United To Unveil Miserly Compensation Policy For Delayed Passengers

United will soon unveil a miserly compensation policy in response to the harsh media coverage of extreme delays caused by snowstorms. Flights delayed for more than four hours on departure, or an hour and a half on arrival, will be declared “flights of note.” Passengers on “flights of note” will receive the following:

  • An apology note;
  • 20% off one (1) roundtrip economy ticket on a future United flight;
  • One (1) $10 airport meal voucher.

    That is all. Passengers delayed for less than four hours get nothing.

    Even with the bar set high, passengers on 534 United-operated flights would have qualified for compensation in 2006. The revised “Ground Hold and Diversion policy” is meant to prove that there is no need for a “legislated Passenger Bill of Rights.” Um, guys, the mere existence of a policy does not mean that it’s a good policy. If anything, United’s actions show that the airlines can’t be trusted to regulate themselves.

    United, however, thinks their policy is a slam dunk and is confident that their response is more than enough to turn affected passengers into “United Promoters.”

    The leaked memo announcing the change, inside…

    (Photo: Matt McGee)


    Stuck on a plane on the tarmac for hours on end before takeoff or after landing is something no one enjoys. Following several high profile incidents of extreme travel delays in the industry — which sparked interest in a legislated Passenger Bill of Rights — United has implemented a Ground Hold and Diversion policy to regulate the length of ground delays on our own flights to ensure the best possible experience for our customers.

    In all of 2006, just 182 United mainline flights and 142 United Express flights had taxi-out times greater than three hours; on the taxi-in side, only 68 United flights and 142 United Express flights had taxi times greater than 90 minutes.

    While the number of flights that experience extensive delays is small (less than 0.1 percent), just one of these events can result in a negative customer perception.

    United’s new policy aims to limit taxi-out delays to three hours or less and taxi-in delays to 90 minutes or less on all flights.

    For North American flights that exceed four hours on taxi-out, 90 minutes on taxi-in, or have on-ground diversion delays over four hours, United will consider them “flights of note” and proactively acknowledge and compensate customers accordingly.

    Customers on flights of note will receive

    * a note of apology,
    * a certificate redeemable online for 20 percent off of one United roundtrip ticket in economy class systemwide,
    * and a 10 dollar airport meal voucher.

    All passengers on flights of note, including employees, with the exception of working crew members, are eligible for this compensation package.

    Employees that may be directly involved in flights of note will receive additional details through division communications.

    How we handle our customers during operational challenges, such as extensive delays, can make or break our customers’ impression of their United experience — and affect whether they will continue to fly with us and become a United Promoter.

    — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

  • Comments

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    1. superlayne says:

      Is that it? Yea, no. Don’t refund me or anything. Apologize and I’ll fight off the Mongols for you.

      Legislation, ahoy!

    2. mantari says:

      Thrilling.” Reminds me of the Supercuts repeat customer program. Get this… keep a punch card and record 5 haircuts and you get the next one… wait for it… at 20% off! WOW! Thrilling!

      And still nothing for cancelled flights, right?

    3. cabinaero says:

      Actually, if I read the memo correctly, it applies only to delays incurred after the doors are closed — taxi-out, taxi-in. Basically it’s for time spent couped-up in an aircraft.

      If that’s the case, it’s actually an improvement over the exiting policy which guarantees pretty much jack for domestic, non-status pax.

    4. cabinaero says:

      And re-reading the memo, I’m starting to question its authenticity. The memo explicitly includes UA employees flying NRSA as elligible for compensation — it’s very un-UA-like to comp non-revenue employees for, oh, anything.

    5. joeblevins says:

      In most cases, you are NOT allowed to move around the cabin while plane is on the ground. You are stuck in your seat, bladder full or not. You are screwed. Hungry, Pissy, Thirsty… United gets credit for an on time departure if they pull out of the gate. The crew members get to go to the bathroom, drink and eat while you sit there and suffer.

      20% Off a round trip economy? If you are a business traveler, that means JACKSQUAT. I don’t pay for my own tickets so that means NOTHING. 10 dollars for a meal? Jeez.. thanks?!?

      This policy exists so that the CSR’s can just say ‘Compensation is on the way’ and they can hang up the phone.

    6. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

      @joeblevins: Don’t fly United, then. Actually my policy is pretty close to don’t fly period. Maybe when the Brownshirts at the TSA drop this ban on liquids (you can’t bring your $1.19 Coke from 7-11, but you can buy the same Coke once in the “Sterile area” for $4.00), I’ll worry about flying again.
      George Carlin was right.

    7. cabinaero says:

      @joeblevins: Actually if you’re flying in business, you’re going to get more compensation than that anyway.

    8. MMD says:

      All of this is moot for me – I’ve made it a policy not to fly United after they cut employee pensions and salaries while giving huge bonuses to execs.

    9. scoobydoo says:

      And in true United style I bet the 205 off coupon will be as restricted as all their other coupons.

      And I bet the $10 meal voucher will only be valid on future travel Mondays, Wednesday and Friday only if the day of the month is between 12 and 19 and for purchases over $40 between noon and 3pm at select restuarants. * warm food and soda products not eligible.

