What does United Airlines’ unaccompanied minor fee cover? Katrina Cichosz wants to know, and after reviewing her case, I’m kind of curious, too.
Let’s go right to the textbook definition, which is on United’s website. When her 13-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, flew home for Thanksgiving on Nov. 21, she had the option of paying the $99 fee to cover “the extra handling required” for managing a child’s travel, but technically, she didn’t have to.
She was scheduled to fly on United flight 4799 from Syracuse, NY, to Cleveland, which is scheduled to depart at 6:05 a.m. The night before, her daughter and her daughter’s father received a notification that the flight would be delayed by two hours. They still arrived at the airport with plenty of time to board the flight for its original departure, getting to the airport at 4:20 a.m.
Now, you have to remember — it’s Nov. 21, which is one of the busiest air travel days of the year. The terminal was crowded. Father and daughter stood in a long line to check in and then paid the $99 UM fee.
At 5:50 a.m., just after they had passed through security, they heard their names being paged.
They ran to the gate and reached it within that same minute. When they arrived at the gate, a United employee told them they had missed boarding by four minutes.
The plane door was still open and the walkway was still at the plane’s door. My daughter was crying and the employee still wouldn’t let her on and told them to wait to be helped for another flight.
Turns out the aircraft wasn’t delayed, and even though the family arrived on time, they still missed their boarding because of the long lines. Oh, and one other thing: Their flight was completely full, and when her daughter didn’t show up for boarding, United gave her seat to a standby passenger.
Gabrielle caught a flight the next day, for which United didn’t charge her, but Cichosz is unhappy. She paid $1,600 for the ticket, plus an additional $99, to get her daughter home for Thanksgiving. Instead, she spent the better part of the day on the phone with United, trying to get her daughter home. If her father didn’t live nearby, Gabrielle would have truly been stranded in Syracuse.
Why was her seat given away to a standby person, when the UM fee had been paid that morning and she was checked in at the ticket counter? Didn’t that mean she was in the airport? I’m having a hard time understanding how United can give an UM seat away like that?
She put the question to United in writing. Here’s what it said:
We appreciate your valuable feedback regarding your daughter’s recent experience. We are sorry you felt that the situation was not handled properly by our airport agents and will forward this issue along with your comments to management for further review.
We apologize for the inconvenience and frustration this situation may have caused you and your daughter and regret any poor impression created. Your comments will help us in future policies, procedures and protocols to create an airline receptive to your needs.
While we empathize with your concerns regarding your daughter’s experience, United agents must follow certain guidelines and timetables regarding flight boarding. Passengers, even if shown as checked in, are required to be at the gate at least 10 to 15 minutes before the scheduled flight time.