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At Verizon's iPhone launch in Burbank, a roller-coaster of emotions for one woman

February 10, 2011 |  9:55 am

Chelsea It's 7:15 a.m. at the Verizon store in Burbank, and tears are welling in Chelsea Northrop's eyes.

Chelsea, 24, and her husband Daniel, 26, had been waiting in line in the cold since 3:45 a.m., two of about 20 people who arrived early to the store,  hoping to be among the first in the Los Angeles area to get a Verizon iPhone.

But when it was her turn, Chelsea was turned away.

Now in the parking lot, lip quivering in anger, she is watching other new iPhone owners walk out with their purchases.  Instead of an iPhone, she is holding a box with her old phone, an LG Fathom.  It's the smartphone she purchased exactly 31 days ago -- one day longer than the 30-day grace period during which Verizon customers can exchange newly purchased phones. She doesn't like the Fathom -- it's been crashing a lot, and it's not so great to use, she says, which is why she's been waiting to return it and get an iPhone.

"Three different Verizon people told me I could exchange it today," she said.  "They said today was our last day."

Funny that just 45 minutes earlier, before Verizon opened its doors, the Northrops were all smiles, chatting with the press and ready to rush into the store to upgrade the phone they'd been waiting almost a month to give back.  Chelsea had bought the LG phone exactly one day before Verizon announced it would carry Apple's blockbuster phone last month -- and it didn't take her long to decide she was going to switch.

So the Northrops, both teachers in Sunland, had come early to wait in line (maybe a little too early, they said, considering there were only a few people lined up even hours later: "But it's better than having to wait two or three hours after work," Chelsea said).

Northrops But when they got into the store and up to the register, a Verizon manager reluctantly informed them that they were out of luck.  Because  it was one day past the exchange period, they'd have to pay the full $650 retail price if they wanted the iPhone, rather than the $199 everyone else had to pay for the upgrade.  After a month of waiting for the new phone, plus three hours shivering in line, the news came as a blow. Chelsea rushed out of the store, obviously upset.  Daniel followed behind.

Now, out in the parking lot speaking to a reporter, the Northrops stand iPhone-less. Chelsea still has her unwanted LG in the box she was going to return it in -- but it looks like she won't be returning it.

"The hitch is we're on day 31," Daniel says glumly.

But the sun is now shining, and the air is warming up, and perhaps the morning won't end badly after all. As if on cue, Verizon store manager Steve Wang dashes out into the parking lot with news.

"I just talked to my district manager about your situation," Wang says. "We're going to make an exception for you guys.  I know you guys have been waiting a long time, and I felt bad.  So we'll take care of you."

"That's wonderful!" Chelsea exclaims.

Not long after, she is equipped with a brand-new iPhone 4.  And though she has endured the ups and downs of modern consumerdom, Chelsea is relieved.  School is starting in a half-hour, and it looks like the Northrops will both make it to class in time.

"I was going to have to tell my preschoolers that I didn't get it," she said.  "Not that they really would've cared, but still...."

Updated 11:05 a.m.:

When asked about the clemency granted to the Northrops, Verizon spokesman Ken Muche said, "We're human beings."

Does that mean Verizon will be making exceptions for other customers who are outside the return period but still want an iPhone?

"That's up to the individual discretion of the store managers," Muche said.

-- David Sarno

Photo: Top, Chelsea Northrop is informed that she won't be able to get the iPhone she's been waiting in line for three hours to buy.  Husband Daniel, right, looks on.  Lower photo, the Northrops wait in line before the 7 a.m. opening of the Burbank Verizon store.  Credit: David Sarno / Los Angeles Times

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