What to do when your lie-flat seat doesn’t lie flat

What to do when your lie-flat seat doesn’t lie flat
Peter Zvonar/Shutterstock
Peter Zvonar/Shutterstock

OK, I’ll admit that I poke fun at the “entitleds” behind the curtain as much as the next guy wedged into one of those sardine-class airline seats.

Oh, those elites whining about the temperature of their Chardonnay or the service that isn’t sufficiently obsequious. To have their problems!

And honestly, I wouldn’t even mention the following case unless the airline in question had started making so much noise about its superior comfort and friendliness, especially in the front of the cabin.

No need to sit through the entire video. Take it from me: It’s slick, it’s inspiring and there’s absolutely no way they filmed that in actual economy class seats.

Ever tried to play a trombone with only 32 inches of room in front of you? How about that cello?


Some industry cheerleaders apparently didn’t bother watching the rest of the videos (yeah, there are more ads) and missed the ones that laid it out for the rest of us mere mortals. Simply put, we are not part of the equation this time.

“Built around you” friendly? Tell that to the saps in the back who have everything around them, including flight attendants with that trademark “you-get-what-you-pay-for” attitude.

All of which brings us to this morning’s case, in which Karen Fierer flew from Newark to Tel Aviv under less-than-friendly circumstances.

The flight in question is United 84 on Aug. 12. Her seat? 10A, which is in the first class cabin.

“It would not recline,” she says. “Several flight attendants tried to fix it, to no avail. I ended up having paid for a first class seat that I had to sit upright in for the entire night.”

Now, if this had happened in economy class, I’d say, “Walk it off, Fierer.”

In Economy Plus, I’d say: take the voucher and the apology, and go in peace.

But in “friendly” first class, for which she paid $3,624? No, this passenger has a right to be upset.

United sent her a cheerful form email apologizing for the trouble and offering her a choice between a 15,000 mileage deposit or an electronic travel certificate valued at $300. She wants a refund, but will settle for a partial refund — the difference between an economy class seat and a first-class seat.

Even if United agreed to such a refund, it would do what I call “funny airline math.” Rather than pulling up the most common type of fare, a less expensive advance-purchase ticket, it would probably use a full-fare ticket as a base, which costs two to three times more. It might also “adjust” the fare, adding taxes or fuel surcharges to the price in order to lessen the amount of the refund.

Go ahead and laugh — I’ve seen them do it.

Fierer appealed the decision to the United contacts listed on my site, but they wouldn’t do anything. Now she wants me to get involved.

If United really wants to be “friendly” — if not in person, then in the amenities it offers passengers — then this is as good a time as any to show it. I realize a non-reclining seat is a relatively small problem in the overall scheme of things. But if you’re selling a lie-flat seat on an overnight flight, then dammit, shouldn’t the thing let you lie flat?

Should I mediate Karen Fierer's case?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • polexia_rogue

    when i tried to plug in dates for a NYC to Tel Aviv route for january 2014 (to get an example) the difference between economy and first class was about 3,000 dollars.

    not sure the airline will be willing to part with that much over JUST a seat. but she does deserve a little more then 300 dollars.

  • Bill___A

    There are several amenities in first class…better food, more space, etc. etc. etc.
    However, the one big thing is the lie flat beds. That’s the deal maker or the deal breaker.
    All other remarks aside, it is a matter of getting what you paid for, and these lie flat beds cost a LOT more. Undoubtedly the airline will list 20 things that you get in the first class that you don’t get in economy, but in my mind, it all boils down to that lie flat bed.
    They actually should refund the difference between what “She would have paid” for economy versus what she paid for the business class seat.
    Considering she probably was a lot less comfortable upon her arrival in Israel because of this issue, the airline should consider this a matter to take seriously.
    They won’t upgrade someone for $300 so they shouldn’t expect $300 to be the downgrade compensation.
    I know Chris has a bee in his bonnet sometimes about “elites” and “lie flat seats” but sometimes, you go in those things because you have to drive once you get to your destination and it is the difference between losing a day at a hotel getting sleep and being able to drive safely – and not kill anyone, including yourself.
    Seats can and do break. There is a price to be paid and United should pay it.

