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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?