United Airlines says I was a “no-show.” I say I was bumped. Who’s right?

United Airlines says Sean Keegan missed his flight. Keegan says United bumped him.

Who’s right? Keegan wants our advocates to make the call.

Keegan received a text message from United that his flight from Quebec City to Newark, N.J. was going to be delayed 45 minutes. He adjusted his schedule and arrived at the airport over an hour before his new departure time.

United’s ticket counter was closed, and the kiosk would not allow him to print his boarding passes. There were no United representatives to assist him.

A United Airlines no-show?

“An airport employee, on my behalf, walked to United Airlines gate to contact employees and alert them of my attendance at the airport,” says Keegan. The message from United was that he needed to rebook his flight for the following day. United Airlines considered him a no-show because he arrived too late for his original flight.

Keegan believes he was the recipient of involuntary bumping. While checking in online, he says United Airlines asked if he wanted to volunteer to take an alternative flight. Keegan says that the message indicated an oversold flight. He declined.

Keegan’s theory is that the flight had a shortage of seats. Rather than helping him get on his flight, he thinks the airline assigned his seat to another passenger — without having to compensate him for being bumped.

In later correspondence, a United representative informed Keegan that he was still required to arrive at the airport in advance of his original flight time. “Even when a flight posts a delay time, sometimes the fix is easier than we expected, so we encourage everyone to arrive at the airport based on the originally scheduled departure.”

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If that is the case, the airline is contributing to the problem by creating confusion for the passengers. While writing this article, a similar United Airlines flight from Quebec City to Newark was delayed 240 minutes. If you were scheduled on that flight, would you go to the airport and sit around or utilize the delay more productively?

Official response from United Airlines

According to United Airlines, you should plan on being at the airport.

United also confirmed that a representative will remain at the ticket counter in Quebec City for at least one hour before the departure time of the last United flight. Since check-in was closed, and if Keegan did arrive at the airport over an hour early, Keegan’s flight may not have been delayed after all.

I empathize with Keegan for missing his flight and for the added expenses he encountered for a hotel room, food, and transportation. The revised departure time seems to be the root of the problem. He was unaware that he was still required to arrive at the airport based on his original flight time. However, for an international flight, he was cutting it close and should have allotted more time for check-in.

United rebooked his flight for the following day with no added fees or increase in airfare.

This case sheds light on a common misconception when a message is sent out about a flight delay. According to United Airlines, even though the airline announces a new departure time, it can change at any given time if the repair or other circumstances are rectified sooner than anticipated. This scenario creates uncertainty for the passengers. Should they arrive at the airport according to the original departure time, in hopes the delay will be remedied quickly, or risk going to the airport later and being considered a no-show?

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What is a no-show?

The no-show clause used by many airlines means that if a passenger does not show up for their outbound flight, they are considered a no-show. And United Airlines will cancel all subsequent parts of their itinerary with no refunds provided. Each airline has a set deadline for check-in, arrival at the departure gate, and checked baggage. If you miss those deadlines, you could lose your reservation and any rights for compensation. However, there will always be exceptions.

You can reduce your risk of being a no-show by keeping the airline informed. Contact the airline right away if you know you are going to miss your outbound flight or are going to be delayed in arriving. Ask the airline to rebook you on another flight. If you have other connecting or return flights you still plan on using, request a confirmation in writing that these flights will remain valid. Don’t take it for granted. As mentioned above, missing an outbound flight typically results in all other connecting flights being automatically canceled.

You can find United’s policies on its website.

Keegan believes United Airlines owes him involuntary bumping compensation.

What is an involuntary bumping?

When a flight is overbooked, the airline will ask for volunteers who are willing to take a later flight. If there are none, the airline will determine what passengers will not be allowed to board. That is considered involuntary bumping.

Airlines are required to follow the regulations as set forth by the Department of Transportation. Passengers who are involuntarily bumped are entitled to cash or check compensation if their rescheduled flight arrives one or more hours later than their original flight time.

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For flights within the U.S., passengers who are denied boarding can expect to be paid 200 percent of their one-way ticket fare (not to exceed $675) if their new flight arrives one to two hours later than their original flight. If their flight ends up arriving over two hours later than their original flight time, passengers should be paid 400 percent of their one-way fare (not to exceed $1,350). For international flights departing from the U.S., it is one to four hours or over four hours, respectively.

If passengers prefer to make their own arrangements, they have the right to request a refund.

When passengers volunteer to get bumped, the airlines are not bound by the above requirements. You can find more details on the Department of Transportation’s website.

So what happened here?

Keegan wants United Airlines to compensate him for the involuntary bumping to cover his added expenses of about $1,000. United Airlines is remaining firm in its stand that it did not bump Keegan — he was a no-show. Still, it offered him a $400 voucher as a goodwill gesture.

Given that we reviewed a case earlier this week in which United Airlines deemed another passenger as a no-show when she wasn’t, it does make one wonder what happened here.

What do you think? Did Keegan miss his flight or did United Airlines bump him?

Did Sean Keegan miss his flight?

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Stephanie Patterson

Stephanie is a published book author and travel columnist with a focus on preparation and protocol. She is committed to helping travelers be informed and avoid potential problems while traveling. Stephanie's most recent book is "Know Before You Go: Traveling the U.S. and Abroad". For travel insight when planning your trip, visit Know Before You Go Travel. Along with writing, Stephanie does interior designing. Read more of Stephanie's articles here.

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