Standby Status Leaves Travelers in a Lurch

January 25, 2015

in Odds & Ends Stories

Dear American Airlines: To whom it may or may not concern,

Are you the least compassionate airline in the United States??

Let me tell you about my weekend:

We booked a trip to Florida with American Airlines for Friday, January 16, 2015 returning Sunday, January 18, 2015. We were going to my father’s memorial, and did not want to drive fifteen hours to Orlando from Indiana, so we paid the $580 per person ticket price and started packing. I booked three round trip tickets on Travelocity, picked my seats for all four legs of the journey, and printed my itinerary. The first line on the itinerary reads, “Your reservation is booked and confirmed, there is no need to reconfirm this reservation.”

THE TRIP TO ORLANDO

We left the house at 5 am and headed to the airport, checked in and got our tickets all the way to Orlando. When we landed in Chicago we went to the departures board and there was only one flight to Orlando listed at 12:55 – somehow we got it into our heads that this was our flight since it was the only one listed. GRANTED this next part was totally our fault!! We walked around the airport a little and looked at the departures again and there was another flight listed leaving at 10:50. I went up to the desk, showed the attendant our tickets, and asked if there were any spots left on this flight. If we could take it now, we could get to Orlando a little earlier (WE WERE BOOKED ON THIS FLIGHT!!). The attendant told me no, the flight was completely booked, so we wandered some more (not realizing that we were supposed to be on that flight).

(10:30 am) I heard my name come across the intercom to report to gate XX and thought, oh good they had an opening; we are going to get on early. I ran FULL SPEED to the gate expecting to be told we were getting on the flight, only to be told that they had just given our seats away. The attendant asked me why I did not look at the time on my ticket instead of on the screen. I had no answer except that the whole day was just beginning. She even said she thought the name sounded familiar because she had just talked to me about an hour before. I told her we HAD to get to Florida, we were going to my dad’s funeral, SO what did we need to do to make sure we got on a flight??? She replied, “We will roll you over as standby on the next flight and you will have to hope you get on.” I asked if we couldn’t be booked on another flight, and she said, “No, all the flights for the rest of the day are already full, and you are no longer considered passengers since you missed the flight at no fault of ours.” We were now considered standby.

(12:55) Sitting at the gate waiting, we are 1, 2 and 3 on the standby list. The flight loaded, so I went up to the counter to see if we were going to get on. The one attendant pointed at something on the counter and said these people get on first, the other attendant said no they don’t, and the first attendant looked at me and said to back away from the counter and if we made the flight they would call our names. Apparently the people on the list had priority over us, because our names were not the ones called to board.

(2:56) Sitting at the gate again waiting, we are 1, 2 and 3 on the standby list. This time I went up to the counter before loading and explained that we were going to a funeral and said if there was any way we could get on the flight we would appreciate it. A man walked up and said he would take the jump seat if there would be room for him and his four friends. Now I have to assume jump seat means either a pilot or flight attendant?? May be wrong. The flight loads, the attendant calls him up and tells him he is not eligible for the jump seat, but he and his four friends then proceed to board and we are once again left on rollover.

(4:26) At the gate again, now anxiously waiting, and no they will not make me cry!! We are still 1, 2 and 3 on the standby list. For this flight, they begin to ask people to give up their seats for $500 vouchers and a guaranteed seat on the 7:55 flight that they could not book us on at 10:30 because it was full; they needed four people. I walked up to the agent, offered to give up my standby for no voucher, just for a guaranteed seat on the 7:55 flight. I was again told standby is not considered a passenger. As you guessed no, we did not get on that flight either.

(7:55) Last flight of the night; our last chance. At the gate again waiting, we are 1, 2 and 3 on the standby list again. Thinking about renting a car and driving home because we are not going to get on this flight either. After the plane boarded, they had two seats if we were willing to split up, and maybe a third. They were waiting on someone who was supposedly running to get to the gate on time. (Before this last flight, they never even asked us if we would be willing to go one at a time.) They gave my son and me the two tickets and a minute later gave my husband the third. We went to board the plane and heard the poor man arrive at the desk, to be told that they were sorry but they had given his ticket away. We felt really, really bad for him because he was going to be stuck overnight, but not bad enough to get off the plane.

We arrived in Orlando at 11 pm-ish instead of 2:26, but we were there, we did not miss the memorial service.

