United Airlines says I was a “no-show.” I say I was bumped. Who’s right?

United Airlines says Sean Keegan missed his flight. Keegan says United bumped him.

Who’s right? Keegan wants our advocates to make the call.

Keegan received a text message from United that his flight from Quebec City to Newark, N.J. was going to be delayed 45 minutes. He adjusted his schedule and arrived at the airport over an hour before his new departure time.

United’s ticket counter was closed and the kiosk would not allow him to print his boarding passes. There were no United representatives to assist him.

“An airport employee, on my behalf, walked to United Airlines gate to contact employees and alert them of my attendance at the airport,” says Keegan. The message from United was that he needed to rebook his flight for the following day. He was considered a no-show, because he arrived too late for his original flight.

Keegan believes he was the recipient of involuntary bumping. While checking in online, he was asked if he wanted to volunteer to be bumped, since the flight was oversold. He declined. The flight had a shortage of seats, so rather than helping him get on his flight, he thinks the airline assigned his seat to another passenger — without having to compensate him for being bumped.

In later correspondence, a United representative informed Keegan that he was still required to arrive at the airport in advance of his original flight time. “Even when a flight posts a delay time, sometimes the fix is easier than we expected, so we encourage everyone to arrive at the airport based on the original scheduled departure.”

If that is the case, the airline is contributing to the problem by creating confusion for the passengers. While writing this article, a similar United flight from Quebec City to Newark was delayed 240 minutes. If you were scheduled on that flight, would you go to the airport and sit around or utilize the delay more productively?

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According to United, you should plan on being at the airport.

United also confirmed that a representative will remain at the ticket counter in Quebec City for at least one hour prior to the departure time of the last United flight. Since check-in was closed, and if Keegan did arrive at the airport over an hour early, Keegan’s flight may not have been delayed after all.

I empathize with Keegan for missing his flight and for the added expenses he encountered for a hotel room, food, and transportation. The revised departure time seems to be the root of the problem. He was unaware that he was still required to arrive at the airport based on his original flight time. However, for an international flight, he was cutting it close and should have allotted more time for check-in.

United rebooked his flight for the following day with no added fees or increase in airfare.

This case sheds light on a common misconception when a message is sent out about a flight delay. According to United, even though a new departure time may be issued, it can change at any given time if the repair or other circumstances are rectified sooner than anticipated. This creates uncertainty for the passengers. Should they arrive at the airport according to the original departure time, in hopes the delay will be remedied quickly, or risk going to the airport later and being considered a no-show?

The no-show clause used by many airlines basically means that if a passenger does not show up for their outbound flight, they are considered a no-show. All subsequent flights or their return flight will be canceled and no refunds will be issued. Each airline has a set deadline for check-in, arrival at the departure gate, and checked baggage. If you miss those deadlines, you could lose your reservation and any rights for compensation. However, there will always be exceptions.

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You can reduce your risk of being a no-show by keeping the airline informed. Contact the airline right away if you know you are going to miss your outbound flight or are going to be delayed in arriving. Ask the airline to rebook you on another flight. If you have other connecting or return flights you still plan on using, request a confirmation in writing that these flights will remain valid. Don’t take it for granted. As mentioned above, missing an outbound flight typically results in all other connecting flights being automatically canceled.

You can find United’s policies on its website.

Since Keegan believes he is due compensation for involuntary bumping, here is what that would entail, if indeed that was the case.

When a flight is overbooked, the airline will ask for volunteers who are willing to take a later flight. If there are none, the airline will determine what passengers will not be allowed to board. That is considered involuntary bumping.

Airlines are required to follow the regulations as set forth by the Department of Transportation. Passengers who are involuntarily bumped are entitled to cash or check compensation if their rescheduled flight will arrive one or more hours later than their original flight time.

