Compensation Clinic: Flying The (Not So) Friendly Skies Of United Airlines

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Today we are featuring the not so friendly skies of United Airlines on our Compensation Clinic-series. You can always drop me an email about the issues you have had during your travels and what compensation was offered by the travel provider.

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I am a million miler with United Airlines and have had my fair share of mechanical and cancellations over the year. I will give my suggestions how to deal with these issues at the end of this article.

Topic: Canceled three UA flights within 48 hours. (All due to technical issues)
Passenger: (1K status)
Journey: Boston to Hong Kong (via Chicago)
Hong Kong, stopover Tokyo then to Boston (via Washington)

I have bought a UA economy W class ticket from Boston to Hong Kong (via ORD). Then from Hong Kong back to Boston (stop over Tokyo & via Washington). All were upgraded to business class by using a 1K certificate.

DAY 1. Friday around 3pm. The first leg Boston to Chicago was completed. Then from ORD to HKG I have to deplane 2 hours after boarding. First excuse was loading the food and luggages. Then it was technical issues. So UA immediately rebooked me to other flight to ORD HKG via SFO. However, I need to stay over night in SFO but UA airport staff ask me to seek for assistance when I land. So I was not sure if I would be given hotel for the night in SFO. Therefore, I came up an idea and redeem myself a first class award ticket from ORD, SFO, Taipei then HKG because I need to get to HK asap for meeting plus I prepaid my hotel already. So i am not taking the flight UA suppose to fly me to SF. (Same time there was a storm nearby ORD airport that day) while i was waiting, I have already email united customer care, complaint about the delay.

Around 7pm. My first class award ticket flight has been delayed over 3 hours. UA was well informed every 15 mins. Finally this flight to SF also got canceled due to no crew. I think the crew allocation got mess up because of the storm and number of flights were canceled. So I won’t be able to connect the award flight from SFO to Taipei HKG.

Around 10pm. UA immediately put me to another flight to LAX on economy at mid night. It was the last seat. Then I immediately book myself another first class award ticket from LAX, SFO to HKG for next day (added travel insurance USD 27). (This flight was originally UA offered me). Finally I got myself to LAX and spent a night at the Sheraton LAX on my own cost. It was already 4am and I was so tired look for the UA staff ask for hotel compensation because the overall journey from Boston to LAX took me 18 hours.

DAY 2. Saturday. After 4 hours quick slept and rush to LAX airport again, catch my first class award flight to SFO then HKG. It was a 747 departure from SFO. I was having a glass of champagne on my 1A seat. 30 mins after in the air. Captain speaking. Due to our aircraft front windshield broken and we need to off load the petrol and immediately return to SFO. It took 3 hours fly around above SF to off load the petrol. I have been a loyal 1K for 3 years and my patient reached my limits!

After got off the bloody UA 747. They have already arrange me the same class & seat next day because it was already 4pm. No other flight to HKG anymore. I told them my past 36 hours experience with UA, you must get me to HKG on any airline today!!!!! They said computer said no. I know Cathay Pacific do fly out at night. They said no. Everything I have asked was No no no. The only thing UA offered me it’s SFO airport crown plaza for that night, with meal voucher and transportation. I have no choice and being forced to stay one night in SFO. So far there were already three flights canceled, all due to mechanical issues. I have already one day behind my journey in Hong Kong. The first night hotel i’ve prepaid will be gone. Lucky i have purchased the insurance on this first class award ticket. Therefore, I have submitted the claims and asking for the hotel cost I have prepaid in Hong Kong.

Day 3. Since I am late to Hong Kong plus I need to catch an UA flight from HKG to Tokyo originally. I won’t be able to make it. UA have already decided and move my journey one day later on my paid ticket. I was not happy of the decision. That mean the first night hotel in Tokyo will be gone too. Therefore, I have decided not fly to HKG. I redeem myself first class award ticket directly to Tokyo instead. On the first class lounge, I have met one of the passengers from yesterday. He told me few of the first class passengers got detour to HKG by SQ yesterday. I was very disappointed and felt like being treated differently. Finally I got to Tokyo as my planned timetable.

