Passengers Claim They Were "Held Hostage" For 33 Hours On United Airlines

Passengers on a flight from Puerto Rico to Chicago claim that they were delayed for 33 hours while United Airlines loaded them on and off two broken planes. One passenger compared the ordeal to being “held hostage,” says FOX Chicago.

Passengers say that after their first plane was determined unfit to fly, they were loaded on a second plane which also suffered a mechanical difficulty.

FOX Chicago reports that the group of passengers got on and off the airplanes “half a dozen” times over nearly 2 days before finally arriving in Chicago. One passenger says she heard the pilot refusing to fly the plane because he thought it was unsafe.

“We were sitting in the first seat, so we could hear the captain saying: ‘I’m not flying this plane. I don’t care what you guys say.’ They wanted him to fly it. He kept saying. ‘I’m not flying it.'”

Eventually American Airlines’ mechanics fixed United’s planes and the flight arrived in Chicago 33 hours and 45 minutes after it was scheduled. The passengers were given vouchers, but they say they would have preferred better treatment.

Travelers Say United Airlines Turned Tropical Vacation Into Nightmare [MyFoxChicago]


Edit Your Comment

  1. PropCulture says:

    Not that I’m opposed to airline bashing or wouldn’t be a tad upset having to sit around for 33 hours waiting for a flight, but I’d rather that than a pilot be forced to fly a plane he or she deemed unfit.

  2. Buran says:

    And I’m sure the airline will blame it on the customers, too. I had an AA schmuck blame their problems on me when I dared air complaints about why the St. Louis area is pissed off at American, and of course it’s all OUR fault for taking our business elsewhere, and I never received any kind of acknowledgment of my complaints about their shoddy service, rude asshole employees, inability to keep promises, and when I recounted all the angry stories printed by the local paper, all the angry letters from TWA people who were laid off when AA promised they wouldn’t gut TWA, etc. etc. I was told we were outdated and irrelevant.


  3. headon says:

    @ Buran: WOW, way to stay on topic. Oh look a chicken. The story was about this particular flight not about you and St Louis. Mama Mia

  4. DeeJayQueue says:

    Ok, so, I don’t think it should have taken 33 hours to get on a plane that would work.

    I DO think that for whatever reason, it was in the passengers’ best interest that they get on a plane that would make it from A to B in one piece, no matter how long it took to do.

    So if they want to complain about the poor mechanical condition of the planes, or the craftsmanship of the mechanics, go right ahead. Complain about the lack of scheduling or the lack of customer service. But don’t dare complain about how the pilot delayed a flight because he deemed the plane unfit for the skies. If you do that, you deserve to be sucked out of the faulty window and through the jet engine at 30k ft.

  5. Buran says:

    @headon: Fine, you want totally off topic?


  6. jeblis says:

    “Held Hostage” Really? Did the really think their lives we’re in danger?

  7. coan_net says:

    I would rather be “held hostage” then be on a plane that a pilot did not feel was safe.

  8. Cogito Ergo Bibo says:

    Thank heavens for the pilot. I’m thinking those passengers’ families would have been a lot more upset if the plane had crashed. The passengers, too. I’m just hoping that UA doesn’t try blaming the pilot for the delay. Sounds as if the guy deserves combat pay!

  9. neithernor says:

    33 hours?! Remind me not to complain the next time I’m stuck on the ground for half an hour. Yikes.

  10. snoop-blog says:

    kudos to the pilot for putting his foot down, if that was indeed what happened.

  11. Buran says:

    @headon: Truly, I’m sorry that wanting to share my frustration in a related (airline problems) post is offensive to you. I know it’s not 100% related but it is an example of how airlines have chronic problems and don’t see it as their responsibility to fix them, and I felt like sharing. There’s nothing wrong with sharing so long as it doesn’t overwhelm discussion directly relevant to the post, and it doesn’t, there’s plenty more topics if you look farther down the thread.

  12. Buran says:

    @coan_net: Ditto. The captain has final responsibility regarding what’s safe and what isn’t. Good for him.

  13. ptkdude says:

    Even though the passengers are claiming there were maintenance/repair issues with the planes, here’s the real story: Due to a “weather anomaly”, they were unable to depart as scheduled. United Airlines takes this sort of thing very seriously, and they are redoubling their efforts to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew members during “weather anomalies” such as this one.

  14. Rukasu says:

    And as he put his foot down, the rudder shifted…

    ha….plane jokes

    check check this thing on, wow what a terrific audience?

  15. CurbRunner says:

    I would trust the captain’s decision way beyond any Airlines’ PR/spin twerps or executive bean counters. The planes obviously should have never left the repair hanger in their condition before this incident.

  16. Rukasu says:

    @Buran: Airlines have chronic problems? (shakes head in disbelieve at this revelation)

  17. unklegwar says:

    They should be happy the pilot refused to fly an unsafe aircraft. Sure it sucks, but the alternative was being dead. At least then, no one woulda been complaining.

    Of course, why they couldn’t turn up a working plane, now that’s another story….

  18. Youthier says:

    Since I’ve been coming to Consumerist, I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with pilots. Sure, some are drunks but it seems like there are an awful lot who are very invested in real safety and hate some of the arbitrary rules that attendents enforce.

  19. K-Bo says:

    a lot of people seem to take this post as the person complaining about the pilot refusing to fly, but I think that part was more meant to show that the airline is so horrible even their own pilots don’t trust them. I took that as being a complaint that the airline would even try to get the pilot to fly a substandard plane.

