No compensation for Air Force One delay?

Couperfield /
Couperfield /
Here’s a complaint you don’t see every day. It comes to us by way of Alex Johnston, who was flying from San Francisco to Charlottesville, Va., via Washington on United Airlines.

“We boarded our flight in San Francisco on time,” she remembers. “But shortly after beginning our taxi, the pilot announced that we would be delayed 45 minutes to an hour on the runway because Air Force One was in front of us, flying the same route, so we must wait and allow them the space and time they needed.”

Of course, there’s a good reason for keeping a minimum distance between Air Force One and other air traffic. There have been several close calls between the presidential aircraft and other planes in the past.

But Johnston was worried that with a one-hour delay, she’d miss her connecting flight to Charlottesville. Even with an on-time arrival, she would have had barely an hour to make her connection.

When the Johnstons arrived in Washington, they had just minutes to make their flight. And they weren’t alone: 12 other passengers from San Francisco — nearly half of the passengers on the puddlejumper to Charlottesville — needed to make the flight, too.

“They were all sprinting from our arrival gate to our departure gate,” she says. “We all arrived at 10:02 to find out that the plane left 10 minutes ago — 11 minutes ahead of schedule.”

She asked United to help her get to Charlottesville.

“The customer service representative informed me that the only thing she could do was rebook us for a flight tomorrow evening or refund the cost for that leg of our trip,” she says. “Either way, no compensation would be provided for a hotel or rental car because the delay was an air traffic control delay, not a United problem.”

Indeed, Rule 24 of United’s contract of carriage (PDF), the legal agreement between her and the airline, defines a “force majeure” event as, “any event not reasonably foreseen, anticipated or predicted by UA.” Presumably, that would include giving Air Force One a little space.

The Johnstons didn’t want to spend the night in Washington.

“After arguing back and forth a bit, I gave up and we ended up having a family member drive 90 miles to pick us up to pick up another family member’s car to drive another 150 miles home that night,” she says.

She emailed United’s customer service department the next day, but received a form response offering to refund the unused leg of her flight, but offering no further compensation.

“Short of writing to the White House, I am at a loss of what to do,” she says.

United doesn’t owe her anything, according to its contract. Then again, its contract lets the airline do more or less whatever it wants to in this kind of situation.

The “early” departure doesn’t look as suspect to me. Most flights will close their doors 10 to 15 minutes before they’re scheduled to leave in order to have an “on time” departure. I’m a little surprised that United wouldn’t hold the plane when half the passengers were trying to make that connection. Maybe it made more sense to refund the last leg for them than to have a delay.

I guess the only thing I might argue with is that the presence of Air Force One is not “reasonably foreseen, anticipated or predicted.” I think United should have expected this delay and made any necessary adjustments to its schedule.

I had the privilege of visiting United’s control center in Chicago last summer, and I believe the airline certainly has the technology and resources to know better. Still, if this was a flight delay the airline could accept the responsibility for, the most the Johnstons could have hoped for would be a hotel and meal voucher — which would now be too little, too late.

Should I mediate Alex Johnston's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • polexia_rogue

    “Maybe it made more sense to refund the last leg for them than to have a delay.”

    i believe it. there is a similar route; Milwaukee to Madison (since, like Washington DC, Milwaukee is a larger hub)- it is a 18 minute flight.

    not sure how long a Washington DC- Virginia flight is, but it seems like it would be a similar length.

    since i go to Wisconsin every December me and my husband are almost always delayed. it took us 3 years to go up to the gate agent and ask “can we just drive to Madison? it won’t effect out return tickets, right?”
    we didn’t even both to ask for a refund of the 18 minute leg of the trip.

    now we fly in to Chicago instead. just easier to drive the last 2 hours.

  • Emanuel Levy

    Chris, while the compensation at the time would have been for a hotel and meal voucher, I feel the proper compensation now would be the amount of miles they could buy in the FF program for what the hotel and meal vouchers would be. One piece of info that would really help is knowing where the plane going to Charlottesville was going after it reached Charlottesville. If it was staying there over night I really feel the right and proper thing to do would be to delay that flight as United would have known the California flight would have been delayed.

  • JetAviator7

    Ah for the good old days when airlines cared about their passengers.

    Years ago I missed my flight from London to Detroit, and the kind ladies got me on another flight into Boston a couple of hours later with a connection to Detroit – all on First Class with no charge to me. This was Pan Am which – sadly – no longer exists.

  • EdB

    “I guess the only thing I might argue with is that the presence of Air Force One is not “reasonably foreseen, anticipated or predicted.” I think United should have expected this delay and made any necessary adjustments to its schedule.”

    Air Force One’s actual schedule is not released for security reason. About all United would have known is Air Force One was at the airport and would leave that day. They wouldn’t know what time it would be scheduled to leave so they couldn’t make any adjustments. However, once United knew about the late flight and the connections, they easily could have held it a few minutes for them. But other than getting the money back for that leg, I really don’t see what there would be to mediate.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Ok, so it’s San Francisco to DC. That’s, what, a six hour flight, at least? So, United knew at least five hours earlier that the inbound flight from San Francisco is going to arrive late.

    I wouldn’t call this “unforeseen”.

    How can you call something “unforeseen” that you you knew already five hours earlier? Especially when all that had to be done was delay the connecting flight by about 30 minutes.