For flights within the U.S., passengers who are denied boarding can expect to be paid 200 percent of their one-way ticket fare (not to exceed $675) if their new flight arrives one to two hours later than their original flight. If their flight ends up arriving over two hours later than their original flight time, passengers should be paid 400 percent of their one-way fare (not to exceed $1,350). For international flights departing from the U.S., it is one to four hours or over four hours, respectively.

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In regards to their original ticket, if passengers prefer to make their own arrangements, they have the right to request a refund, as well as the cash compensation.

When passengers volunteer to get bumped, the airlines are not bound by the above requirements. You can find more details on the Department of Transportation’s website.

Keegan wants United Airlines to compensate him for the involuntary bumping to cover his added expenses of about $1,000. United is remaining firm in its stand that he was not bumped — he was a no-show. It offered him a $400 voucher as compensation.

Keegan turned to our advocates at Elliott.org for assistance, and we’re wondering: Did he miss his flight or was he bumped?

Did Sean Keegan miss his flight?

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Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie's most recent book is "Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad". For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing. Read more of Stephanie's articles here.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Several times when checking in with my family on United I have found that my passport/ID is not recognized by the check in terminals. I’ve been lucky to be able to grab a United worker who has a special log in that allows a name to be typed rather than scanned from a passport or credit card. When he types my name in , miraculously the record is found.

    Then at the gate I will find that the flight is oversold and they are asking volunteers to be bumped.

    My suspicion is when a flight is oversold they try to free up seats by preventing people checking in unless they are lucky enough to grab a passing worker.

  • Inquirer1111

    If you check in online, you mostly avoid these difficulties (assuming you don’t have baggage).

  • Phyllis Morris

    I had a similar incident with Delta. We were flying to Atlanta to meet our flight to Ireland. I received a message our flight to Atlanta was delayed because of weather and the twist was the message said not to arrive at the airport until a stated later time. When we arrived at the airport we were told that we had been moved to a later flight and given boarding passes. When we arrived at the gate our original flight was boarding. If we had gone to the airport instead of following the directions in the message we probably would have gotten on the original flight. Also when we arrived in Atlanta the Delta employees at the gate wouldn’t answer any questions concerning what gate we needed to go to. We were told to to go to a help desk. The line snaked around the airport. While waiting my daughter send me a message that we had been rescheduled on another flight. My husband went over to the first class help desk (which had no line) and showed them the message and they confirmed we were and told us to go to any gate and get a boarding pass (they couldn’t because we weren’t first class). We found the gate for our flight. The plane was there and boarding had not started. The gate agent refused to give us boarding passes and insisted we had to return to the help desk. Then a miracle happened – a supervisor happened by and wanted to know what the problem was. I told her our story and the supervisor asked the agent why she wouldn’t give us boarding passes. The agent just stood there. The supervisor told her to give us passes. She did – one of us in the back and the other around 10 rows away. The supervisor came back and when she saw our assignment asked why we weren’t given seats together since ones were available. We received new passes. I will never fly Delta again.

  • finance_tony

    “Keegan believes he was the recipient of involuntary bumping. WHILE CHECKING IN ONLINE, he was asked if he wanted to volunteer to be bumped,
    since the flight was oversold. He declined.”

    (emphasis mine)

  • Inquirer1111

    I meant online check-in AND print his boarding passes / PDF / online version so he could proceed straight to security when he arrived at the airport so there is no issue of time.

  • Travelnut

    I’m not sure if boarding in Canada is the same, but for international flights I’ve never been able to complete check-in online. You have to check in at the kiosk with your passport.

  • MarkKelling

    He may have been checked in online and had a boarding pass but needed to check luggage which is why he stopped at the counter.

  • MarkKelling

    There are many issues with this situation. But, yeah, he missed his flight.

    First, this was an international flight and standard guidance for international flights is you arrive 3 hours before departure. The airport’s web page states arriving not later than 2 hours before departure is the minimum and suggests 4 hours. United just states you need to be at the boarding gate no later than 30 minutes before originally scheduled departure. Since he was there only “more than an hour” before the new departure time (how much more? 5 minutes? 60 minutes? ), he did not allow enough time. And how long from arrival at the airport until he got to United’s counter? Did he have a rental car to check in or other activities which ate into that arrival time? Since the exact time was not specified, I feel it may have been less than the OP wants us to believe.