  20. marsneedsrabbits says:

    if they want to fix air service quickly and with minimal difficulty, Congress should pass a law that simply says that whenever this sort of thing happens, the airlines will be required to pay hard cash versus this idiotic “compensation”.

    A $200.00 voucher does not cost the airline$200.00 to begin with. And the compensation is rarely enough to pay for a new ticket, so the “compensation” really only ties you to that particular airline for another round of bad service.
    Plus, a lot of people never get around to using their compensation, so in the end, the airline pays nothing at all. They are rewarded for their incompetence.

    Maybe if every time they did bad stuff they had to immediately pay out real money (you know, the same kind of cash as we pay to buy tickets), they’d think twice about how they treat their customers.

  21. JustAGuy2 says:


    The core problem is that St. Louis is a relatively small market, and it was radically overserved by TWA.

  22. Buran says:

    @Rukasu: Still working on the real revelations. Haven’t won the Nobel yet. ;)

  23. Buran says:

    @JustAGuy2: Debatable, of course (and not here, please); the real gist of the frustration in that particular case was that the airline employee blamed it all on US. Negative attitude included, naturally.

  24. vastrightwing says:

    Expectations too high. This is 2008 not 1988. Take a bus: less hassel.

  25. timmus says:

    Speaking as someone who personally knew airline pilots, if a captain said I’m not flying this plane; I don’t care what you guys say, I can only applaud him (or her) for their ethics and professionalism (assuming it’s not part of union shenanigans or laziness). The problem here is the airline and maybe the mechanics.

  26. typetive says:

    I get the impression that the passengers are not mad at the pilot for refusing to fly a mechanically deficient plane, they’re using the pilots refusal to fly those planes as evidence that UA’s ground crew totally messed up.

  27. FLConsumer says:

    @snoop-blog: Not all pilots are muslim extremists with suicidal tendencies. Of course any good pilot’s going to put their foot down — that’s their ass up in the sky with you too.

    The airline pilots are going through many of the same frustrations as the passengers are these days.

  28. 44 in a Row says:

    As an aside, American Airlines has a maintenance division that contracts with other airlines to do work on their planes. It’s been one of their big profit centers for a while, and one of the few divisions that’s actively growing.

  29. stuny says:

    I think it is important to boil this down to the key elements:

    Planes with mechanical problems should not be put into service.

    If a problem is found, it should be fixed in a reasonable time or another (fully functional) plane should be made available.

    Pilots should not be making decisions on the plane’s flight-worthiness. A trained mechanic or engineer should make the determination only when it is clear that the plane is truly flight worthy.

    No one should be coercing the pilot to fly a substandard plane.

    Airlines have reached a point of absolute disregard for their customers.

  30. banmojo says:

    @Buran: dude, don’t even bother, idiot is as idiot does; you WERE on topic, leave it at that.

    as for these airline d-bags: This isn’t about whether the pilot was right, or whether weather was to blame for the delay, this IS about airlines not taking care of their customers in an appropriate, humane, manner.

    I, for one, am TIRED of being treated like a sheep led to slaughter when I surrender myself at the airport. And that’s why I will not be flying again, until the airlines decide to make some fundamental changes in how they conduct their business.

    I recommend the same to all of you. If we, as their customers, boycott them because of their poorly designed (and easily fixed) system, THEN they will have the necessary impetus to FIX said broke system.

  31. trujunglist says:


    A bus from Puerto Rico to Chicago? Sign me up!

  32. BStu says:

    The issue isn’t that a pilot refused to fly a plane he deemed unsafe. GOOD for the pilot. Its the airline’s response to the problem that is the issue. A 33 hour delay is WAY beyond acceptable. Really, they got vouchers? Being trapped and shuffled around an air port for nearly a day and half merits more than a voucher. That’s inexcusable and the passangers are right to be upset.

  33. TechnoDestructo says:


    Apparently the pilot thought so.

  34. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    @stuartny: If a pilot shouldn’t be making a determination as to whether or not a plane is fly-able, how can he be coerced into flying a sub-standard plane?

    At any rate, cheers to the pilot for refusing to fly for whatever reason he had. He know if the plane goes down, his ass is grass. Jeers to AA for not handling the delay better.

    And what the heck is a “weather anomaly”?

  35. Parting says:

    And I thought Aeroflot was bad :( When company insists that her pilot should fly an unsafe plane, that’s terrible.

  36. Blue says:

    3 years ago i remember a story about a United pilot’s career being ruined when he fought with management about safety concerns.

  37. jooverz says:

    If the government didn’t get rid of the “It” that Mr. Garrison in South Park invented, we wouldn’t have these airline problems.

  38. blueswirls says:

    Jesus, people. It was United Airlines that effed up, and had to call American as the cavalry to actually fix the mechanical. It irks me to no end when people don’t actually read what they comment about.

  39. rolla says:

    great…we are putting our lives in the hands of airlines who dont care too much about the safety of planes. luckily, they had a pilot with a conscience.

  40. nonzenze says:

    “If a problem is found, it should be fixed in a reasonable time or another (fully functional) plane should be made available.”

    Where the hell is this extra plane going to come from? Your average commercial jet (737, say) costs thousands of dollars per hour just to sit there (lease costs/depracation). Having the right size spares at all the major airports could easily add 5% to an airline’s cost.

  41. Dick.Blake says:

    “The pilot says the plane’s unfit to fly… that’s bull. I just checked my iPhone, and this plane is totally safe.”

    So I’m confused about the whole voucher for compensation idea: United gave the passengers a coupon good for $200 towards the purchase of a future flight on their airline? That’s not compensation… that’s providing an incentive to get them to fly their airline again.