An Amazing United Airlines Horror Story

Just when you thought United couldn't get any worse, it does.
Just when you thought United couldn’t get any worse, it does.

Which part of this story is the worst?

United’s attempt to fly a plane with a visibly cracked wing, the 79 minute phone call to rebook a flight, United requiring the passenger in Australia to call internationally to rebook the flight which was cancelled due to United’s fault (even though they have perfectly good facilities in Australia to handle such calls, as explained on their own website) or United’s reneging on its promise to reimburse the passenger the $712 cost he incurred for making the rebooking call?

You decide…..

So, here’s what happened.  In the words of the passenger, himself (his original note to United)

Dear United Airlines

On October 23rd 2013, I was scheduled to fly from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, United States and then onto Halifax, Canada. As we were about to take off from Sydney, Australia on Wednesday several passengers noticed a crack on the wing of the aircraft. We remained on the tarmac for around two hours while the aircraft was attended to. We were then advised that the aircraft was not safe to fly.

Once returned to the terminal, an employee for United advised us that we would be required to rebook for Thursday 24th October. I was provided with accommodation details (complimentary of United Airlines) for Wednesday night at the Ibis Hotel (205 O’Riordan Street, Mascot NSW 2020) and advised to call United Airlines on 0011 80080029800 to reschedule my flight. Employees of United Airlines at Sydney Airport advised me that this telephone call would be paid by United Airlines. The phone call took 1 hour 19 minutes, as per the attached copy of the receipt from Ibis Hotel.

Please note I did not have a cell phone while travelling in Australia.

While checking out of the hotel on Thursday morning 24th October, to my surprise the cost of the telephone call to United Airlines and credit card surcharge was $712.68 Australian (as per the attached receipt). Ibis Hotel then advised me that I had to bear the cost of this call and was not able to complete my check out until this amount was paid. It was my understanding from the instructions of United Airlines that this telephone call would be cover by United Airlines.

Upon arrival at Sydney airport for my rescheduled flight, I spoke to Tom Mace of United Airlines. He advised that the telephone call should have been covered by United Airlines and for me to contact customer care when I returned to Canada.

To resolve this problem, I would appreciate full reimbursement of this telephone call including credit card surcharge totaling $712.68 Australian. 

I look forward to your reply and a resolution to my problem. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via email or telephone if you have any queries regarding the above.

Yours sincerely

The guy’s clearly written and sensible note got this reply :

Dear Mr. xxxxxx

Thank you for your reply.

We apologize for the interruption of your travel plans and for any inconvenience caused.  We value your business and would like the opportunity to express our appreciation.  We invite you to visit to select goodwill compensation.  To review your options, please have the following information available before accessing the website: flight number, origin and destination and travel dates, as well as either a 1) confirmation number 2) ticket number or 3) MileagePlus number.  

After carefully reviewing our records it indicates you were issued breakfast, dinner, hotel and transportation vouchers.  Unfortunate we are unable to issue you reimbursement for your international phone call.

That aside, while I cannot speculate as to what may have been verbally communicated; I apologize for any possible misunderstanding or miscommunication. 

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


The traveler continued to send emails to United, but was unable to break out of the idiocy loop and get a ‘real person’ to honor the promise that was obviously made to him in Australia.  He is a young man who traveled down to Australia to gain work experience on a dairy farm prior to returning to the farm he works on in Nova Scotia, and $700 is a substantial and unexpected cost for him to occur.

Unanswered questions by United :

1.  How is it that your own pre-flight safety checks and inspection failed to notice wing cracking, and that it required passengers on board the plane to bring this to your attention?

2.  Why did you not give your Australian phone number to this gentleman to call to rebook his flight?

3.  For that matter, being as how this was a rebook due to your problem, not the passenger’s fault, why didn’t you handle the matter yourselves and present him with a solution rather than a problem?

4.  Have you spoken to your named employee, Tom Mace, to confirm or deny the passenger’s claim that he was promised reimbursement for his phone call?

5.  Is it standard policy to either pay or refuse to pay for the cost of passengers’ phone calls to rebook flights after you cancel a flight yourself?

6.  Do you really think it is acceptable that a call to your reservations number takes 79 minutes, under any circumstances?

7.  Do you really think it is fair that your passenger, who already suffered inconvenience due to your problem, now should pay $700 due to something you did?

We invite United to respond.

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