    Whenever United sends a delay notice, they always state clearly that the passenger should still arrive in time for the original departure since things could change and the plane may still depart on time. Did the plane actually leave 45 minutes late or was it sooner than that? It isn’t stated in the article. Also, since there is little United traffic at this airport, it appears the same people may handle the check in counter and the boarding gate, hence the closure of the counter one hour before the scheduled departure of the final flight of the day.

    He is lucky that United allowed him to get a ticket for the next day without charging him extra for a last minute ticket.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Another oddity when checking in for an international flight on United at one of their terminals. I scan both my and my wife’s passport and go through the bag checking rigmarole etc. Then a weird ungrammatical question comes up, as near as I can remember, something like “specify which passenger isn’t traveling with a passport today”. There’s no option “we are all traveling with a passport”. Why would it even ask that on an international itinerary?

    You then have to go and check in with a person. This has happened to us several times. The last time, the flight was nearly empty, so I don’t think it was United trying to free up space by causing people not to be able to check in.

  • Bill___A

    I don’t know the answer to the question, but from the information given to us, he wasn’t at the airport early enough and although I don’t recall what United’s Flight delay notices say, I am going to believe what the other posters are saying, which is they say to be at the airport at the original time anyway. United may not be perfect, but actually I have flown them a lot, and they are pretty decent at managing things and telling you what to do. I have had flight delays before and it is a lot of work for those airline employees. They’ve been going through this thousands of times for many years, it isn’t their first “gig”. “Over an hour” doesn’t cut it, and it is too vague to build a case of any sort, in my estimation. As mentioned in other comments, he is lucky they put him on a flight the next day for no extra charge. I wonder where he got his $1000 costs from. If he had to pay for a hotel in his destination that he didn’t show up for, and also had to pay for a hotel in Québéc, only one is an “added cost” as he’d have to pay for somewhere to sleep anyway. All in all, hes pretty lucky with how it turned out.

  • Bill___A

    You can put your mind at ease, because I’ve been on many overbooked flights and not had those problems with my passport nor my wife’s passport. So I don’t think they are trying to free up seats that way, or I would have been caught up with it at least a few times.

    The costs and benefits of overbooking/bumping are worked into their algorithms in their revenue management system. The money it costs to bump people is made up from the benefits of overbooking. It causes us inconvenience, but they manage the risk from their end.

  • Bill___A

    Must be something odd with your setup. I believe the airline will let you travel with a Nexus card rather than a passport, which is why it could ask whether you were travelling with a passport or not…..even though you now need your passport and fingerprints to use the Nexus machines to get into the USA. I recall that I did upload photos of my passport into the United App at some point.

  • Alan Gore

    I’m Ann experienced traveler, but if my airline emailed me that my flight was going to be delayed an hour, I would take that as meaning I should check in on time for the new flight schedule. If that’s not what such a message means, the need to check in at the original time should be in the message in all caps.

  • sirwired

    I get the thing about my flight not being found all the time (on several different airlines), but the terminal always asks me to provide alternate information (like the record locator or my FF number), and it comes right up. I don’t think there’s any conspiracy going on here…

  • Alan Gore

    So even if the delay message does include a specific new check-in time, take it as a lie and be there for the original time. This is why I always keep my iPad loaded with a week’s supply of books.

  • AMA

    Yes, we were not able to finish checking in online when we went to France. But the website did give us a clear message that “YOU MUST CHECK IN AT THE AIRPORT” so it wasn’t like they were hiding it.

  • Jason Hanna

    If the new time means nothing then why send a message with the new time?

    He was late. He missed the flight but United’s excuse is BS as well.

