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)