Should United reimburse me for my rental car?

Linda Oliver’s flight from Seattle to Denver was delayed by weather, and she missed her connection to Wichita. She had to rent a car from Hertz and drive home.

It’s a seven-hour drive from Denver to Wichita, but that’s not why Oliver is upset. No, she’s ticked off because United offered to pay for her rental car, an offer it then rescinded in writing.

Should I help her get a full refund of the $406 she had to spend, or is this just someone who doesn’t understand the system making assumptions she shouldn’t have?

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance. Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Let’s take a closer look.

Oliver’s first flight, United 695 from Seattle to Denver, experienced delays related to bad weather on Oct. 2. After missing her connection. Oliver says she waited in a two-hour line.

“We were able to get another gate attendant to get us on a flight to Kansas City, but after two hours, that flight was delayed and then the flight crew was grounded,” she says. “We called
United back and they told us to get back in the customer service line, which had now doubled.”

The line was now about four hours long. Yikes.

“We called United and they said they would cover our car rental from Denver to Wichita,” she says. “They transferred us to Hertz and they concurred that United would cover our car rental.”

OK, time out! A United representative transferred Oliver to Hertz and not one, but two employees confirmed that this was on United.

“United canceled our flight to Kansas City and gave us a refund of around $78 for each ticket,” she says. “I believe our refund should have been to our original destination of Wichita.”

When she returned the car, she asked United for a refund. Here’s what it said:

I am sorry to hear about the difficulties you experienced on October 2,
with your return flights from Seattle to Wichita.

If a flight irregularity prevents you from reaching your destination, our agents will help to arrange alternate transportation for you.

Sometimes an alternative city will have a sooner flight option and we are glad to reroute your ticket for you, as we did when you were rerouted to Kansas City, after missing your Wichita connection.

When we make a change like this, due to a flight delay or cancellation, we take the value of your original ticket and apply it toward the new airport.

We do not calculate or charge a fare difference, it is processed as an even exchange. Therefore, when you received a refund for the unused ticket to Kansas City, it represents a refund of the portion of the airfare from your original ticket, for Denver to Wichita.

I am sorry for the cancellation of that United Express flight to Kansas City, and I regret if the soonest available option for you to get home at that point was to rent a car. We can appreciate that sometime our customers will need to make alternative plans than what we have available; however, United does not reimburse any extra expense this may create.

You should be able to count on us for reliable transportation, and we let you down this time. Although I am unable to reimburse your rental car expense, I would like the opportunity to make things right, and as a goodwill gesture, I have requested a $150 electronic travel certificate for both you and Ms. Oliver. These will arrive together, via an email, within 1-2 business days.

We thank you for your business as MileagePlus members, and we look forward to another opportunity to deliver the experience that you deserve.

Unacceptable. Oliver appealed to United’s executives. Listen to your call center recordings, she urged the airline.
And, predictably, here’s what it said:

Your file has been escalated to my attention. I appreciate having another opportunity to review your case. Let me start by saying your business is very important to us. I truly regret your unresolved disappointment and any negative impression this situation may have left you with.

I truly regret any possible miscommunication or possible misunderstanding. We can empathize with the disappointment you have expressed. I understand that our goodwill offering cannot compensate you for the unpleasant experience throughout this incident.

Nonetheless, the certificates were offered as a token of goodwill and an expression of our regret over what transpired when you traveled with us, and our gratitude for your interest in United Airlines.

I’m sorry we will not be able to meet your expectations at this time. Our continual goal in Customer Care is resolving your concerns by receiving your feedback and sending it on to appropriate channels for review corrective action. This ensures we continually learn from these experiences and grow to become the World’s Leading Airline. With the feedback you provided, we will definitely make strides to reach that goal.

We understand the value of your decision to fly with us and will make every effort to leave a better impression when we have the privilege of serving you again. Please accept my apology and allow us that opportunity.

Thank you for choosing United Airlines.

Nice form letter.

I think United owes it to Oliver to review the recordings. If it promised her a refund on the car, it should do what it said. Doesn’t matter what United’s policy is. Doesn’t matter what the rules say. You do what you say, right?

