Alaska Airlines' Boeing 737-700 landing at LAX - Photo: Daniel Betts | Flickr CC

An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-700 landing at LAX – Photo: Daniel Betts | Flickr CC

On the way back from my recent trip to the UK, I was scheduled to have barely a two-hour layover at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). That’s a pretty tight connection to clear immigration and customs, then change terminals, so I was expecting my newly-acquired Global Entry membership to save the day.

Yes, Global Entry was extremely convenient, but what I thought would be a story about how I made my connection with moments to spare did not turn out that way. Turns out that the fact I ended up on a flight, arriving to Seattle at 1:52 am, with only one other passenger, made my experience much more interesting.

Here’s how it happened.

American Airlines' Boeing 777 at LAX - Photo: Alan Wilson | Flickr CC

American Airlines’ Boeing 777 at LAX – Photo: Alan Wilson | Flickr CC

5:19 pm – My inbound American Airlines flight from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) landed only four minutes late. Considering that we left London almost an hour behind schedule, so far so good. Normally, I would be excited about a long taxi in followed by a bus ride to the terminal, with the associated tour of the ramp, but I really just wanted to get through immigration (and find the nearest restroom).

6:21 pm – Standing on the sidewalk outside the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Global Entry is the best!

6:38 pm – In 17 minutes, I ran from TBIT to Terminal 6, breezed through security, and made it to my departing gate, 64A — 27 minutes to spare until boarding! As I was catching my breath and checking my phone, I saw that a new departure time was listed at 9:30pm. I figured that would give me time to stretch my legs some more and eat dinner at an actual, sit-down restaurant, so I didn’t even think of trying to find an agent to rebook me on the next available flight.

6:40 pm – My plan to walk over to Terminal 5 to hunt down some additional food options was totally derailed by the fact that I sat down and fell asleep instead.

8:31 pm – I was expecting the gate to open at 8:30, and I had planned to see if I could wrangle myself a first class upgrade (I wasn’t on the list for automatic upgrades this time because I was traveling on an award ticket, but I am an MVP on Alaska.) So I walked back to 64A and instead, I saw the screens at the gate were updated again: now departing at 11:00 pm. Sigh.

First Class cabin on Alaska Airlines - Photo Chris Sloan | Airways News

First Class cabin on Alaska Airlines – Photo: Chris Sloan | Airways News

8:34 pm – An announcement asked all passengers on Flight 459 to come to gate 66 to be rebooked on another flight to Seattle that was about to depart with open seats. At that point, I was still too tired to care, and didn’t want to end up in something like seat 29B on a completely full flight. But about 15 minutes later when they paged me by name, I figured I should actually acknowledge it. That’s when things got interesting!

9:11pm – I explain that I didn’t really care about getting on the earlier flight, and the very helpful gate agents inform me that there would only be four passengers left on my original flight. That sounded a whole lot better than a middle seat in the back. I still hadn’t bothered to get anything to eat, so they kindly provided me with $24 in meal vouchers, along with my choice of basically any seat in first class. I don’t do bulkhead rows, so row 2 it was.

9:54pm – After getting something to stop my hunger, I was back at gate 64A and I checked the screen again. I saw that our party of four had been reduced to two: myself in seat 2F and my planemate in seat 2C. I doubted that we would really board at 10:20 for our 11:00 flight, but thought I should hang around the gate area just in case. Plus, it’s not like I had somewhere else to be.

10:12pm – Progress! The cabin crew arrived and boarded the plane. I also overheard the gate agent confirm to the crew that there would only be two passengers on the flight. I waved my boarding pass and said “I’m one of them,” just in case they were taking roll call for my almost-private flight.

10:30pm – Now we were just waiting for the pilots and it would be time to board. By this time, the nice agent from gate 66 (who authorized my two meal vouchers) had joined us over at 64A and was really good about providing me regular updates as I waited in the gate area.

10:58pm – Finally on board! And I didn’t even need to scan my boarding pass on the way in – just like a 737 private jet.

