If We Ran An Airline, All Our Agents Would Be On The Same Page

(Other takeaways: What happens when you forget your ID for a flight and what you should do)

American Airlines JFK Terianl 8, Gate 44.

If we ran an airline, we’d make sure all of our agents knew fully well what their capabilities were to resolve customer issues. Or, taken to a bigger scale, institute a mentality of at least trying to do all that can be done for the customer.

Let me explain why: Today was almost a very bad day for us in the unnecessarily complicated world of airline travel. Everything was going smoothly – we got up on time, got to the airport on time, and checked our bag in on time. But then in the TSA Precheck line, my wife realized she forgot her ID.

No worries, we’ve been here before. About ten years ago, my wife forgot her ID and they just asked a bunch of questions and we were on our way. It slowed us down, but we luckily were there early enough to still make the flight.

Unfortunately, today didn’t quite go that way. For starters, we had to go to the regular TSA line and stand through that to get to that agent. That agent had to call the supervisor, who then took a long time to get to us.

Here are the things we learned at this stage about forgetting your ID for air travel: 1) Scanned IDs (license, passports, etc) don’t mean anything. We already kind of knew that. But with our TSA Precheck status, we were hoping for something different. And 2) Anything with our address would have sufficed. So even if you forget an ID, a letter or two could do.

Bills with your name on it will suffice

Sadly, my wife did have a bunch of letters with her name and address on them at the airport, but they were in the suitcase we had already checked in. A bad coincidence which only occurred because my wife had to run to the rest room and I handled the check in solo. Normally, when doing the check-in, I always show everyone’s boarding pass and IDs.

So far, this forgotten ID process already contrasted greatly with our last time going through this. When this happened back in Miami 10 years ago, we were immediately directed to a cube where the questions process got kicked off right away.

Here, once the TSA supervisor finally arrived, she told us the questioning process would take 30 minutes. This was another surprising thing since in our last incident, everything was resolved pretty quick. The 30 minute questioning process would be tough with our 45ish minutes until take-off. So the supervisor recommended we talk to the airline to get on a later flight.

So we went back to the American Airlines desk to explain the predicament. That agent told us that our only option was to try to fly standby for the evening flight, which was full. If that didn’t work, we would then have the option to try for the morning flight, on which we had a pretty solid shot. We asked if we could just lock in flying tomorrow but they said on our ticket that wasn’t allowed (at least within reasonable cost). When we asked if we could take a flight from a different airport, we were told we couldn’t based on the type of ticket we had. 

Now we were really in trouble because the flight was taking off in 30 minutes. We quickly went through our options and, as is the case whenever something goes wrong with air travel, we even debated on just giving up on the plane ticket and going home. (Times like this you really appreciate Southwest which has their policy of if you miss your flight, you can use the money you spent on the ticket for a future flight.)

We then made a reach decision which incredibly worked out in our favor. We decided to still go through with the TSA questions, even though the time we had left was now definitely within 30 minutes. We were banking on the plane maybe being late or something working out. And if it didn’t, we’d let the gate agent there handle our next move.

TSA Agent's shoulder

So we went through the line again, got to the TSA agent again, and had her reach out to the TSA supervisor again. This time the supervisor really pushed back against doing the questioning since the time window was smaller. But we pushed, as you often have to with the various players you encounter whenever you need anything done if you’re trying to do air travel.

The TSA kicked off the questioning process and, as we should have expected, the questioning was wrapped up in 10 minutes. Lesson learned – push back on the TSA if they give resistance to doing the questioning.

To the TSA’s credit, once the questioning wrapped up, they helped us out moving us to the top of the line and having dedicated people get us through everything quickly. We then got to gate, and the door had closed about 13 minutes earlier. Meaning, we totally could have made it had we not left the TSA the first time.

default boarding pass picture

But, just as a bunch of bad coincidences got us here, a bunch of good coincidences started working out for us. For starters, this gate agent would end up saving the day for us. Initially he did tell us what the other desk agent told us that we could only fly standby at this point for the evening flight and not be confirmed for tomorrow morning’s flight until we completed an attempt on the evening flight (Author’s note: make an “If we Ran” post about this awful policy). But, unlike the desk agent, he told us we could fly out of a different airport. Did he have more capabilities than the desk agent we spoke with 30 minutes ago? Or did he care more? He then found us a different flight which had seats and, even better, was able to confirm us on that.

So after that, we left BWI airport, went to DCA National airport, and boarded our new flight without issues. A happy ending.

I know the whole story probably isn’t needed for the this article’s main point of agents not being on the same page. But, I felt the non-relevant parts of the story also pointed out other opportunities for improvement in this system, mainly with the TSA and ID process in general. Also, to reinforce the other main takeaway I want you to have after reading this which is to push back when necessary.