Lessons from a missed flight

In my last business trip, I missed my flight from Pittsburgh to Orange County (via Houston).  I am a heavy business traveler racking up about 150,000 miles a year, but I don’t think I had ever missed a flight out of my fault.   This particular flight was very early in the morning — 5:50am.  I was staying at the Hyatt hotel connected to the airport and I checked in for my flight on the previous night.  With the boarding pass in my pocket, I decided to set my alarm to 5am, which I later realized was a bad idea.  I knew I was cutting it close, but I desperately needed some sleep in the midst of those back-to-back travels.  When I got to the airport, the security line was unusually long for such early morning.  In addition, there was a gate change since my check-in the night before, which I didn’t know until I went to the wrong gate.  When I arrived at the correct gate, it was about 5:45am and the door was shut.  The gate agent of United Airline pretty much told me that the plane had departed from the gate and there was nothing he could do other than putting me on the next available flight.

Obviously, I was devastated and disappointed.  I sat down in the absolutely empty waiting area.  I needed a few minutes to regroup myself and think about the next course of actions.  I was supposed to arrive at Orange County by 10:30am and have lunch at the event I was going to attend.  What shall I do now, I pondered.  The agent told me he would see me at a different gate to find out which flight I could get on.   Not knowing when the next flight might be, I thought I’d be lucky to get to the event by 3 or 4pm.  Then, I decided to search for flights myself.  I immediately installed the Kayak app on my iPhone. (I once had this app before, but deleted it due to infrequent usage) There were several options via connections, but it wasn’t clear whether they are indeed available without any horrendous fare increase or additional fees.  Again, I was a novice in terms of missing a flight.

I trudged to the other gate that the agent directed me to.  When I showed up, he started looking for a flight for me.  After some browsing, he came up with a flight that leaves around 8:30am for Laguardia, where I would take a connection to my final destination after some layover.  I would arrive at Orange County around 3:30pm.  Not too bad, I thought.  The agent kept saying, “this is the only option I have for the morning.”  He looked firm and sure.  I almost bought it.  But I wanted to make sure that it was indeed the best option.  While I was talking to him, I was busy browsing flights myself with the Kayak app I just downloaded.  I found the flight that the agent told me about.  Yes, it would get me there by 3:30pm.  But then, I found a much more attractive option; there was a flight that leaves at 7:40am for Chicago and I would get to Orange County by noon!  I asked him about this specific option.  Within a minute, he said “You are right. Chicago OHare route would work for you. I can put you on it”  I was super delighted.  Everything from that point worked out smoothly.  I arrived at my destination only 1.5 hours late.  I was even proud of my crisis-management skills :)

So, what’s the lesson? On the plane, I thought about the customer empowerment.  I was just another average traveler with nothing but one iPhone in hand.  Yet, somehow I could find the better flight that the United agent, who supposedly had unlimited access to their flight information, could not locate initially.  This was the living proof of the mobile internet revolution.  This was not possible, or extremely difficult, 5 years ago.  Now, it’s a commonplace.  The information gap between the seller and the consumer has been greatly reduced by the introduction of internet.  Now the gap is even closer with the mobile internet because you can get the desired information on the spot.  You don’t need to “do your homework” beforehand.  Everything is there when you need it, in case you actually need it.  I believe we are only at the beginning stage of the mobile internet era.   Potential business opportunities in the mobile internet are limitless.  As a small fraction of all possibilities, just imagine how many different ways an average consumer can be empowered with the reduced information gap in real time.  It is truly an exciting time in the history of the information technology industry.

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About Phil Yoon

Founding Partner at Big Basin Capital
This entry was posted in Live & Venture. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Lessons from a missed flight

  1. fred wilson says:

    customer empowerment is what is driving a lot change going on in the world. that’s the primary thing we invest in.

  2. Anonymous says:

    좋은 글 읽고 갑니다. 특히 뛰어난 위기관리 능력과 판단력이 돋보이십니다. 그리고 이런 해프닝을 통해 트렌드와 향후의 information opportunity에 대한 통찰력을 보여주신점에 대해서 더욱더 존경스럽습니다.

  3. 백대현 says:

    위기관리능력과 순발적인 판단력에 감탄했습니다. 무엇보다도 이런 해프닝에서 information opportunity에 대한 고찰을 찾으시다니 대단하십니다.

  4. Definitely agree with your insight on Customer Empowerment. Enjoyed your post.

  5. Andy T says:

    It’s interesting that the agent was betting on filling that earlier seat you took and put you on an empty-seat-probability flight segment instead. Trained to fill, not overbook, even if it means you going half way across the country and back again. Nobody cares about your missed lunch when there are seats to fill, profits to be made.

    Whatever you do, Phil, don’t run the Weather Channel app when your flight is delayed “due to weather”. They won’t care that you’ve uncovered their lies.

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