  • sirwired

    Sometimes $hit happens, and the airline isn’t always responsible to bail you out for free. This was something beyond airline control, and travelers become responsible for dealing with it. I don’t know any domestic airline that would have put them up in a hotel for free. If this is unacceptable to you, buy insurance. They would have covered this under the Trip Delay coverage. (Although I’ll be the first to admit that insurance is quite silly for a simple domestic round-trip; “self-insuring” makes the most sense.) What does she think the airline should have done? If it’s the last flight of the night, there’s nothing the airline can do about it… offering to re-book for the next morning, is exactly what I’d expect, possibly supplemented with a list of local hotels with “distressed passenger” rates.

    They didn’t have to inconvenience somebody to pick them up… a one-way car rental probably would have cost about the same as their refunded airline segments. The refund would have more than covered it if they split the cost with some of the other stranded passengers.

  • jpp42

    One problem is that the crew of the connecting flight could have been approaching their duty time limits. Even holding it 10 minutes could have been enough to put them over the limit – and if they project that they won’t be within duty time limits when landing, they have to cancel the whole flight. There might be other considerations like curfew at the destination airport, approaching weather systems, ATC slot restrictions, etc. – maybe not in this specific situation, but in general there are dozens of factors for the dispatchers to consider.

  • jpp42

    And how much did you pay for that Pan Am flight in today’s dollars?

  • jpp42

    I agree it may not really be unforseen in that circumstance, but that doesn’t mean United had any other options. As I replied above, there are literally dozens of reasons why it may not have made sense to delay the connecting flight, even with a fairly large number of passengers (12) trying to connect.

  • Alan Gore

    Shouldn’t this situation be treated in the same way as a weather delay? Though the airline is not responsible for the ‘force majeure’ of an Air force One delay, it should be obligated to accommodate delayed passengers as soon as possible.This should include caring enough to adjust its connection times by a few minutes if needed.

  • DavidYoung2

    I’m with you. OP is a whiner and wants United, who was inconvenienced as well, to pay up because the President delayed his flight. Really dude?

    Life happens, so make the best of it. Rent a car, spend the night, whatever. But don’t expect United to pay for you because the President of the United States delayed your plane. Jeez —- get reasonable.

  • Emanuel Levy

    The OP said “They were all sprinting from our arrival gate to our departure gate,” she says. “We all arrived at 10:02 to find out that the plane left 10 minutes ago — 11 minutes ahead of schedule.”

    If that is accurate then I don’t believe that the crew of the connecting flight could have been approaching their duty time limits because if the flight had not left early the OP would have made the flight.

    After further thinking I wonder if United knowing that there would be passengers who will miss the plane if it takes off as scheduled decided to add more freight to the plane to increase their revenue.

  • Michael__K

    I don’t understand why the puddle jumper would have left 11 minutes early and stranded 13 passengers. Unless that flight was already full — say, because of distressed passengers with earlier missed connections. (And if that was the case then the overnight delay wasn’t exclusively because of Air Force One).

  • davidglass

    Can anyone comment on airline policy regarding segment usage? I thought airlines now routinely cancel all remaining segments if a segment is not used.

  • jim6555

    These days, airlines strive to have their flights depart and arrive on time (or early). Late arrivals are tracked by the FAA which issues reports comparing airlines’ on time arrivals.United probably didn’t want to hold the flight to Charlottesville because it would most likely arrive late and lower the airline’s on-time performance rating.

  • JetAviator7

    Free – it was a courtesy for having missed the original flight which was NOT on Pan AM.

  • Michael__K

    Looking at, it does look like this flight (IAD-CHO) routinely leaves early, but color me skeptical as to your explanation.

    In the last 10 days, 23 of 40 flights left at least 1 minute early (and up to 10 minutes early). 21 of those 23 flights landed on-time by a very comfortable margin (the early departure made no difference in on-time performance). The other 2 flights were 39 minutes late and 60 minutes late (the early departure made no difference in on-time performance).

    And flying with 13 empty seats (and leaving behind 13 passengers) has an opportunity cost.

  • Dirk

    kinda petty, we all know security is a big issue and everyone has to play by the same rules

  • Chris Johnson

    Not United’s fault but not the passenger’s fault either… did the connecting flight really have to take off 11 minutes early and mess things up for all those people? They could have held the flight until its normal departure time, having been in a similar situation with a Southwest Airlines connection, where the gate staff are well aware of people on delayed connecting flights sometimes even hold the flight for a few extra minutes.

  • cjr001

    Flights leave early when everybody scheduled to be on board is on board.

    There is no excuse whatsoever for having a flight leave early when they were expecting a dozen connecting passengers from a cross-country flight. Christopher should mediate and United should quit making excuses for screwing these people over.

  • MarkKelling

    I you choose to skip a segment, that is true that the airline will cancel your remaining segments. In this case, it is the airline itself forcing you to skip the segment.

  • et

    not in this case because they didn’t have another flight until the following day. If you choose to skip a flight you better believe they will

  • MarkKelling

    So I guess the question then becomes, how much was the flight you paid for in today’s dollars? :-)

  • Suzy blew

    same think happened to me in New Orleans a few years ago. President Obama had just been to New Orleans following the oil spill and was returning to DC. I also had to make a flight to DC to connect on to London. We were delayed 45 minutes but I had left sufficient time between connections which is the morale of the story. (also don’t allow town car drivers to abuse you because you’re British and therefore personally responsible – another story). The US seems to be fairly unique in selling flights with these crazy connection times that the rest of the world would never do. Flights are all too frequently late. Airlines lose luggage too. It’s not fair, it’s not right but you can do something to minimalise the inconvenience!

