Thursday, November 17, 2005

Membership has its Privileges

Flew up and back to San Jose today to attend the Executive Committee meeting of the Junior Statesmen Foundation in San Mateo this afternoon.

The meeting ran a little long, traffic was terrible and the car rental shuttle was unbelievably slow -- so I was cutting it really close catching my 8:00 p.m. flight home (the last United flight of the night to LAX).

In fact, I got to the check-in counter only 25 minutes before my flight was departing. I tried to check-in via the automated machine, but I was past the 30 minute cut-off so it wouldn't let me.

There were about five of us trying to make the same flight standing around one beleaguered ticket agent. When another agent came out from the back office I said with the biggest smile I could muster and my thumbs hidden behind my palms, "I'm a 1K trying to make the 8:00 flight to LAX."

(A few years ago I read about a study that showed humans, for evolutionary reasons, take pity on and try to help other humans without thumbs. So now whenever I'm at the mercy of someone in authority I instinctively hide my thumbs.)

("1K" is United's top level of frequent flyers, which I earned by flying more than 100 flights on United last year.)

The agent disappeared to the back office and then came out and got on the phone to the gate to see if she could still send passengers to catch the flight.

The guy standing next to me said, "I'm a 1K too, but I don't think it matters."

I said to him, "It might not matter enough tonight, but I've had plenty of times when it mattered."

After getting the green light from the departure gate the agent looked past a couple of guys right in front of her and asked for my last name and started to get me a boarding pass. One of the guys muttered, "We were here first." And the agent responded, "And you're next, but he's a 1K." Sweeter words have never been heard by my ears.

Within moments I had my boarding pass and was off to clear security -- which surprisingly wasn't too bad for Mineta San Jose Airport.

While all of this jockeying had been going on to get the attention of the ticket agent, another traveler decided to call the 800 reservations center to demand they allow him to board (rather than throwing himself on the mercy of the live agents at the airport). Huge strategic mistake! As I was leaving the check-in counter (boarding pass in hand) I heard him sputtering something over the phone about how much he needed to get on the flight.

After I was seated on the plane, the other 1K flyer came on board and sat in the row in front of me. The first thing he said to me was, "You're right, it mattered." I asked if others had been left behind and he said, "Oh, yeah." And then I asked if the guy who had gone the telephone route got on board and he said, "No, and he wasn't very happy about it."

I bet not.

Too bad I'm in danger of losing my 1K status next March for not flying enough this year. At least it was fun while it lasted.

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