  • e santhin

    Many years ago my wife and I were scheduled to fly from Baltimore to London connecting to British Airways at JFK in New York. There was a two hour layover at JFK. When we arrived at the British Airways terminal directly from our on time arrival flight we were advised we missed our connection. When I questioned how that could be possible since we were over an hour early I was advised the flight had departed early because of a workers strike at Heathrow scheduled to occur before the posted arrival time of our flight. We were provided meal vouchers and rescheduled for a later flight that same day. The strike was one of those strange disruption’s sometimes occurring in Europe that last just a few hours.

  • Lee

    If he did actually just arrive at the airport a bit over one hour pre-departure time for an international flight, that can be a big problem; if he had already gone through security, etc then I can understand thinking he was bumped. But, for an international flight, just over an hour in advance is just never a good plan –

    But, yes, if such notifications of delays wind up being meaningless in the end if you are expected to show up and check in based on the original departure time, then the airline(s) should be transparent and clear in their messaging but I’m not holding my breath.

  • PsyGuy

    This is tough, I voted he missed the flight, because while the information about the delay was indeed confusing, we aren’t talking a huge delay, 45 minutes is nothing, especially if the PAX is using that as padding to actually arrive, check-in, traverse security. The fact the flight was full and they were looking for volunteers is even a better indication to arrive early, to give the gate agents the least amount of reason to exclude you from the flight. Let;s be honest if I was that gate agent this PAX is an easy call, because right or wrong it’s one of the easiest decisions to count a PAX outside the rules and terms to the airlines benefit. We’re talking some serious compensation of actual cash depending on how full the flight is, which in the eyes of corporate isnt worth a blink but to the gate agents and supervisor, it’s a headache at least. Given all the issues likely to happen and are happening in the background, I would error well on the side of caution given the delay is only 45 minutes.

    Here is the rub though what was the reason for the delay? I’m guessing the reason for the delay had something to do if not directly the cause of the delay. The only delay that gets fixed in 45 minutes is a hold delay for a gate, which is well inside the airlines control. Anything involving a repair takes 30 minutes just to do the diag, identification, pull the part and transport it to the craft, and that’s assuming everyone is standing around with nothing to do. In reality if you need even a common service part replaced your looking at 75 minutes assuming everyone is on the ball and ideal conditions, and the replacement (almost nothing is repaired) is super simple like jumping onto the aircraft to replace the lavatory smoke detector or swipe out a seat side entertainment screen, or something involving a chair or seat belt (undo a bolt, replace belt, reattach bolt). The easiest repair of the avionics is something like swapping out a modular item, like an O2 tank (because that’s along the lines of opening a hatch and attaching an APU) or opening an electronics bay and swapping out a card.
    My guess is no one was biting on the comp being offered and the gate crew was hoping a little anxiety would scare up some takers, because if the flight is delayed too long, then it becomes a better option to take some script and jump on another flight so that you can make connections and meetings, and that’s what I’d like Chris to find out.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s going to sound silly but the usual cause if the reflective material (with holograms) over the passport. If you want it to be super simple, and have the scanner work make a clear and clean color copy of the ID cover of the passport and paper clip it onto the inside BACK cover of your passport and use that for scanning.

  • PsyGuy

    That’s because spies trying to get out of the country swipe passports at the airport all the time. When you think about it, there is nothing keeping you from accessing the terminal and concourse pass security that a few minutes in photoshop can’t create or alter an online printed boarding pass.

  • PsyGuy

    Usually true, but it depends what you get after the check in and when you did the check in. If i check in super early for my flight and print the boarding pass, the pass isn’t very helpful as it often leaves off key information like gate and concourse and maybe even seat. If I check in online and use a virtual app with QR code I get better and more accurate information, but then I phone is out a lot more (and my phone doesn’t fit as well inside the cover of my passport as a sheet of paper does. Personally I prefer automated kiosks, the paper is the right size, and its often close enough to the flight time the gate information is available.

