Feb 212014

So when I found the $0 fare on United last fall, valid not just to California as I’d assumed but to anywhere in the United States, I booked as many as I could as quickly as I could, knowing I’d always have 24 hours to cancel and that it would likely go away very quickly. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any banked leave time, so I made most of the trips two and three day weekends. My second DCA-HNL trip was to go out on a Friday, and then return Sunday night.

Regional upgrades cleared the whole way on the outbound, routing DCA-ORD-HNL. We boarded on time in DCA and then….there was a mechanical. Or, as the pilot informed us, “something technical needs to be looked at.” This creeped to 15 minutes, and then 30, and soon an hour. Before we knew it, it was two hours and we still hadn’t pushed back from the gate at DCA. With a connection of under two hours in Chicago, we were pretty much screwed….along with several people connecting on to China, etc.

So, knowing our connections were hosed, we asked to get off the plane to rebook. No can do. Because the door was closed, they weren’t able to reopen it and wouldn’t let anyone off. Eventually, about 2:30 after scheduled departure the problem was fixed and we pushed back. We already knew we’d missed our connection, and there were no others that day. We wanted to just cancel and go another time, but United insisted we go to Chicago…so go we did.

When we landed, our outbound had already left for HNL 15 minutes prior, so I tried calling the 1K line…long wait, and eventually they told us to “just go to customer service at the airport, they’re the only ones who can do anything other than rebook you on the next flight.” The 1K line did offer the only other connection, a late afternoon via SFO arriving around midnight…in middle economy seats. Ugh, no thanks. Hawaii is a long way to go for a few days, but to go for 24 hours in middle seats in economy when you’re 6’5 and 6’3 isn’t really an option.

Walked to the Terminal C customer service line…and was informed “there is no special priority line – you wait with everyone else.” “Everyone else” was at least 50 people, and it would be hours. UGH.

Trekked to Terminal B to try our luck, and the priority line was staffed there, with only one person in front of us. Unfortunately, that one person took nearly 30 minutes to help…but soon, we had a very helpful and friendly agent. Started out explaining to her what had happened, and why going that night via SFO wasn’t an option. She totally got it.

“So, you want me to send you back to DC as a trip in vain, and allow you to rebook later?” “Yes.” “ok, but the next flight to DC isn’t until 8pm.” We’d found a flight leaving in 2 hours, that had two F seats available…but would she give them to us? She spent 30 minutes on hold with various help desks…and eventually came back with. “Welllllll….there’s not really a policy. They tell me it’s my discretion.”

“And because we’ve been SO nice to you and you like us SO much you’re going to authorize it…right?”

That’s how we ended up on ORD-IAD on an international 767-400 in 1A and 1B…seats next to each other on top of it! BONUS!

Now…I decided to push a bit. “I’m sure you could also give us a couple of lunch vouchers as well since we’re stuck here?” She had no trouble printing them out…but told us not to laugh at the amount. Yes, as two 1Ks, we got something like $8 each for lunch, lol. At least it paid for margaritas at Chilis.

Flight back to IAD was pretty much a nonevent, and nothing special, so won’t go into details on that here. The details came a few hours later when I’d relaxed enough to try and call in to rebook.

“These are free tickets. They’re worthless. You’re out of luck.”

They maintained that line for over an hour of arguing. Finally, I told them I’d send them tweets and posts from United stating they’d decided to honour this fare. Back and forth, back and forth, and finally, they relented. “Fine. Find other flights with K space and you can rebook.”

I pushed my luck….went for a Saturday to Sunday 9 day period in February that I found K space and R space for an upgrade on….and it worked! Upgrades confirmed and all! Total time elapsed was about two hours on the phone, and about 8 hours wasted on the nonsense roundtrip to ORD, but my free 2 day trip had morphed into 8 days on the ground in a couple months!

Side note: didn’t receive any mileage credit for DCA-ORD-IAD, which was kind of a bummer, but at the end of the day I wasn’t going to complain. We were going to Hawaii, for more than a week, first class, for absolutely free! Winner winner!!!