  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    Even an economy seat reclines. So in a way she had it worse than economy. The extra legroom would be nice, but yikes on the back! The whole point on getting a lie flat seat is to catch up on sleep and arrive fresh at the destination. That would clearly be impossible with a broken seat.

    United is once again out of touch with right and wrong. I’d say go for a chargeback on failure to provide services. If it were me, I’d be lobbying for around a thousand dollars or so.

  • technomage1

    I believe what she is asking for is reasonable. She got an economy seat in the first class section, as it were, so she should be refunded the difference between the two classes or close to it. $300 is a disgraceful offer by united considering the price differences between the two types of seats.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    This is purely a question of not getting what you paid for. Lie flat is obviously important as airlines market the heck out of lie flat seats and they command a substantial premium. Any discussion of elite and non-elites simply muddy the water with irrelevant class issues. Every person, whether rich, poor, or in between should get what they pay for.

    This is an area where I think government regulation is appropriate. If a downgrade occurs, the airlines should be required to price the downgrade at the lowest price one the day the passenger purchased the ticket.

    It doesn’t matter why the seat was broken. Whether it was in United control or not. Sorry, skipped lunch so I couldn’t help grab at the low hanging fruit. And it was tasty ;-)

  • Jim

    If she paid for the ticket and it was not an upgrade, why not mediate!? She paid for a product/service and did not receive what was advertised she would receive. That is what a consumer advocate is there for!!!

    Go get ’em Chris!

  • TonyA_says

    Does UA EWR-TLV have a first class cabin? J seems to be the highest booking class on UA 84. Nevertheless, she still got screwed.


    She does deserve more than the $300 voucher, but not the full difference between coach and business or first. A couple reasons why: Did she take advantage of all the food, beverage and other amenities in her class? Did she fly back in the first/business class in a working seat? And, something I do the very few times I have been up front I make sure the seat is working while the plane is parked at the gate. She might have had a chance for someone on the ground to get it working before she left. (I have seen this happen but on another carrier.) If she flew one-way then she should receive a more substantial offer from UA. But if she flew round trip, and the seat worked on the return, then they should offer her more but not nearly what she is asking.

  • $16635417

    In my travel agent days, a client wrote letter to British Airways because his video monitor did not work in 1st class. They promptly sent him a voucher for about $10K.

    It was the equivalent of a refund based on the purchase price of the original first class ticket.

  • John Baker

    This may be a case of asking for too much results in not getting enough. UA owes her something. She paid for a seat that would lie flat but got a seat that wouldn’t. It was an overnight flight where everyone but the FAMs are probably going to sleep. UA advertises that purchasing one of these seats will allow you to arrive rested but that obviously didn’t happen here. Having said all of that, she did receive a benefit from riding up front. The meal is better. The entertainment system (which she really had to use) is better.

    I’d say that UA owes her half of the difference between the BusinessFirst and the economy seat based on the same fare basis (ie they can choose cheapest fare in both cabins or unrestricted fare in both cabins).

    Her request for a complete refund was laughable. Their offer was insulting. I’d say there’s somewhere in the middle for them to meet.

  • Poley King

    I was on a flight from BOS-EWR booked in coach. I was upgraded and then downgraded. I received a $200 voucher for the involuntary downgrade. $300 is very small. The old united would have given out $150-$200 for a broken overhead light

  • BillCCC

    I voted yes but I would not compare a first class seat that does not recline to an economy class seat. I am sure she still received all other first class amenities. I think that something in the range of 50% should make her happy.

  • EdB


  • Alan Gore

    If she got the economy experience rather than first class, that’s what she should be paying for, especially on an overseas flight. Fortunately for the OP, these are the passengers that airlines listen to.

