I bought a plane ticket. So why am I on this dingy bus?

By | March 8th, 2017

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.

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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?

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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?

Did United offer the Jacksons enough compensation?

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  • Mel65

    How infuriating! We all know that airlines are “off the hook” for weather related delays or cancellations, but mechanical issues are IMHO sqarely in THEIR ballpark. They have a duty to maintain their fleet in optimal operating condition,and to treat it in the same vein as, essentially, an “Act of God” is ridiculous.

  • sirwired

    Mechanical problems do happen, sure. But I cannot imagine why they thought such a terrible bus trip was an acceptable substitute for a plane ride. I’d offer a refund for the leg (yeah, that may not be much) and at least $200 ea. in vouchers.

    I checked Google Maps and even in an functioning vehicle, this is a 4-hour trip. I could understand substituting a bus for a little hop from, say, Philadelphia to Allentown, but not a trip of that length.

    Should have put them up in a hotel, or at least offered the option.

  • sirwired

    Well, if they hadn’t come up with this horrible busing plan, the standard practice for a mechanical cancellation is them putting you up in an airport hotel overnight gratis, with some amount for food costs, so in practice they DO treat them differently from weather.

  • Bill___A

    They should have minimum standards for a bus, and those standards should be higher than what the standards on this one were, They should also have some guidance published such as what the maximum distance or what circumstances would lead them to use a bus. There are lots of comfortable busses out there. If they needed to use a bus, they should get a good one. Was this United or one of those smaller (and sometimes very bad) airlines that call themselves “United Express”?

  • Meredith Putvin

    With stops, try closer to 7. It used to take me 5 hours to get from Fall River, Ma. (SE RI Border) to New Rochelle, NY (15 mins east of NYC). Still another 2 Hours to Manchester, from FR (been there, done that), so yeah. That’s using major highways (i-95 in particular, 24 North to 128, to I-93, because we were doing a stop in Boston).

  • AMA

    There is no way you can drive from Newark to Manchester in 4 hours, even in a Porsche. 5 1/2 to 6 hours is a more realistic time.

  • Mel65

    I was referring to the statement in the story, “Jackson’s mechanical delays fall under United’s “Irregular Operations” definition,: that seems to let them off the hook…

  • ajaynejr

    Unfortunately I cannot favor giving them more compensation for the ordeal. While no one expected the plane to have mechanical problems, also no one expected the bus to have mechanical problems.

    But there is one test which as far as I know no one on that flight exploited. If someone, dissatisfied by the first 4 hour delay in Newark NJ, proposed to alter his travel plans, create a stopover to use that time constructively, and select a later flight onward to Manchester NH, paying his own room and meals if applicable, then would the airline have quietly changed his ticket with no rebooking fee or fare adjustment or other upcharge? If the answer is no then I would change my opinion to say he should get added compensation.

  • sirwired

    Yeah, the article kind of left out the very next paragraph of the Contract of Carriage, which details under which conditions they will provide overnight lodging.

  • Two issues:
    1) Did the bus comport with Federal Motor Carrier Safety licensing and regulations for the interstate carriage of passengers? This bus sounds like a hot mess. I am not an expert by any means, but in this part of the country (Denver) where the States are bigger, I only see big “Trailways (old school)/Greyhound” type buses on the road. They have to carry the appropriate licenses, insurance, maintenance, etc…to comport with Federal law.

    2) I don’t get why they couldn’t get them flown to at least Boston and bused from there.

    However, I suspect the Achilles’ Heel for United is the appropriate licensing of that bus. That’s the nerve they have to press on with all their might. I think United’s biggest exposure is on the licensing/safety of the alternate transportation.

  • In my comment above, I expand on your point. I am going to bet the bus was not appropriately credentialed for interstate transport.

  • Here is the Federal website relating to the general area for bus/interstate carriage information. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/

  • Daddydo

    As the oldest of adages states, “time to spare, go by air”.
    The airlines of this genre are not going to give anybody anything but a credit, large enough to look good on paper, but not enough to use without spending extra money.
    Duck! It is already getting worse with the new no frills fare that began last week.

  • PsyGuy

    This just sucked, I pay to fly, if i wanted to take an automobile I would have done that to begin with. These adhesion contracts are horrible if it gets to the point of buying a ticket for a flight and the airline can bus you where you are wanting to go.

  • PsyGuy

    A Porche? What about a real car like a Ferrari.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s a bus, B-U-S the concept of standards goes out the window when you start talking “bus”.

  • PsyGuy

    Agreed.

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