I dismissed the announcement, as I usually do. I have a direct flight to San Jose, Costa Rica from where I am seated in Phoenix, AZ, and should be comfortably ensconced in my hotel less than 6 hours from now, relax overnight, then hop on the shuttle to my final destination tomorrow morning.
But then I realize…
I DO have flexible travel plans. Where I’m going, no one cares if I show up tomorrow, a day late or even several days late. I’m feeling pretty fresh, I woke up in Los Angeles this morning and it’s only noon. I haven’t even been traveling that long today. Also, it’s Spring Break, so everyone else really wants to get to Costa Rica to enjoy their few days off.
So why the heck not?
I traipse up to the desk and with an eager and ever-so-slightly avaricious gleam in my eye and offer my services as a bump-me-off-the-plane volunteer, even though I have an exit row window seat.
I wait an hour with the other two volunteers as the agents board the plane. We chat idly about what allowed us to be in this ever-so-select crew of flexible travelers. Travel companion #1 is a retiring teacher from San Francisco who speaks Mandarin, and wants the travel voucher for some post-retirement travel. Travel Companion #2 is a Spanish teacher in an American school down in Costa Rica who actually came to Arizona for HER Spring Break to visit family, and will use the voucher to come back on her summer break to visit family again.
And then there’s me, for whom American Airlines travel vouchers are practically as good as cash in fist. With the amount I travel, I expect I’ll use it within a couple months and be incredibly grateful for the extra opportunity it provides.
We have a great time chatting and enjoying ourselves.
After the plane is boarded, they let all three of us know that we are bumped, and will go on the next flight. However, because the next flight is a red eye and not leaving until 1am, they received approval to give us each an $800 voucher and a dinner ticket approved instead of the promised $500.
Eight hundred smackers?!?
12 hours in PHX International Airport, with a 4-hour red eye to Miami, a 2-hour layover and another 3 hour flight to San Jose, and I have to cancel/reschedule all my other travel arrangements? Not so sweet.
So now what?
Companion #1 rents a car and goes hiking in the mountains. Companion #2 calls her family, who come straight over to pick her up for another day together.
Oh, you want to know what I did? Well, I drop fifty dollars on a day pass to the American Airlines Admirals’ Lounge, with free food, fast wifi and private work space to while away the many hours. And life is good.
Okay, to be honest, the first 4 hours are good; I rework all my travel arrangements and do some solid work. Turns out I’ll have to sit in San Jose airport for 6 hours waiting for my shuttle because of the timing, but whatever, it’ll be fine. Hours five through twelve are irritating and exhausting and boring. But hey, eight hundred bucks is eight hundred bucks.
I just keep telling myself that.
1am comes and we regroup our little threesome of Costa Rican fun, and we board the plane with the paying guests. I sleep a few eye-drooping ear-popping hours on the way to Miami. The sleep is certainly welcome, as I have a feeling they are likely to be the only rest I’ll get tonight. And my prediction proves correct.
We get off the plane in Miami, again regroup in our little threesome, since we’re all going the same place and vaguely know each other now. We meander over to the flight-to-San-Jose gate, and sit down gratefully but uncomfortably in the plastic torture devices that classify as “chairs” in MIA airport.
No sooner do we sit down but the loudspeaker blares out in a weary voice: “hey folks, we are oversold on our flight to San Jose today due to Spring Break, can I have any travelers with flexible itineraries who would be willing to take the next flight speak to me at the desk please? We are offering a $500 travel voucher for volunteers.”
I share a knowing look with my two companions, laugh, and take off like a shot for the front desk. I checked the screens on our way to the gate, knowing this exact situation was likely to come up, so I already know that the next flight is barely an hour from now.
I am chosen as volunteer. I wave to my two companions, who weren’t quite as flexible as I was and couldn’t take advantage of bump #2, and promptly net another travel voucher for sitting an hour in MIA airport instead of San Jose airport. They raised the reward to $800 after all the passengers were gone, just like the first time.
The plane finishes boarding, and I wait barely 15 minutes before the gate agents show up to start boarding the next flight to San Jose, which will leave from this very same gate.
Not five minutes later, the loudspeaker clicks on and, you guessed it, they ask for volunteers for a bump and offer a $500 voucher. I am literally waiting by the front desk this time for them to announce this, and stroll leisurely up to be the first volunteer.
Rinse, repeat, receive $800 travel voucher number three.
I proceed to wait a couple more hours in Miami airport. I don’t want to further tempt fate, so I ignore the importuning for volunteers this time around and board the 4th plane as expected, arrive to San Jose, and hop almost directly on board my shuttle down to Manuel Antonio National Park, where I will be living for the next couple of months.
And proceed to spend the next two days sleeping off the deep fatigue from all the bumping and not-sleeping and uncertainty and travel and sitting.
But I don’t care.
It was worth it.
And you bet I’m going to plan some flexible travel around Spring Break next year.
Have you ever accepted an airline bump and gotten a good story out of it? Tell your story in the comments below!