I have a big problem with United Airlines. Oh, wait … never mind!

Kurt Schmidt’s wife is bumped from a flight and then left to fend for herself. Will United Airlines do the right thing?

Question: Traveling from Frankfurt, Germany, on United Airlines, my wife had a stopover at Washington Dulles International Airport before completing her travel to Savannah, Ga. At the boarding gate she was informed she would not be allowed to board her flight, even though she had her boarding pass and they were still boarding passengers. She learned that the plane was full and that her seat had been given to a standby passenger.

As no other flights were available, she requested a hotel voucher and a $600 voluntary bump voucher, the latter of which she had observed being offered to other passengers. United’s staff provided neither. She went to Customer Service, she asked to speak to a supervisor, I called Dulles Airport Operations to ask for help — all to no avail. Finally, she got a hotel room and flew to Savannah the next day.

I later followed up with United’s customer service and was told that the best they would do is provide a $750 voucher. I don’t think this is enough, given all they put my wife through and their lack of help and empathy during this event. A better solution for us is to refund $750 against the original ticket price or a seating upgrade on our return to Frankfurt. — Kurt Schmidt, Savannah, Ga.

Answer: Your story really touched on a number of travel aggravations: a difficult problem met with indifference, circumstances that limited your options, and ultimately a solution that did not satisfy you.

Related story:   March complaints approach record as American Airlines extends lead

There’s a lot we can learn from your experience. First, you were persistent with the company, and clearly that paid off. You were also clear on your expectations for a satisfactory solution, providing clear guidance to United on how they might resolve the issue.

One thing you didn’t do is maintain an electronic or paper trail; understandable given the circumstances. But whenever possible, keep records of all your efforts to resolve complaints.

You can also access our company contacts for another source of helpful information to resolve customer issues; you’ll find United listed there under “Airline.”

Finally, it’s also a good idea to check your carrier’s contract of carriage, which explains the terms and conditions of your ticket. In this case, and assuming your wife arrived at the loading gate at least 15 minutes prior to departure, she was eligible for 400 percent of the fare from Dulles to Savannah, up to a maximum of $1,350 (see Rule 25.4.a in the contract).

In your case, you reported several days later that United not only provided the $750 voucher, but also a $150 gift card to reimburse your wife for hotel costs. You were satisfied with this solution.

We’re glad you reached a fairly quick resolution with United Airlines, and that they worked to resolve the issue to your satisfaction.

  • sirwired

    Since the seat had been given to a standby passenger, we can guess she was NOT at the boarding door 15 minutes before departure, since after that point is when standby passengers get their boarding passes.

    I wonder why she wasn’t at the gate earlier? Was she held up in customs? Late incoming flight? Both? (A delay that was not her fault might explain why she got a voucher after writing in instead of just a flat “no”.)

  • Jeff W.

    I was wondering why she was not at the gate as well. That reason goes a long way in determining if the resolution and response was proper. My initial inclination was that UA did not expect her to make it to the gate in time and she either a) cleared customs faster than what is typical, or b) is a fast runner. Of course, it could be her fault as well, but thinking positive.

    In the end, United provided restitution that was acceptable to all, so hooray!

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    Had an interesting experience at LAX with a flight that turned out to be oversold. My family of four was traveling on the same itinerary all booked at the same time. When checking in my family’s names were all recognized by the computer but mine was not. There was a one hour long line to speak to a person.

    By an amazing stroke of luck a United agent happened to pass by and did not try to run away and hide when I approached him and showed him the issue. If you are a traveler you can only identify yourself by booking code or swiping a credit card or passport (all of which I tried). Staff have the option to actually type a name. When he did this, my record miraculously appeared.

    My guess is this is one tool they have to free up seats on oversold flights.

  • Annie M

    How long was her connection between flights? This can often be avoided by leaving at least 90 minutes or longer between connections.

  • Lindabator

    no – but they can bump someone else if you have a large party, and they do not want to bymp 4 people, when they can only bump one

  • Bill___A

    Why did they give the seat to a standby passenger? Was her inbound flight late? Did she just not bother to go to the gate of the next flight before cutoff time? These are vital questions in the equation. They don’t just give seats away to standby passengers for nothing and in fact if they know the connecting flight is close but still doable, again, they try to make it work. Something tells me that there is more to the story.

  • PsyGuy

    They do when the standby passenger is a VIP.

  • C Schwartz

    I would suspect that there was some delay with the inbound UA flight — and then the passenger had to wait for immigration, baggage delivery, customs, recheck in bag and then get to departure gate. As you said, not getting the no makes me suspect that the passenger was not at fault.

  • BubbaJoe123

    No, they really don’t. If there’s a 1K on standby, they’re probably freeing up that seat right at the cutoff time, but they’re not just bumping people willy-nilly.

  • DCMarketeer

    As Dulles is my home airport (I live in Northern Virginia), I can attest to the fact that the United staff there are truly some of the most unpleasant people working in customer service. This summer, our flight to Oregon was delayed six hours then ultimately cancelled. The gate attendant was making announcements along the lines of, literally, “I’m only making this announcement because I’m required to. There are no updates at this point,” throughout the wait. There was an elderly woman traveling alone, and I had to escalate to a supervisor to get her help when she started to feel unwell in the heat (the AC had crapped out). Her ankles were terribly swollen, and I wanted help in getting her somewhere that she could put her feet up.

    At midnight, the United rep gave us a voucher for a hotel (we had to be back at the airport at 5:00 a.m. to check in for a rebooked flight on Delta (we were basically looking for the chance to lie down for a few hours and then take a shower, since our clothes were stuck to us) and said it was just outside the airport. When I saw the name of the hotel I remarked that it was nowhere near the airport. She then exclaimed, “Oh, you live locally! You don’t get a voucher,” and snatched it out of my hand.

    To a person, every single United employee we dealt with on the ground was rude and combative that day. They’ve made a Delta convert of me as a result.

  • cscasi

    While what happened is not right, in this case I would say that sometimes, silence wins out. In other words, sometimes a comment or comments can cost people, as it did in your case. Nonetheless, I would have written to United and put forth the facts; along with my hotel bill if you incurred one for that night. Perhaps it would have sent you some sort of compensation.

  • JewelEyed

    She wanted $600 and a hotel voucher. She got her own hotel room because they did nothing for her, which easily could have cost her $150.

  • jmiller45

    I would allow at least a 2 hour connection on international flights. I do this for domestic flights also.

Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.