It’s amazing what we can get when we truly want it. Nay, it’s amazing what we can get when we’re willing to ask for it. No, it’s amazing what we can get when we’re willing to work for it.
It’s story time. (If you want to skip the story, go to the section titled “How to Get What you Want”)
I was recently stranded in Detroit while flying home from Wisconsin. I was up in Wisconsin for work, and the plan was to fly home from Green Bay to Houston, with a layover in Detroit.
Now, I like having layovers in Detroit, because until recently, that was my home airport (so I know it well), and I absolutely love Delta. Those two things make it a no-brainer when I’m booking travel for work. When I flew out on Monday to Green Bay, everything went off without a hitch. I even arrived a bit early in Green Bay – which is unfortunate, because my fellow travel companions, who flew United (heathens!) got stuck in Chicago for about 4 hours – so I got to sit in the Green Bay Airport for a whopping four hours!!!
I was lucky that GRB (the airport code for Green Bay’s airport) has reliable internet, and a nice little business center amongst the four gates in my terminal. S0, I worked, and I watched Red (such a great movie).
You get that it was a breeze going out there, right? Good.
Coming home was a different story. It all started when I remarked in passing to my colleagues “You know, I wouldn’t mind getting stuck in Detroit” as a joke, since I have family located there. Little did I know that a mere 4 hours later I would be regretting those words. We got to the airport in Green Bay, and ate a truly disgusting meal – my salad was drier than the Sahara, and just about as appetizing, but at least I didn’t have to deal with bread that was soaked in “ham juice” like my co-worker did.
As I waited for my flight out, I was doing some light work in the Business Center, which was beginning to feel like home. Suddenly, I logged into Delta.com and saw, to my horror, that my flight was delayed. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just have to get some food to go in Detroit, and eat on the plane, I’ve done that before.” Since I was upgraded to First Class, this wouldn’t be a nuisance.
My flight was originally scheduled to leave Green Bay at 4:36pm…it was delayed to 4:52pm.
No big deal, because I would still have a 45 minute layover in Detroit. Enough to grab a pre-made meal. I needed to get food, though, because I was starving – having eaten next to nothing all day. I would have eaten more in Green Bay, but as the airport is located in Wisconsin, I believe it is a local law that everything must have cheese on it. (I eat a Healthy Vegan Diet)
Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Our plane arrived, and we left per schedule (that is to say, about 30 minutes late). Okay, I could breathe a sigh of relief – I would make it after all. Then, our right engine shut down.
“This is your Captain speaking. You may have noticed I’ve shut down one of our engines. I’m going to shut down the other one shortly. We’ve been told that Detroit has issued a ground stop, so we’ll be waiting for their clearance before taking off. There is a small storm cell heading over Detroit, but it is a small one, so we shouldn’t be waiting more than 20-30 minutes.”
One: When you have a 40 minute layover, the difference between 20 and 30 minutes is HUGE. Two: I was now at a point where I was trying to figure out if I could make it and *gasp* accepting the fact that I might not be able to get any food. “No problem,” I thought, “I can just buy food on the plane. I used to do that all the time!”
Can you see how my goal wasn’t changing (getting something to eat), but how I would obtain that goal changed many times? That’s called flexibility, and it’s a vital skill to develop.
Well, the ground stop was not very long, and we were off. It was an uneventful flight, and we soon landed in Detroit. I checked my phone, and saw we were due to arrive at 7:37pm. I had an 8:02pm flight leaving from A71. We were to arrive at B10. For those of you who know the Detroit airport, you know this is a haul.
Well, sure enough, we arrived at exactly 7:37pm. I got off the plane, and had to wait for my bag to come off. Since the GRB – DTW (Detroit) flight is on such a small plane, you have to check your bag at the gate! I waited, and waited, and waited for what seemed to be hours. Then, the bags finally came up. I waited my turn to get my bag from the cart instead of pushing to the front of the line yelling “My flight leaves in 20 minutes!!!” which, as it turns out, proved to be a fatal mistake.