  • Jason Hanna

    Of course it matters why the seat was broken. Would you keep up the same argument if you were told that the seat worked when she got there, but after letting her screaming 3 year old bounce on it like a trampoline it stopped working?

    That didn’t happen here.. .But.. How and why the seat wasn’t working certainly does make a difference. To me, there’s a big difference between you boarded the plane and the seat wasn’t working and the seat stopped working after you used it.

    One, the airline had the opportunity to fix (in theory) and didn’t. The other.. Really falls into the ‘**** happens’ category.

  • MarkKelling

    The old CO (pre merger with UA) never would have had a broken seat. ;-)

    The planes they use on this route are the Continental planes from pre UA merger times.

  • EdB

    I think Carver’s response was in regards to another discussion about if a channel is removed from a cable line up if a customer should be able to cancel without an ETF. If so, the response was completely inappropriate and out of place. These are two totally different situations. Apples and oranges.

  • MarkKelling

    It is the former CO Business-First section. You get 1st class seats and meals at business class prices — so they claim. I do know these seats are roomier than business class on UA 3-class planes.

  • MarkKelling

    I don’t consider a non-reclining business or 1st seat to be equal to a functioning economy seat. First, you have much more seating space which to me is more comfortable than the cramped economy seating even if I can’t recline. Also, you get priority boarding, room for your carry ons, the better meals, no extra charge drinks, no extra charge for using the entertainment system, access to shower facilities on arrival and the airport club before and after your international flight. You get a pillow and a blanket. And you usually get flight attendants that are pleasant and as helpful as possible. So the OP got something for the extra paid to sit in the seat which would not have been provided if this was in economy.

    The seat did not recline into the lay flat position which is a major point of sitting in one on a long over night flight. I know this would not sit well with me because I have a difficult enough time trying to sleep on a plane and would be miserable after the flight if I could not recline. I would say that the appropriate offer from UA would be the difference between the economy fare she could have paid and what she did pay for the one way trip not a full refund and not a refund for both the outbound and return flights. Although with the recent discussion of fees and how they are designed to punish the traveler, maybe a punishing fee to UA would be the right option.

  • MarkKelling

    Yes, that video of the orchestra was filmed on an actual plane. It is a 767-400ER outfitted with the UA 3 cabin configuration. And the musicians were filmed in the “roomy” economy plus section and in the business class section.

    But I agree that even the “roomy” 34 inch pitch of the economy plus seats would make it difficult to play a trombone especially when the person in front of you reclines all the way back during flight. ;-)

  • frostysnowman

    I think the settlement the OP is asking for is reasonable. She paid a lot of extra money to be able to recline, and she did not get what she paid for. Mediate away!

  • Justin

    Paid for first class, got treated like steerage (economy). United owes her a partial refund . The OP spent good money to travel in comfort, but received the opposite. Even if more legroom is a commodity, $3,624 is a bit steep when other luxuries fail to materialize.

  • Raven_Altosk

    UA can do better than their offer, but what the OP is asking for assumes that she didn’t use the FC amenities at all–better food, more legroom, a more private bathroom.

    I say split the difference and give her a $1000 voucher or 25K miles.

  • Justin

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but our resident lawyer Carver recants the OP story like a breach of contract.

    What is the assigned value for deprived use of a lie flat seat comparative to the other luxuries? Clearly, it’s a significant selling point for the $3,624 dollar fare.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    Continental did a similiar thing to me. I upgraded my ticket to first class, and they changed the aircraft, therefore there was no seat in FC for me. They refused to return my money for the upgrade. I’m still fighting this after two years. At the onset, I would have taken a voucher, but Now they have been so nasty (and now I’m dealing with United) I just want the upgrade money back. Once they have your money- right or wrong they don’t want to give it back

  • Justin

    How come you didn’t dispute the charge to your Credit Card company right after the incident? Easily reversible if proven.

