Normally, even with a connection, the trip from Charlotte, N.C., to Manchester, N.H., should take roughly five hours. But for Catherine Jackson and her husband it was twelve.
Twelve hours, she tells us, that started with a delayed flight, followed by water leaking in their plane, and finished with a hellish bus ride in the middle of the night.
Things began to go awry when they arrived in Newark shortly after noon, and went to make their connection for a 2:30 p.m. flight on to Manchester. I’ll let her tell the minute by minute horror story:
“Upon arriving in Newark, we were informed that our flight to Manchester was delayed four hours due to maintenance. Finally, at 5:30 p.m. we were allowed to board the plane. A half hour later, we were all told to get off the plane. There was a leak and water was coming into the light fixtures and dripping on a seat.”
After another round of waiting in the airport, the Jacksons were told a bus would take them the rest of the way, from New Jersey to Manchester. Not a very nice bus as it turns out.
The bus was like a big school bus with no bathroom. The bus left at 9 p.m. I had the exit window. It rattled loudly the entire ride. A couple hours later, around 11 p.m., the driver pulled the bus into a gas station. The check engine light was on. He said he had to clean the engine. We sat there about thirty minutes. About a half hour later, he stopped again. This time, it was 11:54 p.m. and he stopped in the middle of the highway near Hartford. A passenger voiced her concern for our safety. The driver said there was room for cars to pass the stopped bus. The woman then said that she had a friend killed this way. So, the driver then pulled into a parking lot. The driver stated that he had to clean the engine again or there would be no power in the bus. The bus smelled of toxic fumes. The air quality was bad and it was hard to breathe. The driver put the air conditioner on hoping to help the air. The bus was cold. Starting around midnight, we sat in this parking lot for at least thirty minutes. I had the driver let me off the bus to stand in an abandoned parking lot. I couldn’t breathe.
It was well after midnight before the bus was back on the road.They finally arrived in Manchester at 3 a.m., which is when Jackson discovered the black stains on her new Eddie Bauer bag.
United offered her and her husband each $125 in vouchers. She didn’t think that was enough for the misery they’d been through and asked for $375 each.
Because the flight problems were mechanical, the airline isn’t required to do much. Their “Contract of Carriage” is a veritable smorgasbord of exclusions.
Rule 24 of United’s Contract of Carriage holds that:
Schedules are Subject To Change Without Notice – Times shown on tickets, timetables, published schedules or elsewhere, and aircraft type and similar details reflected on tickets or UA’s schedule are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. UA may substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, delay or cancel flights, and alter or omit stopping places or connections shown on the ticket at any time. UA will promptly provide Passengers the best available information regarding known delays, cancellations, misconnections and diversions, but UA is not liable for any misstatements or other errors or omissions in connection with providing such information.…
Except to the extent provided in this Rule, UA shall not be liable for failing to operate any flight
according to schedule, or for any change in flight schedule, with or without notice to the passenger.
Jackson’s mechanical delays fall under United’s “Irregular Operations” definition, which includes “delay in scheduled departure or arrival of a carrier’s flight resulting in a misconnection” and “flight or service cancellation, omission of a scheduled stop, or any other delay or interruption in the scheduled operation of a carrier’s flight.”
They may not be required to do more, but should they?
Jackson posted her story to one of our forums at Elliott.org, which are monitored by travel experts. They advised her to use our list of airline contacts to share her experience in a short polite message with United executives, working her way up the list one at a time, allowing a week between each submission, before trying the next name on the list.
But, for now at least, this appears to be United’s final word. Should it be?