United Airlines Flub Costs Parents $3000, Refunds Only $600

Manesh’s parents flew from NE to Sri Lanka, but at LAX, United Airlines (UAL) refused to honor their tickets, saying that had not “been approved, authorized and authenticated.” The family ended having to pay $2860 extra to complete their journey. Apparently, Sri Lankan Air Lines, a United code-share partner, could not find the reservation Manesh’s parents made.

Manesh wrote three letters of complaint to UAL and so far his parents have only received two $300 coupons in return. When Manesh scoffed at the sum, United wrote, “our policy does not permit us to respond with the generosity you had anticipated.”

Livid, Manesh has set up a blog called, “United Airlines takes advantage of helpless elderly couple, extorting nearly $3000” to document his consumer complaint process.

Unless he hears about a full refund from United within eight days, he’s promised to take United to court.

The letters between himself and United are republished inside. His ultimatum serves as an excellent example of how to play hardball…


http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/01/ual1-thumb.png?w=522&h=700

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/01/unitedletter-thumb.png?w=522&h=708

mefinal.png

Why this letter rocks:

• Direct
• Demands specific action
• Sets deadline for action
• Details next, punitive steps he will take if United does not respond favorably
• Threatens legal action
• Threatens to bring public attention to his complaint

— BEN POPKEN

Comments

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  1. homerjay says:

    Someone has been reading the Consumerist handbook!

    This is one of those that I would like to see tracked on a sidebar on the site. This guy is hard core. I’d have to say, if he made only one mistake in sending this last letter to UAL, it was that he failed to also copy the legal department at weddingdepot.com

  2. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    That letter really does rock. I his parents get their money back.

  3. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    he failed to also copy the legal department at weddingdepot.com

    HAHA!

  4. kerry says:

    God, I hope he takes them to court. United steals money from people and refuses refunds as a matter of policy, and it needs to stop. Good luck, Manesh!

  5. winnabago says:

    I guess I don’t understand, and there are definitely some math issues on this guy’s blog. I think the original tickets cost $1400 per person, and they were charged $500 per person in LA, then charged another $1409 each for the third leg of the flight, all paid in cash. That comes to $3818, which is not what he is asking for.

    I also don’t understand why they didn’t contact anyone about it before they got to the airport for their last leg, and why they didn’t get their LA family to help at the airport when they dropped them off, nor why they don’t give exact amounts or receipts. If I were UAL, I wouldn’t take this guy’s word for it either.

    Or am I missing something? Something seems fishy.

  6. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    winnabago…

    it appears that UA reviewed his complaint, and agrees with his description of the situation. They admit fault…I’d assume that if he was making claims that were not vaild, they’d call him on it. I didn’t check his site yet.

  7. kcskater says:

    They don’t need receipts since they can look the reservation and price paid in the computer system. Maybe he’s asking for a refund for the original flight, which is even more generous to United because it appears to be less than what they paid in the end.

  8. MattyMatt says:

    Homerjay is commenter of the year.
    To their credit, United’s letters are very polite. It sounds like the person writing them had their hands tied by a higher-up’s decision, and knew that the resolution they were offering really wasn’t fair.
    Manesh’s letter reads pretty well, too. But I think strongly-worded “I’m going to call my lawyer” letters often backfire, since if you’re not a good writer you just come off like a whiny kid commenting on LJDrama.

  9. Winnabago, He isn’t asking for a refund of the original tickets, just a refund of the $1000 charged by United, and the $1860 charged by Sri Lankan Airlines in Singapore. A perfectly reasonable request considering that these fees were required by the airlines due to a mistake of their own by their own admission!!

    A translation of United’s letters, “We’re sorry we screwed up, here’s $600 in travel vouchers because it costs less for us than giving you $600 in cash or god forbid a refund!”

    I hope Manesh nails these guys, nails em right to the wall!

  10. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I was wondering how a company views the whole “I’m gonna make teh blog and post this on teh internets!” threat. Are they more likely to come to a resolution before the internet gets a hold of the story? Do they even care? Does it come of childish? I mean, he did title his blog evilunitedairlines…and calling them evil might be viewed as name calling and over reacting.

  11. lazyazz says:

    I wouldn’t call 2 $300 travel certificates a refund.

  12. andyj76 says:


    @homerjay Fantastic.

    @winnabago The tickets from Singapore to Sri Lanka cost 1409 Singapore Dollars each. This is converted to $1860 US Dollars for both tickets, added to the $500 each from LA to Singapore.
    Also, the family are in Nebraska, they managed to fly the first leg ok. No family to help in LA.

