Two broken airplanes, lost luggage, and one of the ‘worst blizzards ever’ — but United offers only $100

By | March 9th, 2016

People normally plan trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to seek medical treatment. Bill Kemp must have felt that after his trip to Sioux Falls, S.D., he had even more reason for needing to visit the clinic.

Kemp had planned the trip to the Mayo Clinic together with a side visit to South Dakota. But getting there was a nightmare for Kemp. He booked a flight on United Airlines, departing from Sacramento, Calif., to Sioux Falls, by way of Denver.

Unfortunately, the flight to Denver was delayed by two hours due to a mechanical failure. And just as Kemp was getting ready to board his rescheduled flight in Denver, he learned that there was a mechanical failure on that airplane as well. He had to wait over an hour for another flight out of Denver to become available.

When Kemp’s rescheduled flight arrived in Sioux Falls, he had missed the next bus to Rochester and had to drive there – “through one of the worst blizzards ever.” And on top of the mechanical delays, United lost his luggage on the way to Sioux Falls.

After a trip like that, Kemp must have wanted to extend his visit to the Mayo Clinic.

United offered Kemp a $100 voucher, but Kemp paid $500 for his trip, including his bus trip to Rochester. He wants United to either fully refund the cost of his trip or provide him with another round-trip ticket to Sioux Falls.

Is that asking too much?

Maybe. After all, United did get him to Sioux Falls, even though it lost his luggage. And let’s face it: United has no control over the weather. The delays in getting to Sioux Falls were mechanical, even if Kemp had to drive to Rochester through a blizzard.

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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.

And Kemp’s two 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.”

So Kemp probably can’t get a full refund or a round-trip ticket from United.

It appears that United did the “right thing” in offering Kemp a $100 voucher after the two mechanical delays and losing his luggage. But $100 seems like very little for two mechanical delays and lost luggage on a $500 ticket. After a trip like this — for someone whose trip was based on seeking medical treatment at a famous facility — we think United should do better. It should offer Kemp more than just $100, by way of doing the right thing. United’s offer is consistent with its rules of compensation, but it comes nowhere near to making Kemp whole after his experience.

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Update: United’s Customer Care team has reached out to Kemp to apologize for the problems he encountered during his trip and to offer additional compensation. They have replaced the $100 travel voucher originally offered to Kemp with a voucher for $350.

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