Arthur Goldberg says he’ll never fly on United Airlines again after his recent trip to Israel. After a trip full of delays and a cancellation, he was offered only $38 and two $100 flight certificates. Goldberg thinks that’s extremely inadequate. But as far as United is concerned, Goldberg’s attitude precludes him from any further consideration.
Unfortunately for Goldberg, because the delays were weather-related, that’s the best he can hope for — especially after taking a very aggressive tone in communicating with United. His story offers a case study in how not to complain to an airline about a customer service problem — especially a weather-related one.
Goldberg charged $2,400 to his American Express card for two tickets on United, booked through Expedia, for himself and his wife Doreen, from Washington, D.C., to Tel Aviv, Israel, via Newark, N.J. The Goldbergs are 74 and 72 years old, respectively.
But weather and bad luck led to a delay or cancellation on every leg of their trip, as well as some rebookings on ExpressJet, Republic Airways and Swiss. And United’s customer service was sorely lacking.
Unfortunately for the Goldbergs, they were entitled only to a refund for the canceled leg of their flight – the Dulles-to-Newark leg, which was $38. But to Goldberg, this was far too little compensation after what he and his wife endured.
Goldberg sent the following letter to an agent of United:
My recent travel of my wife (72) and myself (74) on your airline was horrible:
- I was scheduled to fly on six flights on your airline; five were delayed or canceled both outbound and inbound.
- You turned a one-stopover international trip into two stopovers and many more travel hours.
- You delayed delivery of my baggage in excess of 72 hours.
- Your “travel assistance personnel” were inadequately staffed to handle the passengers needing help. Waiting times often exceeded two hours.
- You did not offer assistance to incapacitated passengers [traveling] great distances, often with baggage, from gate to “travel assistance” locations.
- Your personnel did not communicate the nature and length of delays and cancellations.
- At 2 a.m. you ran out of pillows and blankets offered to your stranded passengers.
- At 2 a.m. there [were] no food establishments open to use any vouchers issued.
- You did not offer overnight lodging for overnight flight delays. Issuance of vouchers [was] very stingy. I am a 74-year-old with health issues. I didn’t get to a hotel until 3 a.m. without your voucher.
- Reimbursement for my lodging and food expenses caused by your inadequacies.
- Reimbursement for my car rental and auto expenses caused by your cancellation of my flight from Newark to Washington D.C. on my return home leg.
- Reimbursement of the unused flight from Newark to Washington, D.C.
- Reimbursement for clothing and personal items purchased during delayed baggage delivery.
WHAT A HORROR, SHAME ON YOU
As horrible as the Goldbergs’ travel to Israel and back must have been, they were not entitled to any reimbursement for their troubles, as a United employee responded to this letter:
I’m sorry your travel plans were interrupted by the weather when flight 4410, operated by ExpressJet was delayed, and the rebooked flight 3379, operated by Republic, was delayed on an Air Traffic Control (ATC) hold due to weather. Also, your return was canceled due to ATC.
When weather impacts our flight schedule, according to our Contract of Carriage, which you will find at United.com, we are not required to compensate or reimburse for out-of-pocket expenses, as this is a situation that is beyond our control. As a one-time exception, I have [been] authorized to issue a $100 electronic travel certificate per person via a separate email within 24-48 hours. I have also requested a refund of your unused segments [of your] Newark-to-National [Airport] back to the original form of payment.
I’m very sorry to hear your bags were delayed 72 hours. I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been.
We’ll need you to contact the last carrier on your itinerary to file your baggage claim, which was Swiss Airlines. … I sincerely apologize we aren’t able to process your claim. When your travel plans contain multiple airlines, the final carrier is responsible [for] your baggage concerns.
After the Goldbergs received this response from United, Doreen Goldberg initiated a chargeback on their American Express card. We don’t know if they ever received the promised $100 travel certificates. Goldberg was so insulted by the offer that he swears that he will never fly United again.
However, Expedia questioned the chargeback, claiming that the Goldbergs received the services they paid for. Goldberg then contacted our advocates for help.
It’s possible that United’s agents might have been more sympathetic to Goldberg’s situation had he used our executive contacts to send polite, calm letters to United’s executives, allowing each a week to reply before escalating his case to the next higher-ranking executive.
But by employing an angry, accusatory tone in his letter, including using all caps in an email (the equivalent of shouting), and sending a long list of demands, including full reimbursement for his entire trip, he failed to make any case that he deserved more compensation than United was offering.
Our advocates reached out to United on the Goldbergs’ behalf, but were not successful in persuading United to offer them any more compensation. And while we sympathize with their situation, we don’t believe that they’re entitled to it given that the delays were weather-related. United, after all, has no control over the weather – even when delays result in bad circumstances like the Goldbergs’.