  • RetiredNavyphotog


  • TimCinOKC

    As MUCH as it pains me to say, UNITED not at fault for this one. The arrival/departure time(s) of AF One is outside the control of UNITED. While AF One schedules may be known for a certain “time period” and airlines should schedule around it, AF One can arrive/depart early or late, depending on the schedule of the President. UNITED Customer Service was correct, this delay was the result of an ATC issue, and while the RIGHT thing to do was provide overnight accomodations for the OP, they were not obligated to do so. And we know in this day and age, airlines are generally not known for doing the RIGHT thing when it comes to expending $$$$.

  • JH

    United is awful on this type of thing. In times past when an airline knew you were on a connecting flight, they held things so as not to inconvenience the traveler and save their own folks from getting blasted by frustrated travelers.

    I’ve experienced the same with United and even emailed their CEO saying their United Express operation was dreadful. He passed me off to United Express folks who just don’t get it. Their staff is uninformed, borderline rude, and almost always provides inaccurate or out of date information. I recall being at Denver and we were told to proceed to the commuter gate for our flight when the United website clearly showed the aircraft not yet departed en route to Denver. Undeterred the agent sent us down only to have the agent down there berate us for being there.

  • Daniepwils

    Air Force One should have stayed behind and let this flight take off before them so that all of the passengers would have been on time, not the other way around… The President can do all the same work he does at the White House that he does on Air Force One…
    I blame the tower for this one (or whomever gives clearance for the planes and what order they take off in) they should have known that both of these planes were taking the same route to the same place. Common Sense much?

  • Frank

    Wherever the president goes he disrupts travel for millions of people (mainly the locals) seemingly without care or consequence, all on the taxpayers’ dime. Much of the travel is purely political and unnecessary, or for fundraisers. I’d like to see the campaign have to reimburse all inconvenienced passengers and residents for political and fund-raising travel.

  • MarkKelling

    The flights United has from DC to Charlottesville currently are on Bombardier Q200 planes which seat 37. So, technically, the 12 passengers were 1/3 of the total not 1/2. Still, I see no real reason why UA could not have held the flight an extra few minutes. The only thing I can think of is that there were other passengers that had been re-accomodated on that flight because other flights that day were oversold or cancelled earlier that day. Or that it would have taken much more time to transfer checked luggage from the inbound fight that would have pushed the crew past their daily time limits resulting in the flight being cancelled (UA seems to have absolutely no reserves when it comes to flight crews these days).

    UA did offer to book the passengers on the next available flight or refund the cost of the segment, which is all that was required of them. Now, I’m not sure what the refunded amount offered was, but I’m sure it was not the full stand alone price of that segment the OP would have been charged for a walk up fare (checking UA online, the entire flight from SFO to CHO is actually less in some cases than just the segment from Washington to CHO!!), however since this appears to be the best option for the OP, the refund should be accepted.

    On the connection time. This is something I have an issue with personally with UA. They have multiple flights every day on the routes I need to fly. When booking online, the connections presented are always the shortest allowable times even when other flights are less full and it takes some creative approaches to get the better flights. So the OP may not have been either aware of or able to book a flight with more time between the segments.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    I am still fighting with United for a refund, (almost 2 years) and I find they have really changed since the merger with Continental. They really don’t care anymore, and I find gate agents often nasty. Mediate with them?- I think will get you nothing unless this case hits a newspaper or TV. But it’s not like the President’s schedule is a secret. When I find he will be in our area, and I’m flying, I try to take an earlier flight, and plan my car trips away from his route. United should have KNOWN this might happen.

  • David

    It’s AF1! I can understand the need to keep it secure, but surely it could have been the one delayed by 45 mins.

  • Grant

    Hi Jayne,

    Sure they know. They just don’t give a damn. True story… years ago, Chris published a story about an experience I had with Southwest. Bam! Within a day, I had multiple emails and a phone call from Southwest. Wanna bet you’re not going to hear a word from United? They don’t care; they don’t have to.

    One suggestion… if you haven’t done this already, go to the top of this page and click on the “Wiki” link. On the page that opens, click “Airline,” then scroll down to the contact information for United, and give ’em hell. Good luck!

  • emanon256

    I voted no to this one, this is clearly outside of United’s control. And I am not a fan of United and would love to get them to pay up, but I don’t see what they did wrong here. As someone who used to fly 125,000 miles a year, I have actually experienced several Air Force One related delays. Its part of air travel. Its no different than going on a road trip and having part of the road closed for any variety of reasons. United offered to re-schedule or refund, and I think the fact that they offer that is a good thing. If they hadn’t offered those options, I would say mediate.

    As far as delaying the second flight, I am sure United had to look at where that aircraft had to be next, and crew hours. perhaps delaying it, would mean canceling it and cancelling the next flight the plane was to be used on as well. That would be a worse problem for many more people. I don’t think they were trying to stick it to the OP, I think they had a situation outside of their control and tried to affect the least amount of people possible, which meant the OP was affected. Maybe I am giving UA too much credit, after all they did just downgrade to a 30 year old computer system from their intuitive modern one. But regardless, I don’t think UA owes the OP anything.

  • Daddydo

    I t really depends upon the intelligence of the traveler and the airline representative. I would know to be sure to advise that I am using the flight. The computer will automatically cancel the ongoing flights unless a human being adjusts the reservation, This is yet another reason that real travel agents survive, we do that work for you. $$’s to donuts (my father’s favorite ) there was another way of getting to CHO, but service reps at the airport just want you to go away!

  • jpp42

    That is just so horribly cynical about the freight! I think that given this was a small commuter flight that it can’t take much if any freight.

    But I’m not sure this flight “left early” – it might be that the doors closed 11 minutes before scheduled departure, which is not uncommon (as Chris said). This is one thing that’s a bit odd about airline practices, in that you *must* arrive a certain amount early. The industry probably ought to fix that issue.

