I was on the flight, so why did United call me a no-show?

By | April 9th, 2017

Bernadine Fong enjoyed the outbound portion of her round-trip flight from San Francisco to Newark without incident. But her return trip is a different story. At check-in, United Airlines informs a stunned Fong that she had been a no-show for that original flight. As a result, her ticket home has been canceled. Can we help straighten out this flight fiasco and get her a refund for the one-way ticket she was forced to purchase?

Question: I have been trying to get United to refund me for a one-way ticket home that I had to purchase because United canceled my original reservation. They told me that I was a no-show on the outbound flight, so the return flight was canceled. My only option was to buy a new ticket for $418. Needless to say, this was a bizarre experience and I want to be fully compensated for this unnecessary disruption to my travel.

I am also concerned, as United should be, about the “security” of its boarding procedures for something like this to have happened. I also wish to receive the frequent flyer miles for that outbound flight. I was on that flight! Can you help me? — Bernadine Fong, Los Altos, Calif.

Answer: Yes, Bernadine, we can help you. And United should have been able to help you, as well.

But when you attempted to advocate for yourself by using United’s company contacts, their suggested resolution was far from adequate. In fact, their response only served to cause further aggravation, since it appeared to you that they did not have a firm grasp of the problem.

That is when you turned to us for assistance.

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We reviewed the documents that you sent to United to back up your claim that you were, in fact, on the outbound portion of your flight. This evidence included your electronic boarding pass and your receipt for the purchase of the ticket.

You convinced us that you were on that flight.

And in United’s response to you, they appear to agree and that a mistake was made on their end. So we were as surprised as you were that your refund for the additional ticket was not immediately processed.

United’s suggested resolution was puzzling. Instead of refunding the extra ticket, which was at an expensive walk-up rate, they refunded your lower-priced original ticket of $296. And they did not mention your missing frequent flier miles at all.

Fair? You didn’t think so — and neither did we.

When a company makes a mistake, their goal should be to make the customer whole. This resolution fell short of that expectation.

I contacted United on your behalf and pointed out that their proposal did not make you whole. You should not bear any of the financial consequences of a mistake that was not yours. As you pointed out to United, this “resolution” garnered the airline an additional $122 that was not due them, and they still owed you the base miles that you should have earned from that flight.

A fresh set of eyes at the airline reviewed your case and agreed. They offered you an additional $150 travel voucher and all of your base miles for the original flight. Because you frequently fly on United, you were pleased with the voucher. The miles were equally important to you, since you are a Premier Gold member on United and you would like to keep that status.

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We are pleased that, in the end, United did the right thing for you. But this case does serve as a reminder to keep those boarding passes until you see your frequent flier miles credited to your account and you are safely checked in for your return flight.

  • Annie M

    These are the cases I like to read about – when a consumer has truly been harmed by a company and the company doesn’t respond to the consumer. Good job and glad that you were able to help her.

  • Rebecca

    I’m really curious how this happened. Usually it’s relatively straightforward, or at least somewhat makes sense. This is baffling. I’d like to say the same for United’s response, but I think that’s just par for the course.

  • Alan Gore

    What specifically does count as prof that you took a given flight? Even if you have a boarding pass printed at the airport, they could claim you didn’t hear the boarding call.

  • PsyGuy

    In all honesty, if I was the CSR and I was having a slow caffeine day, I wouldn’t have believed the first telling of the tory either, I would have made some assumptions similar to UA’s and just assumed the PAX was crazy or confused.

    What would have been better is if UA gave her Double Diamond Platinum Elite VVIP Sparkles Status.

  • PsyGuy

    Well you’d be on the passenger manifest that is filed with DHS.

  • PsyGuy

    One of the FA’s just made a mistake in counting PAX and verifying the PAX manifest.

  • PsyGuy

    Well not that UA doesn’t deserve their reputation, but this is a much rarer occurrence than the vast majority of other complaints, and most CSR’s just wouldn’t accept that conclusion.

  • Chris_In_NC

    So did United refund the $122 in cash + $150 in vouchers? or just give the OP $150 in vouchers to cover the $122?

    Pretty shocked that the OP was treated this poorly as a Premier Gold. If this is how elites are treated, then the mere pions that don’t have status don’t stand a chance.

    Why did it take a consumer advocate to become involved before United finally did the right thing?

