The other day I found myself in the curious position of having to prove that I had been on a flight in order to be allowed to return home. The only explanation I could come up with for the airline having no record of my presence on the flight there is that the gate agent had failed to scan in my boarding pass. As far as I can tell I had done everything “by the book”. In this day and age of being tracked in so many situations and so many ways, I found it an interesting twist that I could think of no way of proving (no way that the ticketing agent seemed to find satisfactory) that I had, indeed, been on the plane and should be allowed to return home on my originally scheduled flight. Details follow.
On Friday, I went to Ohio for a wedding. In the morning I checked in online, printed out my boarding pass and headed for O’Hare. Everything went smoothly. There was a short line at security, the agent checked my ID and marked my boarding pass, I proceeded to my gate. There was a bit of commotion at the gate as several flights were scheduled to be going out of the same area very close to each other. However, it turned out that there were two doors at the gate and only people on my flight were exiting through that specific one. Things proceeded seemingly fine. We were called to board and being a frequent flyer with this airline, I was allowed to board immediately so I did. The agent took my print-out with the boarding pass on it. She tore off the upper part and handed back the rest of the sheet. I *think* I recall seeing that she did not scan it in and finding that curious, but nothing hugely out-of-the-ordinary. (This was perhaps the second time I had checked in at home and was traveling with a printed boarding pass so I did not have enough experience to know how this is usually handled.)
I arrived at the Cleveland airport soon after. I realized that I had neglected to print out the itinerary for my return trip so I went to the ticketing counter and asked for a copy of that. I also asked to have my seat changed to something closer to the front of the plane. This was all fine. The agent pulled up my record (for future reference, recall that this is all at Cleveland *after* I had taken the flight there), changed my seat assignment and printed out my itinerary including both the flight information going there and back. There was some confusion over my preferred seat assignment so she ended up printing out the information three times. I doubt this made any difference, but I’m mentioning it for a detailed and accurate account of everything that happened. I left the airport.
Next day I arrived at this airport again and proceeded to the machines that allow self check-in. Neither of the two machines I tried recognized my credit card so I proceeded to the line to talk to a ticketing agent. I told him the machines were not recognizing me so I needed to get my boarding pass from him. He asked me where I was going and when. I told him. I also handed him the flight itinerary the agent had printed out for me the day before at that same counter area so he could have all the info. He started typing on his machine and looked confused. (The following is not verbatim, it’s as close as I can remember.) He said there was no record of me having been on the flight to Cleveland. Now I got confused. I had been at that same counter area just 26 hours earlier having taken the flight there and having gotten a printout of my entire itinerary after the trip. I said as much. He said I needed to show him some proof that I had been on the flight. I asked why that was relevant for my return flight. I was not trying to be hostile, I was just trying to understand the situation and what that had to do with my ticket not showing up. He said that since I had not been on the flight there – he did not say “since records fail to show that I had been on the flight”, rather, he stated as a fact that I had not been on the flight – my reservation for the return flight had been cancelled. Now I got nervous. I could picture myself having to spend the night in Cleveland. (No offense to Cleveland, but that was really not part of my weekend plans.) I said I didn’t understand. I thought I had purchased the ticket not just reserved it so how could it be cancelled? He said they get cancelled if the passenger does not show up on the first part of the trip. He did not specify the reason for that and I was too confused at the moment to try to make sense of it. At that point I was concerned with getting myself on the flight home.
He asked for my boarding pass stub from the day before. I explained that I had checked in at home and had printed out the boarding pass. I quickly realized that (for no good reason) I did still have the rest of the sheet so I pulled that out of my purse. I showed it to him. My name, flight number, seat assignment were all on the sheet. But that wasn’t good enough. He murmured something about how these home check-ins were really making things difficult for them. (I *think* that’s what he said, it was under his breath so it was hard for me to understand.)
He told me that he wanted something different. I looked at him puzzled and frustrated. I explained that I had been on the flight and the agent had printed out my itinerary _after_ my arrival so they must have had some record of me being on it. He wasn’t satisfied. He asked if I had checked in any luggage. I said no. (This should not be too out-of-the-ordinary for a one-day trip.) In an accusatory tone (as in: I do not believe that you were on that flight) he continued to ask for proof. I was at a complete loss. Suddenly I realized that I had gotten a small water bottle on the flight that I didn’t think had anything on it to prove it was from the flight, but thought had been distinct enough that perhaps he’d take it as proof. Again, for no good reason, I still had the water bottle with me. I pulled it out of my bag. He took it and looked at it and seemed satisfied. He said something about how that was fine then, the water bottle proved it. I honestly couldn’t tell if he was just being sarcastic.
At this point he proceeded to assign me a ticket.
The only explanation I can come up with is that the gate agent had failed to scan in my boarding pass and thus the airline had no record of me being on it. This is curious in this day-and-age of security precautions. How could an airline not know who is on its flights?
I still cannot think of anything I could have done differently to prevent this uncomfortable situation. I replayed Friday’s events. I did everything the way you are “supposed to” as a traveller. It also occured to me that even if I *had* simply checked in at the airport (as opposed to printing the boarding pass at home), theoretically I could have still NOT gotten on the flight, kept the boarding pass stub and left the airport so I don’t quite see how that would have been better proof of my having been on the flight.
It made me feel better to know that because I am such a pack rat I still had the remains of the boarding pass printout and the water bottle with me, although in the end I cannot tell if they helped at all.
The most disturbing part of all this for me – beyond the fact that the airline did not know I was on the flight, which seems unfortunate in case something happens to the plane – was the accusatory tone of the ticketing agent and the assumption that I was lying about having been on the flight. I don’t know what I could have done any differently, I cannot identify having done anything wrong and so it was disturbing to be accused of having been responsible for this situation and being treated so poorly. Am I missing something?