Part 1: Same family, same airline, same app

Remember that time when I was stuck on the phone in the middle of middle America, trying to confirm that my flight had properly updated? I wrote the story in a previous blog article. TLDR: the airline’s app wasn’t clear, so I called (and waited) for assurance from a human.

Flash forward a couple of years: same family, same airline, same app, even same layover airport. We were returning home from a snowy family holiday in northern Minnesota. Arriving at the Duluth, MN airport, we checked our bags (black, black, black, turquoise). We filled our water bottles, and wended our way to the gate. Just as we settled into lobby seats and plugged in our devices, we heard that our first flight to Minneapolis was delayed. We’d miss our second flight to Philadelphia.

Disappointing. 

Thankfully, we had no urgent commitments back home. The delay would be inconvenient but not problematic. Our teens had their mobile devices, their social connections, and decent airport WiFi. They might actually enjoy this delay and the story (and Snaps, and TikToks…) they’d have to share along the way.

As the announcement over the lobby speakers ended, passengers bolted to the counter. A queue formed, and social distancing habits were forgotten or ignored. Everyone focused on finding new flights, redirecting baggage, and all the other hassles.

Part 2: App vs. humans

Eyes glued to my mobile device, I queued up too. Refreshing my airline app every few seconds, I pitted the app against the human reps. Which would resolve my problem first? 

The line moved slowly. So slowly that I left it, rejoining my family and talking through our options. The app moved slowly too, though. The refresh screen cycled and cycled before my eyes. I wondered if it was literally finding new data in real time, or if the airport WiFi was clogging up its display. 

Then, in a twinkling, the screen in my hand displayed our shimmering new itinerary. Our new flight was scheduled. Our bags were checked through to our final destination. All I had to do was tap the “Approve” button (which I did). The details of our new journey rippled out before us like a red carpet. My eyes popped. My chest surged with hope and relief. 

Was it really, really, truly, true though? I wondered. Based on experience and a general need for assurance (see previous article), I queued up at the counter again. This time I stayed in line until it was my turn. I showed the still-smiling airline rep my phone. She confirmed that as far as the updated itinerary, her information matched the app.

When checking the bags, however, she paused. She could not confirm that they were checked through to our destination. She recommended that we visit the baggage claim in Minneapolis; the bags may lay over with us. If they weren’t there, she recommended we get help from the info desk there.

This sounded reasonable, even attractive. If my jammies and I were in the same city overnight, I might as well be snuggled in them. I thanked her, returned to the family, sat for hours, and boarded the delayed flight. We arrived in Minneapolis by late afternoon and descended the escalators to the baggage claim.

No bags. 

OK, they were probably checked through to Philadelphia, as the app said. To confirm, we followed instructions and went back up the escalators to find the proper information desk.

There, a bright-eyed, round-faced gentleman asked for our bag numbers. I pulled them out of my back pocket (never having needed bag tags before in my life) and set them on the counter.

He rolled up his sleeves and explained that he would hack below the “System” into the deep, dark code. Doing so, he would discover where the bags really were. He used the word “DOS” a couple times, which took me back to fourth grade and Commodore 64 with amber text on a black screen. 

Picking up the first tag, he started tapping at his keyboard. Several minutes later, he exclaimed with certainty that indeed the bag was here in Minneapolis! Retrieving the second tag, he repeated the process. He chatted pleasantly. However, my attention and interest were waning.  While I did love my jammies, my family was starting to get restless and we’d been indoors for over eight hours. My fingers thrummed the countertop as he repeated the laborious process for the third bag. 

Finally he confirmed that all four bags were indeed still in Minneapolis. He gave us directions to Unclaimed Baggage, back down the escalator whence we’d come. I felt grateful for his time and knowledge, but kinda wished I had just let the jammies go to Philly without me. 

Part 3: Nowhere with nothing

Another line awaited us at Unclaimed Baggage. This one was long, and full of disgruntled, dispossessed travelers. Most of them seemed to be traveling internationally and suffering from serious jetlag. All social distancing expectations were forgotten once more. My family slumped onto the floor outside the office, and I queued up, again. The representative behind the counter had a strong accent but moved efficiently. When I got to the front of the line, he typed in the first bag number, and quickly handed all the tags back to me. He said he didn’t – couldn’t! – know where they were. 

My jaw dropped. I felt shocked. What could he possibly mean? I explained about the DOS guy upstairs. 

He shook his head with disgust. “I wish they would not do that upstairs,” he grumbled. 

My heart sank. We were nowhere; we had nothing. 

I thanked him and slumped out of the office.

The family was fed up, ready to find our hotel. I agreed; jammies be damned. The bags were either already in Philadelphia, on their way to Philadelphia, or staged to go to Philadelphia tomorrow. We could still make it to the Mall of America for some spontaneous adventure if we left now. 

Epilogue: The app knew

Adventures we had (#IcyUberRide, #MallShooting, #MostExpensivePopeyeMealEver). But despite it all, we landed in Philadelphia the following day, and stumbled to baggage claim. There sat our bags (black, black, black, turquoise). They looked like they’d arrived yesterday, but who knows? They were there, they were ours, and they contained our jammies.

And you know what? The app was right all along. From the moment it reloaded with my updated information, every interaction with an airline representative had only confused or obfuscated the truth. My incomplete trust in the app had resulted in 90+ minutes of waiting, walking, queuing, haggling, explaining, re-explaining, and asking people to explain things they didn’t actually know (or need to… because… the app knew.)

The moral of the story is: When your app works well, accurately, and in a timely manner, it might as well be magic.