Royal flush of customer disservice on United

By | September 9th, 2016

It should have been a routine flight for Linda Blackwood and her two children. They were supposed to fly on United Airlines from Edinburgh, UK, to Huntsville, Alabama, via Newark and Washington-Dulles Airport.

But there was nothing routine about their flight. Her family endured delays, cancellations, a rude customer service agent, missing baggage and stolen property – a royal flush of disservice. And United blew off her complaints with indifference, she says.

Her experience makes her — and our advocates — wonder how much a passenger is supposed to put up with. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t one she wants to hear.

Blackwood’s flight to Newark went off without a hitch, but her flight to Dulles was first delayed and then canceled because of inclement weather. A United customer service agent rerouted Blackwood and her children onto a flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. According to Blackwood, this agent treated her rudely. And no sooner was the Charlotte flight booked than Blackwood received a text telling her that this flight was also delayed. It was eventually canceled, this time “for mechanical reasons.”

United then rerouted Blackwood and her children onto a flight to Houston, where, according to its agent, United would “put them up for the night” and fly them to Huntsville the following day. Blackwood asked why United couldn’t put her and her children up for the night in Newark, and was told what she describes as a “cock-and-bull story”: “There was something going on in Newark, and it would be better for me and my children to get the hell out of there while I could.”

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But the second the Houston flight was booked, Blackwood received yet another text notifying her of a delay.

Eventually Blackwood and her children flew out of Newark to Houston, where they got meal vouchers and a hotel room — for three hours. Then it was time for them to depart for Huntsville.

When they arrived in Huntsville, their luggage was missing. They had to wait a day to receive two of their three missing bags; the third arrived six days later with items missing.

Blackwood complained to United, which offered her an apology and three travel vouchers of $250 apiece for her and each of her children as a gesture of goodwill. But after such a terrible experience, Blackwood had no intention of accepting vouchers for future flights on United. She also felt that she should receive compensation under EU 261 because her flights originated in a European Union country (prior to the Brexit).

She contacted United’s Customer Care service to request EU 261 compensation. United refused, claiming that the affected flights were all in the United States.

She then contacted our advocates for assistance. (Company contact information for United Airlines can be found on our website.)

United’s contract of carriage indicates that

UA has the right to cancel reservations (whether or not confirmed) of any Passenger whenever such action is necessary to comply with any governmental regulation, upon any governmental request for emergency transportation in connection with the national defense, or whenever such action is necessary or advisable by reason of weather or other conditions beyond UA’s control, (including, but not limited to acts of God, force majeure events, strikes, civil commotions, embargoes, wars, hostilities, or other disturbances, whether actual, threatened, or reported). …

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 …

Force Majeure Event – In the event of a Force Majeure Event, UA without notice, may cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight, right of carriage or reservations (whether or not confirmed) and determine if any departure or landing should be made, without any liability on the part of UA. UA may re-accommodate Passengers on another available UA flight or on another carrier or combination of carriers, or via ground transportation, or may refund any unused portions of the Ticket in the form of a travel certificate.

Lodging – UA will provide at its option either one night’s lodging, or, if no lodging is provided and upon the passenger’s request only, reimbursement for one night’s lodging in the form of an electronic travel certificate that may be applied to future travel on UA up to a maximum amount determined by UA when a UA flight on which a Passenger is being transported incurs Irregular Operations and the Passenger incurs a delay that is expected to exceed four hours between the hours of 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. local time. Where lodging has been offered but not accepted by a Passenger for whatever reason, UA is not liable to reimburse the Passenger for expenses relating to alternative lodging secured independently by the Passenger.

So United’s unwillingness to provide any more compensation to Blackwood is consistent with these terms of use. Blackwood also contacted the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which notified her that EU 261 doesn’t apply to flights originating in the United Kingdom.

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Unfortunately for Blackwood, even after our advocates got involved, all United would agree to were vouchers of slightly higher value than they had originally offered. But Blackwood would have to be willing to travel again on United to use the vouchers — which is highly unlikely in view of her treatment on this flight. For Blackwood, United’s customer service was a royal flush — down the toilet.

Did United offer the Blackwoods enough compensation for its royal flush of disservice?

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