A Multi-Flight Mix-Up — Reader Mistake Story

Jan 23, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how your trip went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made it right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Recently, I posted a story from Drew, who lost all the points in his account after canceling one of his credit cards. Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Sonja, who missed a flight after she misunderstood a gate change announcement. Here’s what she had to say:

Mishearing an announcement caused Sonja to miss her flight. Image courtesy of Frederic J. Brown via Getty Images.

For years, we’ve been flying Southwest on a regular basis from San Jose to San Diego to visit friends and relatives. Before the San Jose airport expanded, the gates were always really crowded and noisy, especially on Friday nights.

On one such night, we got to the airport, checked our luggage and passed through security. As we came out of security, we heard an announcement that the flight to San Diego was delayed and the gate had been changed. We saw a crowd of people moving and followed them to the new gate.

We waited about an hour before the plane started boarding. When we got to the door, the agent scanned our tickets and the machine made a funny noise, as if to say ‘nope, this ticket is no good.’ The agent then looked more closely and pointed out that our tickets weren’t for the flight boarding at that gate — the flight numbers didn’t match. Instead, our tickets were for a different flight to San Diego that had already left! 

We just assumed that the gate change was our flight when we heard the announcement; we never actually checked our tickets or the flight number at the gate. They probably paged us, but the airport was so mobbed and noisy we never heard it. Worse yet, the flight we were trying to board was full.

Luckily, the Southwest agents were sympathetic. They changed our flight and we were able to fly out the next morning, so we still had plenty of time for a great trip to San Diego. Ever since then, I look carefully at the flight number on my ticket and make sure it matches the number at the gate. That will NOT happen to me again!

Many airlines operate multiple flights along a single route with similar departure times. Southwest often has as many as 11 daily flights from San Jose to San Diego, but that’s far from an extreme example. Qantas sometimes operates over 40 daily flights from Sydney to Melbourne (and vice versa), with many departures separated by just 15 minutes! In that climate, it would be easy to mistake one flight announcement for another, especially in a chaotic airport terminal.

Fortunately, it’s also easy to avoid such a mistake by knowing your flight number. Even if you don’t memorize it, you can cross-check gate announcements and other information with the flight number on your boarding pass. Keep in mind that a single flight may be associated with more than one flight number, and gate agents might not mention all of them when making announcements. If you’re on a codeshare or a flight that offers continuing service, it helps to know the other relevant flight numbers so you can keep track of updates even if yours isn’t called.

Southwest does have a flexible change and cancellation policy, but Sonja is fortunate that this mistake didn’t take place more recently. The airline revised its no-show policy in 2013, and passengers who fail to board a flight (on a paid Wanna Get Away fare) may forfeit their entire reservation, including any remaining flights. Southwest agents may be lenient if you miss a flight due to an honest mistake, but you’ll be at their mercy.

Southwest Rapid Rewards points can be very useful, especially if you earn the companion pass.
Sonja was fortunate that she didn’t run into Southwest’s no-show policy.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Sonja for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on her travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image courtesy of kasto80 via Getty Images.

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