    @AlteredBeast Evil is probably a little over the top. Maybe clueless would be more appropriate :-)

  13. winnabago says:

    $1409 x 2 = $2816 in Singapore
    $500 x 2 = $1000 in LA
    Total he lost = $3816

    The total he is asking for is too low, I think. That’s all I’m saying.

    When you create a blog about an issue, you should post everything, and make sure you don’t contradict yourself. For all we know, some counter agent in Singapore pocketed the money. He didn’t post anything beyond these letters, so we’re taking his word that he had documentation. I didn’t see where United admitted that they found record of the additional payments. I’m guessing they didn’t get receipts.

  14. CockeyedOptimist says:

    i really would love to hear the other side on some of these things. i’m guessing there was a severe language barrier when this issue occurred and no one knew what the hell anyone else was talking about. His letters all come after the fact. I think our Tamil tiger friends are out luck.

  15. Magister says:

    I don’t know about UAL, but at Delta, you can’t even combine the travel vouchers they give out. You don’t have $600 worth of certificates to apply to a ticket. You have 2 $300 certs to apply to 2 tickets.

    Wonder if that is the case here.

  16. methane says:

    Diner: “The food is really bad at this restaurant.”
    Waiter: “Well, I could give you some more…”

    That’s how this situation plays out in my head. We stole your money, please come spend more time with us.

  17. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    METHANE

    That happens often. I ordered a pizza from Dominos (yeah, I know they suck, but I was in the mood for it). The pizza was COVERED in oregano…waaay too much. They offered me a free medium pizza. I even brought them the bad pizza, with one slice eatten, and they didn’t refund my money. Yay, more lousy pizza!

  18. weave says:

    Ah, the switch to e-tickets. Saves money for the airline, leaves you with nothing more tangible than some code that you hope is stored in their computer system correctly.

  19. methane says:

    Yeah, it’s a variation on an old joke. Goes something like this:
    Person1) “what did you think of that restaurant?”
    Person2) “The food was horrible and there wasn’t enough of it”

  20. acambras says:

    I have never flown on United Airlines — not so much a deliberate thing — just that the best fare/itinerary happened to be with other airlines.

    But after reading all the complaints about United here on the Consumerist, I will go out of my way to avoid them.

    I just booked a ticket online — it came down to a toss-up between a Continental flight and a United one. Guess which one I picked?

  21. XopherMV says:

    Call your credit card company and have them issue a chargeback for not receiving the services for which you paid.

  22. RexRhino says:

    Just a bit of advice, I would never threaten someone with a law suit or getting a lawyer unless you are already in the processes of doing it. It is a very bad, bad bluff to make.

    I worked for a company whose policy was this: Pretty much give the customer a full refend and do whatever to keep them happy, no questions asked… BUT, if they threatened anything about a lawsuit or legal action etc., then any further communications MUST be done through their lawyer and our lawyer. Once you are talking about legal action, a casual mistake or misstatement made by an employee could have dire consequences. Lawyers have to handle ALL communication in situations that might be a lawsuit, and every company in the U.S. has the legal right to handle communication through their legal council! A company cannot play around when it comes to aligations of breaking the law, or when it comes to threats of a law suit. Once the threat is made, the customer service department is strictly forbidden from dealing with the case.

    So, if you have a lawyer and you are planning on legal action, go ahead and threaten that. But threatening a lawsuit, with many companies, pretty much closes off all other options.

  23. kerry says:

    XopherMV -
    Thanks for that, it hadn’t occurred to me. My boyfriend got screwed by United three ways this Christmas and didn’t make any of his original travel plans, but they won’t give him his money back. I’ll tell him to save his breath and chargeback, instead.

  24. LTS! says:

    Maybe I missed something but why is United taking all the blame here? The reservation was made with Sri Lankan Airlines and it seems to be their system which lost the reservation. If United never received the reservation then why are they being blamed? I would be discussing this with Sri Lanka Airlines. The fact that United even offered vouchers seems overly nice to me. They didn’t have to offer anything.

    They are aware that the system between Sri Lankan Air and themselves is not fully functional as they make note of it in their letters.

    I’m all for getting what you deserve, but unless I missed something it’s not from United that the compensation needs to come.

    If I booked a ticket with a travel agent and then got to the airport and was told by the airline they had no reservation, why would I yell at the airline?

  25. bravo says:

    I agree with XopherMV. They probably used a credit card to buy their tickets at each destination, so I say initiate a chargeback and let United Airlines grovel for their money back.