  • vmacd

    Still mourning Continental. Used to love flying with them. Just booked a trip from Newark to Paris then flying back from Munich on Lufthansa. Unfortunately, the flight over was with their codeshare partner United. I couldn’t believe how small the plane was: 3 x 3 – something you might fly from Newark to D.C. on. We were fed rubbery chicken and charged for drinks. The flight back on Lufthansa was like flying first class. The plane was huge (you even had to go downstairs to get to the toilets), flight attendants smiled the whole time and handed out warm washcloths. They came by several times for beverage service and wine and beer were complimentary. Dinner was delicious. Even though it was a Lufthansa ticket, United didn’t come close to Lufthansa’s service.

  • DReinig

    I had a broken seat on (domestsic) United flight. I did report it immediately after boarding. I also was sitting in the emergency row. The only person who came back to look at the seat was the pilot. I was told I had two options. Sit in the seat without leaning back for the full flight, or get off and TRY to get seated on another flight. Since it was the afternoon before Thanksgiving, the odds of my getting another seat that day were nil, so I chose to stay on the plane. I emailed United for compensation and received ziltch. And I was flying every week on United at that time!

  • Mel65

    Is it possible to dispute this with her credit card? She paid for a seat; the seat was defective. But I do agree with those who say she shouldn’t get a full refund if she returned in a working first class seat. So, split the fare in half and then give her the difference between that half and half of an economy fare purchased *on the same date as her original ticket was purchased* no funky walk up high fare, etc…

  • emanon256

    I can’t agree more! If would apply your logic only cut it in half if it was a round trip and the seat did work on the return trip. A seat in first class that doesn’t recline all the way is still far superior to a seat in coach that does recline. Its also much easier to seep in that a coach seat that does recline. Although, in my experience, I can’t sleep in an airplane seat even if it does lie flat. I just can never fall asleep on a plane.

  • emanon256

    That is one of the best planes in the fleet in my opinion. Even E+ is comfortable on a long haul flight. I got upgrade to one of the private suites in First class once and it was amazing!!! However, it was the short haul ORD-DEN, so it was only amazing for 888 miles. I was also upgraded to C on ORD-SFO once, we got stuck on the tarmac for 2.5 hours in ORD, and I was so grateful for the upgrade. After circling in SFO for another hour and a half I was able to watch 3 full movies on the huge TV. It was an amazing once in a life time experience.

  • John Baker

    @emanon256:disqus Good point on the round trip… Have to finish the coffee before commenting the next time

  • emanon256

    The 3X3 in Y international flights out of Newark are pre-merger Continental international planes. I have always though those to be a joke for international travel, but that’s the CO way. Unfortunately, this happened to CO before the merger. And the Continental management is now the one running the whole Untied operation. Once Jeff took over, he started ruining Continental, and now after the merger he is ruining Untied as well.

    And I agree with you on LH, it is incredible even in coach.

  • emanon256

    Sadly this is how Jeff seems to do business he became CEO of Continental shortly before the merger and put personal profit before passenger profit and customer service. Then during the merger, where Continental took corporate control of the new merger airline, Jeff is still running the show. So you are still dealing with the same people. They are horrible!! Have you asked Chris Elliott for help? I would hope he can help you. That is just ridiculous. They did the exact same thing to me shortly after the merger, and refused to refund the upgrade fee. I disputed the charge, and the new United challenged it stating it was non-refundable. I fought the dispute and eventually did get my money back.

  • Fred Rupert

    She shouldn’t get a full refund but I’d say she should at least $750 or so, assuming the $3k was for a round trip ticket and her seat worked on the other leg.

  • emanon256

    Its like that arcade game where you roll the bowling ball over the hill and need to it to stay in the dip on the other side of the hill. Push to hard it rolls up the second hill and rolls back at you and the game is over, push to softly and it doesn’t go over the first hill and the game is over. Push just right, and it stays in the middle and you get 25 tickets. The OP pushed way to hard asking for a full refund and the game is over leaving her with the single conciliatory ticket. If she had pushed for a more reasonable refund, I have a feeling she would have received it.