  • jpp42

    Yes, that’s what I meant!

  • John Baker

    Ummm… Sorry but once the President enters the airport, the Secret Service assumes control of the airfield. ATC and the FAA have no control. The airfield is locked down and nothing moves until AF1 departs.
    You might remember during the Clinton era he decided to get a haircut on AF1 while at LAX. The entire airport was lockdown for an hour.

  • G E

    Unbelievable. Is Air Force One for God sake. Is your President. Next time you see him tell him, he owes you one :)

  • LFH0

    The standard for measuring on-time performance in the public transportation industry is: never depart early and depart no later than 5 minutes after the scheduled departure time. Some public transportation systems might allow for a departure up to 1 minute early, or up to 6 minutes late.

    But a departure which is 11 minutes early should never be considered as being “on-time” (yes, where all seats are reserved, and where all persons with advance reservations are on board and ready to go prior to the scheduled departure time, there may be no need to wait for scheduled departure time, but that was not the case here). Such an early departure should certainly count against the airline in its on-time performance statistics. Otherwise, what becomes of the meaning of a published timetable?

  • emanon256

    Haha, I just remembered, my old boss flew BOS-IAD-CHO every week to get home. He could either have a 3 hour layover in IAD or a 45 minute layover. He was always miss connecting, even when he had the 3 hour layover. It was always due to ATC, and usually military traffic. I just IMd him and he said the drive from IAD to CHO was 1h 45m, but typically took him 1h 30m at night. He also said he made money when he miss connected because the IAD-CHO segment was pricy and the 1 way rental was always cheaper and he had to go to the airport to get his car anyway. After talking to him, I really the the OP is a whiner. Why did they not just rent a car? They had another family member drive 90 miles to pick up a car to drive another 150 miles? Sounds like the OP was making it more difficult than it had to be.

  • y_p_w

    Trips to campaign stops are supposed to be compensated by a campaign committee. The amount of compensation is another matter.

    Besides that, this has been going on for years – ever since there was a Presidential plane or Presidential car.

  • sirwired

    You must arrive early because the passenger manifest has to be closed in time for the flight dispatcher to run the final Weight and Balance calculations. (Doubly important on a smaller commuter flight.) This isn’t an issue to be “fixed”; it’s a basic safety measure.

  • pauletteb

    Something tells me you voted for Romney . . . and that your response would be quite different had he won.

  • y_p_w

    While that was an unfortunate stunt, LAX was never in “lock down”. LAX has four runways (two were closed during that incident) and other takeoffs and landings were diverted to other runways. I’m sure the FAA didn’t particularly like shoehorning traffic at a busy airport to a couple of runways, but it didn’t cause air traffic to grind to a halt.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    Chris started helping me a few months ago. First of April I sent- as a final try a registered letter. I paid for an upgrade, on two tickets, and they changed aircraft- no upgrade. I actually got a persons name to correspond. First of June I’m filing in small claims court. Probably would have let it go- but they were just so nasty. They have asked for my paperwork- and Ive sent it now 6 times.

  • Grant


    Classic United. You go girl!


  • cjr001

    Let’s not get into the blame game with this one.

    I have a friend who lives across the street from where one of the presidential debates was held last election. It wasn’t exactly a fun few days for him.

  • cjr001

    Except, they didn’t delay that 2nd flight; it left early when it had no reason to, thus causing a dozen people to miss it.

    Clearly outside of United’s control? Clearly wrong.

  • Guest

    Yeah. Makes a lot of sense to me. Let that flight go first that has people connecting. Oh, but what about the flight after that one? And the one after that? And the next one? Come to think of it, is there ever a flight without someone having some sort of connection?

  • LeeAnneClark

    I was waiting for someone to blame the President for this. ;-)

    Presidential travel has caused the same headaches since they had to clear the streets for Washington’s carriage. It’s not the President’s “fault” – it’s just a fact of life.

  • Guest

    Yeah. All those inconvenience should be compensated. When Bush I came into town, the entire plant where I was working was literally locked down and we were held prisoners while we waited for the motorcade to pass. I’m not joking about being held prisoners either. There was secret service crawling all over the place and we were informed anyone caught outside during that period would be arrested. Oh, and his visit was to have dinner with some people. Not even a fund raiser! It was a private event.

  • JenniferFinger

    Sorry, David, I don’t agree that the OP is a “whiner.” She paid just as much money for her flight as everyone else on it who didn’t have to connect, and sometimes “making the best of it” by sucking it up isn’t possible either-especially when you’re out a lot of money or lose important time by waiting for the next flight.

  • JenniferFinger

    You could try to mediate, but I don’t think you would get anywhere.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    After reading the other comments here, pretty much everything I was going to say was said. I think @google-fc00b38b94ca7b6f820622b0a8af8ded:disqus said it best when he pointed out United had ample time to make adjustments for the 12 people who were missing their connecting flight. United could have made the executive decision to hold the plane for these people and had golf carts ready at the arrival gate to get them there in time.

    Is it inconvenient for them? Yes, it is. Is it the right thing to do? Yes, it is.

    It just seems to me, more and more, that the airlines are becoming MORE inconvenient as a form of travel, rather than efficient. (and I’m sure I could have said this better, but it’s still early here and I’ve only had one cup of tea)

  • Raven_Altosk

    Refund the unused leg and move on with life.
    I smell the OP’s “I want a free first class ticket” nonsense under this complaint letter.

  • TonyA_says

    You need to look at the stats for HER flight only, not all the flights from IAD to CHO. The general numbers can be very deceiving with regards to her case.

  • TonyA_says

    Do you have any proof THIS FLIGHT left early?
    Please provide some before you shoot down UAL.