OH BUT NOW WE HAVE TO GO HOME (IT GETS BETTER)

We left extra early so we would have no problems on the return trip. I had tried to print the boarding passes the night before and it would not let me. We returned our rental at 5:30 am, had a 6:40 flight, no baggage to check – we were feeling good. Went inside, got to the kiosk and it said error when I tried to check in, so instead of using my itinerary number I tried my credit card. I pulled up the reservation, it said error see an agent. We went to the desk and waited for an agent (maybe 10 minutes); she put in some numbers and said for me to finish it out through the kiosk. It came back error. She then proceeded to tell us the check in for our flight had closed 2 minutes ago. Two MINUTES and there was nothing she could do for us. Oh my Gosh!!! NOT STANDBY!!

My husband came unglued. I was telling him to walk away because the airline gods had our fate in their hands, and he was not helping the situation. This agent would decide whether we got home or not. She did not want to hear a word I said. We had no luggage, we can do this, and there is still plenty of time.

A manager came out and explained that the cut off to check in was 45 minutes and we did not meet that time. He was going to reroute us, but if my husband said another word, he would not put us on any flight that day. I got my husband to walk away, apologized to the manager, and explained we had just come from a funeral and we had a long weekend and our trip was not going well. (I DID NOT WANT TO BE ON STANDBY AGAIN!!!) He got us on another flight that left Orlando to Chicago to Evansville, and instead of arriving in Evansville at 10:29 am, we arrived at 6:45 pm. Total time spent going 18 hours; total time spent coming home 15 hours. We should have just driven!!

THANK YOU AMERICAN AIRLINES FOR GETTING US TO FLORIDA AND BACK ALIVE, BUT THAT IS ALL I WILL THANK YOU FOR. YOUR ATTENDANTS WERE RUDE AND UNCARING, YOUR AIRLINE WAS NOT AT ALL HELPFUL IN MAKING US PASSENGERS AGAIN INSTEAD OF WAITERS, AND I AM SURE THAT NOT A SINGLE FLIGHT LEFT WITH MY $580 PAID FOR AND CONFIRMED THREE SEATS EMPTY.

– Wendy L. Davis

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

RJ January 26, 2015 at 6:23 am

I’m very sorry about your Dad. I truly am. Im sorry you had to experience all that on top of traveling for a somber occassion. But you cannot blame American at all for this. I can understand that in a time of great stress your attention to detail was lacking but American did not keep you from boarding the correct flight you did that yourself. On the return American did not make you late for check in.. you did that yourself. Don’t get me wrong I think companies should be compassionate but it sounds like they were by putting you atop the standby list.

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Guest January 26, 2015 at 9:22 am

RJ, the OP stated the issue on the way to Orlando was their own fault. However, they did try to check in on time for the return flight. Had an agent not taken 10 minutes to be available to help them, they wouldn't have missed the check in by 2 minutes!

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chode January 28, 2015 at 12:38 pm

no they should have arrived earlier anticipating trouble.

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Rdelrigo August 23, 2016 at 5:48 am

Have you never had to return a rental car early in the morning? I'm sure they got there as early as the could. I've been in a similar situation where the rental agency (and airport) doesn't even open until 5:30am. So what exactly are they supposed to do?

I was flying out of San Diego and had a 6:30 flight. The car rental agency didn't open until 5:30. I was there waiting at 5:15. The agency was so slow and only had one single staff member for many people. I barely made my flight in time. The thing that saved me was the fact that I had already checked in and printed out boarding passes the night before. Here the OP tried but there was apparently a tech issue (american's fault) through no fault of her own.

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Rdelrigo August 23, 2016 at 5:55 am

I also wanted to add that it was a major rental agency right near the airport (there are no in terminal rental cars at San Diego-you have to take a shuttle). Also we were in line with the vehicle out on the street (the gates to the agency are locked until opening) but the agent kept skipping us for people who came later. Let's just say we aren't the only ones who were close to missing our flight.

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Stef September 24, 2016 at 12:08 pm

I hate self righteous people.

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Bethany January 26, 2015 at 9:25 am

I'm sorry, but it seems like everything was your fault… You missed your original flight to Orlando because you didn't look at your tickets to see what flight you were really on and you didn't leave yourself enough time to check in in the morning of your return. You should always plan to be at the airport at the counter checking in at least 1:30 before your flight time.

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Jim Smythee January 26, 2015 at 9:42 am

Really sorry here, but missing the flight out of Chicago to Florida was YOUR fault. They put you in Stand-by and you finally did get there that day. On the return flight, you needed to be at the airport 90+ minutes before the flight. Not an hour before and you know what? You cut it too closely. And when your husband came "unglued"? He needed to walk away. I think it was a lot more than "unglued." He probably cursed at the airline employee and made scene.

