It should normally take about three and a half hours to fly from Austin to NYC. On Monday, it took me about thirteen hours. But I really can’t complain. It was kind of awesome.
Around 6:30 on Monday morning, my lady frousins and I arrived at the airport for our 8 am flights. When I used the self check-in machine, I saw a notice asking if I wanted to volunteer to take another flight. I didn’t say yes immediately, because I’ve previously heard the flight voucher value rising as it got closer to takeoff time, though it had never before been a good opportunity for me. This time, I was on a different flight back than my frousins and I didn’t have anything to do when I got home except start “Making a Murderer” on Netflix.
When I arrived at the gate, I got into a line of folks trying to get on the flight because an earlier flight to Newark had been cancelled. At my turn, I mentioned I might be interested in volunteering to be bumped for the right price. The gate agent asked me what the right price would be, and I didn’t know what to say, so I just did what one of the murals in Austin told me to do, even though it was early in the morning for me:
The gate agent said, “Look, I usually start at $600, but I need 4 seats, so I’ll start at $800.” Considering I paid $500 round-trip to Austin, and I’d heard my frousins’ airline was offering $200 for their volunteers, this seemed like the right price to me. The gate agent said I would get back to New York around 5:30 after connecting in Atlanta. Five additional hours for $800 in flights? Yes, please.
The gentleman behind me had also volunteered. There was an announcement for the other two seats, but they would be getting in at 10 after connecting in Detroit. I was glad I’d volunteered early because 10 PM seemed too late for a Sunday after a long weekend.
It took a while for the flight to board and the last passengers, a dad with his young son, profusely thanked me for giving up my seat without knowing how much I was actually lucking out from this deal. But when I was being issued my new boarding pass, it turned out that the Atlanta flight was delayed and that I would have missed the NYC connection. So now I was going to have to switch to a Minneapolis connection, getting into JFK at 10. Yikes.
The gate agent said we’d be able to negotiate the flight voucher value but also offered they could go back on the plane and find someone else if we couldn’t get to NYC that late. I didn’t know how much room there would be for negotiation, but I took the risk and we proceeded. It paid off. I was offered $400 more for a total flight voucher of $1200. It wasn’t so much of a “negotiation” as it was a “Um yea, that sounds great.”
I didn’t have the best travel luck the rest of the day. When we got to Minneapolis, I was excited to switch to an earlier flight getting into LGA that had been a little delayed, but then it was way delayed. We boarded that flight, now getting in at 8:30, and I was upgraded to first class so all seemed to be coming up roses. I already had a plastic cup of red wine in my hand when we noticed that the bathroom was leaking some sort of fluid all over the floor. We were told that the fluid had leaked into the electric panels and, since we were in Minneapolis, had started to freeze. We had to get off the plane, wait for a different plane without bathroom liquid all over the place, and reboard.
As soon as we got off the first plane, I called the airline to see if I could switch (again) to another flight but there was nothing available. I expressed my disappointment since I’d been through a lot already that day and the customer service team gave me another $100 worth in airline miles. I must have taken advice on my attitude from another Austin mural:
I arrived home 10 hours later than I’d originally planned, but I’d also come home with $1300 in flights. All I had to do for that was hang out in an extra airport and two extra airplanes with three New York Magazines, a new book, a Cinnabon, and a Salt Lick brisket breakfast burrito. So the answer is, if you’re on your way back from a trip, don’t have plans that day, frequently fly that airline anyway, and are traveling solo or with someone else who also can take advantage of it, YES, you should absolutely take the risk and volunteer your seat!
Now where should I travel to with my flight vouchers? I have about 1,300 ideas.