United Airlines promised me two first class tickets — where are they?

Dude, where are my first-class tickets? / Photo - Tipek US Air
In the customer service world, a first-class, roundtrip ticket anywhere the airline flies is the ultimate mea culpa — an airline’s way of saying, “We’re really sorry.”

And United Airlines promised Charles Rosenthal and his girlfriend two of them after canceling their flight from Palm Springs, Calif., to Los Angeles recently. But the tickets never arrived, and my inquiries to United have had disappointing results. Do I need to push harder, or let this one go?

Here are a few details. The couple was scheduled to fly back to Portland from Palm Springs on April 23. The first leg of their flight, from Palm Springs to Los Angeles, was United flight 6477, which was operated by United Express and SkyWest.

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“When we arrived at the airport, we were informed by the SkyWest representative behind the counter that our flight to Los Angeles did not exist,” he says. “When we asked for clarification, she was unable to give us any. We then asked why we had received no prior notification of such a schedule change. Instead of reconciling the situation, the arrogant service representative blamed us for ‘not checking the flight status prior to departing for the airport.'”

Rosenthal says he politely asked for a supervisor, but none was available.

“Totally baffled, we explained to the representative that we are a working couple and cannot afford to miss another day of work, let alone another night in an expensive Palm Springs hotel,” he says.

The SkyWest representative said she could reroute them through Denver, but with a 20-minute stopover. They’d probably miss their connection to Portland and spend the night in Denver. Rosenthal and his girlfriend chose to remain in Palm Springs for the evening and fly to Portland the next day.

“Upon asking the representative if she could offer us any vouchers for a hotel and food, she informed us that she did not have the authority to issue vouchers, and that we should contact United Airlines directly,” he says. “Not only were we stranded, left to jump through hoops, but were also forced to foot the bill for our food and lodging for an extra 24 hours in Palm Springs. This was not cheap, to say the least.”

So he phoned United and explained what happened. A sympathetic representative named Rochelle helped him.

Rochelle explained that she could not comp our considerable food and lodging costs, but that she could give us “two, transferable, first-class international or domestic ticket vouchers to anywhere United flies.”

She then clarified that the vouchers are “good for a round-trip flight.” After several minutes of clarification, she had me convinced that the vouchers were legitimate. While she could not send me an email confirmation, she gave me the PIN numbers (982AF78 and 698K194) for each of the vouchers and assured me that they would be mailed to my home address.

Content that United Airlines Customer Service had handled the situation with grace and dignity, I said goodbye to Rochelle.

Let me add one small observation to this. I’ve been mediating airline cases for a long time, and I’ve heard about the mythical first-class tickets “anywhere the airline flies” but I’ve never actually seen an airline come through with it. I’m sure it happens, but never to one of my cases. Not once.

And wouldn’t you know it, those vouchers never showed up. So Rosenthal called again.

“I was utterly astounded when she told me that each voucher was only good for $100 towards a United Airlines domestic flight,” he says. “$200 in domestic flight vouchers? We had been duped. Not only were we lied to and taken advantage of, but the $200 in vouchers wasn’t even enough to cover our extra night in a Palm Springs hotel, let alone food costs and the missed opportunity cost of not being able to attend work on April 24. What a slap in the face!”

That didn’t sound right to me. If, as Rosenthal says, United canceled his flight, it should have covered his overnight accommodations in Palm Springs and issued meal vouchers. If it simply rescheduled the flight for another time, then technically he missed the flight and would be entitled to nothing.

I asked United Airlines to look into his case. A few days later, Rosenthal sent me the following update:

Today, I received an automated form letter via email from United which entitled myself and my travel partner to a further $150 in flight vouchers. This brings the issued grand total of vouchers to $800 ($100+$150+$150=$400 per person).

This falls far short of their promise and the amount of money we lost from the flight bump (not to mention the legal required amount of compensation for an involuntary flight bump.) I replied to the email to let them know that I could not accept the vouchers unless they met their promised amount of compensation.

How do you recommend I proceed? They are clearly not taking my complaints seriously.

I guess I have two options: To push for more compensation or to let this one go. I’m not sure how to proceed.

I know there are other advocates out there in the journalism world that would call United and tell it what to do. I actually saw that happen once with this airline and another newspaper reporter. That’s not how I operate.

I’d be interested in hearing the call center recording. If Rosenthal is correct, then he’s entitled to the first-class vouchers. If not, and if it turns out that United just rescheduled his flight, then he’s already received more than he deserves.

121 thoughts on “United Airlines promised me two first class tickets — where are they?

  1. I think you should mediate just to find out United’s side here.  You really need to find exactly what happened to the flight to be able to determine further whether the vouchers offered so far are enough.  I am concerned though, that you say that if the flight was “rescheduled” that United should owe nothing?  If the flight was rescheduled, and United made no attempt to contact these passengers or rebook them on a different flight, why is that the passenger’s fault?  Only if there were mitigating circumstances such as the passenger providing incorrect phone numbers or not checking their email, would I consider them to have any culpability in not knowing about the rescheduling.  (Airlines have insisted for years now that there is no need to call the day before your flight and “reconfirm” your reservation… once you have a printed itinerary that is supposed to be enough unless YOU are contacted.)

    1. I’m pretty sure that’s the subtext here, that the flight was rescheduled and the OP wasn’t contactable. But for the agent to say that the flight never existed was weird…

      I’m leery of the original promise, tho. Two 1st class tickets are worth a small fortune. I can’t imagine they’d easily give those away for something as minor as a missed flight. Maybe for a flight that caught fire or something…

        1. Could be something as simple as the email going into a spam folder… We can’t know until more details are forthcoming. Surely whatever went down would’ve affected 100’s of others as well… The truth is out there…

        2. The smoking gun for me here, is the agent stating she couldn’t send an e-mail confirmation.  How convenient that it’s not possible to give the OP any sort of proof of the offer.

          Sounds to me like the agent was just trying to make the OP go away and then hope they forgot about it.

          I’m guessing there is an entire segment in customer service training dedicated to stalling tactics.

          1. I used to write/edit sales and customer service newsletters, and your assessment of training reps in stalling tactics is spot on.

