No, Uber doesn’t owe you a free flight to St. Martin


David Kresl found out the hard way that Uber’s ride scheduling window is a guideline and not a guarantee. Now he wants the ride-sharing service to pay for his sister-in-law’s trip to St. Martin.

Huh?

Kresl scheduled the service to pick him up, along with three other people, between 3:45 a.m. and 4 a.m. for a 5:30 a.m. flight from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to St. Martin. “At 3:55 my Uber app showed a car coming from the west,” Kresl recounted. “It disappeared five minutes later and a new car was coming from the east. It arrived at 4:21 and got us to the airport at 4:47.”

As a result of their tardiness, the airline had closed off bag checks for their flight. Because the bags could not fly unattended, Kresl booked a flight for his sister-in-law, who took the bags with her. “Her flight cost $668,” Kresl said, “a charge we wouldn’t have had to pay had Uber fulfilled their contract.”

Actually, if Kresl had taken the time to read Uber’s Terms of Service, he would have discovered that:

Uber makes no representation, warranty or guarantee regarding the reliability, timeliness, quality, suitability, or availability of the services or any services or goods requested through the use of the services, or that the services will be uninterrupted or error-free.

In addition, the terms state that Uber shall not be liable for damages related to use of their services.

How Kresl wants Uber to pay for his sister-in-law’s plane ticket is a mystery to me. Especially since the late arrival of Uber’s driver was one of many obstacles that prevented Kresl and his bags from flying together.

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First off, most airlines suggest that passengers arrive at least two hours prior to departure for international flights. Even if the driver had arrived within the 15-minute window Kresl had requested, the traveling party would have arrived at O’Hare later than the suggested arrival time.

I recently had my first experience with Uber’s ride scheduling service, and I was nervous about the driver arriving on time for me to make my flight. For a domestic departure at 6:40 a.m., I requested that the driver arrive between 4:45 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. for a 30- to 40-minute drive, with the goal of arriving at the airport more than one hour before my flight. Sure enough, the driver arrived on time, but what if he was delayed? I had built in extra time to call a taxi or another driver.

Kresl told our advocates he based his pickup window on his typical departure time for an international flight when he was driving himself. But without the departure time in his control, he was leaving the timing up to Uber’s driver and didn’t allow enough time to get to O’Hare to begin with.

Kresl mailed a complaint to Uber’s Chicago office, but it was returned to him, marked “Address Unknown.” He could have escalated his complaint via email to executives at Uber. We list their contact information on our website.

Instead, he contacted our advocates, who told him we didn’t think he had any recourse with Uber. We cited his late departure time and reiterated that Uber does not offer a guarantee on their arrival times and that their terms state that they are not responsible for any loss that may arise from the use of their service. Unfortunately, this is not a case that we could successfully advocate. I am sorry that we could not be more helpful.

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Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined.

  • Dan

    What’s the benefit of prearranging the uber? When I have early morning flights I usually start checking the live uber pickup estimate shortly after waking up and then place the request when I’m about that many minutes away from being ready. That way I know a car has been assigned and can see how far they are. There’s no guesswork and no hoping the prearranged call will work as planned. But either way I think this LW cut it way too close when relying on 3rd party transportation. His timing would have been fine if he were driving himself.

  • SirWIred

    If the driver being 20 minutes late and without any notable traffic difficulties causes you to miss your flight, you scheduled your pickup WAY too late.

    Doing the math, if the driver showed up at 4 AM and took the same 26 minutes to arrive, that puts him at 4:26 for a 5:30 flight. Given that the United Checkin deadline for international flights is 60 minutes in ORD, that gave him all of FOUR MINUTES to get from the curb to the front of the check-in line. That is BEYOND insane. Even the most minor line at the check-in desk would blow them past the deadline.

    Even for routine domestic flights at my super-familiar and uncongested home airport, I aim to get there 1 1/2 hours before my flight. For an international itinerary, 2 hours.

  • Jeff W.

    He “reserved” his Uber / Lyft well too late to account for normal conditions, yet alone for any problems.

    But for a 5:30 AM flight, I would not have relied on ride sharing I would reserved a real taxi with a backup plan of driving myself — just in case. Or find a real good friend to drop you off at the aiport. Live in the city? Take the Blue Line. Runs 24 hours.

  • SirWIred

    I think even if he drove himself that would have been cutting things way too close. Any kind of line at the check-in desk would have blown him past the deadline.

    And given that it wasn’t mentioned the driver was unusually slow or that there were any traffic difficulties, I’m betting he based his self-drive time on how long it takes him to get to the parking garage entrance, not allowing for extra time to make way through often-congested passenger drop-offs.

