Broken Leg? Need Extra Room? Flying United? That'll Be An Extra $54, Please.

Reader Marc and his wife went on a 10-day trip from Anchorage to Quito, Ecuador. Sadly, Marc’s wife broke her leg on the first day of the trip. Ouch! It had to be immobilized and elevated for the return trip. Marc writes:

Our flights via Continental went fine; everyone both on and off the plane was solicitous and helpful. Our bulkhead seats, while not perfect, provided enough legroom to keep her leg straight.

When we got to the gate in Denver, the agent refused to change our seats, instead summoning an “SD”, apparently some kind of manager, at my insistence. Scott (“With two t’s. Make sure you get it right,” he snidely instructed me as I wrote down his name) was pompous, arrogant, and entirely unhelpful. He claimed the flight was full and refused to do anything but put us on a different flight, if there even was one. At this point my wife was exhausted and sobbing, which affected him not a bit. Finally, another supervisor “found” her a bulkhead seat, but United sells these seats as “Premium Coach” or somesuch, so I had to fork over $54 to seat her there. He then miraculously “found” me another seat next to her and ahem, generously waived the fee for my seat. When we boarded the plane, there was still insufficient leg room for her, which was slightly alleviated by angling her leg into my seat space.

Turns out that the flight was only 60% full, but United refused to move anyone to give someone with a freshly broken leg a bit more room. Read Marc’s email inside.

Marc writes:

My wife broke her leg April 5, our first day of a ten-day trip from Anchorage to Quito, Ecuador. Her leg was placed in a restraining device that kept it straight, and she was instructed to keep it elevated as much as possible.

I called Continental Airlines soon after to arrange bulkhead seats for our return trip, and I was told all would be changed. Our return trip consisted of three segments: Quito-Houston, Houston – Denver, and Denver – Anchorage, on April 14. But when they printed our boarding passes in Quito, the Denver-Anchorage segment still had us in our original seats. I didn’t realize when I called (my omission), and nobody told me, that the final segment was on United. The Continental agent in Quito informed us that she was unable to change our seats for the United flight, and that we could do that upon our arrival at the United gate in Denver.

Our flights via Continental went fine; everyone both on and off the plane was solicitous and helpful. Our bulkhead seats, while not perfect, provided enough legroom to keep her leg straight.

When we got to the gate in Denver, the agent refused to change our seats, instead summoning an “SD”, apparently some kind of manager, at my insistence. Scott (“With two t’s. Make sure you get it right,” he snidely instructed me as I wrote down his name) was pompous, arrogant, and entirely unhelpful. He claimed the flight was full and refused to do anything but put us on a different flight, if there even was one. At this point my wife was exhausted and sobbing, which affected him not a bit. Finally, another supervisor “found” her a bulkhead seat, but United sells these seats as “Premium Coach” or somesuch, so I had to fork over $54 to seat her there. He then miraculously “found” me another seat next to her and ahem, generously waived the fee for my seat. When we boarded the plane, there was still insufficient leg room for her, which was slightly alleviated by angling her leg into my seat space.

It turns out the plane was only about 60-70% full (our six bulkhead seats had only two others sitting in them), and they could have easily given my wife an entire row to use by only moving one or two people. It would have cost United not a penny, and it would have earned our eternal goodwill.

The final insult came from the flight attendant, who insisted that she not use her backpack to prop up her leg during takeoff and threatened to call the captain if we did not comply. We did; she and I spent the next fifteen minutes holding her leg up with her hands.

United Airlines broke no regulations, except for an unwritten one: treat people with kindness and compassion. Were this an isolated incident involving only one rude employee, I could write it off as such. But the behavior we encountered was pervasive; a indication of a culture of indifference, if not outright hostility, to the traveling public. I have flown many different airlines, and I have never encountered behavior like this. Furthermore, this was not the first incident of this nature I have had with United. I don’t know why or how this corporate culture evolved, but I can only hope that if it doesn’t change, the traveling public will go elsewhere, and United will be forced to change its culture or go bankrupt.

Marc

Why was United so mean? Maybe they see lots of broken legs in Denver. You know, because of the skiing? Or maybe they thought she was willing to break her own leg for a free “Premium Coach” upgrade? Sneaky! —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo:Drewski2112)

Comments

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  1. Lewis says:

    It’s unfortunate that this type of story is just “dog bites man” these days. It’s just not even remotely surprising. Not a slam on UA, all of the majors seem to be getting their fair share of CS-related criticism, though I am glad to hear CO was accommodating.

    Perhaps UA thought this poor woman broke her leg in a devious scheme to get into Premium Economy for free?

    A few weeks ago I approached a UA agent and asked if I could please have an exit row, if any were available. Mind you this was at the Red Carpet Club, of which I am a paying member. The agent immediately became angry and said “those are for our top-tier elites only, or your need to buy in.” I genuinely did not know that, so I immediately apologized and began to walk away.

