The bump I didn’t mean to take

I watched the sun rise from my hotel room in Boston this morning, something which was decidedly not in my travel plans as I headed to the Montreal airport yesterday afternoon.

It was not even really in my travel plans when I got to the counter in Montreal to show my passport to the agent to complete the docs check process. But it just so happened that while I was standing there another agent mentioned that the flight I was booked on was oversold by as many as seven passengers and they needed volunteers. I will always at least ask about the situation when a bump opportunity arises and I did this time as well. Alas, it is spring break in Montreal and getting another seat out to New York last night was impossible. The offer was an $800 voucher but I needed to be home and so I passed, mentioning that if things were absolutely dire I would reconsider.

Thirty minutes later as the boarding process began things were looking dire. I was sitting close enough that I could hear the conversations from the gate agents and they were faced with still needing one volunteer or needing to IDB one passenger. Unfortunately, based on the hierarchy for that flight, the one was a 6 year old kid in a family of four. And that’s a complete mess for everyone involved. Of course the company won’t abandon the kid but it means multiple people getting bumped rather than just one. And, while not ideal, I could fix that problem a lot easier than anyone else.

I should also note that I still wasn’t sure about getting home to New York at a reasonable time. Fortunately I have friends who are spectacular enablers. In this case it was Fozz who came through with the suggestion of an Air Canada flight to Boston connecting on the Delta Shuttle in the morning. The agent was more than happy to book me on those flights and coordinate a hotel in Boston for me. And I was perhaps not happy to take the bump, but at least OK with the decision. And the voucher value was upped to $1000 at some point during the scrum, so that’s a pretty nice bit of consolation, too.

As all the standby passengers cleared the Gate Agent ended up with two empty seats to give the kids. They were exit row seats. Watching that get reassigned last minute was amusing; basically just shouting in to the crowd “Who wants an exit row??” and taking the first two who made it to the counter. But, overall, a very good performance from the Delta team at the gate; they earned a note of thanks from me last night.

My takeaways from the events:

  • If you do your own research odds are there is another option the gate agents didn’t see
  • Be nice to the gate agents and to others traveling who might not have as much flexibility as you do; karma matters
  • Don’t freak out when you get an alert that the flight you weren’t rebooked on is delayed. Turns out the agent protected me on two flights this morning and the later one is delayed but I’m not flying on it. That was a minor panic of an extra three hour delay. Oopsie.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Those of us with more flexible travel plans can often make a huge difference for those that don’t…. and I’m pleased you were able to help this family travel together. You are so right about being pleasant to gate agents as well as the desk agents – it makes a HUGE difference! I recall a winter storm where I was finally able to make the first leg (CVG – IAD) of my journey home – only to be slammed with bad weather in Washington, and forced to remain overnight. The airline desk agents were working furiously to get all pax rebooked – it was getting dicey though, most flights canceled. I offered to be flexible, as my travel wasn’t time-sensitive, and slid a tiny container of chocolate pearls across the desk, and my flight was canceled because of a mechanical, not wx…. hotel, food and any necessities I may need suddenly appeared. Karma.

  2. Probably exposing my own ignorance here, but how could the flight simultaneously be oversold and accepting standby passengers?

  3. Did you explore getting to NYC via Toronto? Hard to believe you couldn’t have made it home last night with the frequency of flights within that triangle.

    1. I did look in to that. My flight was at 6pm so that limited some options being late in the day. Also it is Spring Break in Montreal so everything was booked. There were some late flights to Toronto but nothing to get me past there and I’d rather overnight in the USA than deal with immigration/customs again.

  4. I completely agree with #1 (well all three). I had a connection to the Caribbean get screwed up. The agents said they’d put me on the next flight, which was the next day. With hundreds of stranded passengers, I understand if they don’t have 15-20 minutes per passenger to ruminate about unusual/creative routings to get people where they need to go. But I did (while waiting in line) and was able to route through SJU using 2 different airlines and DL was more than happy to accommodate me. Being proactive really helps. As does being nice, of course.

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