  • Carchar

    I once got into San Francisco to be told that connecting flight, last one of the night, had been canceled due to mechanical difficulties. They had a hotel room booked for me and had booked me on a flight for the next morning. However, when I went to fly home a week later, I was told that I no longer had a seat on my return flight because I had been a no-show. We sorted things out. They found their error and I ended up on my original flights.

  • TonyA_says

    Agree. Me, too. Not sure why this is even a story.

  • TonyA_says

    In this particular case, gates closed is probably the time she is talking about.
    Not necessarily actual departure time.

  • y_p_w

    I don’t believe that operations at large commercial airports are routinely shut down for Presidential use. Most flights would probably operate normally, although I’m guessing they might not allow other flights to line up to take off at the same runway while AF1 is waiting to take off. It sounds like this particular flight was delayed because it was flying pretty much the same route. It’s not as if they clear the airspace 200 miles around AF1, but I’m guessing specific routes might be delayed if they’re going from the SF Bay Area to any of the DC area airports at about the same time as AF1.

    Even with Clinton’s infamous haircut on the runway at LAX, two major runways were fully operating and flights were departing and arriving close to normal. It’s no fun for ATC when they have to work with only two closely packed runways at one of the busiest airports in the country, but it certainly wasn’t shut down.

  • random_observation_source

    While I’m no expert in presidential security or airline operations, odds are that the cost of delaying Air Force 1 every minute far exceeds the cost of delaying a commercial airline, given all of the security coordination that goes into every single presidential flight. From the spare 747 and C-130/C5 hauler carrying the President’s armored limo to the KC-135 in flight to provide aerial refueling to Air Force 1 and/or any escort fighter aircraft that are spooled up and ready to take off on a moment’s notice (not to mention all the ground operations around the President and at his destination), that probably costs more than delaying the movement of a couple of dozen commercial airliners.

    However, given the amount of coordination around each Air Force 1 flight and all of the TFRs filed by the FAA to keep airspace clear around Air Force 1, I don’t see how United is calling it an unanticipated delay, unless maybe the President was making a last-second somewhere? The timing of this event isn’t present in the story. (Maybe this happened during a visit to comfort Sandy Hook victims, etc.)

  • emanon256

    How am I clearly wrong? United does not know Air Force Ones schedule, or how ATC will handle the interruption. They also have no way of knowing if the no-shows at T-15 were going to show up or not. UA flights close 15 minutes before departure, in fact all the material says passengers must arrive at the gate at least 15 minutes before departure or they forfeit their flight. Whether they closed it at T-11 or at T-0 doesn’t matter, at T-15 they close the flight and prepare to push back. If they wait until T-0 to close, it would take another 5 to 10 minutes to do weight and balance checks, then they would then have to wait for the connecting baggage which takes 30+ minutes in IAD, and on the last fligth of a day on an express route often means they will have to chancel that flight due to crew duty time, as well as several routes the next morning because the plane wasn’t positioned. So if the choice is wait for several no-shows and risk canceling multiple flights, or re-accommodate the no shows, there is one clear answer.

  • cahdot

    it seems AF 1 was in florida weekly last year and i had 2 orlando delays because of it and also in chicago.. AF 1 was all over america daily and still is for CAMPAIGNING so important…….

  • cahdot

    that has been my experience esp with united


    United could have held the flight that left early. They should get the remainder of their flight refunded and a rental car fee added. United Is negligent In not holding the connecting flight.

  • EdB

    This is a pretty good coincident. Watching an episode of Airport 24/7:Miami right now and this one is about having to deal with Air Force One coming in. When AF1 was on final approach, EVERYTHING stopped. Now I know these shows are not 100% reality, but from personal experience being at an airport when AF1 was coming in, everything stopped. No take off. No landing. Nothing moved on the airfield until after AF1 had landed, stopped, and the President left the airfield. (Episode 5 – Air Force One if anyone is interested)

  • y_p_w

    Could be a different approach after 9/11. I was thinking of the time Clinton was getting that haircut. the FAA was adamant that airport operations continued on two runways.

    Here’s an article on AF1 at Minneapolis:

    They were apparently very busy the half hour before AF1 arrived trying to get flights off and coordinating the landing. Then for a half hour the tower chatter was minimal. They claim that planes were still landing, but were asked to park on the taxiways and shut off their engines until the Pres had left the airport.

  • y_p_w
  • EdB

    So just more proof that an airport does in fact go into lock down, contrary to what another poster was claiming.

  • Joe Farrell

    Why wouldn’t an Air Force One departure be reasonably anticipated? The Temporary Flight Restriction has a hard end on it – is almost never extended – and the President is a pretty lazy guy – he is always ready to depart on schedule – he’s not a dawdler like Clinton was.

    Moreover, if the flight left more than 10 min early – they have a pretty decent claim for breach of contract. United will argue about their rules but the reality is to basically sue them for breach of contract, and for the tort of breach of good faith and fair dealing, and find out who was running the flights in the ops center. The ask for the records pertaining to the operation of the two flights – and then schedule a few depos – when they ask you what it takes to make the case go away – tell them. 2 systemwide positive space First Class round trip tickets.

    It was not an ATC delay, it was a security delay and reasonably known. UA knows if you have checked bags, or any other reason it is not able to hold the CX flight for 2 pax for 20 minutes – which in this case would have been only pushed 10 late. Then they come up to you on board – and hand you an ACARS message which says: “Flight XXX being held until XXXXpm for you. If you are not on board the aircraft by then, it will depart without you.”

