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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that asking too much?

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

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Rule 24 of United’s Contract of Carriage holds that:

Schedules are Subject To Change Without Notice – Times shown on tickets, timetables, published schedules or elsewhere, and aircraft type and similar details reflected on tickets or UA’s schedule are not guaranteed and form no part of this contract. UA may substitute alternate carriers or aircraft, delay or cancel flights, and alter or omit stopping places or connections shown on the ticket at any time. UA will promptly provide Passengers the best available information regarding known delays, cancellations, misconnections and diversions, but UA is not liable for any misstatements or other errors or omissions in connection with providing such information.…

Except to the extent provided in this Rule, UA shall not be liable for failing to operate any flight
according to schedule, or for any change in flight schedule, with or without notice to the passenger.

And Kemp’s two mechanical delays fall under United’s “Irregular Operations” definition, which includes “delay in scheduled departure or arrival of a carrier’s flight resulting in a misconnection” and “flight or service cancellation, omission of a scheduled stop, or any other delay or interruption in the scheduled operation of a carrier’s flight.”

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

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

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

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • Don Spilky

    Perhaps I misunderstood. United should offer the OP more compensation BECAUSE he is sick and was travelling for medical attention. We are now taking the position that some people should get more compensation than others on the same flight simply because of the reason they are flying?

  • Peter Varhol

    I did a mileage run over Christmas on Delta that was a complete comedy of errors. While it may have been indirectly driven by the bad weather in the South, the proximate cause was Delta not having enough crew. And the jetbridge in DTW that didn’t work just added icing to the cake. I did complain, and Delta gave me a room to RON and 15K miles.

  • flutiefan

    why does it matter his reason for travel? everyone has a need to get to their destination, otherwise they wouldn’t have bought a ticket or planned a trip. it doesn’t make one lick of difference if the purpose is business, leisure, or medical. that’s simply a plea for sympathy points and it leaves me rolling my eyes.
    what’s next — was he on a fixed income?

  • jim6555

    The two mechanical breakdowns were United’s fault. However, they did get him to Sioux Falls, his destination city as far as they are concerned. The land travel arrangements are the passenger’s responsibility. I thing that the United offer of a $100 voucher is reasonable.

  • AJPeabody

    Was his luggage eventually delivered?

  • Helene Apper

    Again another reason why I won’t fly United. They don’t understand maintaining their planes or on time performance


    I do not think he deserves any more compensation and the fact he was visiting the Mayo Clinic does not mean he is entitled to additional compensation. Mechanical delays occur as does bad weather and he seems to have hit the trifecta with the lost luggage to finish things off.
    Now I can sit and wonder why he went to Sioux Falls which is 3 1/2 hours away from Rochester when he seemed to have no intention of staying there on the day he arrived. Minneapolis is closer and cheaper. After the Mayo clinic he could have headed to Sioux Falls for whatever reason he was there and flown home from there.

  • MarkKelling

    i wrote UA a letter complimenting them on the meal they served on my last flight (it really was unusually good for an airplane meal) and they gave me 20,000 miles. Yet this guy was delayed many hours and had no luggage on arrival and they give him only $100. I guess that is perfect airline logic. I hope his luggage eventually showed up.

  • Mel65

    Perhaps refunding his bus fare OR compensating him the difference for having to rent a car and drive? But, I’ve ended up over 6 hours late to a destination due to mechanical issues so I have to say that a 3 hours or so late doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me. If the blizzard were that bad, he could have stayed the night in Sioux Falls and caught a bus the next day maybe?

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I’m on the fence because multiple mechanical issues are a sign of poor logistics that shouldn’t happen with a legacy airline. With Spirit or Frontier, you roll the dice and take your chances.

    But then again… with bad weather and pilots who have concerns about safety, it’s possible that it’s just bad luck sometimes. I’d rather a pilot ground the plane for a few hours than fly if it wasn’t safe.

    So a hundred bucks. Better than a poke in the eye with a stick but with multiple delays due to the airline’s poor maintenance, one wonders if it should be more.

  • Pegtoo

    I”m scratching my head on this one too.

  • Jeff W.

    I agree. If the primary purpose of the trip was the Mayo, then fly there and then take your side trip to Sioux Falls.

  • Doug_S

    Mr. Kemp paid for and received a round-trip flight. Despite the problems, the airline did deliver. I do think they could have offered him a bit more, but I’m not on board with the idea of a complete refund. The airline delivered what the customer bought, albeit not very well.

  • Bill

    I wholeheartedly agree … the reason for a trip does not make one more or less “worthy” of receiving (more) compensation.

  • Bill

    But, is it a dull or sharpened stick … that might be the deciding factor … thanks for the chuckle :)

  • MF

    Perhaps 10% of voucher ‘funny money’ gets used, so they gave a piece of paper to the PAX that cost the airline only $100X10%= $10…

  • cscasi

    United in not the only airline flying the skies that has mechanical issue with some of their aircraft, probably on a daily basis. I would say it is probably an exceptional day when an airline, no matter which one, operates 100% of its scheduled flights for 24 hours without any mechanical delays.

  • cscasi

    Depending on the issue, the pilots and the airline is required to follow its maintenance program. There is a Minimum Equipment List (MEL) that allows certain items to be deferred for a certain period of time so the aircraft can continue its operation. However, there are lots of items that are NOT in the MEL and therefore the aircraft cannot be operated until they are fixed; lest it wants to run into a hefty fine by the FAA for failure to operate its aircraft in accordance with its approved maintenance program.

  • cscasi

    True, it is a good deal for the airlines. But ultimately, it is till the passengers choice to use their “vouchers” or not.

  • Carl Sabatini

    How sick could he have been if he wanted to stop in South Dakota first?

  • Flatlander

    If you are flying to Hoth during the winter blizzards are going to be distinct risk. If the surgery was elective or not time sensitive it may not have been a bad idea to wait a few more months to fly to Minnesota from California. I do think the $100 was pretty paltry but aside from reimbursements for direct costs incurred due to missing luggage it was as much as he is going to get. Air travel is still the safest and fastest way to travel across country and is something inflicted upon us for the sake of time and convenience that simply must be endured.

  • Flatlander

    Or he is getting a hair transplant, ‘surgery’ can mean a lot of different things.

  • flutiefan

    i don’t think i’ve ever seen that 100% day in my 16+ years in this industry.

  • Zod

    I think the 800 pound gorilla in the room is, why do the carriers get to make the rules up as to what they will and will not do? Especially when their inaction directly violates what a reasonable person would understand. It I contract with an airline (purchase a ticket) to transport me from point A to point B and they take me to point C and say “taa-taa, you’re on your own”, then any reasonable person would say the airline did not make good on it’s contract and as such, payment for services should be void! If I hire someone to build me a house and he builds me a lean-to, then he did not perform up to my expectation and therefore I won’t pay him. Why do we have to pay an airline for a service before we even use it? Nothing else in this world, other than a cafeteria, is pay first, use later..

  • Flatlander

    “Why do the carriers get to make the rules up as to what they will and will not do?”
    – They have good lobbyists.

  • John McDonald

    why did he get ANY compensation at all ? He got there alive.
    Would he have preferred it, if the broken plane had taken off & crashed ?
    Must be a quiet news day.

  • John McDonald

    nope. NONE at all.

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