I understand how disappointing it was today, when your carefully planned flight xxx from Chicago, Illinois to Hong Kong was canceled due to mechanical. We are diligent in maintaining a proactive maintenance schedule and apologize for the inconvenience this cancellation created for you. Our goal is to provide timely flight departures whenever possible; however, the safety of our customers and crew will always be our first priority.

My apology cannot erase what happened, but I hope it helps to know we take your concerns very seriously. We are grateful for your business. Our goal is to provide exceptional service every time we welcome you on board, and I hope you will allow us an opportunity to restore your confidence.

To demonstrate our commitment to service excellence, and as a gesture of apology for our service failure, I am adding 15,000 goodwill miles to your MileagePlus account “ABC12345”. Please allow at least 3 to 5 business days for processing.

I was very disappointed of this 15000 miles. I shot UA customer care another email about the delay and cancelled flight again.

Two days late United replied

I regret you are disappointed with your cancelled flight from Chicago, Illinois to Hong Kong.

We believe that the compensation we offer is fair and reasonable and in line with the service you experienced. Our intentions are to offer you a balance of valuable options that are easy to redeem. United Airlines is not mandated by our policy or government regulation to provide any type of compensation for any reason other than a cabin over sale. When a customer purchases a ticket, they are paying for transportation regardless of schedule interruption or lack of amenities. Any compensation provided for any other reason is strictly considered a goodwill gesture.

Please understand United Airlines carefully reviews our guidelines regarding goodwill compensation annually to make sure that they are properly aligned to several determining factors and to the satisfaction of all our valued customers.

Your circumstances nonetheless warrant special consideration to issue an additional 15,000 goodwill miles to your MileagePlus account to bring this matter to an amiable conclusion. Please allow at least 3 to 5 business days for processing.

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.

Your feedback is important to us and will be taken into consideration as we evaluate our goodwill compensation choices in the future.

We appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming on board a future United Airlines flight.

Meanwhile, I have received an email regard to the flight canceled due to windshield broken in SFO. Basically the email ask me to pick one of the following. I have picked the 30 000 miles.

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Lastly but not least. I have shot a last email to UA customer care about the treatment I have received at SFO airport. I have asked for the earliest alternative flight on any airline but they said NO, plus I have been told other passenger being sent to SQ first class to HKG. So I ask UA for compensation of the hotel I pre paid and the LAX sheraton I paid.

One week after UA customer replied me:

Thank you for contacting United Customer Care. We apologize for the delay in answering.

We appreciate your valuable feedback regarding your recent flight experience and delay. We are sorry you felt that the rebooking situation was not handled properly. We will forward this issue along with your comments to customer service management for further follow up with our Reservations department. We apologize for the inconvenience  and frustration this situation may have caused you and regret the poor impression created. We certainly strive to do a better job than described. Your comments will help us in future policies, procedures and protocols to create an airline receptive to your needs.

While United policy does not provide reimbursement for prebooked hotel arrangements, as a gesture of goodwill for the inconvenience experienced and to offset your expense, we will issue a $600 travel certificate, emailed separately within 5 business days.

So far I am happy of what UA gave me, although I can’t get cash compensation for my hotel but lucky I have purchased the travel insurance.

Here’s what you need to do in case of irregular operations by United or any other airline:

1. If you travel a lot, you need to have an access to a service such as ExperFlyer that you can use to monitor for realtime availability on number of airlines.

2. For those that have club access, it is sometime better to have the employees at the club to rebook you instead of the gate

3. United is usually quite ok for rebooking over the phone while other airlines are not.

4. Make sure that you suggest them available flights that you have found on services such as the ExpertFlyer. United or any other full service airline can rebook you on pretty much any airline regardless of the alliance.

Conclusion

When I was flying on United, I was carrying two phones. One for having access to ExperFlyer and another one for calling the 1K desk for rebookings.

The airlines are trying to protect their revenue by keeping you on their own metal and not booking you for other carriers, although they can do it usually by few keystrokes.

Once the airline (Delta) was not able to rebook me at the airport citing no United availability, but I was able to get United to confirm me on the flight. I requested the agent to write me a FIM (Flight Interruption Manifest) and I then handed it over to United the following morning.

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