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Things to do in Denver when you're stuck


Flight from Boston to Denver was fine (thanks again for the ride, Michael!).

I had a two-hour layover scheduled in Denver. I arrived in Denver to find two voicemails from United's automated flight info system on my cell phone: one telling me that my flight was on time, the next (sent half an hour later) telling me that my flight had been delayed by an hour and a quarter. I looked at the airport's departure screens and saw that they weren't listing a departure time for my flight; always worrying.

I tried getting on standby for an earlier flight to SFO, but they told me I couldn't do that until an hour before the flight. Which I doubt, but not long after that, that flight to SFO got delayed too.

So I settled in to wait. Found an open outlet, plugged in my laptop, signed on to the free wifi. (Yay for free wifi!)

And about two minutes later, I got another automated call telling me my flight had been cancelled.

So I called the Reservations number to get rebooked on a later flight. The agent was friendly and sympathetic, and rebooked me on two later flights, one to SFO and one to SJC. And then told me that I would have to leave the gate area and go to the ticket counter to get a boarding pass.

I said, "Can't I do that at the customer service desk here by the gate?"

She said no.

We went back and forth on this four or five times; she insisted that I had to leave the secure area, stand in line at the ticket counter, get a new boarding pass (and hand over my old one, which is ridiculous given that the old flight has been cancelled), and come back in through security.

I very much doubted that.

I went to the customer service center near my gate, but there was nobody staffing it. I tried the automated checkin machine, and it told me I needed to talk to an agent.

The line at the staffed customer service center is very very long, probably due to all the other flights that are being cancelled and/or delayed for hours today. (United is claiming mechanical failure on one of these flights, but that doesn't explain all the other ones that are being cancelled and delayed.)

But earlier, I had seen one of the gate agents in action, and I noticed that she was back at her station. She had struck me as a type of service person I've seen before: sympathetic, helpful, perhaps a little brusque when customers are rude, and very very competent and knowledgeable about how the system works. I don't know what exactly struck me that way, but for whatever reason she had immediately looked like someone who would at least try to help me if she could.

So I went up to her and said I wasn't sure if she could help me, and she said (in a friendly tone) "Not if you're not going to Minneapolis." I admitted I wasn't, and turned away, and she said "Where are you going?" I told her San José, and she said, "Oh, yeah, the flight that got cancelled," and that she was sorry she couldn't help and I should go to the customer service center.

I resigned myself to standing in the long line, but then it occurred to me that she might actually be able to tell me whether I needed to go out to the ticket counter or not. And also that she was probably having a rough day and that she'd nonetheless been nice to me and that that deserved praise.

So I went back to her and said, "Hi, we just talked a minute ago, I wanted to say two things: first, thank you for being nice to me earlier, and second, I have a question that maybe you can answer: do I really have to go all the way out to the ticket counter to get my flight rebooked?"

And she said "No, no, of course not. . . . Is the line at the customer service center really long?"

I said it was.

She said, "Here, let me see what I can do."

And she got me a new boarding pass for the new flight.

This once again falls into the category of things that I'm not sure I can praise the helpful employee for to their employer without getting the employee in trouble; that is, I don't know whether she was bending the rules by helping me. But I really appreciated her help; she saved me probably an hour or two of standing in line, and a lot of frustration.

So, for what it's worth, a huge thank-you to Darlene in Denver.

This incident is also yet another demonstration of Arthur H's suggestion that the way to approach customer service people is to get them on your side, to treat the problem as one that the two of you are going to solve together. Or maybe it's just a demonstration that some people are nice and helpful even when they don't need to be.

Either way, I'm grateful.

Now I just have to decide what to do in the Denver airport for the next three and a half hours.

Oh, and I need to decide whether to do anything about the SFO flight that I'm sorta kinda booked on but won't be traveling on. I'm worried that if I try to cancel it, something will get messed up and my SJC flight will also get cancelled; but I'm also worried that if I don't try to cancel it, they'll think I'm traveling on that flight, and my luggage will end up in SFO, and so on. But I'll figure something out.


It should be easy to write a letter of commendation to her supervisors without going into detail about what she did; just something like "Darlene was outstandingly helpful, professional, and friendly, and she made an annoying flight cancellation much more bearable."

Great seeing (and singing with) you on this trip!

I suspect that it is something she's allowed to do, since in this day and age, airports do have to be pretty careful about who they allow to do what. I had something similar happen--I had a flight delayed so much they'd missed the connecting flights for the night, and rebooked for the following morning, and my mom found a flight for me to a different airport on a very tight timetable. The customer service people were super busy, so I'd asked a nearby non-busy gate agent for directions to the gate I wanted to be at, since I figured they above all would be able to get me rebooked, and he said--like your gate agent--"I shouldn't really do this, but," and set me up. (I think in particular, one reason why he did it was that we were so close to boarding time that if I'd waited until i got to the gate, they might have already finished boarding vs knowing I'd be on the flight and waiting for me.)

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