After our emergency landing, shouldn’t United provide me a meal and a hotel?


A mechanical failure causes Timothy Spinner’s United Airlines flight to make an emergency landing. Although the airline promises to reimburse Spinner for bag fee, meal and hotel expenses after his return home, he can’t get anyone at United to respond to his claims. Can our advocates obtain reimbursement for Spinner’s incidental costs?

Question: When my wife and I returned home from Aruba on a United Airlines flight, the aircraft made an emergency landing in Miami because of a mechanical failure. We were supposed to make a connection in Newark, N.J., for a flight to Cincinnati, but we were forced to book a hotel room for the night and fly the following day to Cincinnati via Atlanta on Delta Air Lines.

A United employee in Miami suggested that we file a customer care claim and submit our receipts for our hotel room, meals, and additional luggage fee for reimbursement when we returned home. We filed two claims and submitted receipts for $300 of expenses to United. But it never responded to our claims, even though we called United’s customer service and left messages on its social media.

Can you help us get these expenses reimbursed? — Timothy Spinner, Lebanon, Ohio

Answer: I’m glad you finally made it home from Aruba. A mechanical failure on your return flight is not my idea of the ideal ending to a tropical vacation.

But although reimbursement from an airline for incidental expenses following an emergency landing may seem like good customer service as well as common sense, the airline appears to have decided to treat your experience as a force majeure situation, in which it doesn’t owe its passengers anything.

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United’s contract of carriage provides that:

Force Majeure Event – In the event of a Force Majeure Event, UA [United Airlines] without notice, may cancel, terminate, divert, postpone, or delay any flight, right of carriage or reservations (whether or not confirmed) and determine if any departure or landing should be made, without any liability on the part of UA. UA may re-accommodate Passengers on another available UA flight or on another carrier or combination of carriers, or via ground transportation, or may refund any unused portions of the Ticket in the form of a travel certificate.

So even though a United representative promised you reimbursement for your expenses, United decided that it wasn’t legally required to keep that promise.

You might have escalated your complaint up United’s corporate hierarchy using our company contacts for United, but after waiting for United’s customer service representatives to respond to multiple contacts, you turned to our advocacy team.

But our advocates were sympathetic to your situation. We reached out to United Airlines on your behalf to inquire about the delay in handling your claim. You have notified us that United has reimbursed your Delta bag fee and up to $225 of your expenses. It also provided you with two $225 travel certificates for future use on United. You have told us that you are thrilled with this offer and gladly accepted it.


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 Elliott.org.

  • justanotherguy

    Complete nonsense on the part of United. Mechanical failure is not force majeure- it’s not unexpected and it’s not beyond their control.

    A “force majeure” clause (French for “superior force”) is a contract provision that relieves the parties from performing their contractual obligations when certain circumstances beyond their control arise, making performance inadvisable, commercially impracticable, illegal, or impossible.

  • sirwired

    You quoted the wrong part of the contract. The part you quoted pertains to their liability in case of a force majeure event. You failed to refer to the part of the contract that defines what that is, which this mechanical failure isn’t.

  • KennyG

    I am not disagreeing that United should have paid up, but if mechanical failure is something that is to be expected, and it is within their control to avoid it and the airlines choose to NOT avoid mechanical failure, no one, not even the pilots would ever board an airplane.

  • sirwired

    United didn’t claim this was a force majeure event; that was Jennifer’s assumption. As you said, it’s not a force majeure event. I’m guessing United just lost the reimbursement request in the shuffle.

  • Alan Gore

    I had this happen once on Delta, but that was in the good old days (early Seventies, on an L-1011, MIA-LAX) and they re-accommodated everyone without argument.

  • Lindabator

    The rep NEVER promised a refund, merely suggested the client submit a claim with all documents – making the leap that this was a promise is on the LW

  • greg watson

    well done Team Elliott !!

  • The Original Joe S

    But UNTIED simply didn’t RESPOND to the person. Ignoring the person gets people to be angry. At least have the backbone to tell the guy that UNTIED isn’t gonna help him. But, UNTIED is not a good airline……….

  • The Original Joe S

    they didn’t lose it…….. TWICE. They ignored it.

  • The Original Joe S

    I’m willing to bet that UNTIED is being its usual customer-unfriendly self, and hoping the guy goes away.

  • The Original Joe S

    always turn on the record function in your phone.

  • cscasi

    Based on what information, I wonder?

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