        3. Carver, clearly you are giving the public too much common sense! in the last couple months, i’ve had many passengers that weren’t “contactable”. one gave their home phone number — they were on vacation, no one was answering that phone. one gave an email address he said he “never used”… he didn’t want junk mail. one typed in the wrong cell phone number for texts… a simple mistake. many travel agents gave their OWN contact info –then apparently never passed on the changes/cancellations/delays to their customers.

            this all happens way more than you realize!

          1. When in a foreign country try to get a cell phone signal?  Or even in Alaska! They do not exist for the lower 48 state users!

          2. not quite sure what your point is…
            but if you want the airline to contact you, you must provide legit contact info. that’s all i’m saying.

        4. Why do I have to check my email when I am on vacation? Who said I even have access to a computer? Why do I have to answer a phone when I am on vacation? Who said I even own a cellphone?

          I booked a flight with an airline. I paid for the flight.  I am there 2 hrs in advance.  They need to  do their part and provide a plane. PAY UP.

  2. I think it is time to force United to get off their high horse, they are running around screwing passagers every chance they get.  They are the ones changing and cancelling flights, not the passengers.  I have found their customer service to be deplorable.

    1. I miss CO. 
      But at least UA is gonna get slapped around a little here in Houston. We’re going to allow SWA to add international flights from HOU. Oh, UA was pissed…they ran ads about how “bad” this would be for IAH.LOLOL…more like bad for their monopoly.

      1. And United is pouting and threatening to pull out of IAH if the SW proposal actually gets started.  Sure they will.  UA makes way too much money in Houston to leave.  And they are too greedy to pass up the income.

      2.  New UA is old CO: same senior management, same website, same customer care department, same livery. I am on the phone with their customer care right now and the person I am talking to keeps saying “one pass, one pass”

  3. Ah, the mythical first class anywhere airline flies TRANSFERABLE (!) vouchers…if you believe those exist, I’ve got some ocean front property for you in Lubbock…

    (Really…when was the last time anything in the airline industry been transferable? 1980?)

    Sounds like “Rochelle” was just trying to get these folks off the phone. Call center employees are often compensated by the NUMBER of calls they field, not how many happy customers they generate.I think the $800 compensation is fair, to be honest. I’m willing to bet these folks booked super-cheap tickets that cost a fraction of that. 

    Might be worth finding out what UA has to say, though…

    1. Something must have been left out of the original story because I only come up with $500 total comp.  There was the original two vouchers for $100 each and then the email giving them another $150 each.

      “I was utterly astounded when she told me that each voucher was only good for $100 towards a United Airlines domestic flight,” he says. “$200 in domestic
      flight vouchers?”

      “Today, I received an automated form letter via email from United which entitled myself and my travel partner to a further $150 in flight vouchers. This brings the issued grand total of vouchers to $800 ($100+$150+$150=$400 per person).”

      I’m not sure where that extra $150 in his calculation came from.  But regardless, this is just airline funny money.  If the flight was canceled, the owe him *REAL* money to compensate for their actual cost incurred.  

      If the flight was rescheduled, when did the reschedule occur?  In the back of my mind, I remember something about it has to happen more than 24 hours before the original time.  Otherwise, the airlines could “cancel” a flight by moving the flight up and not giving the passengers time to find out and get to the airport.  Say the flight was scheduled for 1pm the next day.  At midnight before the flight, they change the schedule to 12:30am.  How would any passenger, even if informed of the change, be able to get to the airport in time for the flight?

      It seems there is more to the story we have not heard.  I voted to mediate this one just to find the rest of the story.

        1. Good deal, and I just realized the math didn’t add up. So much for reading blogs on 1 cup of joe…

    2.  I don’t think the cost of the tickets had any bearing on this.  The relevant issue is the out of pocket that they had to incur as a result of United bad behavior.  If United did screw up then the OP is entitled to his reasonable expenses in cash whether he paid full price or got the WalMart special.

      1. Out of pocket cost?  What about a missed day of work? when I return to work I am hit hard with 1,000 things.  My voice mail, email says I will return on day X not the day after X.  

    3. I would LOVE to hear that recording.  To anywhere domestic OR INTERNATIONAL?  For a PSP-LAX missed flight?  Seriously?  See my post above about the flight numbers and routing – don’t think we’re getting the full story (or a correct one) here.  Very strange.

  4. Chris, United keeps making these people promises and then not following through.  That sounds to me like an excellent reason to mediate.

  5. I think you should mediate. On one hand the recording of the call will sort out just what was promised. I am a little suspicious of them being told that they could not have email confirmation. I am not from reading the story just what happened to the flight, either it was rescheduled or cancelled but it not clear. Since they purchased tickets it must have existed at some point. I make it a point to check the flight status at the latest a day before a flight and then again as soon as I can on the day of a flight to make sure.

    1. two points here – if they were sending out vouchers, there is no record to EMAIL – and the res agents have no email to send from, just generate one from the system.  So no booking, no generation.  Secondly, though, is the fact that that flight number is a route from Phoenix to San Francisco then on to Redmond OR.  NOT Palm Springs to LA.  So it could have been a schedule change as a flight was cancelled.  I would LOVE to get more info on this.  Its just a very strange situation altogether. 

  6. I am finding that even as a 1K flyer, employees at the “new” United are not telling me the truth as often as the employees of the “old” United.  I have specific cases of gate agents claiming no exit seats were available but then calling the 800 number and the agent there finding multiple exit seats on the same flight.  I am currently fighting them for mileage credit on a flight to Mexico City, which was on UA paper but CO equipment…when I made the reservation my 1K number was included, but when I made the flight my 1K number went “poof” and I did not get credit for the first two legs of the trip.  Even though I have gone online to request the mileage credit and have called the airline several times, I have yet to receive the mileage credit.  I DO NOT LIKE THE NEW UNITED. SITUATIONS LIKE THIS TEMPT ME TO SWITCH CARRIERS.

    1. UA screwed me out of miles because it was on CO metal right before the change-over.

      Still working on getting that fixed. :S

      1. Every year at Christmas I purchase a UA flight for my mother from Sacramento to Arcata so she can spend the holidays with my sister. UA is the only carrier with a direct flight from SMF. This past year when I purchased the flights they offered a special boarding service for an additional fee, naturally. Since my mother is in her 80’s I purchased the service for her and informed her that she would receive special boarding and to listen for the announcment. After the trip she informed me that she never received any special boarding and that I should request a refund. I contacted UA and asked for the refund and the customer no-service representative I spoke with informed me there was no special boarding associated with the flights between Sacramento and Arcata. When I inquired as to why UA offered the service when I was purchasing the tickets on-line and they billed my credit card for the “non-existent” service the agent hung up on me. Instead of calling back I disputed the billing with my credit card company and received the appropriate credit I was due.