  • Mike

    Interesting but lacking in facts. Was it a paid seat and if so how much. What would a coach seat have cost on the day she bought her seat. Did the seat recline even a little bit? If so, how much? Was she able to sleep even if not as comfortable. Was her return flight seat working?
    Assuming she got a working seat going back, I’d guess that a voucher of between $500 and $1,000 would be appropriate. To figure that I would start with half the fare difference and reduce that number to account for the benefits afforded her. If the seat leaned back at all, I’d be at a lesser amount.
    If it did not lean back at all and she wanted some recline, she might have asked for another seat — but it would have been in coach. I just had an issue on a four hour flight (her’s may have been a 12 hour flight) where as a result of a broken FC seat I was seated in coach. I was fed a FC meal, given drinks and a pillow, and carry-on bag was accommodated even though all bins were full.
    The airline refused compensation as the flight was for miles and I was in FC on 3 out of 4 legs. An appeal to a higher up resulted first in an explanation of why no compensation was due and then, after I conceded the point and suggested that a good will gesture might be nice, an award of 10,000 miles.
    Lesson, be reasonable but firm; escalate as needed.
    Good luck here. The flight over is an overnight and something should be done beyond $300.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    Waiting for my small claims court date, December 5. Costing me more that its worth, but I really don’t care. And I won’t settle. No voucher will do it now.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    I was promised it would appear on my Credit card statement, and I live overseas, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt. At the time I was Platinum flyer with them. Who would think they would do that to a Loyal full fare paying customer? This happened to be on my on $. By the time it didn’t come, it was too late to file a CC dispute.

  • MarkKelling

    CO many many years ago did almost the same thing to me. In my case it was a full 1st class fare paid in cash and they put me on an earlier flight back without my asking “as a convenience to me” in economy because of bad weather moving in at my destination. When I questioned the gate agent about this as she was handing out 1st class upgrades on the flight she threatened to call the cops on me. So I sat in my middle seat in economy.

    When I wrote to CO about this, the actual response from them “what are you complaining about, we got you to your destination and you owe us money for the change because you were moved from a discounted 1st fare to a full economy fare.” Can’t argue with logic like that.

  • Chris Johnson

    Ah, the first world problems I’ll probably never face. Nevertheless I voted yes and can understand Karen’s issue – she didn’t get what she paid for and the airline failed to hold up their end of the bargain. If her seat didn’t work, then she should at least get a travel voucher equal to the difference between coach and first class. A $300 voucher is a total insult, because I would imagine the difference in price between first and coach is far more. Why they are treating her this way truly befuddles me – first class passengers on international flights have to be the biggest source of profits for the legacy airlines – those types of passengers often establish their loyalty and differentiate between specific airlines based on the service given to them in the nice first class cabin, and not so much on price like the rest of us who fly coach and generally regard airline seats as a commodity. She is definitely owed more here.

  • MarkKelling

    I enjoy flying LH. I travel from DEN to FRA often and always hope to get on the LH non-stop flight. UA has gotten snippy about that since I claim my miles with them and want me to fly through Chicago on their flights. Maybe once their level of service moves up to that of LH and they offer a non-stop from dEN to FRA I will.

  • emanon256

    Good for you, I hope you are asking for court costs too. Good luck!

  • MarkKelling

    Every one was questioning the move by CO to refit their 757 planes with the lay flat 1st class seats to fly to Europe instead of getting at least the 767s. While the planes are comfortable up front, it is very tight even in those seats.

  • bodega3

    I would be interested in knowing how this turns out for you.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    UA owes her the difference (i.e. cash not a voucher, credit, aka funny money) between the First Class fare that she paid for that flight with the inoperative flat bed and an Economy Class fare of the same fare basis. In addition, if UA has class, they should throw in 30,000 FF miles for the inconvenience that she encountered.