  • PsyGuy

    Being oversold doesn’t mean he was bumped. Airlines put a LOT of effort into getting volunteers because while denied boarding is clear cut and regulated, voluntary surrender is not and the airline can say anything or offer you anything, and often at FAR less than the involuntary boarding compensation in cash would be. I’ve had gate agents offer me $5,000 in script (for a $1200 flight) and then I ask if it’s available now, and then the “well you’ll get it credited to your account in X days or it will come by mail within X days”, which is basically code for the second I walk away nothing the gate agent said means anything. $5,000 can become a “miscommunication” error and only $500 in script. As the great law says ‘In God we trust, everyone pays cash”.

  • PsyGuy

    I have been able to check in online for international flights. Theres usually a question that asks if I’ve secured any visas and travel documents for my travel, and I check yes to continue.

  • PsyGuy

    That was an awesome supervisor, there are a lot of airlines (American looking at you) where you would not have gotten that attention. On an Asian carrier the supervisor would have just done the whole thing for you and maybe gotten you E+ seats.

  • PsyGuy

    I agree, now if the message says the flight is delayed 4 hours, I might get there a little later.

  • PsyGuy

    But United owns the plane, and has the money; all the PAX has is a piece of paper.

  • DChamp56

    Sounds like bait & switch by the airlines.

  • cscasi

    Except if he gets help up in a long TSA line or gets to the gate after the normal 20 minutes before departure time.

  • cscasi

    That’s because the airlines wants to see your passport(s) and ensure they are valid and the information you pre-entered (if you entered that online) is correct as the airlines are responsible for ensuring you have the proper document(s) for entering the country you are flying to. If you are allowed to fly and are tagged at the other end r no or improper entry documents, the airline can be fined and as you will be returned on the next flight, the airline will have to eat that as well.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    I’ve been unable to locate my record using a credit card, passport, flight number or record locator. When me, my wife and kids were all booked on the same itinerary. Only they show up but not me. But the worker can find my record by typing my name. This has happened numerous times.

  • KennyG

    Although everything you posit may be true, the one thing you seem to not be considering is that the plane may have been at the gate for several hours already, with maintenance crews working on fixing whatever problem existed, and at the time United sent out that notice, their best estimate was as given. There is no way to know if the plane arrived, and they had only a 30 or 60 minute turnaround time to departure, or if was being worked on for several hours already prior to the delay notice being sent out to PAX.

  • PsyGuy

    Yes I know that wasn’t the case because an aircraft does not sit at a gate for hours on expected repairs, the gate is to valuable. It would have been pushed away from the gate to make room for other aircraft.

  • JewelEyed

    I have to agree, for an international flight, even without the other extenuating circumstances, less than 2 hours is just not enough. I prefer to leave with the intention of getting there at least 2 hours before my flight even when going to our local, small airport. I imagine Quebec’s airport is much larger and busier than that one. However, I would not have known to take information about a delay as nonsense and show up at the original time either. If I’m notified that the flight will be delayed by several hours, should I show up at the time I would have originally left as well?

  • The Original Joe S

    I’ve had dolts at the check-in counter mis-quote the law of the country to which I’m going. Dolt wanted to know if I had a visa for that country, because I had an open return. I told her one doesn’t need a visa for 30 days.
    But you have no return time.
    And how do you know I’m staying in that country for all the time? How do you know I’m not traveling elsewhere, and therefore don’t need a visa?
    I hate stupids……..

  • The Original Joe S

    Should have written her up, and complimented the supervisor in the same letter.

  • The Original Joe S

    That is true. That’s one reason I fly Asian airlines.
    Another is that the FAs aren’t older than my grandmother, nastier than a pit viper, fatter than a hippo [ which would block the emergency exit like Goldfinger in the window ] and uglier than Medusa.
    I was going to Bangkok via Taipei. The captain interrupted the last 10 minutes of the movie with blather about the weather, etc, in 3 languages. I told the FA I was trying to watch the last 10 min but blabermouse kept yaking and yaking. She told me “Stay in your seat. When everybody gets off, I’ll turn it back on for you.” She did. I watched. When I got off the plane, everyone had gone thru security for the connection concourse, and they waved me thru with a smile.
    Fly Asian airlines whenever possible. They’re nice.