        It appears that UA has discovered a new way to increase  their revenues and that is to offer and charge customers for services that don’t exist. Talk about scams!

        1.  Of course they get away with it because they can.
          And if you pay extra for one of the Economy Plus seats but you get moved to a regular seat they refuse to refund the extra you paid too. 

          1. I’ve seen that happen. It’s pure fraud. Sell something you can’t deliver and then keep the cash. 

            Why are they permitted to do this!?!?

    2. I had 2 flights my wife was booked on where I applied upgrade certificates, she was never upgraded and I have not gotten the certificates back.  It’s been over 2 months, and they always tell me to wait longer.  I also have not gotten a single upgrade since the merger, yet pre-merger I almost always got upgraded on a 757.  Most of my flights have been on 757s.  A few weeks ago I boarded my DEN-BOS and then we were do-boarded and suddenly our plane was going to IAH, and we were told our flight was delayed 3 hours due to an inbound aircraft.  I asked for meal vouchers and was told “no” due to weather delay in ORD.  I explained our plane was re-purposed and was told it wasn’t, it was always coming from ORD.  I reminded her she just boarded us and also the app said the BOS plane was coming from LAS, and the plane from LAS was now going to IAH, she told me I was mistaken, and if I had a problem to call the 800 number.   Then on my return trip from BOS, my boarding pass buzzed, and I was moved from an exit window aisle to a rear middle.  I objected and was told that my reservation was incorrect, and to call the 800 number if I had a problem.  I called the 800 number and pleaded both cases and was basically told that their agents are always right and I am more than welcome to switch carriers.  I e-mailed and complained after that and actually asked for compensation for the refused meal voucher (This was the first time I ever asked for compensation in years), and 2 weeks later got a reply saying they are sorry that I feel upset, and that I have a choice in airlines.    It is just disgusting how bad they have gotten.

      1. Liked not because of how they treated you, but as a prime example of how a Crappy Chicago Airline destroyed CO.

        1. I still argue that UA didn’t destroy CO, Jeffy destroyed both airlines.   UA was much better than this before policies started changing, or as they told me aligning policies to match CO, while you were told CO was changing policies to align with UA.  Really they just took two good airlines, and screwed it all up.

          1. I’ll concede that fact.

            Jeffy needs to be sentenced to flying his own airline as a nobody stuck in a middle seat between a fleshy flier and a screaming baby whose mother changes him on the tray table. 

    3. If you’re a 1K flyer you’re probably living in or near a hub, and they know you have no other real choices.  It’s a little like threatening to not shop at the only grocery store in town.

  7. I’d want to hear the call center’s recording, and if the rep promised first class tix then that’s what they should get. I’m sure they won’t be able to “find” the recordings, though. I know when Delta changed my flight (twice on the same trip) they texted me, emailed me AND called me. Wish they all did that.

    1.  I agree. I also use TripIt Pro, which tells me when check-in is available and alerts me about my flights (gate number or delays).

    2. But a changed flight is a booked PNR, so they can send that.  It is an actual booking that can be emailed from the res generator.  Unfortunatley, agents do not have email addresses to send out general info – they can only send hard copy reservations, and any changes, or upgrades, made from those.  (Stinks, but that’s the way it works, unfortunately)

  8. Sounds like he conveniently left out certain information. How could he have possibly booked a ticket on a flight that didn’t exist?? It was his responsibility to check his flight status a day or two before leaving to ensure there hadn’t been any schedule changes. Finally, the airline has come through with a substantial reimbursement. He is being greedy to expect two round trip first class tickets anywhere in the US. I highly doubt the airline ever promised this.

    1.  I respectfully disagree with your entire post.

      1. How do you book a ticket on a flight that didn’t exist.  Easily, it existed when he booked it and now it doesn’t.

      2.  Checking flight status.  No, he has a valid contract and can expect it to be fulfilled.  For years airlines, not wanting to be burdened with confirming flights, have assured us that confirming is no longer required.  The OPs responsibility is to ensure that he is reachable in case of a flight change.  I make sure that AA has both my cell and my e-mail which they dutifully contact me whenever a change occurs. 

      3. Substantial reimbursement.  Hardly.  They have offered between $250 – $400 per passenger.  During high season, Palm Springs can be very pricey for a tourist.  The OP is out real honest to God cash as well as missing work.  Airline funny money hardly cuts it.  The cash he is out would never have expired and wouldn’t have required him to use it on United.

      4.  Two free tickets.  If that’s what United promised him, how is it greedy to expect United to honor its promise.  Its not as if the OP asked for that particular compensation.

      1. Re: Substantial Reimbursement.

        Unless you are bumped, in a US domestic flight, the airline basically owes you nothing except to take you (eventually) to your destination. They don’t even have to pay for your hotel and meals.

        From what I read, they were each given 2 vouchers – $100 plus $150, totaling to $250. The current low roundtrip fare from PDX-PSP is only $268 with tax included. Essentially they got another trip for free.

          1. That’s not even in UA COCs. So if they were not bumped, there is no DOT rule that requires compensation.

          2. True, but most folks do not realize that.  I’m more concerned that when you input 1677 you find the routing is Phoenix to San Francisco and then on to Redmond OR.  So OBVIOUSLY, if this was booked, it was a schedule change.  If UA sent the change by email and they ignored, or it went to spam, they never got it, and then NEVER bothered to re-confirm.  I ALWAYS reconfirm flights, both for my clients and myself.  You and I both know (especially with this merger) how many flights have changed, and the fact they never bothered to check worries me.  And having worked at UA, I can tell you we would NEVER have offered free 1st class to anywhere domestic OR INTERNATIONAL for a PSP-LAX misconnect.  I’d really love more info on this, as it smells fishy overall.

        1. If you are denied boarding (bumped), they owe you compensation in *REAL* money, not funny money.

          On domestic flights, if they get you to your destination more than one hour but less than two hours from the original flight, cash compensation equivalent to 200 percent of the one-way fare of your flight is owed to a maximum of $650. More than two hours from the original time will net you 400 percent of the fare to a maximum of $1,300. 