    The airlines have the ability to do this easily. But never do.. . . unless you are Exec Platinum Gazliion miler level FF/

    One last point: Was the flight IAD-CHO already full? Last flight of the day- lots of commuters – if if it was already full – then thats why it left 11 min early – which means our two people are entitled to denied boarding compensation – they bought a ticket from SFO-CHO – they met the 30 min present yourself for departure rule – in SFO. UA would not have a defense to denied boarding compensation – and THAT is the question that Chris needs to ask.

  • Joe Farrell

    If its an RJ and the keep 2 on the ground its 400lbs of mail or freight. Thats real money.

  • Joe Farrell

    ok – but you are wrong. I can tell you within 15 min or so when AF One is going to leave – and – I can listen live to ATC pretty much anywhere now via internet and hear AF1 call ground for clearance and taxi. Want to know when AF1 is going to take off within 15 min? –

    look for “VIP” Look for an 30nm ring diameter. Look at the time it ends – AF1 is scheduled wheels up 15 min before that- and – if you listen to ATC they’ll call for Clearance Delivery and then taxi about 20 min before that.

    Its not brain surgery – its ‘secret’ because people like you think it is.

  • Joe Farrell

    Do you live in the real world as the rest of us?

  • sirwired

    Joe, I doubt an RJ running from IAD to CHO is hauling much, if any, mail or freight. You save maybe an hour vs. just putting the stuff in a truck and driving it there.

  • Joe Farrell

    The airport is not in lock down until the Prez is on board and the airplane is moving. AF1 usually parks on the GA ramp or off in some corner if they use the helo.

  • Joe Farrell

    The funny thing – is that the flight to CHO might have already been full when it pulled away 11 min early – so even if they got to the plane they would have been bumped. Which is why you need to get the manifest for the flight when you sue – if you discover that the flight was already full and left early – then we have a completely different situation now, don’t we? Now they are entitled to compensation for being bumped . . .

  • sirwired

    IAD and SFO are hugely busy airports… there are ALWAYS planes arriving and departing during times you might actually want to travel. Somebody’s going to get inconvenienced when AF1 needs to leave, no matter when it is. If AF1 had stuck around for 45 more minutes, then flights 45 minutes later would have had to hold.

  • sirwired

    Planes below 30 seats (like the Q200) are exempt from Involuntary Denied Boarding compensation rules.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    real question is why does el pres need a 747 ?
    Couldn’t he manage with a much smaller jet ?
    The USA is seriously broke & you can’t afford 747’s.
    He only a dodgy politician !!!

  • Bill___A

    I don’t regard the problem as being that Air Force One was flying. The flight to Charlottesville leaving early when there were connecting passengers is the problem. Therefore, I regard it as United’s fault. Had their flight to Charlottesville left on time and not early – then they could possibly blame it on Air Force One.

  • EdB

    Yes. The estimated times are published, but they are not guaranteed times.

  • cjr001

    This is why we have this wonderful thing call communications: so you can communicate what’s going on.

    I’ve been on several flights where if they were expecting to be late, the plane called ahead for people who had connections so that those folks could make those connections.

    Are you telling me that that didn’t happen here? That knowing when Plane A was going to arrive Plane B just ignored a dozen people who were supposed to be on board? They wouldn’t have had to cancel anything; they simply had to wait until the SCHEDULED departure time.

    They chose not to. That’s inexcusable.

  • Chasmosaur

    I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the DC area, but I just don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for the Air Force One delay. So many delays from my youth and early adulthood in the DC area are directly related to Presidential Motorcades. (The Clinton years were the pits – that man was always running late.)

    Now, United sending a plane off early when 1/3 of the passengers were on one flight they knew was delayed – that’s the problem. Air Force One has little to do with it, really – there could have been a delay for a dozen other reasons that delayed the flight an hour. United could have been more helpful there.

  • jpp42

    Err, of course many items have to be figured out prior to take-off for safety and operational reasons. That’s not my quibble. The quibble is that the time advertised to travelers shouldn’t be the “departure time” it should be the boarding time – the time when you’re expected to be at the gate. The actual departure time, whether it is 5 minutes later or an hour later, should not be of direct concern to travelers. (I realize boarding times are usually printed on boarding passes these days, but these are not the times shown when ticketing or planning airline schedules, which is the problem.)

  • jpp42

    Exactly, the people who keep commenting that are sadly cynical. Money is made from freight in cross-country and overseas flights, where it is palletized and carried on larger airplanes with pallet loading equipment. There’s no way consignments as small as 400 lbs would be considered, especially not on a regional jet, and especially if there’s a chance the freight won’t actually go that day – if someone is paying for air freight they want assurances it’s going to arrive on the day the airline promised. Air freight is booked on specific flights, and the pallet space is sold like a “seat” and planned well in advance – it’s not like there’s just extra freight sitting around for every flight. (Though standby freight is possible in certain circumstances on heavily trafficked routes, it’s not going to be on IAD to CHO!)

  • jpp42

    They may have medical reasons or other specific barriers to driving a car (e.g. no drivers license due to past offenses). Or perhaps don’t have a credit card or enough money on a debit card to secure a rental. Not everyone can rent and drive a car at the drop of a hat.

  • sirwired

    Which time are you thinking of? The time boarding starts? (Because that would create confusion when arrival times for your previous leg are after the departure time for the subsequent leg.) The time the door closes? (That would create an epidemic of people showing up at the last second, putting unpredictability in actual departure.) The current practice of closing the door some unspecified time before departure encourages people to be at the gate in plenty of time.

    I’m not sure what difference this would make. Actual times wouldn’t change at all; tight connections will still be tight connections. Confusing the departure time with the required boarding time is a mistake only somebody that has never flown before in their lives would make. And only if they completely ignored any of the paperwork on their boarding pass.

