Why One Traveler Says He’ll Never Fly United Airlines Again

After many years as a satisfied Continental customer, Consumerist reader Billy says he’s been less than pleased with his experiences since that airline merged with United. But it wasn’t until his family’s most recent ordeal on United that he reached the “never again” point.

Last week, Billy and his 2-year-old daughter, who travels in a car seat that is then strapped into the airplane seat, were set to fly from Denver to Houston on United. When he booked the flight, he paid extra for legroom and to ensure that they would be sitting together in the same row.

But, as Billy writes in his letter to United, things definitely didn’t go as he’d expected:

When we went to check in before our return flight, your company had split us up so that she was in row 9 (a 2 year old on a row by herself) and I was back in row 32 or so. So, on my last day of vacation, after already PAYING United for the seats, my wife and I spent hours on the phone, MULTIPLE times, to correct the situation. We were first told to do it at the gate as I guess the representative on the phone did not care to take the time to figure out how your system could place a 2-year-old away from the only parent flying with her. Gross misconduct in my book.

They spent more than an hour on the phone, as the airline tried to explain that it had overbooked the flight and that, in spite of all the information required for a reservation, the United system can’t figure out how old a passenger is, so it had no idea it was placing a 2-year-old 23 rows behind her father.

Eventually, the seating situation was ironed out, but not before ruining Billy’s day with his daughter.

“I spent the last day of a vacation I had paid for dealing with United to fix a problem that you caused,” he tells the airline. “I lost a day with my daughter in the mountains and that is something I will never get back. Your company is responsible for that and I do hold a grudge.”

With Southwest Airlines expanding its service to Houston, Billy says, “My family and I will likely not be flying with United ever again… While it will be harder to travel, trust me when I say I would rather drive across country and enjoy the family time, than fly United and lose a whole day with my family because I am on the phone trying to rectify a problem that your company caused after I had already paid you money.”

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  1. msbaskx2 says:

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least. My sister once flew to Europe with her husband, 13-month old (who had her own ticket), and 3-year old. You can guess where this is going, right? Yup, four completely separate seats rows and rows apart from each other. What was she supposed to do? Ask the complete stranger in 4B if she’d mind watching the baby for the 9-hour flight?

    • Portlandia says:

      Why did they not get a seat assignment before the flight? I mean, how does one book an international flight and not go in and make a seat assignment? That’s a rookie mistake.

      I’ve flown around the world and back again and I’ve booked more international tickets than I could count but I’ve never been unable to get a seat assignment at the time I book my ticket. Nor would I book a ticket without seeing the available seats to make sure I had an option of where to sit.

      If you don’t do the least bit of due diligence on your own behalf what do you expect?

  2. BoobusAmericanus says:

    United really pulls some dumb stunts. Had a whole plane full of passengers waiting to depart and I was one of them……. Plane was there, gassed up, clean, stocked, and ready to—-BUT no CREW had been scheduled, maybe THEY could not afford the tickets???????

  3. Portlandia says:

    So, instead of arriving at the airport a little early he chose to get on the phone for several hours and try to get his seats moved. “Boo hoo, I lost a whole day with my daughter I will never get back” seriously, when did we turn into a childish entitled nation.

    If you had just gone to the airport a little early, told them you were checking in with you child they would have moved your seat instantly and you would be on your way. PERIOD.

    You chose to over-react and spend all this time on the phone.

    • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

      this ^

    • GBYehuda says:

      I respectfully disagree. Let’s say that the flyer had gone in a little early, but that it would have taken the airline the same amount of time (a few hours) to get everything worked out. He would have had two choices: miss the flight or sit 23 rows away from his daughter.

      Your argument rests on the assumption that the airline would have worked it out quickly if he had been there in person. I do not share this assumption, nor have I ever seen any reason to think it is reasonable.

      Now, I can say, had it been me (and not my wife), I would not have called, but simply would have put my daughter in the seat originally assigned to me and done one of two things: asked politely for the person in the seat to take my daughter’s seat in row 23 or moved myself to row 23 and let the person who would not change seats with me deal with my daughter for the flight while I sat in the back and ordered some movies on demand so I wouldn’t hear her crying.

      Let United figure that one out!

      • Portlandia says:

        Actually, you don’t travel much do you? There are always seats that go unassigned before the flight for just these kinds of scenarios. At the very least there would be some soul willing to change seats with you to sit with your infant child. I’ve never been on a plane where this hasn’t been accommodated.

        If you chose to overreact and spend all day on the phone and then cry “I’ll never fly united again” fine be that way…it’s a rookie mistake.

  4. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Let me guess what happens when someone who may be a little larger than the average bear buys two seats so they don’t crowd the person next to them. Hummm, I wonder what United would do…

  5. jrobcet says:

    I’ve traveled all over the country with my daughter, and this usually happens regardless of the airline — it’s a common problem and not isolated to United.

    I had the same reaction initially when this happened to me, but have since learned that it does no good to spend time on the phone trying to get it corrected.

    A little frequent flier (with a child) advice: Don’t worry about trying to sort out the problem until you get to the gate. When you get to the gate, put on your best smile and approach the check in counter and cheerfully request that your party have seats together because you are travelling with a child.

    Don’t give them the whole back story of how you chose seats when you booked, and how you it won’t work for your child to sit with total strangers — they already know that.

    Be pleasant and treat them the same way you would want to be treated and you will get seats together. It’s worked for me 100% of the time. One time we were even booked on a different non-stop flight, and arrived 2 hours earlier than originally scheduled.

    • wkearney99 says:

      That or just ask the person next to the child’s seat if they want to swap with yours up front. Everyone wants a seat closer to the front as it’s usually faster to deplane from there. I’ve done it a couple of times when we booked last minute and nobody’s ever refused to make the swap. The key is to offer then your better seat. Asking someone up front to move back ain’t gonna fly (pun intended).