          1. I understand that (IDB) Elmo; but that does not apply here. The flight they mentioned does not even operate on Mondays. So they were not bumped or IDBed.

          2. Unless we have evidence otherwise that Chris has not shared with us, we have to assume that the OP was given a reservation for a flight at the time specified.  If in reality, there was no flight, that means that UA sold a reservation to a non-existing flight.  That would sound like fraud on UA’s part and be subject to other penalties and fines.

            If at the time the OP made the reservation, UA did have a flight, but canceled it after the booking was made, then they did deny boarding by eliminating the flight.

            So regardless of what happened to the flight, the bottom line is they were not allowed to board a flight at the contracted time – denied boarding.

          3. Under DOT rules, you need to get BUMPED to get IDB compensation. Please read the rules since you are not interpreting it correctly.

    2. Yup, that flight did not exist for 23APR. Based of what I have read, UA6477 was a weekend only flight [for winter]. So there is something missing in this story.

  9. I voted yes.  I think the OP needs compensation for a reasonable hotel cost and reasonable food costs at a minimum.  I do think the vouchers they already god are more than adequate compensation if they were in addition to hotel and food.  As far as R/T First Class tickets anywhere in the world, that seems a bit unreasonable.  I would love to hear the recording too.
    I really miss UA.  Since this merger, their service has gone downhill fast.  They used to take really good care of their customers, and now they treat everyone like dirt.  It’s so sad.  They also seem to tell everyone that they can’t do anything and to call United just like in the OPs case, and when I call, they basically tell me to get lost.

    1. I never felt that UA treated its passengers good.  

      I only flew them because my employer insisted and would not pay for another airline if UA offered what they defined as the “best” deal.  I had nearly 500 K miles of actual flight mileage on UA before the merger.  

      I can tell you a dozen stories of how badly I have been treated by UA (gate agents walking off and leaving the gate unattended with no reason given while rebooking passengers from a cancelled flight;  the  6 hour delay on a flight out of SFO because they couldn’t find one plane out of 5 in working order; being moved from a full fare 1st class seat to economy to make room for a flight attendant when I know most of the 1st cabin was flying on upgrades).  
      But remembering the past won’t fix the present. UA and CO are both gone and the resulting airline is simply the worst parts of both.  They are just trying to make enough money to pay the executive bonuses until they file bankruptcy again.

  10. United? What a joke! From Chicago to Vancouver 4 1/2 flight
    Travelling  with my wife who requires help. 1st thing we wait for 1 1/2 hrs. for a “delayed” flight coming from N.Y. We weren’t told that length of time, rather the famous 15 minute delay,until it reached the 1 1/2 hrs.
    2) During that time don’t you think they would check everyone’s tickets? NO. BUT in a 10 minute? frenzy the woman checking tickets yells to the counter “This woman cannot sit in this aisle it’s an emergency exit aisle.”
    Desk wants to place my wife in a middle seat even though it’s VERY painfull to move around.Leaving out the inevitable problems we finally board & guess what? we were NOT IN EMERGENCY EXIT AISLE AFTER ALL!!! By the way the ticket clearly marked “Needs assistance”
    Also 1 person bumped & 2 people assigned the same seat (11A)
    So I start my own boycott – no more United.
    The people behind the desk ignorant & totally lacking in any possible thought process, mouthing the company mantra i guess.

    1. The problem with vowing to never fly a particular airline is that you try another airline and you find their service stinksjust as badly as the one you are switching from. From what I can tell from having read Chris’ newsletters all these years is that airline travel just plain stinks and, when at all possible, drive. It took 2 1/2 years to sell our house in Georgia when we were transferred to Kentucky and, needless to say, we made the 7 hour round trip by car instead of flying every single time despite the fact that my husband has almost 2 million miles on delta and it is only an hour flight time between the two airports. Im still trying to figure out how deltas’ award calendar works because every time I try to book a flight I choose “low” award days but when I actually go to book the flights they take a minimum of 40000 miles when the “low” miles should only be 25000 miles. Then Chris refers to a study done by somebody. Who knows how to do such things and says that delta ranks dead last in award availability. I could have told him that without doing a survey but it made me realize that I wasn’t crazy in my frustration with delta and their “rewards” program.

  11. Most of United’s call centers are overseas where they quite frankly have no grasp of common sense or customer service.  They are paid to get rid of a call as fast as possible and at the lowest cost to the airline.  I miss calling Midwest Airlines, where the call centers were in Wisconsin and they were truly “The Best Care In The Air”. 

  12. The comments lamenting the “old” UA, CO, etc. and the intent to change to another carrier suggest an expectation that there is another carrier somewhere that will do better.  Pray tell what might the name of that domestic carrier be?  And if the US-AA takeover comes to fruition, expect the situation to get worse.

    “Airlines don’t listen to the traveling public and their customers.”  Nonsense.  They have listened intently and responded.  We said we wanted CHEAP.  We got it.  One wonders if the pendulum will ever swing to the other side wherein service and treatment with a modicum of civility might ever return.

    1.  A modicum of civility – amen to that!!

      But here’s a counter-example for all the people threatening to switch.  Last year, my wife and I got an unexpected day in Paris at the end of our trip, due to some kind of mechanical issue on the inbound UA flight.  Got a standard UA phone message alerting me that we had been rescheduled, but on a flight that left about 25 hours later.  We had to scramble to find a room at a reasonable rate.

      Boarded next day’s flight and returned with no further problems.  I sent an email to UA requesting reimbursement of at least part of our hotel and food expenses.  Got an email back asking that I submit receipts, details, etc., which I did.  UA covered about 50% of our costs, using a schedule which seems consistent with my (limited) earlier experience with them.  Trip insurance picked up the balance, so we got an extra day in Paris “for free” not counting the angst. The email also offered us each a $300 voucher for any future flight, and we used those this Spring for a trip to Phoenix – no problems.

      Caveats: I’m a longtime Mileage Plus member, but only at the lowest Premier status, and I booked Business Class tix myself for this trip (there are often good sales offers in Jan-Mar each year).