  26. RandomHookup says:

    Seems if you are now in Sri Lanka and you are holding unredeemed Sri Lankan Air tickets, you should be able to deal with SLA directly. You may get your refund in goats and cricket bats, but you should be able to get something.

  27. facted says:

    RexRhino: That’s an interesting comment, but from the experience I’ve had (one) with Air France regarding the refusal to issue a replacement ticket and made me buy a new one instead, I’d say that legal threats work quite well. Air France refused to budge until I quoted their own passanger “bill of rights” to them and threatened legal action within 3 weeks.

    Nothing gets companies moving like a lawsuit threat.

  28. armishanks says:

    Unfortunately, his parents paid in cash, instead of by credit card. They could have used the merchant dispute process of a credit card to forestall the payment to United until all of this is sorted out.

  29. timmus says:

    initiate a chargeback and let United Airlines grovel
    I have doubts that would work… the airline would just contest with proof that the parents boarded the plane for the first leg. And if there’s further doubt, I’m sure whoever has the most money would win: the airline.

  30. timmus says:

    Oh, ok, it was cash, never mind. Yeah, that doesn’t bode well.

  31. facted says:

    If it was credit, you’d be surprised…chargebacks are successful quite often. If you can prove you made the reservation but it wasn’t honored and you were forced into paying more money, then the onus is on the airline to explain how they can charge you again. Of course, this is a moot point given that they paid in cash.

  32. Crim Law Geek says:

    I may have mistunderstood, but the second ticket (the one your parents had to pay at the airport) was paid in cash*, but what about the original ticket (the one UL/SLA “lost”). If that was paid by Credit, you can dispute that one, since the original ticket is the one UL/SLA failed to honor.

    *who carries around $3,000+ in cash with them in LA, or Sri Lanka for that matter?

  33. DutchFlat says:

    United Airlines is simply the worst airline, maybe in the world. ASt least for sure in the United States. They SUCK big time. NEVER fly United Airlines. Last summer, it took United Airlines three days to get me from Chicago to Sacramento. My luggage took six days. Sad. United USED to be reputable. They should consumate their bankruptcy and get out of the busines..

  34. Coronagold says:

    Manesh, I Told you they’d eat this up here at Consumerist. Much better response than you’d get at Digg. More adults here.

    Corona (Coronagold)

  35. Stepehn Colbert says:

    MattyMatt

    His letter is in no way worded “too strongly”. United Airlines representative made just as potent a sentiment, you simply need to know what they meant, and look past their “supposed” politeness. they state that their act of giving 2 $300 vouchers to be that of “generosity” to make up for extorting $3000+ from Manesh’s parents – that’s just insulting, and you really cannot politely insult someone anymore than you can gently murder someone.

  36. msoori says:

    Thanks for all your comments. I see that there are a lot of questions… I can’t answer all of them, but heres a try. The amount I’m asking for was based on the exchange rate when this happened (August 2006). I didnt make the conversion for todays rate; I just gave the figure that my father said it cost him at that time. By the way, there was no language barrier, my father is fluent in English and well travelled. I could have dealt with Sri Lankan Airlines as well, but all this happened because of UAL’s failure to honor their own tickets and I already have my hands full, without having to deal with another airlines. UAL being the primary carrier, it is their responsibility to resolve this matter.

    Thanks Coronagold for your suggestion of posting here.

  37. ord2fra says:

    You should have used a travel agent on such a complicated itinerary.

  38. msoori says:

    Again to be clear, it was a United flight from Omaha to LA, a United flight frol LA to Singapore, and Srilankan flight from Singapre to Sri Lanka. United was the primary carrier, and United issued tickets. United failed to recognize their own tickets from LA to Singapore, followed by Srilankan pulling the same. The amount $1409 x 2 = $2816 is in Singapore $, converted to US $1860 at the time.

  39. acambras says:

    @ord2fra

    in a comment on one of the previous posts, you mention that you’re in management for one of the “legacy carriers.”

    ORD is the code for O’Hare, right? Do you work for United?

  40. Ass_Cobra says:

    I think the suggestion of initiating a chargeback on the initial itinierary is completely valid. Put it this way, an airline can’t fly your from NY to LA on a round trip ticket, refuse to honor your ticket from LA back to NY and claim that they provided you with the benefit of your bargain.

    Also suing UAL in a court convenient to you should be a snap. Even if they chose to respond their own letter should nail their coffin shut. The fact that their computer systems did not interface with SLA is not your issue. In the simplest terms your parents presumed that the glitch was temporary and they paid the additional amount in good faith, trusting that UAL would refund them when they had sorted out their computer issues. They were practical in realizing that UAL was not going to run the risk of flying free, on the off chance that they did not have a valid reservation that UAL could not confirm.

