Flying around the U.S. is something that so many people do on a regular basis. The process used to be much more stressful. Having to track down a travel agent or even buying your ticket at the counter, hoping that there was a seat available. Today, we are able to book our tickets online, months in advance and can have increased confidence that we have a seat on the plane. But even in today’s hi-tech aviation business, there are still times that almost make it feel low-tech and high-stress. I experienced one recently on a flight to Las Vegas. That weekend in Vegas may have been fun, but for this AvGeek it was extremely stressful and I am not even sure if it was worth it.
There are many people who have airline benefits and have the ability to fly for free around the world. I have flown on these “buddy passes” before and previously, and it was not that bad of an experience. However, this trip to Vegas has seriously made me reconsider ever using one again.
Friday night: Seattle to Las Vegas
I finished work and met my wife by the check-in desks for Alaska so we could clear security together. We were wait-listed for a flight around 6:30 pm and we had about 20 or 30 minutes until boarding — that was an easy wait. When I had checked the standby list earlier in the day, my wife and I were number two and three on the list, and there were still five open seats — things were looking good.
When we got to the gate, all of a sudden we were now seven and eight on the list… ruh roh! Turns out there was a family of five, who by the time the doors closed, barely made it onto the flight. Goodbye to our seats to Vegas. The next flight was in two-and-half hours, so we went off to grab some food and get some steps in around the terminals.
When we got re-booked we were once again numbers two and three on the list. But then when we got to the gate for boarding, we moved down to be numbers eight and nine… ugh. This flight had more open seats, but it was still going to be close.
I was stressing out like crazy, I had been up since super early in the morning and all I wanted to do was get into a bed. With finger nails bitten all the way to the stub we cleared as the last people to step foot onto that flight and, even better, somehow we ended up with seats together! We made it to Vegas, had a good time, and started to make our way home.
Sunday Afternoon: Las Vegas to Seattle
I was hoping that my flight home was going to be a bit easier. I had wait-listed for a flight super early and had two more chances after that before hitting that wall of another night in Vegas and having to miss work the next morning.
I was glad to have gotten to the gate early, because about 20 minutes prior boarding, when Alaska would start to try and get people to gate check bags, I heard the dreaded sentence “I’m sorry ladies and gentleman, we are going to need volunteers.” But it was worse than I thought. They also wanted to bump eight passengers to the last flight of the night. I heard someone ask why they couldn’t go on the next one and they explained that they were going to be bumping people on that flight as well.
I had to be back at work the next day without fail, and I couldn’t be late. I started to panic and did something I have never done before; I started looking for a ticket home… by talking to agents at the gate.
I saw that a Virgin America flight was about to board down the same concourse. I scooted down there and bought a walk-up fare at the gate. $300 to my credit card later and I had my boarding passes in hand (Virgin America don’t fly direct to Seattle from Vegas) and I was getting ready to go. They accepted my frequent flyer status and also gave me a ticket receipt on the same stock as the boarding pass — how often do you get that?
That evening, as I sat back and waited for my connection in San Francisco, I put my feet up and relaxed thinking about what had just happened. I may have spent $300 to get home on a ticket, but at least I was getting home. Would I have done it if the prices were $400, or $500? I don’t know… but needing to get home was the priority and making that decision was the right call.
With my status on the list (buddy passes get trumped by active duty staff and retirees), it would have been likely that I would not only have had to stay another night in Vegas, but go through the same thing the next day to try and make it home. Not something I really wanted to do.
So… I might be done with flying stand-by… it is just not for me. I would rather pay the money, have a confirmed ticket, and not stress out for hours at the airport, just hoping to get some horrid middle seat home. To anyone who flies stand-by all the time, I salute you for your patience — I just won’t join you anymore.
I think I will take my confirmed window seat, and if I see you on-board, well that’s just good luck for you, right?