    THe agent proceeded to put me into the exit row “just this one time” but complained the whole time that she shouldn’t be doing it. So shouldn’t have done it! I didn’t make a fuss or even a face!

    When I grow up I am going to buy a G5.

  2. acambras says:

    It blows my mind how one can PAY MONEY (whether to an airline, store, restaurant, etc.) and then get SCOLDED like a little kid.

  3. dbeahn says:

    Guess we know why we don’t hear that whole “Fly the Friendly Skies!” jingle anymore.

    Isn’t United employee owned at this point? Sad

  4. wonderlic says:

    I fly all the time for work, but fortunately have not had to fly United until recently for a trip down to Sarasota to visit my wife’s family. It is a long and sordid tale of canceled flights, rude, yelling and indifferent CSR’s and United Gate agents. I eventually made it there at 1:30 am the day after I should have arrived sandwiched between two offensive linemen from NFL Europe who hadn’t showered for 2 days because they had missed their original flight, in the second to last row in the plane surrounded by about 20 other mountain sized NFL Europe players all speaking German – loudly. Good times. It was the single worst domestic flying experience of my life.

    But I digress – United hawks those “economy plus” upgrades like they’re selling magic beans. I basically discovered that even when they tell you a flight is full, its generally not, because they set aside about 1/3rd of the economy plus section for upgrades and try to sell them to you when you check in and at the gate. It strikes me as a dumb policy – why wouldn’t you just want to fill up the plane as much as you could, especially with people who’s flight you have cancled that you are putting on the standby list otherwise? And on top of that the so called “extended leg room” is nothing more than you get on Southwest, and you don’t have to pay for a bag of peanuts there.

    Bottom line – I used to think that basically all airlines had the same (low) degree of customer service (Southwest excluded), until I had the pleasure of flying with United this most recent time. I will actively avoid flying with them in the future and happily pay more.

  5. Hawkeye1659 says:

    This is why I stopped flying United permanently over 3 years ago and switched exclusively to Southwest. I and my company have spent many thousand dollars on SW at that time and I’ve never had anything but a friendly and comfortable experience with them. They appreciate my business and I continue to give it to them. I spoke with my wallet and others should do so as well. I also make sure to tell every colleague and friend and have switched many people from thinking United is the best to loving the great service and pricing on Southwest.

  6. Another Smurf says:

    United’s behaviour, though reprihensible, isn’t surprising. The company is all about nickel and diming its customers to death. That’s their business model and they’re sticking to it.

    Continental did the right thing though… I hope that won’t be lost in all the United-bashing.

  7. esqdork says:

    UA is on my personal do-not-fly list (meaning that I am willing to pay up to $100 extra to fly on an airline different from UA) because they started selling their exit row seats as “premium coach.” It’s the darn principle of the thing. They are entitled to make a profit, but that particular nickle-and-dime charge is pathetic. Particularly since they are the only airline to charge for exit rows.

  8. TheTallGuy says:

    Honestly, I gotta tell you I don’t agree. I think United did the right thing here. I’m 6’9″ and can’t fit in a standard economy seat, United developed the only US domestic version of premium economy and I applaud them for it. It gives me what I need (extra leg room) and keeps me coming back to United even if their fare is slightly higher. Giving those seats away dilutes their value. I can understand the medical situation but you have to understand that people pay extra for those seats, I get them at no cost due to my status but I spend much $ with United every year.

    You were asking for something for nothing, Kudos to UAL for giving it to you in your situation. The seats in Economy Plus are blocked from passengers who don’t have status or don’t pay for an economy plus pass, that is why they couldn’t see the seats on your reservation and why they “found” them later. It is an FAA violation to have bags out during take off and landing, the FA did the right thing, she could loose her job and be heavily fined if she let you have the backpack out.

    When the unexpected happens while traveling, it costs a few extra $, that should be expected…

  9. Eric says:

    Why did he wait until he was at the gate? The accident happened the day that they arrived and they were there for 10 days! I am sure that they had planned their return flights. Common sense would dictate calling the airline and requesting the seat change BEFORE you went to the airport to board the plane.

    Charging for the crappy bulkhead seats is absurd and the manager could have been civilized but a lot of frustration can be eliminated with proper planning.

  10. formergr says:

    I fly about 75,000 miles a year on United and can give some insight into this situation.

    The SD (station director, btw) may have been an ass and attitude is never necessary when dealing with a customer, but what he did was right in line with United policy. Depending on the type of aircraft, the only bulkheads are in Economy Plus. Economy Plus is a separate class on United– think of it as “business light”. You either have to be a mileage plus premier, have purchased a one year “Economy Plus access” pass for $299, or upgrade into it at time of booking or check-in (called a “buy-up”, usually around $35-60 depending on route).

    They’ve really tightened up on treating E+ as separate cabin since you are getting about 4-5 inches more legroom, and have little markers on the seats to label it as such. Even if tons of seats in E+ are empty, and E- (regular economy) is completely full to the gills, flight attendants are instructed to prevent people from moving up (just like you wouldn’t move from coach to business if you saw empty seats).