  • emanon256

    I did think about that at first actually, but when I re-read, I noticed the OP said that United would not pay for a rental car, so they had a family member drive to get them so they could pick up another car, which made me believe they were driving the other car. I summarized it in my post above and it doesn’t sound quite the same, so that’s my fault. In the OPs quote it sounds like a family member drove to get them, and drove them to another car that they drove home. Perhaps it was their car at the airport? They didn’t say. Not sure about the credit card issue, but I would think they would include that in their story if that were the reason as its an important fact.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    UA could have done better. But the problem was Air Force One. Politicians need to be flying/driving around where the rest of us ARE NOT INCONVENIENCED by their meaningless trips. When they’re driving, they need to be moving around at 3am, not closing major streets in the middle of the day. This is a perfect example of many people getting screwed up because someone thought that Obama’s needs were more important than the rest of us … he should have been at a military airfield, not in the way of the public.

  • Nadia

    I agree. This is not United’s fault. If Chris wants to mediate this, ask the White House for compensation for jumping ahead in line-not United.

  • Joe Farrell

    you don’t think plus or minus 10 minutes is enough to make a schedule adjustment or acknowledge that delays happen to certain flights? Sure, SFO is a UA hub and this a broad number of flights might be affected in that window, but you still can pin it down to at least a 30 min window of departures that might be affected.

    That would require that dispatchers and airline employee engage their brains instead of being wholly reactive – I was always to plan for possibilities while flying the reality . . . apparently the airlines today are purely reactive.

  • Joe Farrell

    We STILL would a different negotiating position for the couple – if the plane was already full . . .

  • Joe Farrell

    What military airfield would that be near San Francisco? Why don’t you take a look and get back to me on that.

  • EdB

    No argument about the airline being reactive and not proactive. My point was at the start of the day, they really don’t know for sure what flights will be effected. However, once they do know, that 15 minute window is known, they can do more than what it seems they do.

  • silverpie

    Moffett Federal Airfield if you go south; Travis Air Force Base if north is easier.

  • EdB

    Moffett is not a military airfield anymore. It is a private field run by NASA/Ames.

  • y_p_w

    It’s a “federal airfield” and has been used for AF1 landings. I don’t know if it’s ideal. The longest runway isn’t even 10,000 ft long, which seems to be the standard for a fully loaded 747.

    There are a host of closed military runways around the Bay Area, but I don’t think any were long enough for a 747.

  • EdB

    Just because it has the word Federal in its name does not mean it is run by the Federal Government. Besides, the question was what military airfield. Moffett is not run by the military any more.

  • kierah

    For that number of passengers, the plane should have been held. There aren’t many flights to Charlottesville. United knew it would majorly inconvenience its passengers and they just didn’t care. United should do more for the passengers in these cases. A little common sense would alleviate a lot of bad press.

  • y_p_w

    Not run by the federal government? When did NASA become private? I’ve been there (went to see Endeavour fly by) and there’s tons of federal NASA Police all around the place.

    And this particular airfield is used by several military operators. And Air Force One has landed here after the Navy left.

    There is some limited non-government use of the airfield, but those are very limited agreements and it isn’t a general use airport by any stretch.

  • EdB

    Did I ever say Moffett wasn’t Federal? No. I said that just because something has the word Federal in it, doesn’t mean it is run by the Federal Government. In this case, it is. NASA is a civilian agency. It runs Moffett and has several military tenets, but the military does not run it anymore.

  • y_p_w

    Did I ever say it was still a military owned/operated airfield? I only said it was still used by some military operators (Air National Guard and some Army units). I know it’s operated by NASA.

    You said it was “private” and “does not mean it is run by the Federal Government”, which are patently wrong. It is not private if it’s owned by a federal agency, and although NASA is a civilian agency, it’s still considered part of the federal government. Ergo – it’s a federal airfield both in name and operation.

  • EdB

    The question was, “What military airfield would that be near San Francisco?” Your answer was, “Moffett Federal Airfield if you go south.” So yes, you implied it was run by the military by supply it as an answer to the question.

    As for “private”, it is private in that it is not open for general aviation use. Not that it is private property.

    As for, “does not mean it is run by the Federal Government”, did you miss this in my previous comment, ” I said that just because something has the word Federal in it, doesn’t mean it is run by the Federal Government. In this case, it is.” Your calling my statement patently wrong is only wrong when taken out of context, like you are doing. I used to be a member of Los Angeles Federal Credit Union. Because it has the word Federal in it, “does not mean it is run by the Federal Government.” You see how that works. Now the last part of my statement, “In this case, it does”, means that Moffett Federal Airfield *IS* run by the Federal Government.

  • y_p_w

    I never said it was currently a military airfield, and I didn’t directly answer that question about “what military airfield?”. That was someone else’s answer, unless I’m suddenly silverpie. Just look at this branch of the comments and tell me if any of my posts were replies to Joe Farrell, who asked the question of what military airfields are near San Francisco.

    I was only responding to your comment that it was a “private field”, because that implies to most people that it’s not owned or operated by the government. It’s not a public general use airport by any stretch, but it’s certainly owned by the government and would have the special security (some of it military) in place similar to what one might find at a military base. It has been used for Air Force One landings since it was handed over to NASA.

  • EdB

    Yes, I did miss that the original reply I responded to was from someone else. My apologies for that.

    But in regards to the private field, I said it was “a private field run by NASA.” If I had left the part out about NASA, I would agree that it could imply it was not a government field. But I don’t agree that stating something that is private and run by a government agency implies the same thing. It just implies that it is not open for public use.