      And, of course, this is all pre-merger experience.  My post-merger experience is that the occasional free upgrades I used to get on UA are long gone, and they have cheapened the MP membership in other ways.  Folks in the top tiers are hopping mad.  As for me, I’ll wait to see how things shake out, but I don’t hold much hope for better service from any other carrier.

      I’m willing to pay for better service and a “modicum of civility” but I don’t see many options out there just now.

    2.  You are 100% correct.  The various commentators who suggest that airlines don’t listen to customers are confused.  Customers say one thing with their mouths and another with their wallets.  Airlines, like every other business, listen to what customers say with their wallets more than their mouths.

      As long as customers wallets say that the single most important issue is price, we can ignore commentators, pundits, and polls.

      The baggage fee is a perfect example.  Customer claim to loathe them, but until recently, still booked the airline with the cheapest base rate.  That’s why Spirit Airlines grows.

    3. Cheap doesn’t mean they have to provide bad customer service.  Given the level of greed displayed by most of the airlines, even if they raise ticket prices I would not expect customer service to improve – they will want to pocket the extra money to increase their profits, make their shareholders happy, and pay their executives bonuses.  My suggestion is for the people who matter to the airlines – the regular business travelers, especially those with large corporate accounts  – to start complaining loudly and publicly every chance they get.  Surely they have experienced some of this, although perhaps they are treated better than the rest of us who fly only occasionally. Those who have control over which airline they fly should stop using the worst of the worst, if possible.  Perhaps a drop in revenue would wake them up.  I am really worried that AA will merge with UA, and AA is our primary here in Dallas.  AA isn’t perfect by any means but my limited experiences with UA have all been bad and these were pre-merger.  I don’t have a choice who I fly for business but if UA and AA merge, I will certainly use an alternative for non-business travel when possible.  At least we have Southwest here as well – they are relatively honest about what you get for the price and what you can expect on the trip, and are generally pleasant.  Not a ringing endorsement but then again, which airline is really great these days?  

      1. Don’t worry, UA and CO are still merging and that will keep them busy for a few more years.

        AA and US will merge.  Can’t wait for that. ;-(

      2.  Unfortunately, cheap and poor customer service go hand in hand.  Check out any Consumer Reports survey and you find the cheap vendors tend to congregate towards the bottom of the rankings.  Think Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s vs Food Lion.

        Business travelers at least on AA have no need to complain (yet).  As one myself, I remember my travel experiences as a leisure 4x a year traveler and today as a business traveler.  Its night and day. I have yet to pay a baggage fee.  I usually fly in first.  My lines are shorter.  And I know several of the gate agents and flight attendants on my most traveled route. I don’t care about the food and drink offerings on shorter flights.  I”m high enough up in my company that I can leave work early enough to grab a real meal before the flight.

         I suspect the true road warriors have it even easier.  So I don’t see the business travelers complaining too loudly.

        As far as greed is concerned, I have to respectfully disagree.  The purpose of a business is to maximize profits for its shareholders.  CEO compensation is a populist red herring at best.  Whenever an airline tries to raise prices and provide better service, the market punishes it badly.  We get what we are willing to pay for.

        1. Actually the business travelers ARE complaining about United.  It’s just that the new United doesn’t care and in fact sees them as “over-entitled” (per their CFO).

  13. This is a weird one. I’ve had United contact me a few times in the last few years when there has been, in the first case, a cancellation for which they automatically rescheduled me and also a flight time changes. These notifications happened via both email and an automated phone call. They’ve also been very consistent about automatically re-booking flights if I was going to miss a connection. We start all our trips on United Express, flying out of a small regional California airport. I’d also be interested in United’s side of the story, so voted “yes”.

  14. Yes, Chris, please mediate.  The truth has been lost here and must be found.  For a start, was the OP’s flight cancelled or rescheduled?  Was he promised first-class transferable vouchers or not?  After reading today’s crop of nightmare stories, I am leaning towards a decision not to leave home again except via shank’s pony.

  15.  “Two First-Class Tickets anywhere United flies.”  That’s worth thousands and thousands of dollars for some routes.  There is zero chance a call-center monkey is authorized to offer such lavish compensation for an surprise overnight stay on a domestic coach itinerary, no matter who’s fault it is.

    The question is: If this occurred, should United be held to an employee making an offer a couple orders of magnitude outside their authorization?  It’s an interesting legal question.  Certainly the employee should be re-trained and/or fired, but it’s a legal line-drawing exercise as to United’s obligations here.  There are limits as to what the law will obligate a company to follow through with, but I don’t know what those limits are.

    1.  I can’t speak specifically to airlines as they operate in the Twilight Zone.  But in general employees cannot bind a company outside of their actual authority.  Higher up in the food chain, the law implies what is known as apparent authority.  That means, would the other side reasonable believe, under the totality of the circumstances, that the employee has the authority to bind the company.

      For example, at my company, I’m one of the officers, and my title reflects that fact.  I signed a lease for new corporate space.  Had I overstepped my authority, the contract would have been binding due to my title, the fact that I negotiated the lease, and that the CEO was standing right next to me as I signed the lease. The totality of the circumstances suggested the authority.

  16. United is what happens when you merge an incredible carrier with one that has nothing but employee strive and a extremely bad attitude to passengers .. talk to EX CO employees and you will get sad looks and clucking tongues. Sad to say UA lies and in competence have infected CO and now WN wants to take away the reason for the merger in the first place South America. Wrong management to pull it off. Where is Bethune when you need him?

  17. some of the greatest pieces of fiction i’ve ever read have been about myself, and what passengers have claimed that i’ve told them. i’d really be interested to hear the call center recordings. i just don’t know if i believe these people…

    1. LOL!
      You mean, you didn’t promise that family of six headed to Di$ney free upgrades both ways, free tickets anywhere your airline flies, and gold-plated airline wings for the kids? All because they couldn’t get six seats all together!??!

      [Complete aside here…]

      God I hate flying IAH-MCO. So. Very. Much.

      This week, I got to listen to a mother freak out because her family of six could not get six seats together. The family was broken up into two groups of three, but this wasn’t good enough!!! Didn’t the gate agent know that this was her daughter’s “10th Birthday Trip!” Everything was supposed to be PERFECT. And why wouldn’t that mean old airline allow them just two extra carry-ons!? I mean, they shouldn’t have to pay–it was a BIRTHDAY TRIP.