    So the fact that the SD let her husband into E+ for free was actually an extra, but I’m sure he was such an ass about it the couple in question didn’t even realize he was doing them a favor to re-accommodate them as such.

  11. winnabago says:

    Yes! I was feeling nostalgic for the good old days of airline bashing here on the consumerist. It’s like 2006 all over again.

    Esqdork made a good point – everyone has a limit of just how much they will spend for good service. On some routes on certain days, Airtran out of Boston can be hundreds cheaper than the legacies. I have personally gone both ways, but sometimes I just don’t care enough to spend more, even though I dislike their planes and service. We are dollar oriented people, no matter what many here say otherwise.

  12. Katharine says:

    @Eric: He did: “I called Continental Airlines soon after to arrange bulkhead seats for our return trip, and I was told all would be changed. “

    Since they charge extra do they allow customers to arrange moving on their own? I would have moved for someone with a broken leg so they could have more room.

  13. acambras says:

    @wonderlic:
    I basically discovered that even when they tell you a flight is full, its generally not, because they set aside about 1/3rd of the economy plus section for upgrades and try to sell them to you when you check in and at the gate.

    Maybe it’s like the car rental places?


    @esqdork:
    Particularly since they are the only airline to charge for exit rows.

    I don’t think any airline should charge extra for exit rows. Sure, if I’m in an exit row, I get extra leg room, but I consider that my compensation for agreeing to do the exit row stuff (opening that 50-pound door, listening and understanding instructions in English, etc.), should an emergency arise. (Yes, I know that the woman with the broken leg wouldn’t have qualified for exit row because of her injury.)

  14. tsmiser says:

    I recently injured my knee severely in Hawaii. We flew Amercian and they hooked me up with a first class seat free of charge. I was very impressed. I was just trying to get a bulkhead seat.

  15. swalve says:

    “Hey McDonald’s- my wife just found out she’s pregnant and now eating for two. I know I just paid for the regular salad, but I demand that you give her the large salad for the same price.”

  16. rogerdude says:

    Regarding the ‘final insult’ of not allowing them to use a bag to prop the broken leg up. The airline really doesn’t have a choice about stowing bags for take-off, it’s federal law.

    Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations § 121.589:
    (c) No [airline] may allow an airplane to take off or land unless each article of baggage is stowed.

    Basically, if the stewardess noticed the bag and let them leave it out she and the airline could be fined by the FAA.

  17. Lewis says:

    @swalve: Come on, you can’t be serious.

    If you’re going to use a McD metaphor, then it should look more like this: remember that old commercial where the little boy gets his McD ice cream cone and then drops the whole thing on the floor after one bite?

    The nice McD server lady walks over and hands him a new one with a smile, no charge.

    Did she have to do it? No. Technically could she have held the line and said “you dropped it, you want more, you buy it. But was it the right thing to do? Yes.

    I know it was a commercial, but hey, your analogy…

  18. Black Bellamy says:

    I would like to share the following story as an example of what great customer service is.

    Through my own stupidity, I bought a return ticket from Warsaw, Poland for May 15th instead of April 15th. Needless to say I was flustered when I showed up at the check-in counter and was informed that not only was I not in the computer but there were no seats on any flight for the next week and the best I could do was to go on “stand-by” and cross my fingers.

    After everyone boarded there still were no seats so disappointed I went back to the main terminal to await my luggage and plan my further steps, which would have invariably involved lots of cash and connecting flights and me missing a day of work or two (cue angry boss!).

    At this point I was pretty pissed (with myself) and considering what to do when I heard my name being called across the terminal. A breathless gate agent ran up to me, yelling into her walkie-talkie that she found me. She informed me that there was a sick passanger on the departing flight and if I could hang around a little bit there was a chance this person would not be taking a trip and that I would have a seat.

    Soon another gate agent ran up, got me through customs by waving her arms at the customs agent and telling them I was a “special case” and that I was with her and I was through before they could even look at my passport again, then whoosh through the security screening (she actually pushed me through the line yelling VIP! VIP! in Polish) and in two minutes I was on the plane and we were on our way. My last view of the two gate agents was of them standing at the gate waving good-bye with actual unrestrained joy on their faces at having accomplished their mission.

    This is from people who make $300 USD per month. Thanks Urszula and Magda, I only wish I got your surnames for the thank-you letter to LOT.

  19. Hoboken says:

    This is absurd. The poor woman has a broken leg! It is just common decency to try and help her as much as possible (especially with all the empty seats!!!). I am 6’7″ and recently flew United. In NYC they tried to nickel and dime me on the “economy plus” but were good at the other airports. I ended up getting a middle emergency seat back from Denver to Newark. Got on and there was an 85 year old lady next to me!! She was at the window seat. This is utterly illegal for the airlines to do and she clearly (through chatting with her) had not asked for that seat. The exit rows should be saved for tall people (who are able to open the emergency door). Makes me sick with most airlines but even sicker that UA would have the nerve to charge more to sit there (which again seems like it should be illegal). We need to quit protecting these airlines in Washington as it’s high time they got more foreign competition and some of them went under. I personally will not feel sorry for more than about 50% of the workers as I have come across so many attitudes. If I acted remotely like the typical airline worker, I’d be fired in minutes.

