I remember the first time I had access to an airport lounge and was able to go 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. I was visiting a magical place inhabited by important people.
I’ll admit that I’ve become jaded and airport lounges don’t do much for me anymore. Unless I know that 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 a trip to New York caused me to change my usual plans and showed me how lounges, and in particular the lounge staff, can 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 (Note from Sharon: I’m habitually early. Can I just say his running behind schedule drives me nuts?!?!), I had my dad get to my house extra early so we could get to the airport and relax before the flight. I had some passes to the United Club that 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 obviously didn’t read our article For Newbies: Going Through X-Ray or TSA Pre✓® As Easily As Possible and was reminded by the friendly TSA Agent that even though your toothpaste tube, mouthwash and shampoo are almost empty, you’re still not allowed to bring them in carry on if the original containers’ sizes are over the limit). We headed towards the gate area and even with this slowdown, 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 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 United 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 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 were still at the gate. We said sure and both agents worked on getting us changed onto the flight that 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. (Note: I’ve since flown on United from Orlando, stopped by the club and the same employee wasn’t there, so I wasn’t able to get back in for free)
Just as 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 and since my original flight was still showing as being on time, they had no obligation to accommodate us on the earlier one. 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 lounge passes we received at least $125 in value. That’s worth a whole lot more than some free snack mix and cheap liquor.
As it ended up, we really didn’t save that much time. Turns out the flight we were moved to was delayed for take off another 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 was totally empty. I was able to move from the middle seat of my assigned row and took a whole row of 3 seats to myself.
So although I no longer think all airport lounges are magical refuges, they certainly still have a place to be helpful in certain situations.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary