A United Airlines no-show wants to know how to get a refund

Margery Lyman was a no-show on her United Airlines flight, and she had a long list of complaints. She wants us to fight United Airlines no-show policy for her.

“We would like to be reimbursed for the outrageous cost of the flights and an explanation as to why my daughter-in-law was responsible for the well-being of the man sitting next to her,” she writes.

But our advocates aren’t going to assist Lyman with either one.

Had she explained why she missed her flight and provided the Elliott Advocacy team with supporting documentation, they might have advocated for her. But she didn’t. And United won’t set aside its no-show policy without it. (We can’t help her with her other issue either.)

How did she become a United Airlines no-show?

Earlier this year, Lyman made reservations on United for herself, her husband, and her son and daughter-in-law to attend a family wedding. She booked tickets for a flight from San Francisco to Pittsburgh via Chicago for $402 per ticket.

For reasons Lyman didn’t share with us, they missed the flight.

“We never even got out of the house,” says Lyman. But they didn’t call United to cancel their reservations before the flights departed.

Lyman later tried to rebook their flights. But it was too late. United had canceled their reservations when she and her family no-showed, including their return flight. Lyman found new flights from San Francisco to Pittsburgh, via Newark on the outbound flight and Denver on the return flight. The new tickets cost $2,371 each.

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More problems

When the Lymans boarded their new flight in San Francisco, United required them to gate-check their bags. Then their connecting flight in Newark was eight hours late.

The Lymans collected their bags, rented a car from Avis and drove to Bedford Springs, Pa. They arrived in Bedford Springs before their Newark-to-Pittsburgh flight departed. Lyman tried to call United to cancel this leg of their flight and to request a credit. She says she spent 90 minutes on the phone with United.

Then at the Avis facility in Pittsburgh, an Avis employee hit Lyman while backing up a car. Lyman says: “I didn’t fall down, but I dropped everything and lost my glasses. We were in a hurry and I was not able to file a report despite being sore and extremely shaken!”

More drama ensued once the Lymans boarded their flight:

The young man sitting next to my daughter-in-law fainted or had a seizure and Georgia called for help. The flight attendants handed Georgia an oxygen tank which she was told she had to carry for the remainder of the trip. She is not a doctor or nurse.

United’s no-show policy

Our advocate, Michelle Couch-Friedman, asked Lyman whether she had called United about the flight she missed before it departed.

Lyman responded: “We were not able to.” She didn’t explain why.

Michelle then told Lyman that United handled her failure to appear or to cancel her flight in accordance with its no-show policy. This policy appears in United’s contract of carriage.

As Michelle explained to Lyman,

If you don’t call and don’t show up for your flight, you lose the entire value of the ticket. And if you still need to fly, you must pay for a walk-up rate, which is always much more expensive than advance purchase tickets. If you had been able to call ahead of time, then the airline would have charged you a change fee and a fare differential. But you would not have lost the full value of the tickets.

A case that won’t fly

Michelle also asked whether Lyman’s daughter-in-law protested being required to hold the oxygen tank during the flight. Lyman said that her daughter-in-law was not given a choice. But she didn’t explain why. Michelle might have been able to assist with this if Lyman’s daughter-in-law made a timely complaint about this demand. But apparently, she didn’t complain at that time.

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And despite the flight delay in Newark, the incident in the Avis parking lot is not United’s responsibility. United’s contract of carriage holds that the airline “is not liable for any consequential, compensatory, or other damages when it cancels reservations (whether or not confirmed) of any Passenger in accordance with this Rule.”

According to Lyman, “[It] seems totally insane!!!!! [United] kept all my money from flights I didn’t take and then charged me times 7 for the new flights!!!”

But as Michelle puts it, “It may seem totally ‘insane’ but it is, unfortunately, standard policy on every airline. And the Department of Transportation has no regulation that would prohibit this practice.”

She advised Lyman that she could write to our executive contacts at United for assistance. Lyman replied, “I am going to continue to fight it. I don’t have the money.”

If Lyman utilizes the three P’s of consumer advocacy — patience, persistence and politeness — in her letter, she might get a goodwill gesture from United. But it’s doubtful.

Unfortunately for Lyman, there’s nothing our advocates can do for her. Michelle summarizes a takeaway from her case: “It’s imperative to call before your flight leaves the ground if you can’t make it. Otherwise, the value of the ticket is forfeited.”

Other takeaways: Make complaints on a timely basis. And limit them to matters for which the company is actually responsible. Otherwise, the company to which you complain will take off — literally — with your money, and we can’t help you get it back.

Have you ever no-showed for a flight? Were you able to receive a refund for any of your costs from the airline?

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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