Help me out of Seoul and back to LA
August 2, 2009 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Still in Korea: Due to a bit of stupidity and bad luck, I missed my flight back to LA. What now?

I realize that I should not have relied on my brother's sense of time, nor his gauge of distance, nor accepted his assurances that we could be later than I thought we could. So, now I'm here, Orbitz (whom I booked the flight through) seems to be fairly useless for the moment, as they want to wait until the LA offices of China Air are open in order to shift the ticket. The next available flight (according to the website) leaves Tuesday, though the China Air folks said on the phone that there were no flights out for a week. I'm kinda freaking out and want advice on what to do, how to best minimize the financial damage of this fuck-up (I'm dirt poor) and how to avoid clubbing my brother to death as I assume that deportation flights are not booked with budget in mind.
posted by klangklangston to Travel & Transportation around Seoul, South Korea (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in exactly this situation a few years ago (just switch London for Seoul, Boston for LA, and sister for brother), in addition to calling the airline I'd come on, I also checked other airlines flying from London, and ended up flying back on a different carrier because it was cheaper.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:16 AM on August 2, 2009

If your brother has any friends who work in airlines with flights from Incheon to LA, now's the time to call them up. In Asia, connections are extremely useful for situations like this.
posted by smorange at 6:21 AM on August 2, 2009

Orbitz is still selling one-way tickets from Seoul to LAX for 8/4/09 at $824. I'd jump on it if I were you and sort it out later.
posted by Xurando at 6:35 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

If this was me, I would pester all of the ticket desks at Incheon Airport, starting with Air China. Phone droids don't have much incentive to help you, but face-to-face interaction is much different. The idea is you might find someone sympathetic to your problem who can figure out how to put you standby on another airline (Air China partners with a lot of Asian airlines) or offer you an extremely cheap fare. You have nothing to lose by trying, unless someone here is adamant that this won't work.

Otherwise, if you want to try sleeping in the airport to save money, this looks like a smart move according to this webpage which shows you how.
posted by crapmatic at 7:24 AM on August 2, 2009

Just a random thought, since I've never been to that part of the world, but how hard is it to get a flight to Japan and then to LA from there? I would think flights from Japan to LA run more frequently.
posted by desjardins at 7:44 AM on August 2, 2009

A quick search of seems to indicate that there are a ton of flights from Seoul to LA tomorrow on different airlines, though they're all quite pricey. I agree with crapmatic that it can't hurt to go to the airport and try to get someone at one of the ticket desks to get you a standby slot on another flight. I probably don't need to say this, but just in case: be very, very polite; be contrite about missing the flight and try to appeal the agent's compassion, so that they will want to help you out; be flexible and willing to take whatever is available. Best of luck.
posted by googly at 8:57 AM on August 2, 2009

Breathe. This will get solved. :)

So you missed your flight and the Air China desk at Incheon Airport won't put you on the next flight standby? I'd be at the check-in counter for each flight they have, and see if they can get you a standby boarding pass to get to the gate; if there's even one seat free, they may let you on. Keep in mind that if someone misses their flight and you're checked in standby, that seat may be yours, and they may miss that flight for a bunch of reasons - missed connection earlier, traffic, whatever. Lots of flights are fully booked, but not every flight goes out with every seat filled, right?

Air China is in the Star Alliance; perhaps they can accommodate you on another Star Alliance flight back to the States? Star Alliance airlines flying to Seoul are Singapore Airlines, Air Canada, ANA, Thai, Air China, Lufthansa, Shanghai Airlines, Turkish Airlines, United, and Asiana. So there are a lot of possible combinations to get back, lots to the West Coast.

Your next move is, I think, to tell the Air China people that at this point, you will take any seat on any flight that gets you back to LA eventually - via Dubai, Johannesburg, whatever. I'd also politely escalate - and keep escalating -

Don't forget to ask about the likelihood of getting a seat - it's probably easier for you to be accommodated on flights which have a number of empty seats. Imagine that Air China gets you to Beijing, you transit to a flight to Tokyo on ANA, and then get a United flight home. No reason that all can't be ticketed together, and no reason that a check-in agent (or their supervisor!) couldn't put that together for you.