  20. RumorsDaily says:

    Being rude is inexcusable.

    However, asking to be moved into a different seating class (and possibly moving customers who already reserved those particular seats for a particular reason) is a large request and it should be treated as such. It’s not owed to you and charging extra for it is not unreasonable.

    But, again, they should have been polite about it.

  21. Slytherin says:

    This is why I only fly Continental and Southwest.

  22. badhatharry says:

    Every one else take note, THAT is how you write a letter. “…a indication of a culture of indifference, if not outright hostility, to the traveling public.” Granted, it should have been “AN indication,” but still, that’s how you write a complaint letter.

  23. tadiera says:

    I recently flew United — I generally fly Delta, due to getting tickets cheap, but this flight was paid for me — and on the return flight, they asked if I wanted to pay more for extra legroom. I denied it.

    Maybe 2 of the Premium seats were filled. Half of a plane was full (yes, they use up half of their planes for these seats)… you’d think they’d end up going ‘Whatever. Just sit there.’

  24. Alexander says:

    @carnifexrex: Awesome story! I have a similar story but having nothing do with airlines, but it does have to do with awesome customer service. Years ago I surprised my girlfriend for her birthday with “The Cure” concert tickets at the Greek Amphitheater. The day of the concert we showed up, hand our tickets, and surprise surprise I had bought tickets for the concert the DAY BEFORE! Imagine my embarrassment at my total stupidity for not having the common sense to check the date on the tickets. I had the darn tickets for months and never ever looked at them. So we couldn’t get in and worse of all, the Green Amphitheater has stacked parking and once you park, other people park around you. So we would have been stuck outside the place until the concert ended hours later. No money to buy tickets from the scalpers either we didn’t know what to do. We ended up talking to this girl at one of the entrances not expecting anything to happen. We hanged around for like 30 mins and the girl goes and finds us outside and hands us 2 tickets! 2 tickets which were even better than the ones I had bought! I told her there was no way I could pay her right now but she insisted I take them and enjoy the concert with my girlfriend. How is that for awesome customer service? That was above and beyond even though the problem was caused by me and no one else. My only regret is in my excitement I never got the girl’s full name so I couldn’t write her a thank you letter, but I’ll forever be grateful to her. We had a great time at the concert.

  25. madktdisease says:

    @LewisNYC:

    I distinctly remember that incident happening to my brother at a McDonalds. He was about 4, and he dropped his cone. The girl behind the counter had a new one for him before I even left to go find my mom to get more money.

    Actually, that’s probably happened a few times in my presence with random little kids at places that sell food/ice cream. It’s brilliant on behalf of the companies – little kids *do* remember these things and where they happened. Being nice pays off far more than rudeness in all but the most severe of cases.

  26. orielbean says:

    I liked Continental, I despise United every single time I fly. Delta was average, Southwest better than average, and Virgin Atlantic was amazing. Finnair (when I flew almost 10 years ago to Russia) was also better than average. But man, do I hate every thing about United – the service, the stinky bathrooms, the tiny seats, the cost is only average, and so on. And their idea of inflight movie was a “How I met your mother” episode. Ugh.

  27. orielbean says:

    And at the same time, I sympathize with most attendants or pilots. I cannot imagine the amount of stress you go through in a job like that. I like to travel; I don’t feel uncomfortable in a plane most of the time, but I could not ever do those jobs! I certainly can understand when those on the plane get a little snippy. The desk attendant / supervisor is another issue entirely.

  28. tcabeen says:

    @rogerdude: I was going to point this out. It’s a serious hazard, not just some rule they randomly made up to piss you off. Yeah, it’s a few minutes of tedious discomfort, but at least there’s a reason for it.

    Here’s my real question, though… I’ve done this before, and it’s easy. As One Of The People If They Wouldn’t Mind Moving. Seriously. If 2/6 bulkhead seats were legitimately occupied, that’s 3 on each side of the plane, right? So ask one if they’d be willing to move to the other side of the aisle. Seeing your wife’s immobilized leg, they likely would’ve obliged, right? I would’ve done it for her. Then you’ve got 3 seats, you don’t have to deal with the stewardess you have already irrationally decided to dislike, and everybody wins.

    Eric has the right idea, too. You knew 8-9 days before that you were going to need more room on the plane. My friend, only you can make things happen for you.

    The SD was a jerk. That much is a valid complaint. And it sucks you and she had to deal with that. Did you contact corporate to report Scott’s attitude? Let’s be positive and productive.

  29. aishel says:

    Don’t ADA requirements stipulate that the company has to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities? If the seats are mostly empty, it’s only reasonable that they give them the seats. The couple would have been on the plane anyway, and moving them up one class would not have made a difference to United.