It was now 7:50pm. I would have to run. So I ran. I ran like I haven’t before. I had to take walking breaks (I still weigh over 300 pounds, but I’m down ~75-80 pounds from my heaviest, so it was much easier). I ran through the tunnel of lights, I ran up the escalator, and I ran along the people movers. Then, there, in the distance, I saw it! “A71” in its blue lettered glory. And the door was open!!! I could make it. I started running, relief washing over my as I realized that I would make this flight. Then, the unthinkable happened. The door began moving away from me. It was closing! Run, Run! No luck. The door closed. I pounded on the door, hoping beyond hope that they would open up. No one would know if they opened the door back up. I had only missed it by 8 seconds.
The door didn’t open again for a few minutes. By the time it opened, I could see the plane pulling away from me. For the first time in my hundreds of flights, I truly felt like I had missed my flight. I’ve had interruptions before, and have had to be rebooked, but that was all very orderly. Nope, this time, I had “missed” it. I saw it slipping away in the last few moments of sprinting glory.
I’ll spare you the dialogue: They rebooked me on the morning flight, in First Class. The young lady then asked me to go to gate A43 to see about hotels. Okay, I thought, I asked for this – so it’s okay.
Turning a Shitty Situation into a Win
I slowly meandered to gate A43 (I was tired from all the running). When I got there, I saw a line of about 7 people in the Sky Priority Line. Not too shabby. Those 7 people took an hour to get through. I am astounded about that, but I wasn’t there to complain. I could have complained – I had certainly earned the right to. Everyone else in line was complaining (and I’ll be honest, I played along with their complaints) the entire time they waited.
But what does an in control person do? They assess their situation, and determine how to make it work for them. That’s what I did. Right before I got up to the agent, they announced that they were out of hotel rooms. The Junior Olympics were in town, and every hotel was sold out. I was then asked up to the counter by the enbittered old lady who seemed to have no patience for anyone. “Play this nice,” thought I.
As I walked up to the gate, I had the following goals:
- Get a hotel room
- Get a meal voucher
- Get flight credit
- If I can, move my flight to Saturday or Sunday, so I can rock a free weekend in Detroit (this is not technically allowed, so it’s a tough one to get)
“Sky Priority?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am,” I responded. I had changed into street clothes in Green Bay, so she had a right to be suspicious. Most frequent fliers tend to wear business clothes and be older than I am. I handed her my boarding pass, drivers license, and Platinum Medallion Card. This shows that I’ve listened to her announcements, am a seasoned traveler because I know exactly what she needs, and I have just made her life easier, because that is one less thing she needs to ask for. This move tells her I know what I’m doing, so we can talk shop.
“I’m actually already re-booked,” I told her, “but the nice young lady at A71 told me to come down here to see about a hotel room,” and as she began to shake her head, I said, “but it sounds like you’re all out of hotels.”
A couple of things going on here. First, I’ve acknowledged that I understand the situation regarding hotels, and that I am not interested in just sitting here and complaining. Second, I’ve found that when a young person calls someone a “nice young lady” [or gentleman], it is instantly disarming, and relatively charming.
“Yeah, every hotel in the area is sold out,” she told me.
“Is that just the Delta rates, or all the rooms? It looked like a few hotels around here had some rooms when I looked”
“Really?” she said. “Well hey, go ahead and call them, and if they’ll take a Delta voucher, come back and I’ll print one up for you.” Now we are friends trying to solve a problem together. I’m willing to do my fair share, and she’s willing to help where she can – we have formed a team.
“Okay, I’ll do that. I know you don’t have any hotels available right now, but would it be possible to get a food voucher? I haven’t eaten since breakfast, and I’m very hungry,” I asked, trying my best at puppy dog eyes (I’m positive I failed at the puppy dog eyes).
