Thursday, January 03, 2013

Thanksgiving in Ireland: UAL 959: LHR-ORD (United Economy)

We had 20 minutes to transfer at Heathrow.  We boarded the transfer bus at 15h05. I was quite confident we would not make the connection - so confident I had texted a couple of friends in London requesting that they clear their calendars so we could have dinner.  MS was very nervous about missing our connection as he had a big day at work the next day.

We wait on the transfer bus for the Aer Lingus A320 to empty out.  Everyone on the bus had a tight connection.  Only one had a tighter connection than us - the flight to Brussels left at 15h15.  A mother and son were also connecting to Chicago - they were not seasoned travelers and were extremely nervous.  The Aer Lingus ground crew came up to the bus and said the folks going to Chicago would not make their flight and if anyone else thought they were going to misconnect we should just go with them now (get off the transfer bus and go to the Aer Lingus customer service desk).  There was no way in hell I was going to let Aer Lingus try to reconnect me - get me to United and let them fix this problem.  The mother/son travelers asked why we weren't going with the customer service folks.  After a brief explanation they asked if we could help guide them through Heathrow (as we were old hats here and they had never been). I, of course, agree and just demand that they run with us. I promise that if they run with us, I will hold the plane for them -- they just must try to run with us.

Our bus drops us off at the Terminal 1 transfer area. We run. We run with our briefcases only as Aer Lingus made us check our 20" rollers.  We snake up the stairs around the corner, down the stairs, up the stairs, around a round about - I never realized how much Heathrow reminds me of that crazy MC Escher drawing "House of Stairs".  Aer Lingus told us we would not have to go through security again - we weren't buying that big bag of bullshit - of course we need to reclear security...and we did.

As I round the corner to security, I see 15 or so people in the security line...then I hear my name being called, not over a loud speaker, but by a man in a United uniform.  It is now 15h12. He yells that everyone in line for security should take one big step back so we can get through. Security takes no time - and the mother/son duo were immediately on our heels, out of breath, but there.

Post security, our new friend (United Rep) says "If you run, we MAY make the flight. You MUST RUN". So we do.  We run. After a few minutes more we find a woman with a golf cart and he commandeers it and we tear off to the gate -- the cart goes just slightly slower than our run.  Our new friend calls ahead to the gate with our names and instructs them to hold the plane and reprint boarding passes. I think we are going to make it!

Wait--reprint our boarding passes? I have aisle seat, exit row.  If I am now flying middle seat, I am not going.  We arrive at the gate and we all have seats. Mother/Son duo are sitting together in Economy. MS and I are in aisle seats (not exit row).  We are going home!  MS is happy, I am a bit disappointed (I wanted dinner in London). I am also the most impressed I have ever been with United.

Carrier: United Airlines (LHR-ORD)

Flight #: 959
Seat: 26J
Departure: November 25, 2012 -  15h25 / 15h30
Arrival: November 25, 2012 - 18h35 / 18h05
Travel Time: 9 hours 10 minutes / 8 hours 35 minutes
Flight Miles: 3,953

As I board I see a man sitting in my assigned seat. I ask him to move. His response: "I prefer to sit on the aisle."  I tell him that I do too and ask him again to take his assigned seat.  I never say another word to this man. He spends the next 8 hours rolling cigarettes and drinking sparkling wine.

I ended up spending 3-4 hours of the flight in the back galley chatting with the stews, who are legacy United employees and were HORRIFIED when I said I have been on multiple flights this year and hear the pilot or the Stews announce they are a "proud Continental crew." These folks should be horrified. This crew was by far the best crew I have had on a flight in years.  I wish I could be on a flight with them each day.

We land early. I decide that once we clear customs we should just go to lost luggage and file our claim. Hell, we barely made the flight. There is no way our luggage is anywhere close to the US now.  But knowing the push back we'd receive we decide to wait it out.  We chat with the mother/son duo (who were VERY appreciative of our help).  I see my bag out of the corner of my eye.  Holy crap - our luggage made the transfer?  There is MS' bag...and the mother/son duo's bags.  Impossible.

United did good by us. This is why I fly United.  Amazing service today. Great customer service. Great Ground Crew. Amazing Stews.  Nicely done United. Nicely done.

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