  30. B Tex says:

    Give me a break folks that think UA was giving her a break!!! So maybe we should be paying by the inch of space and not the seat itself? So maybe the emergency row exit should be a premium since you get extra leg room as well?

    Really, if the rep wasn’t such an ass this probably would not have been an issue. It was his attitude that made the situation worse.

  31. cabinaero says:

    @LewisNYC: Were you asking for exit row on the day of the flight? If so, they should have given it to you. Prebooking of exit rows is for Premier Exec and up, but day of flight is for whomever asks.

    @aishel: A broken leg is a not a disability. Don’t drag down the ADA over a common injury.

    Sounds like the service director was being a jerk. For what’s it’s worth, I’ve also seen United Service Directors comp people with up to business or first if they’re injured and doing so will make a long flight easier. Sounds like you just got a jerk on a bad day.

  32. Hawkeye1659 says:

    @Oriolebean: I’m sure the flight attendants have stressful or difficult jobs, but why are they always so damn friendly and many times funny when I fly Southwest? Do they breed different humans to work for that company? No, they just have a culture of respect for customers and it shows with everyone that works for them. We all have gripes and complaints with our jobs but that doesn’t give us the excuse to treat customers like crap. Especially if you are willingly working in a SERVICE industry.

  33. seawall says:

    It’s truly a shame that UA treated this individual so poorly. No doubt, in my hundreds of thousands of miles, I’ve encountered bad customer service reps who equally infuriate me. Unfortunately, the best you can do is call a supervisor when you’re in the middle of the situation and hope he/she fixes it. In this case, Scott disappointed as well.

    Marc should write a letter to UA expressing his disappointment in how he was treated and say he’d like to give them a second chance, but after incidents like this, he doesn’t know why he should. Human decency should dictate that you help someone with an injured leg.

    That said… why is everyone complaining about United? I have seen similar bad behavior for USAir, Delta, Continental, and American employees. I’ve also had those airlines go out of their way (including United) to correct mistakes and make things much better. My experiences are inconsistent at best. Every time I personally vow to write off an airline, I get stuck flying them again because of schedule or price differences that are hard to pass up. …and I find out they’re not so bad… or just mediocre or inconsistent. I try to always be respectful of the employees, and if they are rude to me, I brush it off and write a letter.

    As for Economy Plus, it’s great. When I had status on United/USAir, I loved that they respected my regular business and gave me a better seat. I like that they still give me the option to pay for a seat where my laptop fits on the tray table. I get a slightly better flight, so I *should* pay more. …and also… United is not going to stop selling regular economy seats once regular economy has filled up….which is why you may sometimes get lucky and get a better seat while paying the regular coach fare.

    At the end of the day, the employees should have been more sympathetic, but they weren’t. United higher-ups ought to apologize to these people and try to win their business back… and probably institute a program by which employees do the right thing… but they shouldn’t give away their premium cabin…. and honestly, agreeing to sit in the exit row is not noble. If you do open the door in a crash, then let them compensate you, otherwise, you already get the benefit of a more comfortable flight.

  34. cabinaero says:

    @Hawkeye1659: Actually I’d consider Southwest to be a service downgrade. Why? I don’t like amateur hour at 35,000 feet.

  35. Lewis says:

    @cabinaero: Yes, I was asking on day of (actually hour of) the flight. My understanding was that the PE/1K restriction was for pre-books only. I was sternly corrected by the RCC agent. :)

  36. Buran says:

    @Hawkeye1659: I love Southwest but the last time I flew I wound up with a bunch of rude flight attendants including one who told me to sit down when I badly needed to use the bathroom. I shot daggers at her for the rest of the flight but she pointedly avoided looking at me.

    Fortunately, one rude person with a power trip complex doesn’t speak for all the rest of them who were kind and understanding — on the OTHER trips I’ve taken.

    Still, I’m going to be driving more and more in the future. I’ve got a car on order that’s great for long roadtrips, and part of the reason for that is the rude attitude you get from airlines these days. Even the best of them.

  37. Buran says:

    @TheTallGuy: Asking for something for nothing? I guess the term MEDICAL EXEMPTION isn’t crossing your mind. Have you ever broken a limb? There is a perfectly good reason to need more room – DOCTOR’S ORDERS. I’m sure the woman in question didn’t break her leg on purpose and it’s just plain rude, unacceptable, and idiotic of the United personnel to not do everything they could to make her comfortable.

    And furthermore, I think you’re rude for even suggesting that anyone should have to pay to have their DISABILITY (yes, having a cast on your leg is a disability because it impairs your movement severely, which is considered a major/vital function, whatever the language is that the law uses) accomodated for.