    The problem is that the airlines don’t know or don’t care why their passengers elect to fly Business or First Class for international flights. For me, the value in flying First or Business class on long-haul international flights are 1) the flat bed (which includes the extra space) and 2) IFE. Everything else has no value…we don’t drink so the free drinks has no value to me or my family…The greater selection of food in FCBC has no value to me due to my diet (i.e. salty foods, rich in fat; etc.); etc.
    If we are arriving in the morning at our destination, it is vital for us to sleep on the flight so that our ‘body clocks’ are in sync with the local time. We don’t want to arrive and go to bed and losing time. Therefore, it is essential for the flat bed to work so that we can sleep.

    If we are arriving in the evening at our destination, it is vital for the IFE (in-flight entertainment) to work so that we don’t fell asleep during the flight. Again, it is about getting our ‘body clocks” in sync with the local time…we don’t want to arrive and can’t go to bed because we slept on the plane.

    Given the higher fare for a FCBC seat, I don’t understand why the airlines just take the time to make sure that each lie-flat bed and IFE are working before the boarding of the flight. It is about service something that most airlines have forgotten about.

  • emanon256

    I will be the first to admit that a 757 is an engineering marvel, and probably one of my favorite plans from an aviation point of view. But configured as a commercial passenger plane it is not conformable for long-haul flights. Pre merger we always had 777s and 767s on the DEN-HNL and DEN-OGG. Even though they had similar coach seats, they just felt roomier, had more room to walk around, and were genrally more comfortable for the duration. Since the merger it has switched to domestic 757s. I like how the 777 ad 767 have two seats by each window rather than three. A small change like that makes for a lot more comfort.

  • Cam

    She deserves something, but not a full refund. She got the other first class amenities, and she got to TLV.

  • bodega3

    This year, UA replaced many of their 777 flights from SFO to HNL to 767 and in coach, the seating was 3 and 3, where the 777 was 2-5-2. A horrible change for passengers.

  • emanon256

    Oh no! I always loved the 2X3X2 on the 767s. That is bad. I am still irked that they put 3X3X3 on the 787 when the recommended seating by Boeing for comfort was 2X4X2. They just had to squeeze in that extra seat. I hate that Boing makes the number of seats across optional, I much prefer the airbus approach where the plane has a fixed number of seats across.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I used to book all of my long-haul international travel on foreign-based airlines because they started to use lie-flat bed seats back around 2001 on their flights; whereas, the US based airlines were slow (about 10 years) to incorporate lie-flat bed seats on their metal. To me, it is simple, no lie-flat bed no booking.

  • bodega3

    For 2014, I am seeing 777 back into service for now. It was annoying when they did this last year to many of my clients. There is a huge difference in the comfort from the 767 to the 777 IMHO.

  • $16635417

    I was at a chain restaurant recently that bills itself as Italian “inspired” food. A person at the table next to us did not care for the pizza and sent it back…twice. The manager came over, apologized, and let them know the table’s dinner was on the house. (Family of four, only one person ordered a pizza, the rest ordered other dishes.)

    The father insisted he should pay for the 3 meals that were fine, but the manager said that would not be necessary because the problem with the one person’s pizza caused the experience to be less than memorable for everyone. In addition they gave them a large bag with salad and bread sticks to take home. The father asked what the whole total would have been because he should at least tip the waiter as the service was fine. Manager said that would no be necessary either as the restaurant would cover the server’s tip as well.

    They were shocked at the efforts over and above of the restaurant manager to make it right. The person who ordered the pizza made a point of saying that they will definitely return…just not order the pizza.

    Why is this relevant? The inoperable seat not only detracted from the OP’s ability to sleep on the overnight flight, but knowing it did not work would have caused the entire experience to not be optimal. Yes the food tasted good, (or as good as can be expected) and the video monitor’s worked, but how much could these other experiences have been enjoyed, knowing you had a night of sitting upright ahead of you?