    10. Bluefreak says:

      @cabinaero: I’m thinking exactly what you’re thinking — even JetBlue’s Customer Bill of Rights excludes non-revenue travelers. Then again, a 20% off voucher might encourage some employees to buy a revenue ticket rather than travel non-rev on a future flight, which would end up being revenue positive for United.

      As others have said, what United is offering is so minimal it’s practically a slap in the face–a 20% voucher on, say, a $300 roundtrip is a earth-shattering $60 off. Sure, fork over more money to United and it becomes a batter deal–used towards a $1000 ticket to Europe it would offer $200 off. In comparison, by the four hour mark, JetBlue hands over a voucher “in the amount paid by the customer for the roundtrip (or the oneway trip, doubled).” Lesser compensation is handed out starting at 3 hours after the time of departure and/or 30 minutes after scheduled arrival.

      Although this system does means there are winners and losers on JetBlue as well (well, in this situation, everyone is a loser, but amongst the losers, I guess you could say there are those who are bigger losers). For example, if someone is traveling on a $39 ticket each way to an upstate city, they’re only getting $78 in vouchers, but on the other hand someone who bought a full fare transcon round-trip is getting almost $800 in vouchers, more than enough to take the entire family to Florida (or elsewhere) on vacation.

    11. TechnoDestructo says:

      I think the rude flight attendants, the flight attendant whose ass was wider than the aisle (at that point, I’m sorry, you just are no longer qualified), the ticket counter employee who told my girlfriend she’d get a boarding pass at the gate and then was told she should have gotten one when she checked in and therefore couldn’t go on that flight, and the other woman at the ticket counter who when my girlfriend approached her told her “don’t bother me, my shift just ended” (there are much more tactful ways of saying that)…

      Fuck United.

      The only US Airline I’ve flown on which I don’t want to see go out of business is Continental.

    12. NeoteriX says:

      See? I told you guys JetBlue wasn’t all that bad…

    13. yahonza says:

      Yeesh. Miserly is right. Thanks god I have never experienced one of these on the ground imprisonments. If I ever do, I will tear up this offer in the face of whoever offers it. Its insulting.

    14. Michael says:

      Absolutely disgusting. I shall not fly United until their package improves–and I hope others do the same.

    15. Kitanis says:

      I was delayed last Year about this time frame from Denver to Rapid City due to weather on a United Flight. I was asked to de-plane the aircraft because they had overloaded the flight and the weather would not allow them to take off on a small commuter aircraft.

      They put me up in a five star hotel, gave me a round trip ticket good for one year on any United Flight and got me off on another flight to Rapid City the next morning.

      I have since flown on United several times, My only complaint is they seem to have to shuffle people from other flights quite often, delaying the boarding procedure for the flights I am booked for. I am not defending United on this board, but I am not so blind to say that not ALL United workarounds due to weather are so restrictive as what was listed there.

    16. dotyoureyes says:

      Wow. Turn this around:

      United Airlines just said it’s perfectly acceptable to keep passengers cooped up on the tarmac for 3 hours.

      How is it acceptable to load up a plane full of passengers when you know they’ll be stuck inside for 3 hours, and you’re not going to do anything about it?

      Passengers need to revolt. There needs to be an agreement among passengers to stand up and insist they be let off the plane. If the pilot or airline won’t ablige, make a scene. Open a door. Deploy an emergency slide. Sure, someone’s going get arrested, but no jury would ever convict someone for trying to get off a plane that’s been on the tarmac for 3 hours.

    17. Helvetian says:

      I prefer Delta, hands down. However I would be devastated and probably go crazy is stuck on a plane that’s grounded for so many hours with no food or drink. What happens when you have to go to the WC? Are you totally screwed? I hope I’m never in that situation, but if I have to go, I will attempt to do so. I wonder what the official policy is.

    18. erica.blog says:

      a 10 dollar airport meal voucher
      That’s, what, one pretzel?

      I’m trying to picture being stuck on an airplane for three hours (or more) with my two toddlers. I imagine the best approach would be to unbuckle them, let them run shrieking around the cabin wildly expending energy, so we can all get thrown off the flight :-)

    19. Binthere2 says:

      My stance on United and their new policy is simple:

      You lost me as a customer years ago. This crumb ain’t the meal you think it is.

    20. IRSistherootofallevil says:

      I’ll be so glad when United goes out of business.

      There should be legislation to require airlines to compensate passengers in full regardless of reason if the delay is more than 45 minutes after departure time and 25 minutes after arrival time. And a “departure” is takeoff and “arrival” is when the door opens at the destination. Anything less stringent is unacceptable.

    21. ribex says:

      @joeblevins: “Hungry, Pissy, Thirsty” = band name!

      On another note, I’ve never flown United, and I’m sure not about to start now. Wake me up when we get to cruising altitude over the shitstorms these airlines have created for themselves.

    22. Trackback says:

      United Airlines seems to really enjoy taking half-steps to appease dissatisfied customers lately. To wit: Skimpy bill of rights In response to the brouhaha over passengers being stuck on planes, and in an attempt to fend off pending passenger bill-of-rights legislation, United has devised a new…