How to Get on a Plane That's Been Locked Out

August 12 2017, 3:35pm

A few months ago on a flight to LA, I encountered the challenges of living in a world guided by computerized systems. Long story short, because my current flight was delayed, I was rebooked on an earlier flight but for the same flight number the next day.

Delayed night flight

Tensions were already high as flights had been bumped by Flight Control back some 3+ hours. Now at the gate, operators were unable to bypass the system as the computer couldn't apply changes after a flight's scheduled departure. It was an hour after the scheduled departure time though the delayed departure time was still two hours away.

I ended up getting on that flight, but how?

There were other passengers that encountered a similar error. I closely followed what some of the more vocal ones were doing.

A duo led the effort to board the plane. First they wanted to know if there were more seats on the earlier delayed flight—there were. Then they wanted to get on the plane by fixing the error in the system—this proved more difficult due to the aforementioned problem of operators being locked out.

After hearing from the first operator that they couldn't, this might have been the end of the story, but they proceeded to wait at the entrance to the fate to talk with the fate operator to get on the plane. This new person held the plane as he tried to figure out if they could make this change—they couldn't, but maybe a supervisor could.

At this moment, there were around six people working together to get on the plane. One went to get a supervisor while another approached yet a new operator.

Though a strange turn of events, an operator figured out how to hack the system. She thought she could make the change happen, but it would take time. Another operator implored that passengers would only be boarded if they got into line. I got in line along with the rest. Eventually the rest moved back to the front of the line as order turned to chaos and people were reissued boarding passes.

14 available passes turned to 12, then 9, 9 to 7, then 6, 5 to 2...

I was at the front of the line when I was told that the last pass had been issued.

No less than a minute later, a light attendant ran out to inform the operators that there were four more spaces. The operator that previously apologized to me for not being able to seat me, took my ID and quickly reissued the boarding pass. I was on my way to LA after a crazy debacle.

This episode highlighted a couple of things for me. First, the squeaky wheel really does get the oil. Annoyed passengers would go from employee to employee not satisfied with the answer no. Second, it underlines the power of playing dumb. Knowing very well what others had said was only relevant if it served to further the distressed narrative. "But he said" or "She said" were common beginnings to this sentiment. Third, working with others and finding allies can be a strong asset in terms of getting what you want. The plane probably wouldn't have been held if it was a person or two in isolation.

Knowing all of this, I would seriously consider against using these strategies though. Especially today, sometimes computer systems really aren't foolproof. They can only be created so well as the people making them and even then, sometimes it's hard to predict cases like this.

What are your thoughts on this? What would you have done?