    I’m hard of hearing and I don’t expect to have to pay for the assistance I get (rear window captioning) at movie theaters. In fact, we have this law called the Americans with Disabilities Act that REQUIRES businesses to make “reasonable accomodations” for disabled customers. It might actually be arguable that United can be sued for attempting to charge extra money to accomodate a customer’s disability when they could have done so without such arrogance. I’m not suehappy generally but when it comes to the issue of ripping off the disabled people, stay the hell out of my way. I’m stuck with this for life and I know all about the ADA. I’m sure this jerk of a United rep was hoping these people didn’t know their legal rights — and they got $54 of free, illegal (in my view) profit out of them because they didn’t.

  38. not_seth_brundle says:

    @tcabeen: You would pay $50 extra for extra legroom just to give it up, with no reimbursement? That’s really chivalrous of you. I have to confess, I wouldn’t, and I’d bet most people wouldn’t or, if they did, it would be because they felt shamed into doing it.

    I’ve suffered a broken bone on a trip, and there were costs involved, like an ER visit, a prescription for Vicodin, special bedding, numerous taxi fares, etc. An E+ seat is just another one of those costs. I agree that the United employees should not have been rude, but I don’t think a free upgrade is an entitlement.

  39. cabinaero says:

    @LewisNYC: No you’re quite right. The RCC agent was completely wrong. Pre-sales are excluded to 1P and higher, but anybody who meets the safety guidelines can request an exit row on check-in.

  40. cabinaero says:

    @Buran: A broken leg is not covered by the ADA. Good luck trying to claim that one in court.

  41. Buran says:

    @formergr: And what about the law called the Americans with Disabilities Act that requires businesses to make reasonable accomodations for disabled customers? A cast on one’s leg is a disability, and allowing a customer to sit where they need to to accomodate that is a reasonable accomodation under the law. It is not acceptable to charge customers for accomodation — that’s discriminating against the disabled.

    There is no excuse for United’s behavior. My response would have been “I am disabled under the ADA as a result of this injury and I am requesting that you make reasonable accomodations, and allowing me to sit in an unreserved seat for this reason is a reasonable accomodation. Charging for disability accomodation is discrimination against the disabled. If you do not change my seat, I want to speak to your supervisor, right now, and what is your name and employee number?”

    Followed by having a lawyer draft up a nice formal complaint on their practice letterhead when I got home, and/or a formal lawsuit if they didn’t apologize and immediately back down.

    I have no tolerance for discrimination against the disabled because I have a disability myself, and I don’t expect to EVER have to pay for the accomodations that US businesses are legally required to provide to me. I’m not an entitlement jerk, I just know my rights. And besides, in this case it’s not as if anyone else would have been inconvenienced — except the pride of this jerk who decided to powertrip over someone just because he could. He needs to be reprimanded, demoted, or fired.

  42. Buran says:

    @swalve: That’s not a disability. ADA doesn’t apply, no reasonable accomodations necessary because a major life function isn’t being impaired.

    Besides… what kind of comparison is that?

  43. Buran says:

    @cabinaero: That depends on the individual case, and the rules are under continuous challenge in the court system anyway. It’s a perfectly valid reason to sue and argue that the law does apply. It’s not as if the laws never change, and filing a suit and claiming the ADA is a valid rule here is perfectly OK.

  44. not_seth_brundle says:

    The ADA doesn’t apply here. You’re looking for the Air Carrier Access Act.

    http://www.dlrp.org/html/guide_to/acaa.html

  45. Buran says:

    @cabinaero: Yes, the ADA can apply, depends on the injury and circumstances. It’s less “universal” than my hearing impairment is, but there are times when broken legs should be accomodated for under the ADA. I checked. And it’s a perfectly valid reason to sue if denied — getting a case in the books that says “they should have given you ADA rights” will do wonders for future sufferers who get denied on the same BS grounds. If you want to get precedent that makes you subject to the ADA, you need to make the precedent yourself.

  46. thejbs says:

    SD = shit dork?

  47. Lewis says:

    Bottom line: regardless of what the carrier may or may not have HAD to do, the CLASSY thing to do would have been to give her the damned seat and not hassle the couple, particularly if the flight was wide open.

    Oh and premium economy is nice and all, but it’s NOT business class.

  48. LisaLives says:

    Right or wrong, the days of airlines upgrading you on a whim or out of human kindness are mostly over. As a woman who is over six feet tall, flying coach for me means sitting in fear waiting for the person in the seat in front of me to fully recline and hearing the sound of my knees crack.

    I’ve accepted the fact that I am physically miserable flying in coach, so I either go first class, business or if I’m on United I love having the option of upgrading to Economy Plus.

    I feel for the discomfort the woman with the broken leg experienced, but as a frequent (and perhaps beaten-down) flyer, it would never have occured to me to expect the airline to upgrade me for free due to my injury.

    The last time I flew to London on a packed flight on British Air, a young man with a coach ticket asked the flight attendant as they boarded if he and his wife could sit in First Class because it was their honeymoon.

    The flight attendant had to stifle a guffaw, and I found myself wondering if there was ever a time when airlines were all human and generous and Santa-Clausy like that. Broken leg? Honeymoon? Sure. In fact we’re gonna get you your own private jet because we LOVE you.