An empty coach section on my Alaska 737 - Photo: Lauren Darnielle

An empty coach section on my Alaska 737 – Photo: Lauren Darnielle

Boarding & Info – Roxi was our flight attendant up front, and she offered to heat up the first class meals if we wanted them, since the flight had been catered for dinner. It had been catered for coach meals, as well, so I passed up the first class food and asked for a cheese plate instead. There was also more than enough alcohol on board for the two of us, but I had to pass on that too, given that I still had to drive home when the flight was over.

As we chatted with the FAs and waited for the pilots to finish their pre-flight tasks, my new favorite gate agent came on board with one more surprise. He said that he would award 4000 bonus Mileage Plan miles each to me and the other passenger, “for sticking it out to the end.” Sure enough, they posted to my account the next day.

Ultimately, the reason for the delay was mechanical. Our original inbound aircraft was delayed leaving Los Cabos (SJD) due to electrical problems, but they substituted another 737-700 for our flight. Our plane was actually at the gate before the SJD flight finally landed, but then it was a matter of getting a crew.

737 in flight - Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

737 in flight – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

11:31pm – Departure, at last! After the safety demonstration was over, the other two flight attendants just sat somewhere in the back, since there was no coach service for them to do. Just for fun, one of the coach FAs went ahead and stood at row 16 and performed the safety demonstration for no audience, though.

If I hadn’t been so tired after my long day of travel, I would have had a lot more fun with my almost empty flight. (Walking around in the aisle, sitting in as many seats as possible, taking selfies in the empty coach cabin, claiming a lavatory all for myself to change clothes before landing).

As it was, I did do two things I normally never do on a flight: recline my seat and take off my shoes. Since I had an entire half-cabin to myself, I felt pretty confident that I wouldn’t be inconveniencing my one fellow passenger.

I have had my own row before, but never my whole side of the plane.

I have had my own row before, but never my whole side of the plane

Other than passing by some thunderstorms in Northern California, it was a smooth and very quiet flight, conducive to sleeping almost the whole time. By the end of the flight, it was a bit eerie to be on such an empty plane, though.

1:52am – Touchdown at SEA. By this time, it had been approximately 24 hours since I left my hotel in central London. On my way out, the captain said “I hope you enjoyed your charter flight.” Thanks, Captain, I certainly did!

The moral of this story is: if you’re delayed and you don’t rebook on an alternate flight, you might find yourself with almost a whole plane to yourself and the most personal customer service ever! I am admittedly a loyal/biased Alaska Airlines frequent flier, but can any other airline turn a four-hour delay into one of the most fun and memorable flights I’ve ever experienced?

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Lauren took her first flight when she was less than a year old and has been an AvGeek for as long as she can remember. She lives in the Seattle area and loves flying all over the world visiting new cities and collecting (or redeeming) frequent flier miles.

http://www.airlinereporter.com/author/lauren
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23 Comments

What a hilarious story! Given the time of day, my first guess would have been that is was primarily a positioning flight with staff and PAX. Mechanical works as well and it could have both. Holding out for that sort of thing might also be risky, especially if other transportation was offered. While I am NOT sure about this… I suspect that the carriers do have some right to cancel flights with such tiny loads. Thanks for sharing the amusing experience. -C.

Thanks! I was wondering that, too. I checked a couple of days later and sure enough, my plane (N626AS) was off to Palm Springs early the next morning (or, I guess same morning, since we landed at 2am), so I definitely hit it lucky!

Dhairya Yadav

Hahaha. This has actually happened with me too . In 2011, I had went to Singapore for a family vacation . While returning on Mumbai- Ahmedabad leg on Kingfisher Airlines (now defunct) , it was just my family and 1 old guy way back in the A320 . Flight attendants didn’t even bought the Cart out and served our meals directly and gave us many extra goodies too. It was the best flight of my life. Flying VIP style with a 5 star airline 😀

Tom Horngren

I had a similar thing happen years ago. Was taking Hughes Airwest from
John Wayne/OC at that time to Phx-Sky Harbor. They had equipment issues on 2 prior flights and as chance would have they had 3 flights leaving in a 45 min time frame. Everybody piled into first 2 planes and some from my flight were allowed to leave early as well. Our plane was a brand new 727 that had entered service week prior. The first 2 flights went out completely full while my flight had maybe 10 people at most. Most enjoyable flight I ever had, there was no one in a 7 aisle radius near me,and plane smelled brand new.

