I ended up having one of the best airport days this week.

It didn’t start out looking anything like one.

The first flight of my trip started off with a bang — a flight delay. My family and I were traveling from Honolulu to Boston, with a connecting flight in Minneapolis.

It was supposed to be a 7 hour 45 minutes flight in economy.  It took longer.

Delayed Flight

The flight delay was announced on-board the HNL-MSP segment after the plane left the gate. There was a systems issue with one of the four servers and a reboot didn’t bring it back.  The plane had to get back to the gate. I was fine with the delay.  Safety first.

There was no need for passengers to deplane.

We had a connection Minneapolis, with a connection buffer of one hour and 15 minutes.

My brother sat next to me on the flight.  As the clock ticked, we began to wonder if we’ll make our connection.  We reasoned that it’s going to be tight, but we might still be able to make a 45-minute connection.  It was the same thought process at the 30-minute mark.

As the delay continued past the hour, we knew we would miss our connection.

Setting off a Chain Reaction

Unbeknownst to me at the time, this flight delay set off a chain reaction that made it one of the more fun airport days. Ever.

My brother is a Delta Platinum, and he called and confirmed to a flight a few hours later that morning.  This was a leisure family trip, so we weren’t in a rush to get somewhere.  We figured we’ll just go grab breakfast at the airport.

By the time the plane landed in Minneapolis, Delta had already re-booked and printed new boarding passes for all passengers who missed their connections. I was quite impressed with Delta.  This had not been my experience on another airline.

We picked up our 5 boarding passes from the counter, though seats have yet to be assigned.  We visited an agent to see if we could be assigned seats.  She said the flight looked quite full, so we’ll need to get to the gate an hour before the flight to get our seat assignments.

With the missed connection, I was resigned to the fact that we might all get separated on this flight (even though we booked our original seats to be together).

We might possibly get the least desirable seats — all the middle seats.  Oh well, I thought, at least it’s a short segment.

It also crossed my mind that without seat assignments, we might be the first to get bumped.  We might not even make it on this flight. This sounded even less fun.

The Stars Aligned for Us

We were waiting in a different area in the concourse.  About an hour before scheduled departure, my brother and I popped over to the gate to see if we can get help with our assignments.  Two agents were at the gate, and one was helping another customer.  We stepped in line to wait for our turn.  One of the agents was free, so we figured she’ll call us over at any moment.

Instead, she got on the microphone and made an announcement:

She is seeking volunteers for this flight and offering a $500 gift card compensation with confirmed seating for a later flight that day.

I was intrigued.  I’ve heard of stories of airlines seeking volunteers, but I very rarely see it happen myself at the airport.  And for this to happen on our flight, while we happened to be waiting in line anyway?  What impeccable timing!

I have a good suspicion that she was actually seeking volunteers for our seats.  We had a confirmed reservation but no seat assignments.  We were not in a hurry so maybe we could bump ourselves off this flight. I’ve also not done this before and I was curious as a bee.

The gate agent called us over.

Volunteers for Voluntary Denied Boarding (VDB)

We explained our missed connection situation, the friendly agent responded that she had been expecting us.  She pointed to some paperwork in front of her.   Given the timely announcement she just made, she asked us if we would be interested in volunteering.

Of course we were.  🙂

I asked how many volunteers she needed, because the narrative might change if she only needed one person.   I was surprised by her response.  She said she needed 7, and we’ll get on the later flight in the afternoon.

It was an easy decision.  We decided to go all-in.  I asked whether our reservation might split, but the gate agent seemed fairly confident that she will be able to use all of us.  She asked us to wait near the gate until all boarding had been processed.  After we volunteered, she mentioned to the other agent that they don’t need to solicit any more volunteers for this flight.

We waited by the gate as instructed.  As the gate agent wrapped up its final boarding call and as I watched the plane leave without us, it occurred to me:  In all my years of traveling, this is my first voluntary denied boarding!

The Delta Experience

I have to admit that Delta hadn’t always been my carrier of choice (AA is), but they’ve really changed my mind about them.  For example, the two gate agents were just awesome.  They were communicative and they actually seemed happy to be there, helping out customers.

The gate agents spoke loudly and clearly during the boarding process, and kept everyone informed via the intercom system.  They acknowledged and thanked all the volunteers.  They were incredibly nice and professional and also thanked the two volunteers that they didn’t end up needing.

After the flight departed, they quickly processed the new boarding passes and the VDB compensation (sent via email).  This was an unexpected way to help offset some of the travel expenses for this memorable family trip!

The Best Part?

The VDB compensation was a nice perk already.  Another best part about this whole experience?   Given the new flight, we decided to head off to a side trip to visit the Mall of America, which is just an airport tram ride and a short train ride away.  My brother had visited before so he led the way.  It was always a side trip I wanted to make in Minneapolis, and so we did!

Our return flight was also delayed, but we made it to our destination later that evening (instead of morning).  In return, the unexpected VDB compensation and the extra side trip was well worth the delay.

What began as a less than ideal start to the day ended up being one of the best airport days.  Ever.


This was my first unexpected VDB experience, and it worked out really well.  Have you had a similar experience?