      Once again, I prove that people become stupid when they give all their money to the Mouse.

    2. I am with you in disbelief. This story is NOT credible. UA6477 was not scheduled for 23APR and the latest UA flight from PSP-LAX  (on 23APR) was UA6445 and that was scheduled to depart 624PM. If the OP went to the airport for UA6477 which departs 716PM Sat/Sun, then we would be too late for UA6445. In other words he would be stuck in PSP.

      I can’t find any evidence that UA6477 was cancelled for 23APR. How could it, if it was not even scheduled to fly that day? And even if it was cancelled, the OP would have probably found out on his outbound leg from Portland (since he will access his reservation). If the flight and date are possibly wrong then the rest of the story might as well be a fairy tale. I think Elliott should demand to see the ticket before he takes on this case.

  18. I’ve never had a major issue with CO/UA if I was flying a mainline flight, it’s always been their “connection” And Silver Air (flying mostly FL and the Carribean) has got to be the worst. They fly small planes, (19 seat Beechcraft) so it’s nearly impossible to get a reward seat (“can’t you just drive to FLL? We can get you out there”–HELL no, it’s a 4 1/2 hr drive! And what’s the point of your loyalty program) I know Chris, don’t get you started on those…as much as I HATE MIA, American seems pretty consistent for me and I can always get a reward seat…but as someone else mentioned, a merger between US /AA would be a DISASTER!

    1. Just flew DEN-FLL-EYW on a reward ticket with UA the week before Mother’s day that I booked two weeks prior to that.  It went OK.  

      Sliver bought some 34 seat Saab planes (look exactly like the Beech just bigger) that have a toilet and a flight attendant that serves drinks and some of the best snacks I have had on a plane in a long time.

      The 4 hour delay each way FLL-EYW was the only bad part.  Bahama customs decided to do more thorough searches on the planes leaving the various small islands which threw off Silver’s entire schedule for about two weeks.  Guess I could have driven that part of my trip.

  19. Chris, please mediate.
    I am Premier Executive (Gold) on United and can attest that their service has dropped to its lowest level since the merger. 
    I am still missing mileage on 3 flight segments on 2 different European trips.  No amount of calling or e-mailing seems to help.
    Please try to get these folks compensation.

  20. Cause now I’m just nosey what the call center message said too!  It sounded like a ridiculous promise to begin with….BUT when your back is pushed to the wall, you tend to grab onto anything that sounds nice, no matter how unreasonable!

  21. Something is terribly  wrong here.

    This [purportedly] Skywest (OO) operated flight for United Express on Monday,  23APR 2012 departing PSP and arriving LAX does not exist. Yup, it (UA6477) was not scheduled to fly on Mondays. So if you expect us to believe the rest of the story (i.e. the weird fly anywhere offer from UA and the subsequent certificates) at least get the flights right.

  22. If Rosenthal is correct, then United should a) Pay all of his expenses related to the extra night stay in Palm Springs AND b) give him the two First-Class flight vouchers he was promised. 

  23. More whiners.  Life ain’t fair.  Take what’s been offered, it’s quite generous, and move on.  Life ain’t fair.  The airlines make their own procedures manuals, probably changing them every 10 minutes.  Life ain’t fair.

  24. so why should United offer them anything at all ?

    Their flight was cancelled. They would have recd an email to that effect with rerouting details.

    Don’t they have email ?

  25.  We don’t even have evidence he was booked on UA6477 PSP-LAX on 23APR. I’d like to see that first

  26. I really hope you can get them to pull the call. I won’t be able to decide whose side I’m on until we know how the service rep worded things.

  27. I voted yes on Mediation but here is the issue: the call center recording. We need to hear it, I’d LOVE to have Chris post it when it becomes available,  

    They are ALL recorded.  Our OP needs to:

    a) Sue United in REGULAR court – not small claims

    b) As he serves the complaint he sends a copy of the complaint and letter to United’s Chief Legal Officer – whomever the Ex.VP of Legal is – return receipt requested that states:

    “I filed the attached today in [where ever the court is].  This concerns a promise made by a United Employee [insert name] in a telephone conversation April [25?] at XXam/pm called on [number called].  (If you used your cell – then you are golden since you have the number and date and time called)

    I shall be forwarding a discovery request to listen to the phone call.   This is notice that United must retain a copy of the phone center call in accordance with the rules of discovery.  

    Please have your attorney’s contact me when they receive the complaint in due course.”

    Now – if THAT does not get a response – I’d be surprised.  Moreover you need to look at the place you wanted to go – London, Tokyo, Sydney, wherever – and THAT is the value of the tickets you sue for – it will be in excess of $40,000.   

    You HAVE to do this – if you don’t do this – when they get the discovery request in 4 months they’ll just claim that they ‘routinely’ discard phone calls every 30/60/90 or whatever days is most convenient for the claim. 

    Now you have set them up – they either find the phone call – and fire that employee – or claim that their employees do not have the ability to bind the company to that promise [hah – no court is going to buy that] – or they call you to offer you 200,000 FFB or some equivalent that GETS you the 2 free tickets.  

    Once they assert that they do not have the phone call recorded [which is the most likely result] it becomes your word against hers /theirs.  They will lose since they will not be able to testify to ANYTHING other than ‘normal procedures’ which is really not specific.  

    If you don’t do it – well – when you get nothing.

    Further, if the OP is BSing us – he won’t do it either –

    Finally, send the itinerary to Chris so he can certify that the OP actually HAD the reservation on the flights claimed – the people who work here in the industry call BS on the operation of the flight. . . .

  28. It is completely unreasonable to expect two first class tickets anywhere in the world over a night’s lodging costs.

    That said, Skywest is the airline I hate to fly more than any other airline I’ve been on in the planet.  United are horrible for allowing them to fly under the United Express banner.  I have on at least four times been annoyed to the point of extreme frustration by Skywest’s ground staff at Denver Airport and it is my aim to never, ever fly them again.  I encourage everyone else to do the same.

    Fortunately, the last time I went to Denver, I got to go on real UAL planes both ways.   If faced with the prospect of Skywest again, I think I will elect to simply not go.   That said, although I think everyone who has to put up with Skywest should get two free tickets around the world, I don’t think it is reasonable that united do so.