Then again, what if Oliver, you know, “misremembered” (to quote a famous politician)? Maybe that’s what United is actually saying. Maybe it already reviewed the recordings and made a decision based on what it knows to be true.

Should I take Linda Oliver's case?

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19 thoughts on “Should United reimburse me for my rental car?

  1. Chris, here is another incident of he said she said with CSR’s. If she had but recorded this call, then there would be no need to beg United to listen to the recording & do the right thing. They would either do it, or she could shame them with a transcript of the call being let loose on cyberspace. I realize that this suggestion may be breaking someone’s idea of a ‘social contract’, but the airlines don’t seem to be adhering to that fiction anyway. To me, these sorts of ‘buzz-off’ form letters are highly offensive, as from my perspective, they lack all sincerity, mis-state facts & trade off the OP’s social conditioning to help silence her & just go away without doing as they initially promised. United’s employees get paid to obfuscate & delay, the OP has to work on her case – like you, pro bono..

    1. All smartphones have a function for taking voice-note recordings, but none of them have taken the obvious next step of having a “record this call” button in the call connection screen that you can use in cases like this. The problem must be the legal thicket that surrounds recording calls. Apple even goes to the trouble of shutting down the many available recording apps you might have running while as a call is in progress.

      While we wait for a legal fix, any CSR call that results in a change to the passenger’s schedule or which offers an alternative should include a confirmation number.

      1. That’s due to the varying state laws on recording a conversation. Here in SC, only one side of the conversation needs to be aware that the call is being recorded (You on the phone with a United rep, you would know the call is being recorded, therefore, one person is aware).. When you’re on the phone with them, that’s why the message says your call may be recorded.. That’s to deal with CA (I think) law that says that BOTH sides have to know the conversation is being recorded.

        Why do SC and other states require that one party in the call know it’s being recorded? So that it’s still illegal for me to record a conversation between you and someone else.

  2. I find it highly suspect that United would offer to pay for a rental car due to a weather delay/cancellation. In my 16+ years in this business, that’s never been an option. I truly wonder what was said to the OP. Perhaps it was a misunderstanding, perhaps it was an agent agreeing to every request just trying to slog through a 4 hour line, perhaps someone just passed the buck because they didn’t care once the problem left them, perhaps it was a decision made by local employees that was later overturned by Management, perhaps it was completely misconstrued. I truly don’t know. The only thing I am fully comfortable saying is that I’ve never seen an airline offer to pay for a rental car in these circumstances.

    In fact, we recently had to drastically reduce flights into a TX airport due to flooding and major Air Traffic Control Tower damage. Some flights were still scheduled to operate, but that was contingent upon many other factors (rain, wind, staffing, facility capabilities). I let all my passengers know that flying there could not be guaranteed that day whatsoever. Several of them asked about flying into another TX airport and renting a car from there. Of course, I said I would honor their tickets to the other city, but I made it clear that my company would not be paying for their rental cars. This was crystal clear, no uncertain terms.
    Everyone seemed to understand. Several of the passengers teamed up to rent cars together, and they would caravan to the original city together. Everyone really seemed to “get it”. I tried to ask my boss if we could issue them additional future vouchers for their inconvenience, but I was denied.

    I’d hate for any one of those people to then claim that I told them any thing else, or that I’d promised reimbursement. But I know that happens.

    1. A recording at the call center would have resolved this, wouldn’t it? After all, every CSR call starts with that “This call may be recorded…” boilerplate. It should be mandatory that all CSR calls be recorded, and be accessible to the passenger in case of a dispute. This would protect all parties.

      1. Or, if the CSR had entered into Linda Oliver’s PNR that she (United) approved a rental car through Hertz, because United cancelled her flight. Then there would be no dispute.
        However I really do not believe a United CSR would offer to let Ms. Oliver rent a car and that the CSR called Hertz to set it up. Did it happen? I cannot say it didn’t. It is just my opinion.