  • Lindabator

    If you just skip the flight, true. BUT if you run into an instance like this, and work with the gate or res agent, they can keep the balance of the ticket intact, as the thing they are trying to avoid in these cases is the “hidden city” instance.

  • Lindabator

    Daily operations are under ATC control – NOT the airlines. So when they say leave the gate, you do – whether or not AF1 is there or not.

  • Lindabator

    And they did – they offered the next flight out, as they are required to. Weather and ATC do NOT get you hotels/meals, etc.

  • Lindabator

    They arrived two minutes AFTER the scheduled departure time, the doors were closed 10 minutes before that. AS ALWAYS is done. They flight didn’t LEAVE early, it just did not allow them onboard once closed up. Not unusual.

  • Lindabator

    Amen! And when I worked at NAFDET, and Bush I visited, we weren’t allowed to drive on the base, or off (waited until 2 hours past my end of shift – no pay, of course!) These things happen.

  • Lindabator

    They said they got to the counter 2 minutes after scheduled departure, so NOT bumped – airlines would have seated someone else anyway, as the COC clearly states WHEN you need to be at the gate. You guys are really getting ridiculous here.

  • Lindabator

    They MIGHT be able to delay a flight, but that is NOT a guarantee! There are things going on you have NO CLUE about – like crew requirements, where the plane must be located next (if it is the first flight out from the next town, it WILL go out on time, so they don’t backlog the next day for all THOSE people).

  • Lindabator

    They JUST don’t get it, Tony. But you are right – and once those doors close, they STAY closed. FAA fines are outrageous otherwise.

  • Lindabator

    THEY don’t necessarily make that call, based on a handful of travellers.

  • Lindabator

    Unless they would not HAVE another slot that night to utilize, and then THAT flight would be grounded for late departure, and the city it was supposed to leave from the next AM would have set up a domino effect of delayed and cancelled flights. You guys seem to assume airlines can just do as they please in regards to delaying flights – they can request from the airport to leave outside their scheduled departure times, but if denied, they have no choice but to leave. And once those doors are closed (10 minutes prior to flight time) there IS no re-opening them.

  • cjr001

    I’ll repeat myself, since apparently some of you are having great trouble understanding basic English:

    The flight left early. Make all the BS excuses you want, but United effed up and screwed over a dozen people in the process.

    End. Of. Story.

  • Lindabator

    She said they arrived at the gate 2 minutes after – so how would she know when they left – unless the plane was still there or just leaving – and THAT is not leaving early, but on time. People make a lot of assumptions, but FAA actually tracks those flights

  • Mike

    The delay was entirely foreseeable, anticipatable and predictable by UA, and everyone else who uses the U.S. airspace. Temporary airspace restrictions exist wherever the President is. These are usually published days in advance so users of the airspace can plan accordingly. United, and all other carriers, receive thiese notices. Pilots are advised of them in briefings. United should have adjusted its schedule to accomodate this expected delay.

  • Joe Farrell

    But Linda, they DID check in for their flight from SFO-CHD on time – the airline needed to route them through IAD but they did arrive for their flight on time – the contract of carriage is absolutely silent about when you need to be at the gate for the connecting flight in a multi-flight trip . . .

  • Casa Mariposa Panama

    Why should these people expect any compensation? Things happen on flights all the time. If you don’t leave enough time between connecting flights, that’s your tough luck.

    The airline cannot predict the movements of Airforce 1 any better than a freak mechanical failure or a sudden rainstorm. If this consumer wants compensation, let them approach the Whitehouse.

    Holy Christmas, Chris, why do you waste your time on such foolishness?

  • brianguy

    I’ll never understand why a flight would leave 11 minutes early with 10 checked-in passengers in the airport still enroute to the gate. UA is completely capable of looking when all connecting, it’s right on their computer in front of them. every employee of this airline (and other U.S. carriers) is supposed to know how to check for this sort of thing. the passengers could have also had someone call ahead to their gate the minute they landed, but not sure that it would have helped in this particular case.

    I’ve seen two extremes, airlines which go completely out of their way bending over backwards to wait for people to board who should’ve been there already, and have been called 14 times, and they are inconveniencing all the other passengers to unreasonably accommodate a few, and those airline employees that unreasonably (though rarely) pull stunts like this.

  • brianguy

    most airlines claim they can deny you boarding if you’re not there 30 minutes before (which isn’t really that accurate.. it’s more like 10-15 minutes but they want to give themselves a buffer and give people proper warning). but saying 30 minutes is nuts because then they also routinely arrange connecting flights to land within 40-45 minutes. so they’re basically making it impossible to easily get to the gate within that 30 minute were they to choose to enforce it.

  • brianguy

    well the total cost of the direct flight from London to Detroit is probably all there was to go on, but I definitely would’ve liked to know how much a flight from Boston to Detroit cost at the time. at the very least the FC upgrade (price difference) for the leg from Boston to Detroit is of great interest, though near impossible to look up now.

  • brianguy

    when people are all aboard and accounted for and all flight checks are done, especially on small regional flights I find they take off when they can. better to get in line on the tarmac.

    wasn’t what happened in the writer’s case, but it is what’s reflected in those averaged statistics.

  • Zarkov505

    United doesn’t owe her anything.

    And she doesn’t owe United any further business, EVER. Nor does her employer, if she has any clout at all. (The good employers, the ones big enough to have travel departments, LISTEN to their employees about their experiences with airlines.) Nor does she owe United her silence, when talking to her friends about which airlines treat people well and which airlines pull a hard vacuum on a garden hose.