  • The Original Joe S

    I’ve had them fail to notify me of changes even tho they had my name, e-mail, cell-phone number.
    Fly asian. They notify you.

  • KennyG

    Since you seem to be able to know the unknown, what then exactly was wrong with the plane that makes you 100% certain it was capable of being pushed back? In addition, according to the article, this was UNited’s last flight of the night out of the airport. Perhaps since it was so late, there actually was no need for the gate? Gee, I wish I could somehow also know the unknowable. Is it something special you have for breakfast every day?

  • sirwired

    Well, if you are checking bags, UA’s minimum is 45 minutes before your flight already. That doesn’t excuse the agent holding you up, but it’s something to consider. (And I can certainly believe that the manifest got frozen, since 30 minutes before the flight is when boarding starts.)

  • MarkKelling

    With the latest TSA improvements, your name shows up when the boarding pass is scanned by them as well as if the pass is for a current flight from that airport. If the pass is unreadable or doesn’t match expected, you are sent back to the airline counter for a new pass. Yes, in the good old days, this was possible but now very difficult.

  • MarkKelling

    I have successfully checked in and gotten a boarding pass for numerous international flights online both leaving the US and returning. For the airlines I have flown (except Lufthansa) the passport and visa check occurs at the gate while boarding.

  • MarkKelling

    Sabre is AA. United uses a system called SHARES which they kept from Continental during the merger.

  • PsyGuy

    That depends what airport you are at. There are still airports where there is no scanner just a TSA guy who circles a few things on your boarding pass and waves you through.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s not unknown if you know it. Because if it has wheels and the wheels are attached to the fuselage it can be pushed back. Just because it’s United’s last flight doesn’t mean that gate isnt being used or needed for another flight. Even when gates are not needed for PAX, they are often used to service aircraft for everything from cleaning to cabin maintenance.

    No nothing special about breakfast I’m just a special snowflake.

  • PsyGuy

    Couldn’t agree more, though those middle eastern airlines have their game on as well.

  • The Original Joe S

    Yeah, but those middle eastern lines won’t give me those nice yummy halal pork ribs. I’d have to fly El Al to get ’em , and the shrimps too……

  • KennyG

    Lots of just if’s and maybe’s on your part. All supposition with no knowledge of actual facts. Here’s a what if for you.. what if the problem was in the planes steering, or hydraulic system and it was dangerous or might possibly have caused more damage to the plane to attache a push back vehicle and push it back away from the gate? Impossible? Nope.. As a matter of fact, I am as absolutely sure this was the problem. I saw it spelled out in my Lucky Charms cereal bowl this morning. I know it hurts, but maybe this time snowflake, you got a bit ahead of yourself. No way for any of us to know what happened and why with the plane. Maybe this or maybe that, or maybe there were more planes that needed that gate , but maybe not?

  • PsyGuy

    There was one if and no maybe’s in my response.
    If it was an issue with the plane’s hydraulics it would need to be hoisted with a crane, which would require it being returned to a service hanger, since a plane that risks collapse at a gate would be a safety hazard in of itself.
    You may want to check the expiration date of your lucky charms.

  • KennyG

    Amazing.. just saw this in my crystal ball.. immediately decided it was the most appropriate way to finish this enlightening discussion.
    . https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cd2cbf6b33497c059aa9ba0bfbdcb5e8f2dae9cfc0d16e58da4101d95d8a70bb.jpg

  • PsyGuy

    Please notice that this is YOUR crystal ball, you may wish to consider the validity of its advice.

  • Lindabator

    happens all the time — both my flights to Japan offered this – still was able to check in and fly – no conspiracy here

  • Lindabator

    actually the language is Apollo – shares is a secondary system

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