    2. I disagree. My husband has been reimbursed for a rental car at least twice in the last ten years, once for bad weather (and, yes, I was pissed he drove in ridiculous snow conditions) and once because of crew scheduling problems. Now that planes are flying so full, I imagine it would be much more expensive for the airlines to do this and, thus, try to avoid the offer. But, if a CSR did directly transfer this person to the car rental line then a reimbursement is in order.

  3. I think it’s worth investigating further. It’s hard to believe someone actually offered to pay for the car, but if there is possibly evidence it should be definitely be checked. One thing that doesn’t quite make sense to me is the merit of driving from Denver to Wichita in the first place. United has several flights a day between Denver and Wichita from morning to late evening. It seems to me that in just about all circumstances it would be faster, less expensive and less stressful to get on the next flight rather than the sum of the waiting time in the two lines, plus the seven-hour drive. I grant this is hindsight, maybe there is more information we don’t have, and she didn’t know along the way that things would work out as they did, but at some point it seems to me she could have opted instead for the next Wichita flight. Sometimes it’s possible to overthink these things.

    1. There would be plenty of merit of driving, if she wanted to get to Wichita in a timely fashion. Waiting may not have been an option.

      There may be multiple flights there, but that doesn’t mean there was availability for her. She could have been waiting days before she was got on a plane.

      Lets say 695 seats 100 pax and has 90 people on it. (making the numbers easy for math, but flights these days are near capacity.) That means that UA can only accomodate 10 pax each for the later flights. If there are only three flights per day, it will take 3 days to reaccomodate.

      Last year, a co-worker and I were flying from Omaha to O’Hare scheduled for a Thurs night. An ice storm hit OMA and flight was canceled. I was rebooked on a Friday noon-ish flight and he was rebooked for Sunday afternoon.

    2. Agreed. Once United can shove the problem in the ‘weather related’ category they’ll wash their hands of it. No reimbursement for food, lodging, or anything else because it just isn’t their fault. Very difficult to believe they would put themselves on the hook for $400 for a rental car.

      It is entirely possible an agent said it just to get the customer off the phone so the agent’s ‘time per call’ metric was met to avoid being written up. This would show up in the call recordings. They should be reviewed.

  4. Why do people assume there are recordings to listen to? When I worked on call center software, the airlines were recording 3% of incoming calls and these were indexed by the CSR, not the customer. There was no possible way they could search for a specific customer’s recordings after the fact. Seriously, “your call MAY be recorded for quality control” means exactly what it says.

    1. Then don’t tell me that my call may be recorded as if I can use that later as proof that you lied. If the customer had yelled obscenities or was threatening in any way, I bet they could find the call . . .

      1. MAY be is the language – not proof anyone lied. And yes, the call can be flagged for abuse – but that is to explain WHY an agent disconnected (against the rules)

      2. No, typically if a customer is threatening or abusive, the CSR has a key sequence on her phone that she presses to track that the reason she’s disconnecting is due to customer misbehavior, but there’s no recording made if one wasn’t already in progress. Some call centers also require a supervisor to join the call and hear the abuse before the rep can disconnect.

        Perhaps it would be clearer if the typical greeting said “we randomly record a few calls for quality purposes”, but in the meantime, callers should assume that “may be recorded” is the same as “might be recorded”, not “will be recorded”.

  5. These reps deal with people in this same set of circumstances constantly. They apparently made a highly unusual offer to the OP. But why? Did everybody else make it on a flight and the OP just happened to the one last person to be helped so the reps decided one rental wouldn’t be a big deal? Or the OP was the only one to demand a rental so the reps caved? Clearly, there had to of been SOMETHING unique about the OP’s case to get this special attention and without having any indication of what that might have been I have a hard time understanding how the offer ever got made.

  6. Yes, take the case….but what recordings ? Having worked in reservations, no one should really think that calls taken everyday, everywhere are recorded by United. I was recorded maybe once every 5-6 weeks. Passengers’ chances of being on a call that is being recorded is probably one in 1,000.

  7. Send both Hertz and United a notice that you’ll subpoena the records and they should not destroy them. Ask again for compensation, if they aren’t forthcoming sue. I doubt it will make it to court, but if it does feel free to get the recordings during discovery.

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