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Stressfest…

May 14th, 2008 · 4 Comments

In the airline biz, one of the “perks” we as employees receive is (somewhat) free, space-available non-revenue travel. Provided there are open seats on the aircraft, we (employees and immediate family) have an unlimited ability to travel on our own airline, free of charge. We are also given up to 16 round-trip passes per year as a reward for productivity which we can give to anyone we choose. These are commonly called”buddy passes,” and are subject to the same space-available rules as our unlimited passes.

I’ve accumulated quite a few of the buddy passes in the last three years. And until recently, no one I know has been willing to use them. For that reason, the majority of the passes I’ve earned have expired before being used. But last week, a buddy and his wife and toddler son took several of my passes and made a trip to El Paso where his wife’s family is from.

As employees, we’re able to look fairly closely at projected load factors for any given flight (of our airline’s) we’d like to attempt to travel on. Using that information, I sat down with my buddy about a week-and-a-half and explained the situation to him. When we first looked at the flight bookings, everything looked like it would be a breeze. There were plenty of open seats on both flight legs to El Paso (BUR to PHX and PHX to ELP), and plenty of open seats on the way back as well. But looking again at the flights to El Paso on the day before he was set to travel revealed a different story entirely. A fare-sale had drastically increased bookings to the point where getting to El Paso on a non-revenue pass might be tricky. But my buddy was understanding (as well as well-prepared), and he was ready to head out the next morning to give it a try.

My buddy and his family had never traveled non-revenue before. Even though I had their complete understanding of the majority of the intricacies of traveling on passes, I found myself worrying extensively about their travel day. Non-revenue travel is something that often takes a little bit of getting used to (what with the possibility of getting bumped and having travel plans delayed being rather high), and since they’d never done the non-rev thing before, I was up early the morning of their departure to look ahead at their travel day.

I looked at flight loads, gates, on-time status, flight crews, travel times, alternate routings, and other things. Not that I’d have been able to get any of that information to them unless they were to call with a problem, of course. I just found myself worrying about whether or not they would encounter any difficulties and hoping they’d have a relatively pain-free first non-revenue experience. I found myself stressing out about their travel day MUCH more than I stress out about my own non-revenue travel.

They ended up catching the first flight opportunity out of Burbank through Phoenix to El Paso. They ended up using some frequent-flier credits they’d had to get on that flight (since it was full) instead of using my non-revenue passes, but that was only because of a listing error on my part. I wasn’t aware that they weren’t allowed to make reservations with their frequent-flier rewards as a backup to non-revenue travel. Fortunately (for me), the gate agent there in Burbank was nice enough to explain the conflict to them and allow them to continue.

They’re flying back to Burbank tomorrow, and flight loads couldn’t be better for non-revenue travel. Light passenger loads on every flight. They should have no problem getting home tomorrow on my buddy passes, so no stress for me!

*****

An as-of-yet unconfirmed story heard from a flight attendant this evening on the van to the hotel had one of our airplanes diverting from its original flight plan to land at an airport other than its originally-planned destination. Apparently, a passengers “comfort companion” animal (a monkey, as the story goes) got loose and wreaked some sort of havoc in the cabin.

“Comfort companions” are animals that are brought on board airplanes by people who have notes from their doctors stating that the presence of the animal is required to comfort the animal’s owner. From what I’ve been told, we are forced to honor the doctor’s notes and carry the animals (thanks to the American’s with Disabilities Act and a several crazy lawyers), just as we are required to carry true service animals like seeing-eye dogs. “Comfort companions” are, of course,  very different than “service animals” in that they are typically not given any special training and don’t perform any specific function for the owner (other than to provide “comfort”). Service animals (seeing eye dogs and such) need no notes from doctors.

My observation is that, typically, people get notes from their doctors (friends, most likely) to allow them to carry their pets with them onboard (a practice my airline prohibits) without having to pay to check them as baggage. Yep. Another way to work the system.  I’ve seen comfort animals that run the species gamut, cats to lizards to monkeys. I’ve heard stories of comfort pot-bellied pigs. I’ve heard stories of comfort pigeons. I’ve seen people attempt to pass aggressive-acting pit bulls as comfort animals. I’ve even heard stories of a woman who showed up with a Great Dane and a note from her gynecologist about it being her “comfort companion.”

The crazy stuff you’ll see…

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tom // May 25, 2008 at 3:57 am

    Glen,
    I just flew your airline a few places in the past week (MHT-BWI-SLC-PDX and then PDX-LAS-OMA). The service was typical of your airline: friendly flight attendants, on time departure/arrival, decent service. I always took this for granted because I fly your airline a lot.

    A few days later, I flew UAL to get back to MHT (OMA-ORD-MHT). It was the first time I’ve flown a legacy carrier in a few years. My God – how things have changed. The low cost carriers are now above and beyond better than the legacy carriers in terms of service and value. United charged me $25 for my second checked bag, which I was able to check for free with your airline. Additionally, the employees (including the gate agent and FA’s) were rude and acted like they didn’t care about passengers, the airplane was falling apart inside (a 733), and the inflight service was horrible. Experiences like this make me realize how truly fantastic your airline is.

  • 2 gcalvin // May 25, 2008 at 5:03 am

    Thanks for flying my airline! I’m glad you had a good experience with us!

  • 3 moe // May 29, 2008 at 5:33 am

    Would a loyal blog-reader be eligible for any of those expiring buddy passes? :)

    I’ve always had a great experience with your airline’s gate agents in Burbank. They’ve always been super helpful.

    Nice lookin’ Illinois plane, by the way!

  • 4 gcalvin // May 29, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Thanks for the nice words, Moe. My company has a great group of people at the BUR station, I think.

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