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Wendy Davis January 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

We did cut it closer than we thought we had, but 90 plus minutes?? Really?? It doesn't take that long to check in and get through security in this technological age. We should have been on that return flight!! We made it through security in less than 10 minutes – allowing us 30 plus minutes to sit at the gate for the original flight. And I did make it clear the flight out was our fault, but we could have been booked on another flight instead of left in waiting. This was more my point, I don't think any other industry takes your money as a non refundable fee for a service they then do not HAVE to supply. And what about the poor man who ran up to the desk just as we "took" his ticket?? He was stuck overnight.

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Zombie January 26, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Do you show up late to the theater and ask them to restart the movie? That's exactly what showing up late ot the airport is — the security theater needs its 90 minutes for its performance.

I've long learned a bunch of rules for flying: Never book a connection in the third world is one of them — and air travel in the United States is now on par with third world air travel. If booking a connection is unavoidable — do not book it in a city where snow is more than 10% possible (never book Chicago/Minneapolis/Detroit, etc, in winter.) Never trust airline recommended connection times. Check sites like flightstats.com to see what the on-time performance is for the flight and the route.

Very often, in the United States, driving is a better option. Naturally, it depends on the actual point of origin and destination, but when you figure time to and from airports, short flights make little sense. If the United States had a proper, first-world train system, then flights would be restricted to long distance travel — reducing the stress on the system. Of course, that would require some investment in infrastructure….

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Wendy Davis January 26, 2015 at 1:48 pm

But.. you don't have to arrive at the theater 90 minutes before the show starts

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Zombie January 26, 2015 at 3:16 pm

TSA is the security theater that needs the 90 minutes to perform. All before the flight departs. Hence you must arrive 90 minutes before departure.

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Ron January 29, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Your disbelief that you have to arrive at the airport 1.30 ahead of time is your primary issue here. Yes indeed: It DOES take that long, between longer check in lines with packed flights, and security lines that take longer and are longer than ever. Your inexperience or lack of willingness to acknowledge the realities of modern air travel led to your issues. I'm no fan of American, but I've never had an issue with a missed flight (at least not one where I wasn't at fault).

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Craig February 15, 2015 at 2:10 am

The reality today is miss your scheduled flight for any reason and the probability of a significant arrival delay is virtually assured. The slight control a customer has is to arrive quite early prior to departure time. After that its up to the airline and their performance. Unlike the old days today's high load factors do not ensure a seat on the next departure to ones destination.

CMR March 22, 2015 at 9:44 am

Bottom line. Show up to the check-in desks 90 minutes prior to your flight. Period. Get whatever else you need to get done prior to that so you can meet that 90 minute mark, including dropping off rental cars. In this day and age, you can check traffic, weather, flight statuses all on your phone, so making it to the airport 90 mins before you depart is even easier than it was 10 years ago. You have the info to know if there are storms, accidents or problems preventing you from making it to the airport on time.

While people for some reason hate to wait in airports for longer than they have to, at least this way you will end up at your gate early and you have time to grab a bite to eat or something to entertain yourself with on the flight. And you don't run the risk of your bags not making the flight due to time, nor do you risk missing the flight and then spending the day on standby and at the airport waiting anyways.

The reason a lot of airlines have minimum check in policies is not only to make sure YOU have the proper time to get through security, get to the gate and be ready to board…they also need to give time for your bag to get from the check in desk through the maze of conveyor belts in baggage sorting to the baggage carriers to the actual aircraft, a process that doesn't happen in a flash. If airlines just accepted people all the way to like 10 minutes before departure, no flight would depart on time because they'd be waiting for people to make their way through security, board and for the bags to make it to the plane. You have to draw the line somewhere (and remember boarding typically starts 30 mins prior to takeoff for most domestic flights).

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Nancy Read January 26, 2015 at 12:59 pm

As a former airline agent that worked for one of the best airlines in the world (not American) I must inform you that all airlines (in the US) are rated with the DOT on factors such as on-time departures and arrivals and the flying public does want their airline to depart and arrive on time. That being said, there is little room for compassion when the airline employees are pushed to meet those DOT expectations. As a gate agent, there is always someone pushing you to get that flight out on time, not allowing anyone time for compassion. Maybe the customer needs to back off on what they expect. They were the ones who demanded the passengers bill of rights, insisting the airlines to forgo pleasantries and common courtesy. I am sure that there was also a clause about us controlling the weather better, but somehow congress didn't push that through. And while I am sincerely sorry for the loss of your father and additional stress with missed flights, the itineraries and boarding passes do clearly state the times a person needs to .check in and board the flight. Although you did not seem to have trouble clearing security, I have flown around the world and have waited in security lines for over an hour. There are also trains that involve long lines, on time departures, non refundable fees throughout the world. It may not seem fair to you, but it is as fair as it can be for everyone.

