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IRROPS is industry jargon for irregular operations, when delays or cancellations force you to be accommodated on another flight.
We’ve had a string of IRROPS flights running back to our last 4 transoceanic itineraries. Some would call that bad luck, but I’m definitely of the attitude that everything happens for a good reason. Some of them worked out better than can be imagined, others are still in the works, but here’s how we handled the IRROPS.
1. Monday, March 2, 2015, USAirways CLE-PHL-TLV:
When USAirways migrated their fare classes to match American’s it released award seats on routes that almost never had awards available. I quickly nabbed 4 business class awards to spend Purim in Israel.
On the day of the flight I always use the airline’s website or flightaware.com to track the inbound segments of flights I’m going to take. Our Cleveland to Philadelphia flight was coming from Charlotte and Louisville before that. In the morning, those were showing on time, but about 5 hours before the flight, the flight from Charlotte to Louisville was delayed for mechanical reasons. I called USAirways, but as they didn’t post a delay yet for the Cleveland to Philadelphia flight there was nothing they could do.
Rather than play the waiting game at home we all packed into the car 4.5 hours before the flight to try our luck at the airport. On the way to the airport I got the automated phone call that the Cleveland to Philadelphia flight would be delayed. We called several USAirways and American agents, but they all said the same thing. As it was a mileage ticket the only thing they were allowed to offer was coach class on another airline or the next available USAirways flight to Tel Aviv in 6 days.
Airport agents always have more power than phone agents, so that’s what we were banking on.
Alas at the airport, the agent repeated the same thing, since we were on award tickets she was only able to rebook us on another airline in coach. Then the agent proceeded to tell me that the flight would be leaving Louisville for Charlotte shortly and would be able to get us to Philadelphia on time. The agent next to her overheard her say that and laughed, saying that there was no way that we would make our connection in Philadelphia.
Time to charm her.
“But we’ve been saving up these miles to fly in business class to Israel for years.”
OK, so it didn’t take me years to earn the miles, but for many years I had indeed been saving and waiting to use the miles to fly USAirways business class to Israel as it was the best seating option from the US to Israel, and I had already flown on Delta and United to Israel in business class. Finding enough business class seats on this flight for the whole family is extremely rare.
After going on a charm offensive she was ready to fight for us. She called her help desk who repeated the same story, but she went to bat for us. They wanted her to find another OneWorld option, but there was nothing that would work out of Cleveland that night. So finally they agreed to move the 4 of us to United. Luckily, we arrived at the airport early as that allowed us to catch United’s flight to Newark.
It’s actually pretty rare for United to have 4 empty business class seats to Tel Aviv just hours before the flight, but luckily for us one of the United flights to Tel Aviv the day before was cancelled, so they operated 3 flights to Tel Aviv on March 2nd. We were in coach to Newark, but got the all aisle access middle business class seats in rows 8 and 9 which were great.
Of course we didn’t have kosher meals, but New Kosher Special delivers $40+ orders to Newark airport free of charge, and they make some of the best Sesame and General Tso chicken around. I double wrapped some in tinfoil and the United flight attendants were more than happy to warm it up for us. BYOK FTW!
United actually found a kosher meal for us for breakfast.
We had some friends booked on our flight from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv and they had plenty of kosher meals due to us not making that flight 😀
We were booked in the middle of row 2 and 3 and they told us there was actually a large dog in row 1 in the middle. At the time Rafi was terrified of dogs, so the United flight actually worked out for the best.
OK, it really worked out for the best as we were booked into paid business class and each earned a boatload of miles:
And I did get to try the USAirways configuration a week later on the return. Much better for solo travelers, but not significantly better for couples. And United’s service was better than USAirways. All a moot point now as American has discontinued that flight for mysterious reasons.
2. Monday, April 27, 2015, United: HNL-MAJ-KWA-KSA-PNI-TKK-GUM-ROR
No need to rehash this one, you can read all about it here. An undocumented dog was brought onto the Island Hopper flight, causing a delay that made us misconnect in Guam.
At first we declared the trip in vain and were rebooked to go home early the next morning in order to get back to our families before Shabbos, as originally planned. But that night I made a phone call to my amazing wife who forbade me from coming home without snorkeling in Palau’s otherworldly Jellyfish Lake, and AJK refused to allow me to experience that without him. After some cajoling, United rebooked us to Palau and allowed a bonus 2 night stopover in Tokyo before flying home on Sunday.
With 25 hours in Guam I got in some great snorkeling at Ypao Beach, with a day in Palau we had the time of our life, and then we spent an amazing Shabbos in Tokyo and a night at the awesome Park Hyatt Tokyo.
United gave us 10K compensation miles and a couple hundred dollars in vouchers for the inconvenience, plus AJK also made out like a bandit with tens of thousands of Aegean miles due to being rebooked in revenue classes. Alas I tried crediting my ANA revenue first class flight to United and wound up with nothing…lesson learned!
3. Wednesday, November 11, 2015, American: CLE-JFK-LHR
The worst flying experience of my life as told here.
I thought we had booked the bargain of the century, $446+30K Avios for business class tickets with 37K Avios rebated after the flight.
Instead it was just a nightmare.