Awesome! New plane smell!

My plane definitely didn’t have the new cabin with the Recaro seats, but it was still great.

Wow, how cool!I was once on a ATA L1011-100 with only 13 people from LAX to HNL, sorta of a situation like yours. Boy was it eerie to be in that huge plane with 13 people scattered like ants in a haystack throughout!

Nice! I would have loved to have the plane to myself last time I flew HNL > SEA.

My accomplishment in this arena was being one of only five passengers on SQ’s LAX-SIN nonstop. Freaky fun. Boarded through L1, but it didn’t matter because there was no one else around.

Other than that, I was the only passenger on a bus once. It was actually more interesting as the bus driver forgot I was there and started going way too fast.

That does sound pretty fun. Must have been even better customer service than usual!

I was a bus driver during college. More than once, I forgot there was a passenger on the bus and embarrassed myself by singing aloud to music.

You’re lucky I was never on one of your buses. I’d have done back up.

Robert Nordmark

Glad you had such a unique experience. I would love to fly somewhere–anywhere. I am in Gresham, Oregon a couple of times each week. I see a lot of planes flying into and out of PDX. I always wish I could be on one of those planes.

Lindsay

Great story, thanks. I can go one better: many years ago I missed a connecting flight in Oslo, travelling from London to Stavanger. The airline arranged to get me on the mail flight which stopped at two intermediate airports along the way. I was the only passenger on a 734. Big drawback was that it left at midnight and arrived in Stavanger at about 3 am!! The captain was good enough to take me into the terminal, switch on the lights and call a taxi for me.

Wow, mail flight! And calling a taxi for you – that’s good customer service!

Jason H

Nice! I love those flights, but they are so rare today. Last one I remember was Delta 767 service AMS-CVG with only 20 passengers. One of the best non-business class TATL flights I’ve had!

A long international flight is really the time to have almost the whole plane to yourself!

Jonathan

During Gulf War 1, I flew from Denver to Seattle’s on a United DC-8 with five other passengers. That plane felt long enough when full; like this, it was cavernous.

Wow, I bet! Even my short little -700 seemed big empty.

JL Johnson

Lauren, excellent story. I really enjoyed the read. Still waiting for this to happen for me. I look forward to seeing more from you.

JL | AirlineReporter

Thanks! I look forward to reading your next part of the airline sampler!

Rand Cooley

This happened to me when I came back from Vietnam. I was on a red eye flight out of LAX to SEA. There were 7 of us including 3 Coastguard sailors who were bitching about no steak and mail on an ice cutter at the pole. I thought that was pretty funny.It was a nice flight and I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet. 🙂

Cedarglen

I know this is months late, but just found it. These oddball flights are usually fun, but not always: About ’77 I was returning to LAX from a contract job in Tupelo, MS. Flew an oil-leaking Martin 404(?) from MS, to Atlanta and then a L-1011 from there to LAX during the wee hours. I was was the ONLY passenger, three flight crew and 7 or 8 FAs, it was obviously an aircraft positioning flight for the next day’s business. I was on a full-fare coach ticket, but SOP in those days was an automatic upgrade to first if seats were available. As a red-eye, there was no catering, even in first, beyond snacks and booze. I took a glass of wine and all 7-8 FAs vanished – not even a walk-through. After ~45 minutes, I rang the bell and got cussed out for being ‘bothersome,’ in asking for a second glass of wine. Apparently, I had interrupted someone’s 4-hour, paid nap. As expected, it was Delta and I’ve not flown them since.
Oh yes! Like you and others report, there have been several other near-zero population flights, typically repositioning red-eyes, with all kinds of fun perks (including high AOA take-offs and a little Aisle Surfing) but they have become less frequent in recent years. Save the one annoying Delta flight, the others were all great fun and often hosted by fun (funny and spirited) crews. Your report was hilarious!! Thanks.

Glad you liked it! I doubt I’ll ever be on another flight like this.

I definitely would have enjoyed some first class booze, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I had been awake for about 24 hours at that point and still needed to drive myself home from the airport safely.

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