DENIED! boarding

Passengers traveling between points within the United States (including the territories and possessions) who are denied boarding involuntarily from an oversold flight are entitled to…

3. 400% of the fare to the passenger’s destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,300, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger’s destination or first stopover less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger’s original fight.

United gave me a couple options yesterday. Because my flight to Cedar Rapids from Chicago was overbooked and I was involuntarily denied boarding, I could:

1) Stay in Chicago overnight on United’s dime and fly to Moline on Sunday morning;

2) Stay in Chicago until Tuesday for the next available seat to Cedar Rapids;

3) Take a big, fat check and find alternate transportation.

I could have also waited on stand-by for a flight to CID in the afternoon, but I was pretty sure I would not get on board. There were two or three others in my same situation and flights to CID were full until Tuesday, a fact that blew everyone’s mind. (We assumed a post-spring break rush was to blame.) When asking for confirmed, but flexible, passengers to relinquish their seats, one of the ticket agents mentioned a flight to Des Moines, but Des Moines did not cross my mind later. I wanted to get home that day and there was no way I wanted to stay in the airport any longer, uncertain if and when I would be leaving O’Hare.

(Assuming I had a seat, I had already waited for two hours. When the ticket agent announced that the flight was overbooked and sought flexible volunteers to take another flight, I thought, “She’ll never get anybody.” I assume they almost never do. The unlucky few who paid for seats but would not get them were fucked. Then I decided to take a peek at my ticket and saw “SEE AGENT” instead of a seat number. “Uh oh,” I thought. “I’m fucked.”)

The ticket agents were very apologetic and sympathetic. I understood it was not their fault — they had not overbooked the flight and their hands were tied — so I was understanding and calm. They were, however, tasked by United to solve the problem. That is, I have to say, what irked me the most about the situation. The pencil-pushers at corporate overbook flights to maximize profit — the theory being that somebody may change their plans or be delayed elsewhere, allowing someone else to fill the seat so it is not empty — but someone on the ground, at the airport, needs to deal with the problems and anger it creates. I rolled with the punches and was empathetic, but for every one of me I am sure there are probably 1,000 flyers who are not so understanding.

Like I said, I wanted to go home. So instead of waiting I decided to take a big, fat check. A passenger rights pamphlet given to me by one of the ticket agents outlined the compensation I was entitled: 400 percent of the cost of my flight to CID. Not too shabby. It ended up being close to the $1,300 maximum for domestic flights and an agent wrote it out right there. They handed it over and I left. Instead of flying back to Iowa, I rented a Yaris from Hertz and drove the final leg.

(Hertz, I learned, offers one-way rentals to just about anywhere — a welcome relief for me after I left the sterile area. I checked a few other rental companies that either did not have one-way rentals to Iowa City or did not rent one-way. Hertz was my last hope, and the shuttle driver assuaged my growing anxiety when he said I could rent a car and drive to Alaska if I wanted.)

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