I remember the first time I went into an airport lounge and went through those doors that had been forbidden to me for so long. It must have been with one of my first business class award tickets. Checking in at the desk, being welcomed to a quiet oasis in the airport. This was a magical place which only special people got to visit.
I’ll admit that I’ve become jaded and airport lounges doesn’t do much for me anymore. Unless it’s a particularly good lounge, I’m not going to waste time, effort or money to go into one. Now, I fully realize this makes me make sound like a pretentious jerk but, well, it’s the truth ;-).
All that being said, a series of events on my most recent trip caused me to change my usual plans and showed me how lounges, and in particular the lounge staff, can still be very helpful.
This was all part of my trip from Orlando to New York (Newark) to see a screening of Mystery Science 3000 with my dad. We had a late flight on United that was due to leave Orlando at 8:05 PM and arrive at 10:39 PM. Because I notoriously run late (it drives Sharon, who is habitually early, absolutely crazy), I had my dad get to my house earlier than needed so we could get to the airport and relax before the flight. I had some passes to the United Club I received because Sharon has the Chase United MileagePlus Explorer credit card. We usually don’t fly United so I figured I could treat my dad and would use them if I had the chance.
After we made it through TSA Pre✓® with a minor delay (my dad was not used to traveling with only a carry on and had to be reminded by the friendly TSA Agent that even though your toothpaste tube, mouthwash and shampoo are almost empty, you are still not allowed to bring them if the original size is over the limit). We headed towards the gate area and even with this slowdown we were there by 6PM. I stopped to grab a PB&J sandwich and since it was still almost 2 hours until our flight, decided to treat dad to the wonderful United Club at Orlando Airport.
We checked in to the lounge with the passes and I asked the gate agents if there were any updates to our flight. I noticed when arriving at the airport that the two flights leaving to Newark before us were really delayed (see photos below). Important tip: I’ve found that the more you know, the more the employees will go out of their way to help you. This was a case where having a little knowledge went a long way. Just mentioning that I noticed the delays to earlier flights set the wheels in motion.
The two lounge agents mentioned that there was an issue with high winds in the Newark area and it was really messing up the air traffic patterns. Flights were delayed all evening. They asked if we had checked bags (we hadn’t), and if we wanted to be moved onto one of the delayed flights that was still at the gate. We said sure and both agents worked on getting us changed onto the flight which was getting ready to leave. They also assigned us seats in the exit row. They printed our new boarding passes and told us we’d be best to leave now because the boarding was almost finished.
Then the agent who scanned in my passes started to apologize to me that he already scanned us into the club and he didn’t have any comp passes to give back to me. He felt really bad that I had “wasted” the free pass and even said that the next time I was flying I could stop by and remind him of what happened and he’d try to get me in to make up for it. I assured him that getting me on a flight that was not 2 hours delayed was more than worth the passes.
Just a reminder, they did not have to do what they did. United usually charges a $75 fee for a same day change onto a different flight. The seats in United Economy Plus (exit row or extra legroom seats) usually go for $50 to $100 for the MCO-EWR flight. So for each of my passes we received at least $125 in value. That’s worth a whole lot more than some free snack mix and cheap liquor.
Oh, in the long run we really didn’t save that much time. Turns out the flight we were moved to was delayed to take off on a ground stop for 45 minutes and we arrived at 10:30 PM. Our original flight left pretty much on time and arrived at 10:45 PM. However, we didn’t know that at the time. The peace of mind of being on a plane you knew was going to leave was well worth it. Not to mention the exit row seating, which was totally empty so I was able to move from the middle seat of my assigned row and get a whole row of 3 seats to myself.
So although I no longer think that all airport lounges are magical refuges, they certainly still have a place to be helpful in certain situations.