Next spring, I’m planning to go on a two-week European vacation with Amy.
I had a number of United miles saved up – not quite enough for two round trips to Europe, but enough to get us each a one way itinerary to Munich (our first destination). Airlines like to make it difficult to redeem miles at the advertised rates unless you book well in advance, so we cashed in the miles this week and got a pair of one-way tickets from Chicago to Munich, operated by United’s Star Alliance partner Air Canada with a layover in Toronto.
On a ticket like that, I have to select my seats on Air Canada’s website, since they’re the ones actually operating the flight. United provided me record locator for our Air Canada itinerary – one of those six-letter-and-number identifiers that you use to look up your flight.
I went to Air Canada’s website to pick my seats, plugged in that record locator… and was a bit surprised by the itinerary I saw:
In addition to the two 2016 flights that I’d bought, there were two additional flights booked in 2015, showing a trip from Honolulu to San Francisco to Toronto. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting!
This was a bit concerning to me, as I had no intention to go to Hawaii this month – and I was worried that if I didn’t show up for the first flight, my whole itinerary would be cancelled. I called Air Canada, but they told me I’d have to check with United, since United sold me the ticket.
Fortunately, the United agent I spoke to was very helpful. After looking into it with me, she was able to figure out that I’d been issued a record locator that was already in use.
Well, I understood that – with six digits that each have 36 possibilities (A-Z and 0-9), there are 366 = 2,176,782,336 possible combinations. That’s a lot of records, but it’s not infinite, and I can understand that eventually some numbers would have to be reused. The agent let me know that usually they try to wait a while before reusing a booking number, and it’s usually not a problem because they normally look up reservations by booking number and last name.
So it appears that of two billion booking number possibilities, I was assigned one that was not just in use, but also in use by someone else who also has the last name Bogard.
What’re the odds of that?
Anyway, once we figured out that their computer was seeing four flights with the same record locator and last name and assuming they were one itinerary, the United agent was able to cancel my half of the flights off of that existing reservations and rebooked my tickets on Air Canada, giving me a new record locator that (thankfully) appears to be unused by any other Bogards!
Flight Log: http://www.flighthistorian.com/airports/MCO
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with MCO.
Orlando has made its way into my top five most visited airports, and it’s the only one to have done so entirely as a destination. (DFW has a lot of destination visits for me, but it has many more visits as a layover.) In other words, I go to Orlando quite often – I work doing acquisition of flight simulators, and Orlando is a large modeling and simulation hub.
In theory, I should really like MCO.
- It’s a large airport with plenty of room to go for a walk if I get there early
- Given its size, it’s laid out relatively well. If you know where you’re going, you can get there with relatively minimal walking.
- The main terminal has many interesting design elements – the ziggurat-like exterior, its rooftop parking, the Hyatt integrated into the eastern atrium.
- It has enough variety of restaurants that it’s not terrible to eat there.
- Many, many airlines serve it, so it’s great for planespotting.
But with all that, if I were asked to name my least favorite airport, Orlando would be a strong contender, purely due to the lines and the atmosphere.
Orlando is, of course, a world-class tourist destination; when I’m traveling there for work, I often feel a bit like a fish out of water. The airport is not targeted at me; it has all of the noisy excitement of a theme park, but if I’m traveling for yet another central Florida office visit, it’s difficult to get caught up in the vacation enthusiasm. What’s left is an airport that’s hard to do work in and has huge lines everywhere – rental car counters, check-in, security, you name it.
Orlando Survival Guide
It is at least possible to mitigate a lot of the problems I have with the airport; here are a few of my tips.
- Buy TSA PreCheck. Security is often packed, so being able to use a much smaller security line is a huge benefit. I paid for PreCheck entirely because of this airport. Not having to take off shoes or take things out of your bags is a bonus.
- Never check a bag. This is my preference everywhere, but it’s especially important in Orlando. The couple times I have had to check a bag (no overhead bin space for my carry-on, or traveling with someone who checked bags), the baggage claim took over half an hour; likewise, check-in lines can take quite a while. It’s a much better experience if you can go straight from your plane to the rental car counter, and straight from the rental car return to security.
- Print out or download your boarding pass beforehand. Not having a bag to check in doesn’t do any good if you still have to go through the check-in line to get a boarding pass. It’s best to skip the check-in line altogether, so have a boarding pass with you when you arrive.
- Sign up for your rental car’s loyalty program if it’s free. Many US car rental agencies offer a line specifically for members of their loyalty program, and joining is usually free. This can save a lot of time even at smaller airports, but it’s especially important at the rental car megalopolis of Orlando.
- Program your navigation system before you head to your rental car. If you have an in-terminal rental car, your car will be located on one of the lower floors of a large concrete parking structure; if you brought your own GPS system with you, it’s not likely to get a signal in the garage, and once you leave the garage, there’s really nowhere to pull over safely to put in a destination until you’re well away from the airport – and since you can effectively leave the airport in all four cardinal directions, you want to be sure you’re going the right way. (Orlando’s littered with tollways, too, so navigation mistakes can be expensive, especially in a rental car!)
- Eat before going through security, or at least be sure to check the map to know what’s in your concourse. There are many more options for dining pre-security (be sure to find the food court in the middle of the main terminal) than post-security, so just know what you’re getting into if you’re hoping to eat at the airport.
- Bring earplugs or headphones. It’s often quite loud. You’ll probably notice this even on your flight to Orlando – in my experience, there’s more conversation and excitement going on in flights with Orlando as a destination than any other destination I’ve been to (Honolulu is a close second).