  49. bearymore says:

    I recently flew UA from Philadelphia to LA. This involved a commuter to DC and then a flight to LA for a total travel time of about 7 hours. So, I have breakfast and head to the airport. The commuter is late, but I make the connection in DC just in time to get the flight to LAX. Now, I have diabetes, so 7 hours without food is not a really good idea. No problem, though — according to my reservation the flight serves lunch for $5. Lunch comes around and they sell out in the first five or so rows. I’m in row 23. Now they announce they will be selling snack boxes for $5. OK, I’ll get one of them. As the stewardess is wheeling by on her way to the front of the section with the snack boxes, I politely ask her if I could purchase a snack box as I have diabetes and must eat something. She very rudely refused to sell me one saying its first come first served and she starts from the front of the plane. Naturally, they sold out by about row 10. When I asked again as she got to my row, she was extremely rude. Now this wasn’t a life or death situation as I had some glucose available, but it can be extremely uncomfortable.

    In the end, the steward who was pushing the other end of the snack cart came by about 15 minutes later with a snack box which he said was an extra he had found. I was happy to buy it.

    How incompetent is a company that doesn’t supply its planes with enough food to even remotely meet demand — especially when food is a revenue producing item? Why does that company or some of its employees feel the need to go out of their way to be rude to its customers?

    The only advantage of UA is that they put air traffic control on the intercom. Oh well.

  50. tcabeen says:

    @not_seth_brundle: I’m chivalrous, but perhaps not that chivalrous.

    It turns out the plane was only about 60-70% full (our six bulkhead seats had only two others sitting in them)

    I interpret that as saying that of 6 bulkhead seats, only 2 were occupied before this couple boarded the plane. Meaning that one of the bulk-head upgraders could choose from one of the myriad (exaggeration) other bulkhead seats available to leave a full row open for this unfortunate vacationer.

    So I’d be giving up my nice, roomy seat for a nice roomy seat on the other side of the aisle. No big deal. Which is why I think about anyone would’ve done it if he’d asked nicely.

  51. tcabeen says:

    @bearymore: I think Nintendo’s suppliers recently got the snack box contract, which explains the severe shortage…

    Honestly, I’ve never seen a problem like that on the plane. Maybe one of the 3 or 4 options will sell out, but that’s not a big deal.

    Thank goodness the other steward overheard you.

  52. formergr says:

    Buran, I’m not sure how many different posters can tell you before it sinks in: a broken leg is not a disability!!

    If I break my leg, I am not entitled to park in the free handicapped parking on my city street. It does not entitle me to a guide dog. According to the EEOC , it doesn’t even entitle you to workplace accommodation by your employer!

    From http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/adaqa1.html:

    Q. Who is protected against employment discrimination?
    A. Employment discrimination is prohibited against “qualified individuals with disabilities.”

    The ADA defines an “individual with a disability” as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.

    The first part of the definition makes clear that the ADA applies to persons who have substantial, as distinct from minor, impairments, and that these must be impairments that limit major life activities such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working. An individual with epilepsy, paralysis, a substantial hearing or visual impairment, mental retardation, or a learning disability would be covered, but an individual with a minor, nonchronic condition of short duration, such as a sprain, infection, or broken limb, generally would not be covered.

    See? So United did nothing wrong, and you know the next time my back hurts maybe I’ll ask them to put me in business class free just because I’m entitled to it.

    Economy Plus isn’t business class, no, but it is a separately fared class on United. Don’t like that they reserve these seats with extra legroom for loyal customers or those who pay more? Then don’t fly them! I don’t like Southwest’s open seating policy, so I don’t fly them. But I also don’t go around complaining that they “nickel and dimed” me or are too damn cheap to even have seating assignments. I make an informed decision, so I have no reason to knock them or any other company for adhering to a well-publicized, well documented policy of theirs.

  53. not_seth_brundle says:

    Whether or not a broken leg is a disability under the ACAA (please see my comment above–the ADA doesn’t apply here) is really beside the point. United accommodated Marc’s wife. They didn’t deny her boarding, they didn’t refuse to upgrade her (after she paid the additional fare), they didn’t move her to the worst seat on the plane, etc. Even if her broken leg were considered a disability, the ACAA wouldn’t require the airline to bend over backwards to make her as comfortable as possible.

    This is a customer service issue, not a legal issue. As customer service goes, United was pretty crappy. But they did nothing unlawful.

  54. bokononist says:

    British Airways upgraded me on a whim–coach from New York to London became business class because I told the crew I hadn’t slept the night before (very, very true unfortunately) and I had to present a paper for a conference when I arrived.

  55. Buran says:

    @formergr: I guess you missed the part where I said that you can always sue and make your case that the law needs to be amended, huh? Don’t get all uprighteous on people if you don’t take into account everything they say. If we never changed laws when they needed to be changed we’d still be in the Dark Ages. Go ask your civics teacher about it, huh?