  29. My partner and i believe that it is time and energy to push Usa to have away from their particular large moose, they may be playing around screwing passagers each possibility they will acquire. They may be the people transforming and also cancelling travel arrangements, not necessarily the particular travellers. I’ve found their particular customer care being deplorable…

    1.  Huh?  “have away from their particular large moose.”  Ha.  Sounds like a Babelfish translation from a spammer. 

  30. Chris,  I worry that someone is pulling your leg here.  Short of a plane crashing, United isn’t going to comp a pair of non-elite fliers two first class flights to *anywhere* transferable, etc.  That could be $40,000 worth of compensation for a missed flight from Palm Springs to Portland that they might have paid at most $300 for round trip.  I just can’t imagine an agent promising this.  United callers without status get the Indian call center that just mumbles through the designated scripts.   Just to calibrate compensation, as a very frequent flier whose business class flight from AMS-ORD went mechanical and canceled, I received hotel, meal vouchers, and $350….not two first class tickets anywhere.

    This couple is clearly not due IDB compensation. There was a schedule change and they missed their flight, flat out missed it, or something else strange happened. 

    If I were them, I’d consider themselves lucky to get so much compensation and move on. 

  31. 1.  Vouchers =/= money.  They only help if the OP is taking another trip.  Otherwise, they’re a waste.

    2.  Vouchers are not generally stack-able (unless they’ve changed the rules lately).  So $100 + $150 + $150 is only good if the OP is going to take three different trips.

    Yeah, mediate.  United owes these folks what they’ve promised, or a full reimbursement of all expenses related to the extra night’s stay plus the vouchers (for inconvenience).

  32. The Denver reroute story does not make sense

    The SkyWest representative said she could reroute them through Denver, but with a 20-minute stopover. They’d probably miss their connection to Portland and spend the night in Denver.

    If the OP went to the PSP airport to check in for the [non-existent] UA6477 flight with scheduled departure 716PM, then how can he been offered a flight to DEN which was schedule to depart much earlier at 550PM???

    Flight UA5653 PSP-DEN was quite late in departure 719PM (instead of 550PM). Maybe the gate/door was still open after 6PM (about the time the OP check in for the non-existent flight)? But that still does not explain why he said there was only a 20 minute connection time in DEN  (when the next flight DEN-PDX was scheduled to depart at 1020PM, about 1 hr and 20 min scheduled between flights). In reality since the PSP-DEN flight was so late, and arrived at DEN at 1019PM, he would have completely missed the DEN-PDX flight since that departed at 1015PM.

    Absolutely nothing in his story (i.e. non-existing flight, Denver reroute, fly anywhere vouchers) makes sense. It’s time for Elliott to determine the facts first before he even bothers to take on this case.

    1. @TonyA_says:disqus ,

      Isn’t it perfectly plausible that at a point in time (i.e. when the OP’s spoke to the SkyWest agent) the PSP-DEN flight was expected to be delayed “only” until 7pm and expected to arrive at 10pm?

      Are you able to see schedule change histories going back a full year and rule in or out that the PSP->LAX flight was scheduled to operate on Apr 23 *at some point*?

      1. I don’t have a view to historical schedules in GDS. But actual flight schedules are recorded. And, that flight operated only on weekends (mainly Sat and Sun) from Jan to Apr 2012.

        It is entirely possible that the OP bought his tickets in 2011 and at that time, the future Winter schedules MAY HAVE included Monday. But as soon as that flight schedules were changed, he (or his travel agent) would have gotten a message regarding the UN status of his flight and a reaccommodation (TK status) to a new flight. As a TA I get these messages daily so I cannot understand why the OP was clueless about a schedule change.

        Regarding the Denver routing, we are assuming that the agents at PSP were still able to process passengers beyond the scheduled departure time of 550PM.

        There was a time adjustment recorded by UA/OO at 4:54 PM  PSP time —
            Estimated Gate Departure Changed From 04/23/12 05:50 PM To 04/23/12 06:58 PM
            Estimated Gate Arrival Changed From 04/23/12 08:58 PM To 04/23/12 10:06 PM [meaning he would have had 14 minutes to catch UA 448’s scheduled departure of 1020PM].
        He did not have 20 minutes!

        If he did check in at least one hour before his non-existent flight (supposedly scheduled to depart at 716PM) at around 6PM, then he would have known he had only 14 minutes maximum to connect at DEN (which has a 40 minute minimum connection time).

        So, the airline did update BOTH estimated departure and arrival time. The latter (arrival time) is more important if you want to compute how much time is left to connect in DEN. Anyway, he never had the chance of making it to PDX that night and all this discussion is for nothing but distraction.

        To me the real issue is why he did not see his updated itinerary??? If he flew outbound from PDX on the same itinerary, he should have noticed a change of return flight at that time. So in reality I believe the OP was a NOSHO at PSP for an earlier flight. I am glad he was reaccommodated for the next day by UA/OO. Also IMO, he does not even deserve the vouchers. He’s lucky they got $250 each.

        1. 14 minutes vs. 20 minutes doesn’t sound like a smoking gun to me. (If anything, I interpret the fact that the recorded delay estimate matches the story to within 6 minutes as corroboration)

          Assuming the journey outbound from PDX was even on the same itinerary, what makes you so confident that the passengers would have noticed something amiss when they checked in either at home or at PDX?

          I doubt I would look closely at the entire itinerary and notice a discrepancy with a return flight unless there was something that blocked me from selecting “Print Boarding Passes” until I acknowledged a prominent notice.

          Also, why would they have the flight # (6477) and why would the agent accomodate them without charging a fare difference and why would UA even offer them vouchers if they weren’t actually booked on the “non-existent” flight?

          1. The 20 minutes is NOT an issue. That is a distraction since he never had a chance to make it to PDX via DEN. The only reason why we are discussing that flight is because it was still on the ground since it was late. Otherwise, it would have been in the air before the OP checked in PSP.

            The last flight for PSP-LAX-PDX was at 624PM. UA6445/UA6221. This would have been the likely target of the OP (if his itinerary had changed earlier). So ask  yourself this question – why wasn’t this flight discussed by the OP at all ??? It departs later than the 550PM flight to DEN. The possible reason — he missed it.

            To answer your question why he was reaccommodated at PSP (and not charged a higher fare difference) — because the Skywest airport agents were nice to him. Airport agents have the power to revalidate your ticket.