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Robert January 27, 2015 at 12:10 pm

It's my guess you folks don't fly a lot these days.

This is the New Reality; ALWAYS be early; read your ticket; avoid (as earlier stated, wisely) seasonally unreliable airports.

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chode January 28, 2015 at 12:40 pm

then to think that you took the time to find this website to complain about your own stupidity for not reading your ticket and not arriving early? you have nobody to blame but your self, not the airline.

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Wendy Davis January 29, 2015 at 9:44 am

and maybe it will save someone else from having a similar problem!! And you took the time to read about my own stupidity and them comment on it!! And, I do still blame the airline for a lack of compassion and overbooking all their flights. Try sitting at the gate all day for every flight to see how people are treated and then tell me not to blame the airline. Or do you work for the airline??

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Cheran January 29, 2015 at 10:05 pm

Try posting your story in the Delta forum on FlyerTalk.com. I dare you. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/delta-air-lines-sk

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Wendy Davis January 30, 2015 at 10:51 am

This wasn't a Delta flight. I have always had good luck flying Delta. I would have no problem posting it there!!

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Cheran January 31, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Here's the link for the AA forum: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-airlines-

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Chris January 31, 2015 at 1:48 am

Condolences for your father. Combining airline travel with the grief of losing someone close almost never goes over quite well.

That being said, you just gotta be careful. Read your tickets and most importantly don't assume things at an airport. Once you start to assume things, that's where you'll end up in the wrong and the airline only can do so much to rectify the situation for you.

Second, even though it's an early flight, you need to be getting to check in more than 40 minutes prior to your flight taking off. I like to think of it this way…you want to make sure YOU aren't the one to blame for something going wrong. Even if they did get you on the plane, what happens if in 40 minutes they don't get your bag from check-in to the plane? Give yourself time so if you make mistakes or (more likely) their systems goof on you, there's time to fix the problem without causing your whole itinerary to become garbage.

Lastly, it's important to keep your cool when in stressful situations. While flying can be frustrating at times, people are still people. You'd be WAY more likely to assist someone who was polite and respectful than someone who was slinging profanity and a bad temper at you. Same goes for gate agents. They see thousands of people every day, get tons of angry customers and have to put on straight faces for people who blame every problem on them, when in reality it's not their fault. Try being nice, and I'm sure they would respond in kind.

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Guest February 19, 2015 at 7:40 am

Chris…. I agree completely with what you've stated. That said, common courtesy should work both ways in the airline industry. You'd think that those folks who have the power in their hands to control your fate would realize that someone trying to make it to a FUNERAL (of a parent no less) may be under a huge amount of stress and would cut the traveler some slack. While the OP could have done many things differently, obviously that wasn't the case. But, given the passing of the OP's father, perhaps the OP wasn't thinking as clearly as he/she normally would. I'm all for considering the workers in the travel industry and realize their job is a tough one. But, is it really that much of a stretch for them to consider that they may be adding to the stress levels of an individula or family who recently lost a loved one – and are just trying their best to get to a final event that they will never have a chance to do over?

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CMR March 22, 2015 at 10:02 am

The airline offered the OP common courtesy in the way that they offered $500 in travel vouchers per person to solicit people to give up their seats. That's pretty generous, especially since this incident wasn't the airline's fault. You assume that airline workers have some power to control a person's fate, when in reality they have policies and rules to follow set by not only the FAA, but the airport and the airlines. Deviating from these could get them in big trouble, and they can't just go and screw other people over to correct other people's mistakes. That's how things snowball.

"While the OP could have done many things differently, obviously that wasn't the case."
You mean show up 90 minutes before and correctly deduce from the boarding pass which flight they should be on?

"But is it really that much of a stretch for them to consider that they may be adding to the stress levels of an individula or family who recently lost a loved one – and are just trying their best to get to a final event that they will never have a chance to do over?"

Adding to the stress levels of the family? I don't agree with that. The family was solely responsible, and unfortunately flying standby is what it is…flying standby. Especially when going to a popular vacation destination in Orlando, there just isn't a guarantee that you will get a seat. The airline can't control who shows up and who doesn't. They can't force people off of planes for no reason.

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Joan February 14, 2015 at 3:45 am

That is why I fly Southwest — I print my boarding pass 24 hours in advance of the flight… I don’t leave anything to chance — arrive at the airport 2 hours ahead of time… and so I sit awhile — I have a book and love to people watch… I’m afraid Wendy is in the wrong on both flights… and I truly tried to give her the benefit of the doubt.

