The Consummate Traveler: Waitlist Woes

January 8, 2015 Updated: January 8, 2015

Have you ever felt the euphoria of clearing an airline waitlist and either getting a seat upgrade or a better flight? I certainly have, and it is undeniable that when these magic stars align, it can make you feel like you have just won the lottery. However, a colleague of mine recently shared a “waitlist gone wild” experience he had when flying from New York to Shanghai that left me speechless.

My colleague was on his way to Shanghai for some important meetings and was taking a typical flight route from New York that had a connection through Chicago. Due to bad weather, his flight from Chicago to Shanghai was canceled. He then proceeded to the ticket counter and managed to get the last seat on a flight later that day that would allow him to keep on schedule and make his meetings. The only twist was that this seat was in coach and he would be waitlisted for business class.

Just when you think you may have won the waitlist victory it is a good idea not to celebrate too soon

Minutes before the flight started to board, my colleague was told that he was cleared for the business class seat. As you can imagine, he trotted onto the jet way in sheer bliss after the priority boarding began. After stowing away his bags, putting on the comfy slippers, reading through the dinner menu, and sipping champagne, the most unanticipated thing happened. The gate agent came onboard with another passenger behind him and stared at my colleague with a concerned glare.

The agent apologetically told my colleague that the passenger who had been confirmed in the seat he was occupying had just arrived so he had to pack up and move back to coach. You can imagine the embarrassment this caused. Off came his slippers, away went his champagne flute, and out came his bags from the overhead compartment. Reluctantly, my colleague took his middle seat in the first row of coach and got ready for the long flight ahead. What made matters worse was that his seat was perfectly angled so that he could see through the curtain and watch the entire dinner service unfold in the business class cabin during his journey.

The moral of this story is to make you aware of the fact that just when you think you may have won the waitlist victory, it is a good idea not to celebrate too soon. The next time you find yourself in the situation of being waitlisted and then cleared for an upgraded seat, do some homework first before popping the champagne cork. My advice is to ask an agent to confirm whether or not the passenger whose seat you are occupying has checked in at the airport or not. If they have, do not get too cozy in your seat until you are up in the air.

As always, I wish you all the happiest of travels!