    The lie flat seat is not just a part of the experience, it’s integral to the entire experience.The $300 credit is a slap in the face. Rake UA over the coals.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Keep us posted.

  • marie3656

    Do you mean 757s? 767s have two aisles, typically 2-3-2 seating in economy.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The implication is that the seat wasn’t working when she got there. Whether the seat was recently broken on the previous flight giving United no opportunity to fix it, or it was broken a year ago either way the OP doesn’t care.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    It was meant to be lighthearted, but the analogy is correct. It’s basic first year contracts law. A failure to perform doesn’t matter whether it’s the nonperforming party’s fault or not (as long it’s not the complaining party’s fault). Its the same whether the seat broke an hour before departure due to the malfeasance of the previous passenger or a year ago.

  • EdB

    And I agree with this. The airline did nothing to remedy the situation. What I don’t agree with is the comparison of this situation with the other. One was a long-term situation and this is a single transaction.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I”m an curious as to why that matter

  • Extramail

    In a lawsuit, one can sue for punitive damages which are intended to deter a company from repeating the behavior to other customers. Therefore, I believe she should be offered more than half of the difference between the cost of the ticket of a cattle section ticket and first class and use the ticket price in the day she purchased not some random least expensive first class ticket and most expensive economy class ticket. And, I don’t care if she had used an upgrade – as Chris likes to point out, she paid big bucks to “earn” the right to upgrade.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You are correct. This is a breach of contract due to a failure to perform by United. The difficulty here is the measure of damages. United is probably within its contractual rights, but it still is terrible

  • Extramail

    Absolutely. We want to know the outcome and congratulations to you for not backing down!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Punitive damages are not available in simple contract disputes such as this one.

  • Extramail

    I don’t want a funny money voucher. I paid with cash, I want cash back. I paid with a credit card, I want a charge back. I don’t know who thinks a voucher is ever a good refund unless maybe its twice what the cash would be.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    If you look at the airlines’ advertisement on their FC and BC products, it is mostly about the experience…the ability to be productive; the ability to arrive fresh and ready; etc. Don’t advertise the experience or how great your lie-flat beds are or etc. but when they don’t work, compensate the passenger instead of using excuses.

  • bodega3

    3 and 3 seating means 3 seats on one side and 3 on the other. One aisle, down the center. A 777, in coach has had 2-5-2 seating, but they have been switching some out to 3-4-3, and with either, there are two aisles.

  • TonyA_says

    Also bear in mind that she did not pay for a first class fare.
    She paid $3624 to be in the front cabin and as far as I can see, that price is closest to UA’s Fare Basis Code C*FFOE – which is a oneway BUSINESS CLASS fare.
    I am not sure why she and Elliott says she is traveling first class when her fare isn’t in first class. Maybe it makes the case more dramatic.
    But in my opinion, even if she is traveling in BC, and she believed UA’s commercial about those wonderful seats, then she is owed one of those seats. Unfortunately that is not how airline logic works. Even in EU where they have a downgrade compensation provision in EC261/2004, then are referring to downgrades in CABIN if I am not wrong.

  • TonyA_says

    Good logic. A same day oneway coach ticket will cost around $1.7k today (maybe a bit cheaper during the time she flew). That’s about 2k less than what she paid for BC. Splitting the difference would be in the ballpark of $1k.

  • MarkKelling

    Yes, that is exactly what everyone is asking for – more seats across each row in coach!

  • MarkKelling

    If you do a lot of business with the company and will continue to do so and the restrictions placed on the voucher are minimal, I would think either one is acceptable.

    If you fly once a year and the voucher expires within a year, then it is worthless and cash or credit card credit should be the correct route.

