My United Strategy Success with Chicago’s Air Traffic Logjam Today

My real United strategy should be to not fly United as I don’t think I’ve had an on-time domestic flight this year. But as I am going to maintain at least Platinum for 2015, yesterday I found myself checking in for my Friday morning Newark-Chicago flight, needing to get in by midday due to work commitments and upcoming lectures at Frequent Traveler University.

United EWR-ORD Delays 26Sep14 original

Normally I would follow the earliest flight possible strategy. Lately, I have gone from being oblivious about aircraft type to paying more attention. I noticed the 10:00 am scheduled departure was on a big 767 while the other flights were all on much smaller aircraft. I moved to it thinking I could get a better seat, an outside chance at an upgrade, and hopefully better chance at not being canceled.

10 minutes later, and this is 23 hours before the flight, the flight canceled and my reservation disappeared from United’s website. First 1K agent had no clue, 2nd contacted the airport and found the flight was moved back 5 minutes and assigned a new flight number. No, she couldn’t do any seat assignment. About 6 hours later the reservation returned to my account and I was able to pick a seat and check in.

This morning I reached EWR with a notice my flight had been pushed back 90 minutes. The 7:40 had not taken off and all the others were canceled. I thought it was just another United day, however friends altered me to the ground stop at O’Hare due to a fire at a FAA facility in Aurora, IL.

Minutes later, to my great delight, the flight whipsawed back to ‘on time.’ United stuffed as many passengers as they could on the 767, probably needing the plane in ORD more than any desire to deliver customers, and we got out not terribly late, in the end arriving only 20 minutes behind schedule. And I got to see fascinating documentary of art and obsession, Tim’s Vermeer on the 767’s AVOD.

Lesson: all things being equal, choose the big plane!

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