You may also have more luck at the ticket office instead of the check in counter - the airport location is the second one.

Air China's offices in Seoul are:

2F HanSan B/D, 47-2, SeoSoMun-Dong, Jung-Gu, Seoul
Republic of Korea

Airport Office: Room 3006, 3F, Incheon International Airport,
Woonseo-Dong Jung-Gu ,Incheon
Republic of Korea

Finally, post this question to the folks in the Star Alliance forum over at Flyertalk. It's free to join. I have a feeling that they'll be able to give you advice on what to do, but be as specific as you can. You'll get home somehow!
posted by mdonley at 9:44 AM on August 2, 2009


... I'd also politely escalate - and keep escalating - until you get a ticket home.
posted by mdonley at 9:45 AM on August 2, 2009

Also also - direct flights from Seoul to LA are on Korean and Asiana, but you can get to San Francisco on Korean, Asiana, Singapore Airlines, and United. Korean goes to Las Vegas, too.
posted by mdonley at 9:49 AM on August 2, 2009

And can show you availability of seats. Plug in the airport codes first - ICN is Seoul, PEK is Beijing, LAX is LA, SFO is SF, LAS is Las Vegas. Put in the dates you want (tomorrow?) and you'll be able to see flights. You don't want red zeros, and airlines use the letters of the alphabet to delineate fare classes - some are more limited/inexpensive/earn more miles, etc. It may be that there are seats in a booking class higher/more expensive than yours, and that Air China is unwilling to put you there because you'd be bumped up to business or something. It's not a very elegant interface but it can give you a good idea of how full a flight will be and what your chances for going standby are.

A bit more sleuthing -

From ICN to LAX tomorrow (the 3rd of August), it looks like there are 4 seats each on both of Korean Air's nonstop flights, in P class.

From ICN to PEK, Air China has SEVEN nonstop flights tomorrow, at 8:35a, 9:25, 9:45, 1:05p, 1:40, 4:00, and 5:50. Some of those are operated by Asiana. There is no way those are all sold out AND each person booked is going to show up.

From PEK to LAX, Air China Flight 983, nonstop from Beijing to LA, also has seats open in O, P, and Y classes. It leaves Beijing at 9:00 pm, so as long as you got to Beijing by, say, 6:00 pm tomorrow, you'd be good. The 5:50 flight arrives at 7:00, so close, but as you'd be in Air China's hub, I think you'd be OK.

You can get to SFO on Air China #8888/United #888 from PEK, which leaves at noon, or Air China #985/United #5483, which leaves PEK at 4:00pm.

So it is possibly possible to fly Air China back to LA tomorrow. Finally, I'm not sure how accurate or updated the info I'm finding with the seatcounter site is.
posted by mdonley at 10:33 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know your panic all to well. 2 days ago, the exact same thing happened to me in London. Heathrow's general nasty layout combined with the ignorance of Air France's ticketing agent caused me to miss my flight back to NYC.

Know this: You will get home. You will be ok. You may have less money than you expected, but once you are back home, you will feel much better.

Do you have any friends/business acquaintances etc. you can stay with for a night? Any hostels nearby you can call? If you can't cover the cost of a rebooking fee/new ticket, is there a friend or family member who could?

When they say they can't do anything for you, it's probably not true. Air France tried to sell me a $600 standby ticket for a flight 2 days later, saying there was noting they could do (and blaming me for their cock-up). Delta offered me the same flight the following day for a $250 service fee. there is always another way.