            Lesson learned in this story is check your itinerary as there could be flight schedule changes. It happens a lot of times so get used to it.

          2. Ok, I think I see your point– if they thought they were on a 7:16pm flight and they didn’t get on the 6:24pm flight (which left at 6:41pm that day)  then it still suggests they might have cut the 30 minute checkin window for small airports very tight, even for their expected departure time.

            That’s a perfectly plausible scenario, but I’m not sure we can rule out the possibilities that:

            (a) the version of UA6477 they were originally booked on was scheduled to depart later than 7:16pm.


            (b) they tried to checkin 45 to 75 minutes in advance of an anticipated 7:16pm flight, but at that point the 6:24pm flight was no longer available to them (in which case the agent may have purposely not even bothered to mention the 6:24 flight since all that might accomplish is to make the passengers more upset).

          3. The most plausible (and simple) scenario is they did not check their [new] itinerary and assumed UA6477 was still operating (departing) at ~716PM. They got to the airport about an hour earlier (slightly past 6PM) and they were told they were too late for [the last flight] UA6445 which was scheduled to depart 624PM for LAX. Since the DEN flight (UA5653) was late and was rescheduled past 7PM, then that came into the discussion – be it futile one. They were reaccommodated for the next day’s flight (without penalty – tickets simply revalidated).

            They came home pissed about missing a day’s work and spending more money for one more night at PSP. So they tried to recover some funds from the airline. I don’t believe the system-wide free pass they supposedly were promised over the phone. Technically, they were not bumped so UA does not owe them anything.

            Here’s my experience on similar cases. Unless you check your itinerary (or you have a great TA who will call you for every change in your itinerary), you won’t know the changes. It’s very easy for email to get deleted or neglected. Always print the latest itinerary before you depart for your flight.

            If I have to make a guess, UA6477 was still on the schedule when they bought their flight. But it was cancelled well in advance and they did not see the notification (all though most likely sent by the airline). I always get flight changes (including United’s) in my GDS queue so it’s hard for me to point a finger at United. I think email is not close to 100% foolproof.

          4. We’re on the same page.  And that’s good advice– I could easily see myself missing a notification.  I’ve seen a 24 hour checkin reminder or two routed to Spam.

    2. Flightaware.com is a great resource. . . .

      SKW6477 operated PSP-LAX on 22 April – NOT 23 April.  Could it be as simple as our OP got the date wrong?  

      Moreover – it would have arrived at LAX too late to make pretty much any connections other than the red-eyes to the east coast hubs- which apparently is the reason for this flight in the first place.  

      So – I say again – SEND CHRIS THE WRITTEN ITINERARY.  And send him the PNR so our erstwhile travel agents can pull it up and look at it  

      1. Yes FlightAware and FlightStats are a great resource. FlightStats even gives you more information (such as Events).

        When Chris mentioned Portland, I assumed PDX (Oregon) and not Portland, Maine (PWM).

        Whenever I see a case posted here, I try to investigate and recreate it to see if the facts match with the complaint. This one is way off base.

  33. There is no point in this article that suggests that the Rosenthals were talking with anybody with any authority. I have at leaset 10 direct contacts a week with India, Pakistan, Guatamala, where ever the hell United answers and they always e-mail within seconds the comfirmation of the subject of conversation. I have never seen a free first class anywhere in the world certificate while working with United or in my travel agency. I have received them as production rewards, but never seen one given to a bumpy.

    1. Also, he is calling then AFTER THE [supposed] FACT and after he made it home due to a reaccommodation.
      I am surprised they even gave him more than a $100 certificate.

  34. Strange – United 6477 is a flight which operates Phoenix to San Francisco then San Francisco to Redmond OR.  Seems this might have been a schedule change, and she missed the outbound flight?  I worked for years for United, and a Palm Springs-LA missed connection/forced stay would NEVER hae prompted a free first class ticket domestic OR INTERNATIONAL.  Would LOVE to hear the full story on this one, ’cause something’s fishy here.

    1. you just need to go to Flightaware.com

      put in SKW6477 in the flight number box

      get the free 4 month history for the flight and you will see a PSP-LAX operation on 22 April . . .

        1. How do we know that he did not BUY a ticket with a PSP-LAX flight 22APR and an overnight @ LAX and a 6AM departure to PDX on the 23rd???  And they screwed up the time?   I’ve SEEN those crazy connections offered for sale sometimes on the online ‘travel stores . . . ‘

          And Tony- he said Oregon, so its PDX not PWM.  

  35. It was probably a schedule change, so the fact they did not reconfirm the flight was operating does not MAKE it denied boarding, but just foolishness, which the airlines are not required to really do anything for.  The compensation they received was generous under the circumstances.

  36. Yep – the routing is completely different for weekday travel, as I said above.  I do believe they probably had a schedule change, never got it (could be the airlines fault or theirs), and never reconfirmed the flight, so didn’t know.

  37. True – I worked for United in the past (no, not a call center “monkey” but special services), and if we compensated, it was of comparable value, and never in a million years would we have offered free 1st class tickets to anywhere domestic or INTERNATIONAL (consider the fact most is not even on UA metal), for a simple PSP-LAX missed flight.  Something is very fishy here.

  38. I voted YES, if only to hear the recorded conversation between the OP and United. However, I wonder if there is an email reservation confirm from when the OP purchased the tickets with the itinerary code on it. Most airlines have this to make it easier to track the reservation. Merger or not, there should be something to uphold the claim that there was that flight scheduled for that day.

  39. Good luck with getting a hold of the United call center recording of the conversation. I used to work there and unless they have upgraded their system the recordings don’t really exsist. Like you I have NEVER heard of anyone who works for the airline offering two round trip first class tickets anywhere United flies for some type of disservice. Also if they get a combination of vouchers make sure they are combinable. More often than not only one voucher can be applied to each purchase. I would ask to turn in all the vouchers and get one big voucher per person.The “new” United is really no better than the old United.

  40. “While she could not send me an email confirmation, she gave me the PIN numbers (982AF78 and 698K194) for each of the vouchers and assured me that they would be mailed to my home address.”

    Why not work with these PIN numbers?  IF they are non-existent they they’ve been screwed.  Weird about without the email confirmation.

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