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.

“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.

Underwritten by

Underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Underwritten by Enterprise

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

Underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

Underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

Underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

Underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.