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Thankfully in my life I have not had to deal with too many air travel delays. I am a “planner”, so I am always leaving myself lots of buffer time where possible on most of my trips. (SEE ALSO: I’m wasting DAYS of my life in airports!)

This morning I was scheduled to fly from Cincinnati to Salt Lake City on American Airlines via Dallas (DFW). I did a 2 year mission for my church in the Dominican Republic 20 years ago and today they are having a 20 year reunion. I have not seen nearly all of the other folks I served with since I returned back to the US in 1997. My flight was scheduled to leave CVG at 8:00 a.m. and have a 90 minute layover in Dallas (helllllllo Centurion Lounge!) before connecting on to Salt Lake City.

Arriving to the airport and the gate

I arrived in plenty of time to the airport. Because my wife is actually picking me up in Indianapolis tomorrow to attend a friend’s wedding, we decided that she would drive me to the airport, and I got there and through security by about 7 a.m.

I spent 30 minutes at The Club CVG lounge (Thanks American Express Platinum Priority Pass benefit!) and then went to the gate to board. Boarding went fine and we heard the safety announcements and started taxiing to the runway

And then…. problems

I could tell right away that something didn’t sound right with the engines. For lack of a better word (and I am clearly no av-geek), it sounded like the pilot kept “revving” the engines. I didn’t know if he was trying to debug what was going wrong, or if what he was doing was an attempt to get the system to clear the problem and fix itself. In any case, it was no surprise to me when we turned around and headed back to the gate.

Preparing for IRROPS

Irregular Operations or IRROPS is airline speak for when things go wrong (like this). I have been in situations like this before, like when my Aer Lingus business class flight from Boston to Dublin was canceled, so I know a few tricks

(SEE ALSO: 5 things I did right when my flight was canceled)

(SEE ALSO: 3 mistakes I made when my flight was canceled)

Plus, since this was a US domestic flight, I knew that the airline would try to re-accommodate me but was under no obligation. For my Boston-Dublin flight I was entitled to EU261 compensation, which was why Aer Lingus (eventually!) sent me a check for $1306.

I couldn’t tell right away what was wrong with this plane of course, or how long it would take to fix and get us flying again, so I got ready. As we returned to the gate, I unbuckled my seatbelt, put my phone and other belongings back in my pocket and got my laptop bag out from under the seat. Thankfully because this is such a short trip, not only did I not have a checked bag I did not even have a carry on (just my laptop bag), so as soon as the flight attendant announced that we were going to de-plane, I shot up from my aisle seat (yet another reason I’m now an aisle seat guy). Even though I was in seat 17D, because I was prepared, I had cleared 10 rows by the time anyone else had even started getting out of their seats! That led me to be 3rd in a line to talk to the gate agent about being rebooked that eventually grew to 20+ people

Securing another flight

There was only one gate agent and the lady at the front of the line seemed to have a very complicated itinerary and did not like any of the options the agent was giving her. Another agent joined and started passing out cards with an AA help desk number. This number appeared to be specifically for people in airports to call. She did not give me a card (I assume because I was so close to the front of the line), but after awhile and the 2 people in front of me occupying the 2 gate agents for what felt like forever, I called and my call was answered right away.

Another good thing that I had done was that while on the plane (as we were taxiing back to the gate), I had researched my other options to get me to Salt Lake City. I knew there was a flight leaving CVG to Chicago O’Hare at 8:49 a.m. (in about 25 minutes at this point). I fed that flight to the phone agent and he was able to reserve space for me on both the CVG-ORD and ORD-SLC legs relatively painlessly

One tip – start your alternative flight search with flights on the same or partner airlines. While I was waiting to deplane, I overheard a few people talking about walking down to the Delta desk and one person talking about a flight on ALASKA Airlines (umm Alaska doesn’t even fly out of CVG)

Another tip – brush up on your phonetic alphabet (Alpha / Bravo / Zulu / etc). I know a majority of the letters but in the moment I can never seem to think of them (either that or I always have record locators that have the letters I don’t know 😀 )

Sprinting through the airport

I knew I didn’t have a ton of time and I was not sure how full this flight to Chicago would be or how many “refugees” from the Dallas flight would be trying to get on. So I ran from one gate to the other. I mean I don’t want you to get the impression that this was any great feat of athleticism – CVG is not that big and it was only from Gate A15 to A9, but in situations like this, every second might count.

When I got to the gate for Chicago, they were still boarding, and the agent directed me to wait until she had scanned the boarding passes of the original passengers on the flight. When I gave her my record locator and original boarding pass, she said something was “wrong” and the ticket “hadn’t been reissued properly”. By then another gentleman from my original flight had come by and he had the same problem. For some reason, she started working on his ticket first, and I called back the AA help phone number. The lady I spoke to on the phone loooked at my ticket and said that I had space reserved on the flight but an airport gate agent was going to have to make the ticket changes. I kept her on the phone while I waited (she said she couldn’t do anything for me but would stay on the line for “emotional support” 😀 ) – I mostly wanted her just in case something went wrong with this flight and I had to find a rebooking option AGAIN!

After a brief delay, the agent processed my ticket, handed me my boarding pass(es) and I was off to Salt Lake City … again

How about you? What’s your best airport sprinting story? Leave it in the comments


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