Catherine McFadden wants to know if she’s stuck with her United Airlines itinerary. A few weeks ago, she booked the ticket from Sacramento, Calif., to Greensboro, N.C. Then the airline had second thoughts.
“I based my purchase on the price and the fact there was only one stop,” she says.
But then United made a schedule change last month. Instead of making one stop in Washington, she’d be making two stops. And one of them was an eight-hour wait between flights. In Chicago.
McFadden went back online and found that she could preserve her original schedule if she switched to a Delta flight. She wants United to endorse her ticket to Delta, and is trying to enlist us to help her.
United, of course, is in no mood to switch her ticket. “I was told I had to stay with a return on United since that was how it was purchased,” she says.
Let’s review the applicable language in United’s contract of carriage:
Change in Schedule – When a Passenger’s Ticketed flight is affected because of a Change in Schedule, UA will, at its election, arrange one of the following:
1) Transport the Passenger on its own flights, subject to availability, to the Destination, next Stopover point, or transfer point shown on its portion of the Ticket, without Stopover in the same class of service, at no additional cost to the Passenger;
2) At UA’s discretion, reroute Passengers over the lines of one or more carriers in an equivalent class of service when a Change in Schedule results in the cancellation of all UA service between two cities;
3) Advise the Passenger that the value of his or her Ticket may be applied toward future travel on United within one year from the date of issue without a change or reissue fee; or
4) If the Passenger is not transported as provided in C) 1) or 2) above and does not choose to apply the value of his or her Ticket toward future travel as provided in C) 3) above, the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request.
In other words, United could endorse McFadden’s ticket to another airline, keeping her original itinerary — the one it sold her — intact. But it doesn’t have to. The key word in the legalese is “at its discretion.” And you know what that means, don’t you?
McFadden could also ask for a full refund of her ticket. But that may not be realistic.
“I am aware that airlines have the right to change flights,” she says. “I know from experience
that booking so far out there is a chance that there will be minor changes. But how does this not
qualify as a bait-and-switch?”
Well, technically, it’s not a bait-and-switch, because United didn’t know it was going to change its flights when it sold her the itinerary. At least I don’t think so. Had it intentionally sold her these tickets, knowing it would reroute her and prolong her trip by more than eight hours, then yes — total bait-and-switch.
Still, I sympathize with McFadden and think she deserves more than this “take-it-or-leave-it” attitude by United. From a consumer perspective, this one’s really simple. United sold her a product and then switched it out, leaving her with no good options. That can’t be right.
So what now? Should our fearless advocates go to bat for this passenger? She still has a few weeks before she travels, so there’s time for United to do the right thing.