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RJ February 20, 2015 at 6:45 am

A few counterpoints. And I am not unsympathetic as I lost my Mom not too long ago and I completely understand. But what would you have liked for American to do? Unfairly and possibly illegally kick someone off the flight who had a legitimate ticket for that flight to make room for someone who does not have a ticket for that flight? And on the way back there are rules that have to be followed in fact Americans computers will not physically allow an agent to check someone in late. Was the agent and security team to turn a blind eye and say OK go through anyway? I have real sympathy for the op and I completely understand and airlines do drop the ball on occasions but in this case I just think its not fair to bash American Airlines.

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Guest February 23, 2015 at 7:50 am

Did you take the time to read the original post? How, if they were 1-2-3 on the standby list did they get passed over? Not, once, but twice? And, if all the seats were full on the later flights, how were they able to offer vouchers and guaranteed seats to passengers when earlier flights were overbooked? Seems to me they airline personnel COULD have chosen to accomodate this family. However, because the didnt HAVE to do so, they didn't. Again, not to say the OP have a role in all of this…. but as the poster above stated, common courtesy can and should work both ways.

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CMR March 22, 2015 at 8:44 am

It's quite obvious you are the OP based on the way you have responded.

As for how you were "passed over", it could be due to a number of reasons. The people they let on before you could have missed an earlier connection to Orlando due to airline delays out of their departure city. In this case, it wasn't their fault they missed the connection, it was the airline's, and they were not going to screw up someone else's plans (maybe they had a funeral to attend, a sick family member or a long-awaited vacation planned) just to accommodate others who caused their own problem. While that may seem unfair to you, think about it from another person's perspective. You had no idea why they were flying, and likely they have no idea why you are too.

As for the "OP" (you) having a role in this, the entire problem was due to the "OP" (you). They were the role entirely in this case. I'm sure the airline would love to have been able to get you on a plane, because they are people too and it gets you out of their hair as well. But sometimes it's just not possible. Especially since Orlando is a popular vacation destination. They can't force other people off the plane illegally.

As for offering vouchers, shouldn't you be happy about that? Because of your mistake (which happens, people are people) the airline is offering basically a free domestic round trip ticket to 3 people to get you and your family to your funeral. I'd say that's some common courtesy, as that's $1500 in free fare. Didn't you end up on the 7:55 flight anyways? Perhaps they couldn't book you on an earlier flight because the flight WAS full, that is until someone maybe didn't check in for their connection to Chicago and their reservation was cancelled.

I feel for you. It's a hard time to travel when grieving. But I don't understand what you expected the airline to do. Get you your own special plane and fly you to Orlando? Kick people off the plane? Screw up other peoples plan (that may have been messed up truly by the airline) so that you could make a flight? In the end, you got to where you needed to go and didn't miss the memorial service. But blaming the airline for following policy? Nah.

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saffie March 3, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I'm reading this story and all I can think is, "First world problems, man." How could the airport POSSIBLY expect you to arrive thirty minutes earlier than you did to make a flight, like the rest of us lowly peons who do what is expected of us? How could they expect you to follow the rules the rest of us have followed, quite reasonably, ever since 9/11 occurred? Thirty extra minutes in the airport would have been TORTURE for you! You might have had to:

A) Send a couple of emails to pass the time…
B) Play Angry Birds for a whole 1800 seconds, or…
C) Pulled up YouTube and watched a few videos.

It's such a shame that they specifically manufactured an incident where, you with the grand old TEN MINUTES to spare, were inconvenienced and, from the sound of it, were very, VERY vocal about the aggravation you were put through; all the while not realizing that probably five percent of the people flying through the same span you were had loved ones who had died, had even in their grief made it to the airport in plenty of time each way and boarded their flights with little to no issue. But you were special! Why didn't they know that ahead of time? My advice to you? Call the customer service of whatever airline you are flying next time and let them know you are a class above the rest. That way they can have the Delorean gassed up and ready to go so, should you run into this situation again, you can just hop in the car, jump it up to 88 miles an hour and make it to the airport NINETY MINUTES BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT! I don't mean to be a itch-bay here but, come on. None of these issues were caused by the airline; they were caused by YOU, both ways! Next time just realize that the extra thirty minutes you scoff at really DOES make a difference!

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Sabrina October 5, 2015 at 3:55 pm

How stupid that the attendant didn't check on your flight at all or even read your ticket! Really shows how much they care about their job more than other people!

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