    I got a voucher once from UA that was good for $500 off ANY regularly scheduled flight in any class or cabin without restrictions. Sounds good right? Except for the restriction that you had to call to make your reservation with the voucher and pay the $25 call center booking fee. And the restriction that if your flight terminated at a UA hub the voucher was only worth $50. I never used the voucher.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I have to respectfully disagree.

    A voucher locks you with that merchant. A voucher is appropriate for good will gestures, prospective deals, e.g. voluntary denied boarding. If its because of a failure to perform, e.g. your flight is cancelled, only cash (credit card reversal, etc) is appropriate.

    Even for a frequent flier, you don’t know what the future will bring. You may change your mind about flying that carrier. You may forget about the voucher (as I did). You’re more likely to lose it (e.g. can’t deposit it in the bank), it’s not replaceable if its paper, you change jobs, etc.

    Cash is king.

  • bodega3

    It also allows you the opportunity to give them a second chance. Smart move from a business stand point!

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    OK, I’ve contacted United. Let’s see what happens.

  • IGoEverywhere

    I agree that you should get involved, but when you try to make a deal with the airlines, they have you. In my office, it has always been all or nothing. All would be the difference between the economy fare that was available on the date of booking against the first class cost at the time of booking. Getting that information is the difficult process. I would accept the price of the exact same days (not dates) for next year. The US carriers are in an all time “gotcha” mode and need to be sued and put in their place – they are terrible with their customer service.

  • DChamp56

    And do NOT accept airline miles, unless that’s what she purchased the ticket with!

  • Travelnut

    Well now I feel foolish… I flew business first on UA this summer to Oslo. I couldn’t use the entertainment system the entire trip because it emitted an extremely loud squeal. It was horrible. The head FA listened to it and agreed, and even gave me one of their official complaint forms with his name. Of course, two week trip, then get home and get busy with life, and well it’s UA so low expectations that they would do anything, so I never reported it. I think now I will!

  • Travelnut

    A similar thing happened to me during my summer trip. Paid for business first in January for a flight in July. As UA is wont to do, they jacked with my flight plans several times. One thing I had to keep calling about is they kept trying to change the last leg of my trip to a flight that didn’t have any FC seating. I would call and tell them, BC/FC is my annual treat to myself, and if I’m paying for that then I want every leg to be in that class so please make it happen. So, flying back from Denmark, my flight from EWR to IAH was delayed with one leg to go. I could tell I was going to miss the connection, so when I got off the plane, I headed for the service desk to get another flight. Of course my cell phone told me they had already rescheduled me on the next available flight. (For my convenience, I’m sure.) If you guessed the puddlejumper with no FC that I kept asking them to not put me on, you are correct. The flight was already boarding and I didn’t feel I had any choice but to run to the gate and not wait to find out if there were seats available on another flight with FC. So I ran and sat in economy. In a middle seat. I arrived tired and found my luggage didn’t even get on that flight. I had to wait two hours for my bag, which presumably was on the flight I wanted to get on. Thanks, United! At least my luggage got to fly first class.

  • Poley King

    3 class 777-200 is roomier in business than the 2 class 777.

  • BMG4ME

    If you pay for the flat bed you should get it. Now what if there was another seat that was free, that worked? Should they move? I had the same thing happen to me this year. I didn’t end up moving because I really didn’t need to sleep and there were other empty seats. I didn’t complain to the airline since I could have moved and I didn’t really want to sleep, but if you could move would it be fair to complain because of the inconvenience? Maybe they offered the lesser amount because they could actually have moved to a working seat but chose not to?

  • pauletteb

    I agree she should receive more compensation than $300 in funny money, but the difference between first class and coach? No way! She did receive all the rest of the FC amenities after all.

  • Jacob

    She was actually in Business class not FIRST. The Tel Aviv flight has no first class cabin. United calls its business product BusinessFirst but is clearly sold as business class. Elliot I’m sure you knew that and if you didn’t it can easily be checked. Please don’t lie to your readers for effect.