  56. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Buran: That’s not the way the law works. Checks and balances ring a bell? Judges interpret legislation; legislators enact it. If you want a statute amended, write your congressperson.

  57. cde says:

    @not_seth_brundle: Are we talking about the same country here?

  58. itsgene says:

    The last time I flew United, I was seated in the row just behind the Economy Plus section. The woman next to me ended up with the man in front of her in her lap because he reclined his seat. She asked the flight attendant if she could just move up a row where there were plenty of empty seats.
    You’d have thought she asked for a solid gold pillow and blanket. The flight attendant was incredibly rude, and told her she could not move there because those were Economy Plus seats and she would have to pay $50 to upgrade… but not on the plane, she’d have to do it at the gate.
    I pointed out to the flight attendant that it was pointless to enforce this now that we were in the air, and those seats were NOT going to generate any revenue at all unless they were planning on picking up passengers in midair. He barked at us that people were not allowed to change seats.
    Then, to add insult to injury, he went to the front and conferred with the purser, who then got on the PA and announced to the entire plane that passengers — on a flight with a large number of empty seats — were NOT allowed to change seats.
    Makes me wonder what would have happened if the woman next to me simply moved without asking… terrorist threat? Land the plane and drag her off to prison?

  59. crazylady says:

    formergr: Funny, if I did have a temporary disability like a broken leg, I could get a temporary disabled person parking placard here in California.

    Last I checked, that does entitle me to park in the handicapped spaces.

  60. Ticonderoga says:

    Complain to the government at: AirConsumer@dot.gov

  61. nroberts says:

    I was flying out of Seattle on United back on Jan. 2nd, 2006. Chicago had just been hit by a MAJOR snow storm, so after I got to the check-in desk (after standing in line for 1.5 hours), I asked the guy behind the desk if the flight was still on time. He assured me that it was, then asked if I wanted to upgrade to Economy Plus seats for the legroom. (I’m 6’3.) I paid the $30 for it and booked through security to my gate, only to discover that the flight WAS delayed for 4 hours and that they had moved the majority of my flight to other flights in the past hour. As all of the other flights were full, I was one of 11 people on the original flight when it finally left Seattle 7.5 hours late. I bitched to the CS counter at my gate and wrote a letter to United in an effort to get my upgrade money back, but needless to say they never even so much as humored the idea.

    I’m never flying United again. SOBs can die in a fire.

  62. shdwsclan says:

    Yeah, go all the way with this.
    The supervisor was trying to cover his ass, but the right thing to do was to research the situation and if it needed upgrade them to the seats for free. There is no difference between coach and premium coach, the gasoline still costs the same, and the peanuts come in the same bags….

    Mail the CEO, then if the CEO fails to remedy this, report it, and dot fly UA.
    The supervisor and employees not only work for UA, but they represent them too, so don’t fly with them, if they hire employees that represent them so poorly.

    And, you can also chargeback that additional amount if you paid by credit card.

  63. aiken says:

    If my wife broke her leg, $50 would be the least of my concerns. Yeah, it would be nice if they airline upgraded her for free, but it wouldn’t even occur to me to haggle over a few dollars.

    The SD was a jerk, and that’s unfortunate. But he probably got that way from dealing with these kinds of “entitled” people day in, day out.

  64. banquisha says:

    My husband was on a small flight in which there were only about two rows of first class seats. Needless to say, all the first class seats were all occupied. My husband had told me that he saw a man being wheeled onto the plane, with a broken leg. They could barely fit his wheelchair through the aisle to his seat. Since my husband was sitting in the very first row, he got up right away and offered the man his seat in first class.
    No, the flight was not full. They could have put that man in the first seat, in first class and bumped another first class passenger off the flight to accomodate him. Should that man have felt entitled to the seat without paying for it? I don’t think so. Should my husband have felt obligated to give up his seat that he had purchased? I don’t think so either.
    @Buran: Did the airline not accomodate the passenger in the end? What would you have considered reasonable? A two class upgrade from coach to first class? An upgrade to business-lite would be nice too but, I guess you could sue if they even put you in business because there simply just isn’t enough space for my whole leg to stretch out there either.
    God forbid I’m blind one day… shall I too expect to be given a personal shouffer at no additional cost? Oh and, I have back and leg problems too so, please make sure that the shouffer comes in a comfortable and large Merceds S500. If these demands are not met, you are not accomodating to my needs.
    Your litigous attitude is absolutely ridiculous and that is another reason why most Europeans dislike Americans.

  65. quinner says:

    In America, we spell “shouffer” as “chauffeur”.

  66. Ben Popken says:

    Olivier writes:

    “I just wanted to let you know that I just broke my leg as well. After calling United many times they could offer me a new ticket in business class for a small fee of $3500. Because the plane is fully booked, which probably isn’t the case, they couldn’t do anything else for me. I think United should have more compassion wit people that had an accident. I wouldn’t mind paying a little more but to have to buy an extra ticket in economy or a whole new seat in business. It’s just a little harsh.”