We had been sitting in the lounge for far too long, waiting out the overnight prior to our scheduled 5:15 am flight when the first TripAlert email from United Airlines rolled in: Our flight from Singapore to Hong Kong was going to be delayed approximately 45 minutes. With just over two hours on the connection that wasn’t catastrophic, but we soon realized that the 45 minute estimate was a pipe dream. And that was ultimately a bigger problem than not.
The transfer desk opened eventually and we went to get our boarding passes. It was then we were informed that our flights had all been changed and that we were now getting home about 5 hours late. Not the end of the world, to be sure, but when the plan was originally that we’d be home for dinner that was not such great news. Perhaps there was a better option available, one which would get us home closer to on time? It turns out that there was but United did not want us to have it. And I’m not so sure they were correct on that move.
My first try was to get us rebooked on the non-stop flight operated by Singapore Airlines. That was clearly a long shot and I didn’t expect them to agree to it. They didn’t. But at least they had a decent reason and they intimated that they would had our delay been more significant. All of the other options involved connections in Tokyo. Not awful as a routing, but the flights which got us home on time (or close to it) were not available. Well, they were, but not in coach and the folks at United were not willing to oversell the back or confirm us in business. Their view was that the five hour delay was acceptable even though there were seats on the plane and the delay was their fault.
Another in our group is flying to Houston. His upgrade on Hong Kong – Chicago had cleared well in advance. And there were business class seats for sale on Narita – Houston. But the rebooking engine skipped the natural, non-stop flight in favor of an extra connection which got in later and which had a 50 minute connection in SFO (not sure that meets the MCT, much less is reasonable). That wasn’t even a case of having to change the booking cabin. Fortunately that one was resolved pretty quickly on the phone.
And this is where the conundrum comes into play. I called in to the Global Services desk to try to get on those flights and was given a somewhat perplexing option. It actually was possible for them to force the seats available without a fare difference; I just had to redeem a GPU (f/k/a SWU). Even though the upgrade inventory wasn’t there the agent would be willing to force that open for me (pending approval by a supervisor). But they would not just do it on their own. In other words, I could either accept the 5 hour delay, getting home close to midnight, or pay up for the upgrade to force the issue. Which brings me to the crux of the issue: should I have accepted the "extortion" to get home on time or should it have been free?
Ultimately it worked in that I scrounged up the GPU and got the rebooking completed. And, yes, I’m going to be riding upstairs on the 747 rather than likely in a middle seat down the back somewhere. So I did realize value from the transaction. But I’m still not so sure that it was a choice I should have been forced in to or that the realized value of redeeming the GPU for the flight was what it should have been. Getting listed for the Singapore – Tokyo segment was not possible even though I was now redeeming the upgrade, and several passengers ended up clearing into both business and first on the segment. Assuming the next connection actually is on time I’ll still make it home for dinner, albeit an hour later than planned. But it came with a personal cost that I’m not so sure was reasonable.
And the ultimate irony is that the SIN-HKG flight ended up getting to HKG early enough that we probably would have made the connection anyways. Smart not to gamble on that, I think, but annoying when it cost us GPUs.
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