Best of luck. (clobber your brother when you're back home)
posted by tip120 at 10:54 AM on August 2, 2009

This won't help your situation, but airlines do account for this, and they actually make a bit of money from this situation... Your missed seat on Tokyo to LA. if there was a transfer, was probably sold for some multiple of a thousand dollars by some business man who needed to be in LA. Even if it wasn't a transfer flight, it could have been used by someone with a big budget and waiting on standby. This I can confirm is how it happens by overhearing conversations in Minneapolis airport in the international terminal.

So, anyways, next time, if you're late less than an hour, go straight to the front check in counter and act contrite. Don't offer excuses, just say you were late. Don't cause a scene (and don't say you're sorry). Work together with the agent to solve your problem.

The best outcome (which happened to me) was that you stay an extra night in Incheon and they let you on the next day's flight. And hey, you only missed checkin by 30 minutes, so we'll waive the $150 / ticket surcharge. This time.

The worst outcome is what you're doing now.

The next day, I got an extremely yellow sticker on my boarding pass envelope telling me to be early, you dolt. And I got home a day late.

I was also thinking about mailing your luggage to someone at home (not having checked in luggage frees up so many options for stand by and timing reasons), but I have no experience in this.
posted by sleslie at 12:44 PM on August 2, 2009

A point not clarified in my previous post is that the booking agent (Orbitz) has no control over the schedule. They ask the big mainframe computers what is available, book it, collect the money, and then they're done with you. If they do help you they'll do so by talking to the airlines on your behalf, but, you're at an airport. Why bother with Orbitz?

The airlines are the ones that help you in these situations. Orbitz only wants 5% (or whatever) of the value of the ticket.

And my condolences. Best of luck.
posted by sleslie at 12:51 PM on August 2, 2009

I'm dirt poor

Does this matter? Since your brother's going to be paying for it.
posted by sageleaf at 1:36 PM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Off to Incheon to plead.
posted by klangklangston at 6:17 PM on August 2, 2009

Response by poster: Which accomplished nothing. The China Air woman told me that I was welcome to pay $600 for a changed flight, except that they didn't have any seats. I could go to Beijing on standby but I need a visa for being standby in China, so I "should contact the embassy." The Korean Air flight is over $1000, and since I don't have a credit card, just a lowly bank card, I can't afford that. My brother's at work, and I'm trying to figure out if I should go back home again. I'm going to take at least an hour to fuck around on Orbitz et al. to see if I can find something for less than a grand. Otherwise, I'll be ponying up a fiver for a sockpuppet to ask what I can do to earn quick money in Korea (they won't let me give blood, and I don't have a trunk to sell cookies from).
posted by klangklangston at 9:08 PM on August 2, 2009

Tutoring/teaching on a tourist visa is illegal. You can make 40,000 Won/hour and up. Cash. But it's illegal. You could ask someone who lives here about doing it, if you wanted to. Beyond that, there's not much you can do, unless you speak Korean.

But, I've gotta ask, your brother isn't helping you? He lives here, doesn't he?
posted by smorange at 1:03 AM on August 3, 2009

Can someone from the States transfer money to your bank account or buy you a ticket online? (as a loan)
posted by desjardins at 8:01 AM on August 3, 2009

Response by poster: My idiot brother (MIB) only has won in a savings account, his credit card having expired while he was here.

But, as I mentioned elsewhere, I've now got a too-expensive ($1200) flight that leaves tonight. My parents loaned me some cash, so I should also be able to make rent.

As a final note, like many AskMe fools in the past, because I had to use his email account to forward the details to mine (since we did everything through his Orbitz account in the end, on the phone, as every fare I tried to book "couldn't be confirmed" by the airlines--so what the fuck is it on the website for and why does it keep showing up?) I've made the mistake of reading his version of the events that he sent to the parents. If I weren't so happy to be leaving the country and going home, I would fucking murder the weaselly little son-of-a-bitch, but what can you do? Hating family is a time-honored pursuit.
posted by klangklangston at 4:45 PM on August 3, 2009

Glad to hear things turned out better-than-horrible.
posted by mdonley at 2:58 PM on August 4, 2009

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