    Maybe his “typical” time doesn’t include checking bags. If you don’t have to check bags, taking an international flight isn’t much different from a domestic if you can print your boarding pass at home.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I wouldn’t be surprised if not thinking about the bag check cutoff was the real issue here. If it hadn’t been for that, he would have been fine (I routinely arrive at the airport 45 minutes before early morning flights).

  • Jeff W.

    For very early morning flights, I-190 (the only way into O’Hare proper) is often congested. Especially on a Monday morning.

  • Alan Gore

    The most difficult kind of travel case to win is a claim for contingent liability. You might have clearly lost your million-dollar deal because the flight was late, but it can always be argued that you scheduled too closely. That is just as clearly what happened in this case.

  • Dan

    If traveling for business with my boarding pass on my phone, a modest size carry on, and TSA precheck, then yes I too arrive 45 mins before the flight with no issues. But on vacation with checked bags and traveling with other who might not be consummate travelers, then I expect the full 2 hours will be needed.

  • Chris Johnson

    I didn’t know you could pre-arrange Uber, I thought you could only request it on demand, which is why I would never use it when I want to be picked up at a specific time from my home to be at the airport or train station at a specific time. Otherwise, I love it as an alternative to taxis, usually out in the suburban areas where you can’t just flag one down on the street too easily.

    Also, the OP is delusional if he thinks Uber would reimburse him for the plane ticket to St. Maartens. If he took a taxi and got to the airport too late, would the taxi company reimburse him for anything? Hell no.

  • C Schwartz

    Maybe passenger prearranged the car because it was so early? If one is in a more suburban area or not downtown there may not be so many cars in the area… I had that concern with Uber but I was way out in the suburbs and had an early flight.

    But this passenger cut it far too close. And airlines are very strict with baggage cut off times.

  • C Schwartz

    I think you summed up the situation very well. It is 60 mins cut off for an international flight — one thing to travel without check in bags and just go straight to security — another to have to stand in line for the luggage tags and all.

  • Mel65

    Just reading the story about gave me hives! For an international flight out of O’Hare I would’ve been there at least 2 to 3 hours early. He planned it to get there almost exactly 1 hour before flight time and still have time to check bags get through security etc.? I would be a nervous wreck.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It wasn’t disclosed in the article but I am wondering how many in the party of four had luggage to check?

    Traveling for pleasure (i.e. checked luggage) is different from traveling for business (i.e. carry-on luggage). I am wondering how many in the party of four had luggage to check…given the checked luggage fees. It is hard for me to believe that a same day or next day fare PLUS checked luggages fees for a flight from ORD to St. Martin will be $ 668. I just checked fares leaving Chicago to St Martin tomorrow and the fare is $ 950+.

    I don’t think that we are getting the whole story.

    Like the other commenters, the OP cut it way too short.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree that an international flight isn’t much different from a domestic flight when you are traveling on business but for pleasure with your family and young children…that is a different story.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    45 minutes…it depends upon your airport and the time of day…the security line can be long at certain times and/or days.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I am with you…we will be at the airport three hours before our flight.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    We had a taxi didn’t show up (we called the company’s dispatch and was given the runaround…the taxi will be there in 10 minutes and etc.)…we ended up driving to the airport and barely made our international flight.

    Since the incident 16 years ago, we will use SuperShuttle ExecuCar service (i.e. a town car) or own SuperShuttle van…they have always been early to pick us up.

  • Chris_In_NC

    You can “pre-arrange” but it is not a reservation. It still is subject to available drivers to be able to pick you up.

  • Chris_In_NC

    User error, not Uber error.
    As others have said, if you missed your flight because of a 21 minute delay, you scheduled your ride way too late.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Me too! My first thought. Forget the fact that Uber was late – who in their right mind leaves only 1 hour for an international flight? That’s just nuts. Frankly I’m shocked they were able to get on the flight at all, even without their bags.

  • Mel65

    I was always under the impression that for In’al flights, check in at all closed like 60 or 90 minutes prior to flight…

  • MarkKelling

    It appears that only the bag check cutoff was the issue. The article states that one person rebooked on a later flight and took all the checked bags. So this means they probably had checked in online and had boarding passes and just did not account for the hour before departure bag check requirement. Still, they cut it too close, as others have mentioned, and it is no one’s fault except their own.

    Airlines set their requirements for a reason, not just to make you mad (well, mostly anyway). Pay attention and your travel will go a lot smoother.

  • Noah Kimmel

    I’ve done this before with little benefit. Uber does not pre-arrange/pre-assign, it just auto-requests at that time. So, if there are no cars close by, pre-requesting does nothing to really help.