“Of course, I’m printing one up for you now. I’ve also assigned a $50 travel voucher to your account, that will be good for the next year.” She said, in a caring…almost motherly tone.
I think I actually began drawing out some motherly instincts in her. “Okay great, I’ll go ahead and call around. Thanks for your help.”
Finding a Place to Sleep that Isn’t an Airport
Well, I called around, and I found a single hotel that had a room for $167. This was only available due to my Platinum status with Marriott, and through the Platinum Reservation Line. They would not take a Delta voucher. I then had a brainstorm.
“I wanted this to happen,” I thought, “so why not make the best of it?” Since I had a place to stay (the place I was living when I lived up here is owned by a friend, and most of my stuff is still there, including a queen sized bed). I just need a rental car!
I looked up rental rates. The cheapest would be $64 for the night. The hotel would be $167. That’s a win for my company.
A quick call to my manager (who would need to approve the expense), and I was set. She was hoping Delta would cover the rental car, but since it was a weather related delay, they are not obligated to cover anything.
But you see, I was determined not just to spend a night in Michigan. I was determined to see family, so I thought some more. “Why don’t I book the evening flight? That way, I can work a full day, and not lose 4 hours out of the work day traveling back to Houston”, I told her. I got an instant go ahead from her, but again she wanted me to try to get Delta to cover the rental car. I called the Platinum Medallion Line (having status really does help with a lot of this). Unfortunately for me, Delta does not cover ground transportation for liability reasons. It makes sense.
Finally, I went up to the agent to have my flight re-booked (again) for the evening.
I waited in line – I was the first of two, and I waited a good half hour – and finally was brought up by an agent. I told her my plans to stay until the evening, and made a single comment in passing, “I mean, I would stay the entire weekend if I could, but I don’t think you guys can do that.”
“I don’t see why I couldn’t book you out on Saturday,” she told me, “I don’t think I’m supposed to, but you’ve been inconvenienced enough.”
“That would be great! Although Sunday would be even better,” I said with a sheepish grin, hoping to get some super special treatment.
“That I can’t do,” she said. I was not surprised at all.
Now, let me make this clear – this is absolutely a violation of their rules. They are supposed to re book you within 24 hours. If I hadn’t earned Platinum Status last year (by flying over 75,000 miles in a year) then I would not have gotten this special treatment. The way she did this without getting in trouble was to write in the comments that I had to move business meetings around, and that Delta was helping to accommodate my inconvenience.
Did you read that last sentence? Because I was nice, and grateful for all of the help I had received, this agent was willing to lie for me, to help accommodate my schedule. Would she be punished for this? Probably not, but she was still breaking the rules for me when she absolutely did not have to.
How to Get What You Want
I could sit here and write out an entire book on this topic. Plenty of people have, in fact. No, I want to leave you with a few quick, easy guidelines for you to use.
- Know what you want ahead of time
- Understand all of the alternatives
- Be nice, and friendly to everyone (especially those who hold the power over your fate)
- Ask for what you want
- Be flexible
Know what you want ahead of time – If you don’t know what you want, then how can you possibly know what to ask for?
Understand all of the alternatives – If your first choice doesn’t work out, you need to know what your new goal is.
Be nice and friendly to everyone – This should be obvious. People want to help those who are nice to them. This is especially true with agents who are yelled at and chewed out all day long.
Ask for what you want – This is easy . You absolutely 100% will not get what you want if you are not willing to ask for it.
Be flexible – If things change up on you, then be willing to change with them.
What is your reward? It’s whatever you wanted. I was able to work all day Friday, then I was able to see my Family on Saturday. It turns out that my Grandma was planning on taking out all of her Grandchildren (except for me and my sister, who don’t live in Detroit any more) for lunch. I was able to walk in to the restaurant they were at on Saturday, and surprise everyone. That is one hell of a reward that would not have happened if I hadn’t worked to make it happen.