  • Chris_In_NC

    Maybe, but the OP was UA premier gold and you don’t get that unless you fly a lot. A quick look at her flight/spending history would tell any CSR with a brain that is remotely functioning that the OP likely wasn’t crazy

  • michael anthony

    When you board the plane, your boarding printed boarding pass or the one on your phone is scanned. I’ve noticed at times, it takes the gate agent more than one swipe before it is properly scanned. Still, that’s not the pax fault at all.

  • Fishplate

    Back in the pre-TSA days, I once boarded a flight out, but was denied boarding on the return because my round-trip ticket was not valid. They could not answer when I asked how it was that I got there in the first place on their airplane. I wound up having to buy a one-way ticket and getting the round trip refunded, so the cost was a wash…

  • m11nine

    United makes $800+hotel overbook offers with no takers. Security drags a doctor off a plane so United staff could take seats on overbooked flight, flight delayed for hours, returns to plane bloodied. Too much to believe? WTH knows?


  • finance_tony

    True..but how can YOU as a passenger prove it if the airline drops the ball and misses a passenger?

  • jim6555

    If on a round trip itinerary, you should keep all of your boarding passes until the trip ends. Many years ago, a business associate and I were flying round trip from Tampa to Las Vegas on Continental Airlines. The outbound portion required a plane change in Denver. Our aircraft left Tampa about an hour and a half late. Before we left, We were summoned to the podium and told by the agent that there was no way that we were going to make the connection and that she was going to book us on the next DEN-LAS flight leaving about two hours after our scheduled flight. The cockpit crew did an outstanding job making up time and as we were preparing to land, the flight attendant made an announcement asking other passengers to remain seated so that the nine passengers who were going on to Las Vegas could make their close connection. She said that the LAS flight would be directly across the concourse from the gate that we were arriving at. It all worked out. We were able to board our connecting flight and I was surprised that our bags also made the connection.

    Three days later, we were back at LAS to board our flight back to Tampa. The agent their told us that our return tickets has been voided because we did not fly the outbound segment from DEN to LAS. Fortunately, we both still had our boarding passes and gave them to the agent while explaining what had taken place. He made a phone call and was able to verify that we were indeed on our original flight. Our tickets were made valid and were were able to fly home. My point here is to advise people to save boarding passes until the end of your trip. Having them may just save you much aggravation and from possibly having to purchase a new ticket.

  • cscasi

    However, she actually boarded and took the flight from San Francisco to Newark and she had to present her boarding pass to the gate agent in order to board the plane.

  • Pegtoo

    Wow. just wow.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Idiotic solution but you might want to consider buying something on board like a cocktail or a meal and keeping the receipt ?…..

  • Attention All Passengers

    More than likely it just didn’t scan through the gate reader when the flight was being boarded. The GA probably did not get a “beep” and decided to put it aside while boarding, intending to re-run it after the whole flight was done – it just gets very busy and that’s not usual. Then it was forgotten about. However, the GA is still responsible to reconcile the flight – that is make sure the seats and number of passengers match up after the door is closed. This usually takes place minutes after the flight is closed but again, someone dropped the ball and it fell through the cracks.
    Not acceptable but it does happen.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Has nothing to do with what was scanned (or not) through the gate reader. Flight attendants don’t reconcile the flight, the gate agent does.

  • Carchar


  • She’s lucky they didn’t drag her off like they did that doctor in ORD today…

  • LeeAnneClark

    Well I’m glad the passenger is happy, but I sure as hell would NOT be happy with a voucher. She had to pay actual cash money for a ticket that she’d already purchased. She should have been made whole with real money, not funny money.

    Fortunately it sounds like she’ll be able to use it – but given what happened on United today (violently assaulting and dragging off a doctor who was fully ticketed and in his seat because they wanted to give his seat to an employee), I sure wouldn’t want to fly United again.

  • PsyGuy

    Premier gold is basically standard service everyone got 20 years ago. Your assumption is a CSR with a brain that is functioning.

  • PsyGuy


  • PsyGuy

    Some human somewhere along the PAX manifest made a human error.

  • DChamp56

    Never, ever take miles when you’re owed cash.

  • jmiller45

    When my boarding pass is scanned, paper or electronic I wait for the beep & my name to show on the screen. I learned about this on Elliot. In no way am I implying that this was the OP’s fault. She was not treated right by United.

  • finance_tony

    of what?

  • finance_tony

    You record yourself boarding planes?

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