  • SirWIred

    ORD early Monday morning is likely to be a zoo; lots of business travelers heading out for the week at that time. Not so bad at the check-in desk (most business travelers don’t check luggage), but security would generally be kinda crowded.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Seriously! This one is odd, to say the least. Although perhaps they’d already printed out their boarding passes online? In that case they could have just walked right up to the gate and boarded, but they wouldn’t have been able to check luggage. I’m thinking that may be what happened here.

  • C Schwartz

    So it is really not an reservation, it is just a hopeful request? I ended up being so paranoid that I booked a cab service. Thanks that is good to know,

  • AMA

    Setting the original issue aside, the fares to St. Maarten then and now are not comparable. Remember, the island is still in shreds and the airport is barely functioning.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    There are no direct flights from ORD to Philipsburg (SXM); therefore, the first segment was a domestic flight.

    When I did a search on Orbitz, Delta, AA and JetBlue are the only carriers with flights from ORD to SXM. Delta has a connection in Atlanta (57 minutes between flights in ATL); AA has a connection in MIA (AA has two flights to SXM…one has a 2h 7m connection time and 11h 39m connection time in Miami) and JetBlue has two connections, JFK and SJU.

    It is still crazy to leave an hour before their flight.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I agree…without knowing when the OP went to St. Maarten,..it is hard to compare fares or get historical fares because there are variables like high season, low season, hurricane season, etc. I just thought that $ 668 was pretty good for a last minute fare with probably excess luggage.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    It wasn’t an international flight…there are no direct flights from ORD to Philipsburg (SXM); therefore, it was a domestic flight.

    When I did a search on Orbitz, Delta, AA and JetBlue are the only carriers with flights from ORD to SXM. Delta has a connection in Atlanta (57 minutes between flights in ATL); AA has a connection in MIA (AA has two flights to SXM…one has a 2h 7m connection time and 11h 39m connection time in Miami) and JetBlue has two connections, JFK and SJU.

    It is still crazy to leave an hour before their flight.

  • Mark

    As someone who hates early starts and frequently arrives at the airport ‘just in time’ in order to maximise sleep, three bits of advice for the LW:

    – Check-in online and have carry-ons only
    – Never, ever use Uber to ‘pre-book’ an airport trip. All it does is ping for available drivers when you are in your ‘booking’ window. Find a good, reliable car service that will always be at your pickup early/on-time
    – Accept that if you time things without any slack, that’s your choice and risk, and if you do miss your flight, that’s your fault, nobody else’s

  • Mark

    For early morning starts, always book a reliable car service. Uber isn’t reliable.

  • Blamona

    Sorry for what? Even if Uber were on time he was cutting it short. He’s responsible, he’s at fault. Help those wronged, not entitled blame someone else problems

  • The Original Joe S

    Maybe he’s a mohel?

  • The Original Joe S

    He cut it short – let’s call him “Mohel”……

  • C Schwartz

    UA has seasonal non stop ORD to SXM — you can book UA 1671 for March 2018 — I think it is only Saturdays — UA puts in seasonal Caribbean flights at high season from ORD. But those flights usually stop in summer and early fall. No idea when this passenger had the flight problem

  • Travelnut

    I used to think that the domestic leg before an international flight would be like a regular domestic flight. I found out the hard way that there is an earlier luggage cutoff if your final destination is international. They weren’t too grumpy about booking me on the next flight without charging me, but I don’t want to cut it that close again.

  • Michael__K

    However I don’t see any such flight that leaves at 5:30am. The departure time implies an AA flight to MIA.

  • Michael__K

    To be fair, this was very likely the 5:30am AA domestic flight to Miami, connecting to SXM. Which would mean the checkin and baggage drop deadline was actually 4:45am. And that their planned margin was 19+ minutes, not 4 minutes.

  • SirWIred

    I admit I didn’t double-check the article when it said the flight was to SXM. Of course, 19 minutes ain’t exactly an eon either.

  • C Schwartz

    The flight routing is unclear in the post, as I imagine it is not relevant. The traveler missed the cut off for both international (60 min) and domestic (45 min)<

  • C Schwartz

    I share with you the early morning aversion yet I still ever so often end up on the pre 6 am flights. Painful.

  • C Schwartz

    The traveler missed the baggage check in cut off for both international and domestic. And sometimes those early morning hours are busy at the airport because of business travel.

  • Michael__K

    The article references the airport arrival recommendation for international flights, which this doesn’t appear to have been. If the OP had left by 4am and the drive took the same amount of time then he would have made it.

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