    This should go a long way in any Judge’s eyes. It will be up to UAL to explain why they are entitled to charge a passenger again for an itinerary that was by their own admission valid, but unverifiable at the time. It’s up to you to decide if you want to hold a claim that is against a company teetering on BK. My first advice would be to charge back the initial fare (if it is monetarily equivalent to the amount charged) and explain to the credit card company your delay in filing (you tried to work with UAL yourself).

    Best of luck, nail them to the wall if they don’t play ball.

  41. facted says:

    RowdyRoddyPiper: I completely agree with most of what you say, but I was under the assumption that United is no longer in bankruptcy and is actually doing quite well, with profits reported throughout 2006 (they made 119 million in the 2nd quarter and 190 million in the 3rd). Regardless, even if they’re in bankruptcy or not (which they’re not anymore), what would be the difference in the rationale to threaten a lawsuit? They ripped you off either way.

  42. Pelagius says:

    At the risk of sounding like an apologist for United, I must be their only happy customer.

    Like many, my Xmas travel plans were thrown into disarray due to the winter storms in Denver. I was meant to fly DC-Denver on Friday 12/22. The airport was open by then, but my flight cancelled to make way for ‘evacuation’ flights for all those stranded customers.

    I contacted United’s refund hotline on Friday afternoon and was put through to their Indian call center. The customer rep took my info and submitted my refund request. I had a confirmaton email within 5 minutes of making the call. My refund was processed and the funds credited to my AmEx card by 12/26.

    Two things probably helped: 1. I purchased the ticket with a credit card, not cash (!?) and 2. I’ve been a heavy frequent flier with them for 5 years.

    We ended up flying from Baltimore on Christmas night. The crew passed around free wine to everyone on board (who wanted it). On the 12/29 return flight we got free milk and cookies. If you can get on a flight, they are at least making an effort at mollifying their customers!

  43. tvh2k says:

    Let’s get some vigilante action on–digg it:
    http://www.digg.com/business_finance/United_Airlines_loses

  44. ord2fra says:

    @ acambras: I am indeed employed at a legacy carrier. But, I’m not a fanboy about it. I don’t badmouth the competition or pump up my company. As most people here that work for a large company do, you do the best you can in the areas which you control.
    I do think, though, that people tend to paint with an awfully large brush when it comes to bad service or rude staff. If you encounter 20 people as a customer (in a store, in an airport, or at a corporation) and 19 are polite and one is a complete prick, that one guy will cancel out the 19 pleasant folks. Therefore, is the entire company suspect?
    I also want to point out that there are differences between bad employees and bad policies. Some days, good employees are bad employees, but bad corporate policies are always bad. Unfortunately, those are the hardest to change, it appears.

  45. acambras says:

    @ord2fra:
    I just remember one post where in your comment, you wrote something like “so sit down and shut up” – a kind of “quit your bitching” admonition to air travelers. I thought your username looked familiar, so I went and looked up your old comment. Now I read your comment on this post – that Manesh’s parents should have used a travel agent. While a travel agent might have been helpful, your comment seems to blame the victim and take any responsibility away from United.

    So I’m wondering if full disclosure isn’t called for in your case. Ben banned somnambulist for being an airline industry troll.

    I’m certainly not the comment police, so now that I’ve brought up the full disclosure bit, that’s all I have to say.

    Except one more thing: you never really did answer my question – you still say “legacy carrier,” but you still don’t say which one (presumably so as not to be a “fanboy” as you say). I’m just curious as to whether that carrier is United, because of your O’Hare connection. You just skirted around the issue a bit evasively. If you just don’t want to answer, just say so…

  46. kpaj says:

    international student flying from ktm-viena-washington-seattle. baggage was delayed and took to reach 5 days. calling everyday around 5 times a day, as they keep asking please call after few hours.after 5 days got the luggage but everything was mess inside.broken stuffs and really a big mess again called to complain,they say please bring your luggage to airport, which is 4 hours drive from place i live. i don’t know its only united airlines such or all other airlines too in united states.can’t drive to airport just to complain where as i am not sure if get any reimbursment. just waste

  47. Trackback says:

    Several news sites, including BoingBoing and digg has picked up the story, as well as The Consumerist, a wonderful site for empowering the consumer.Thanks to everyone that took the time read my blog and special thanks to all those that gave me constructive advice and worked hard to spread the…