We ran around the airport, from gate to gate, from club to club, and making phone calls trying to get re-accommodated after our American flight was delayed for mechanical reasons, but only Delta had 4 business class seats available that night and American refused to rebook on Delta due to the termination of their interline agreement.
When the lounge agent told us that our best shot at getting to London was running to another American flight and flying in coach, we did just that. Only to learn that first we had to personally go to baggage claim to recheck our bags as American’s policy was that their baggage agents couldn’t do that. The flight doors were closing, so there was no time to do that and we weren’t about to fly to London knowingly leaving our clothes, stroller, diapers, wipes, kids toys, and everything behind.
Back at the lounge the agents told us they confirmed with baggage that they reloaded our bags onto our original flight that was still awaiting a part being flown into LGA and then driven to JFK.
After waiting from 3 pm until after midnight our flight was cancelled. We accepted tickets on British Airways early in morning and turned down hotel vouchers. No point in shlepping to a hotel for a few hours with kids, we’d just get our bags and hang out at the gate. The lounge agents confirmed that our bags would be waiting for us.
They weren’t anywhere to be found.
American’s Twitter team promised me several times that an agent would come help us, but nobody ever showed up. After camping out the night in JFK agents arrived, but they still had no clue where our bags were. Rather than travel to London and arrive before Shabbos with no bags or stroller we opted to declare the trip in vain. American refused to book us on Delta from JFK, so we had to go to LGA to catch a flight home.
Our bags were discovered in Chicago 3 days later and returned to us. I still have no idea why they were sent to Chicago and why that information wasn’t scanned into their system. American reimbursed us for $147 of incidentals spent in the meantime.
An automated email apologized to all of the passengers on the cancelled flight and offered 20K miles each in compensation.
For reasons I don’t understand, we all got credit as if we flew the British Airways flight, despite the AA agent cancelling that ticket. That also triggered half of the transatlantic bonus, meaning we each got another 20K miles.
In the mess, Rafi left his tablet at the gate. Miraculously AA found it and I asked and was promised that it would be sent via Ground. AA sent it custom critical express and I wound up being charged $100 by Fedex. AA refused to reimburse that charge, but promised 10K miles to make up for it, though they have yet to post those miles.
AA refused to allow us to rebook the trip. I filed a DoT complaint but the DoT has been silent.
AAs Twitter team did have a customer service executive reach out to me, but she hasn’t fixed much.
They won’t compensate for anything more than the original 20K miles that all passengers on the flight automatically received. They won’t rebook the trip.
They did promise to work with BA so that I’d get a refund. 3 months later and I haven’t received a refund of the 30K Avios per person used for the tickets. They refunded $1,100 of the $1,784 used for the tickets, though I have no idea why they refunded that amount.
I nag AA’s Twitter team once a week for an update, and all they ever say is that it’s being worked on. Everyone seems completely unempowered to fix a thing.
Over 3 months after the incident I’m no longer holding my breath.
There’s a good reason American captured last place in the Wall Street Journal’s ranking of the airlines. They’ve managed to take the worst of USAirways and American to become a truly bumbling airline, worst overall, worst in cancelled flights, worst in mishandled baggage, a complete embarrassment:
Still trying to find the positive in this one, but I’m sure our families were happy to have us safe at home. The Paris terrorist massacre occurred on the weekend we were supposed to be in Europe.
4. Monday, January 25, 2016, United: CLE-EWR-HNL-LIH:
I nabbed lie-flat business class seats from Newark to Honolulu and back months ago. It’s a bargain award at just 30K Singapore miles or 40K United miles for a flight that’s nearly as long as Newark-Tel Aviv.
Then along came Jonas. I knew it would be bad, I just didn’t know how bad.
But I wasn’t taking any chances. As soon as the monster predictions started coming in I nabbed 4 United Global First class saver award seats from Chicago to Honolulu on Thursday (These are 40K miles via Singapore or 50K miles via United). When I had previously searched this route it was operated with lame recliner seats in business class, but it had been switched to a 3 class international plane with lie-flat first and business classes. The same plane that will operated transcontinental flights over the next few months.
Newark-Honolulu didn’t have 4 seats available for another week after our flight, but I grabbed those as well.
And sure enough, United cancelled our Monday morning flight from Cleveland to Newark. The next available flight they were able to offer in business class was 1.5 weeks later.
Instead, I just had United cancel the flight and I used the backup that I booked. The agent was more than happy to open up award space back to Newark 2 days after our originally booked return flight due to the cancelled flight.
We had flown in Global First to Hawaii 2 years ago with carseats. Unfortunately, United installed shoulder seat belts in Global First in the meantime and the flight attendants would not let us use our carseats with them and downgraded us to business class while making 4 business class passengers very happy. That worked out OK though. United’s business class is an antiquated 2-4-2 configuration with alternate rows facing backwards and forwards. 4 seats aren’t ideal for most people, but it worked out well for our family of 4, probably even better than first class would have been for us. Plus, United refunded the extra 40K miles used for the difference between business and first class and awarded us with 35K miles and $600 in travel vouchers as compensation for being downgraded.
Overall, we were blown away by the service from United and by their excellent new kosher meals that they now serve from Hawaii. But more on that in the trip report…
Have an IRROPS story? Share it in the comments!