Did United Airlines do enough for mystery meat victim?

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By Christopher Elliott

Something happened to Steve Mukherjee on his recent United flight from Accra, Ghana, to Washington — something that even to this day makes him “sick to my stomach.”

During breakfast, with the cabin lights still dimmed, the flight attendants walked through the cabin with their meal carts, he recalls.

The flight attendants were serving the breakfast in a plastic bag, literally throwing it at you if you were awake.

I found it very disturbing that the flight attendant was literally throwing breakfast at you, and not even telling what is in the breakfast bag.

But Mukherjee was hungry, so he opened the bag. In it, he found a croissant, an apple, a chocolate bar, and a piece of cake.

A disturbing discovery

I should mention this about Mukherjee: he is a man of faith. And his faith prohibits eating pork.

Mukherjee said a prayer before eating and then took a bite of the croissant.

“I immediately realized that this was something foreign to me,” he says. “I was told it was ham.”

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Mukherjee was shocked.

“I felt very sick, and felt like vomiting,” he says.

He spoke with several crew members about the situation. They apologized and suggested that he send a letter to United Airlines after they arrived, explaining what happened.

And that’s what he did. He sent an email directly to the CEO. (Here’s our guide to contacting the CEO directly.) Here’s the United Airlines response:

I regretted to read of your in-flight meal experience on your recent flight with United Airlines.

Please accept my apologies for your frustrating and unpleasant travel experience. We realize that at times we are not doing as well as we should be in assisting you when there are circumstances that disrupt your travel.

I regret the inadvertent error made with your morning breakfast snack. Our flight attendants are not required to make an announcement concerning the contents of the snack served and are unaware of a passenger’s special dietary or religious restrictions.

I can assure you this was not an intentional act by the cabin crew. I will share your comments in a report to our onboard leadership team for their review with the cabin crew to understand how their actions impacted your travel experience with United. However all reviews and investigations are considered internal and are not for public dissemination.

While we cannot undo your circumstances, please accept 7,500 miles added to your Mileage Plus account as our gesture of apology and goodwill.

A debatable compensation offer

Is that enough? My advocacy team and I don’t know. Vomiting isn’t fun for the patient and also not for the people around them.

First, it goes without saying that Mukherjee should have asked a crewmember what was in the croissant before he took a bite. When you’re traveling abroad, you can’t make assumptions about anything, and especially about the food you eat. (Believe me, as someone who spent 16 years as an expatriate, I know what I’m talking about.)

At the same time, I can’t understand why you’d serve ham on a nonstop flight from a country where more than 10 percent of the population is Muslim. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The United Airlines response to Mukherjee was not a form letter, at least not entirely. And that’s good.

But can it do any better than 7,500 miles? Should it?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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