United Strands My Wife All Day In Newark, Shrugs

Look, it’s not United Airlines’ problem. Yes, they canceled the second leg of Neil’s wife’s flight, the part that was to bring her from Newark to Rochester, N.Y. They put her on a plane from Newark to Rochester. I mean, yeah, the plane didn’t take off until 10 P.M. and arrived too late for her to get a rental car or for anyone she knew to pick her up. Isn’t flying her to Newark enough?

Instead of hanging around in the airport for eleven hours or so waiting for her late-night flight, Mrs. Neil shared a cab to JFK airport and bought another ticket that took her to Rochester. United did refund her for the flight that they canceled, but here’s the catch: they wanted a refund of the entire ticket, including the Boston to Newark portion. The part that she had already used.

This was Neil’s logic: there were earlier flights from Newark to Rochester, but the airline didn’t put her on any of them. The only option she had was the unacceptably late flight. Flying her to Newark and leaving her there all day wasn’t a service for which the couple wanted to pay. “All she got for her $219 was a useless flight to Newark,” Neil writes. “In other words, she paid United Airlines for the privilege of stranding her in Newark.”

The problem, of course, is that airline tickets don’t work that way. United’s contract of carriage is pretty clear on this: they’ll give some kind of refund for the unused portion of a multi-leg trip if the passenger doesn’t want a credit for future travel and doesn’t find any of the alternate flights that United offers acceptable.

If the Passenger is not transported as provided in C) 1) or 2) above and does not choose to apply the value of his or her Ticket toward future travel as provided in C) 3) above, the Passenger will be eligible for a refund upon request. See Rule 27 A).

Rule 27A spells out that the refund a passenger gets for the unused leg of a multi-stop ticket is the same as a comparable one-way fare on the same route. Fair enough. But there’s nothing in there about a refund for being stuck in the wrong airport all day.

Yes, it would be gracious of United to refund the flight that stranded them in Newark, but the key word here is “refund” — Neil and his wife are quite determined that they’re never going to fly United again. “I had wanted her to book on JetBlue from the very start, but the UA flight was cheaper,” Neil pointed out in his e-mail to Consumerist.

Maybe that’s the only consumer lesson that we can take home from this story: that you shouldn’t go for the cheapest option when what you really want is available.

We contacted United to see what they had to say about the dilemma, and they didn’t answer us yet. Maybe their lack of response is their answer: they won’t refund passengers for flights that they already took, even if that flight strands them in New Jersey all day.

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  1. CommonC3nts says:

    Of course at least they should give a full refund.
    Now if that last minute JFK flight was very expensive then they should also compensate for that.

  2. dullard8 says:

    Neil’s wife should be made whole. She originally paid X dollars to fly from Boston to Rochester. She should be refunded any excess money she paid in order to get there, including cab fare.
    Unfortunately, delays are part of flying, but making her wait until 10 PM when earlier flights were available is unreasonable. Thus, cab fare should be included when computing the amount of the refund.

  3. timewellspent says:

    The complainant bought a ticket knowing she was going to connect in Newark . I gather United does not have a direct flight so on a multistop ticket you are essentially buying two tickets on two separate flights. Why should the airline have to pay for all of the overhead (fuel ins. etc.) on a flight that was taken ?I have to side with the airline on this one . Cheapest does not always mean better!

    • Xenotaku says:

      Most of the time, missing a leg of a flight is due to a previously delayed flight, which could have been caused by a number of reasons (yourself or other passengers, weather, plane problems, the airline, etc).

      In this case, however, the airline, itself having booked the flight in the first place, CANCELLED her connection. This is 100% the fault of the airline, and, thus, the airline’s responsibility to “make it right.”

      Their version of “make it right” was to make her wait all day (when there were other flights they could have put her on), so that she arrived at her final destination far too late to be able to get a rental car, forcing her to either hire a cab (it’s noted she SHARED a cab to JFK, she may be uncomfortable taking one on her own), be forced to wait until morning in an airport, or to have to now pay for a hotel room to stay at overnight.

      Which then also brings up the question of if she’d already had a hotel room booked for that night. Cancelling a hotel room generally requires 24-hour notice for a full refund, and, in some cases, any refund at all.

      I feel United should be responsible for paying a) the price of the leg of the flight THEY cancelled, b) any charges above the amount of (a) that she incurred to get to her destination, including hotel, and c) extra to cover the hassle.

      Again, this wasn’t a case of someone missing their plane and the airline doing what they could to accommodate them, but the person being unhappy with what they did. This is the airline CANCELLING someone’s connection, and not doing everything in their power to make it right.

    • CommonC3nts says:

      You have no idea what you are saying.
      She bought a ticket and they could not fulfill it. This situation is just a horrible customer service problem of the airline.
      They owe her a refund + compensation for anything she spent over $219.

  4. MaraJade says:

    I guess I am sort of torn on this. On one hand, she did actually take a flight, so why should United refund the portion that was used? On the other, United totally screwed her over, and should make up for it. I guess the key here is that no matter what United does, this person is never going to fly with them again, so why should they go out of their way to satisfy someone who is never going to be satisfied enough to give them another chance? If I worked for United and was in control of offering someone a refund, I would do so if I thought that by giving a refund, I would be creating new business for the company. And yes, I realize that the counter argument is that now this person will evangelize AGAINST United instead of just keeping their mouth shut, but really, even with this Consumerist article, how many people are going to now decide that they aren’t flying United ever again? I live in Cleveland, and if I want to go anywhere, I pretty much have to fly United. So even if they’re a crappy airline, there’s not a lot of control on my part. It would have been nice of United to refund the whole ticket, but it’s not a requirement, and I understand why they didn’t.

  5. CzarChasm says:

    I think this story has a few key points missing, for example, what is “all day”? How long was she actually stranded? Also, Neil says they could have put her on an earlier flight, but is that what the airline says? I’m guessing those flights were full.

    Either way, while Neil asserts that the flight from Boston to Newark was “useless” I doubt Ms Neil could have taken a cab from Boston to JFK no matter what hour of the day it was. I say no refund.

  6. econobikerredux says:

    United, in my opinion, is generally rotten and probably pulled this on the lady because they moved one or more of the earlier flights (Newark to Rochester) for some other overloaded legs. I say that since I had the same thing done to me by United back in the mid-2000s.

    On a Monday in February, I was flying Nashville to Chicago and then Chicago to Fort Wayne IN with connection in Chicago O’Hare and about two hours between flights. Waiting at O’Hare my next flight DISAPPEARED from the flight listing tv’s. No, not listed as cancelled, not listed as delayed but POOF gone with no announcements, no gate board listing, or anything.
    I had to hunt around to find a not-so-happy United person who told me that the 2:30pm flight was cancelled and I would be on the 7:00pm flight! Whaaaaat? I later figured out that due to inclement weather over the weekend, United had probably pulled the partially loaded 2:30pm flight to service another, more over-loaded corridor.

    So 7:00pm rolls around and then flight is delayed multiple times to gather up groups of people previously delayed due to the weather delays that cascaded over from the weekend. After loading at about 8:30pm CST, we waited until 9:45pm CST !!! (fora few more people to get on) to take off. We landed at about 11:30pm EST in Fort Wayne, IN and I was lucky to get the hotel shuttle van that late.
    And no late dinner in Fort Wayne since everything shuts down after 11pm including pizza deliveries….

    The complaint website untied dot com is pretty true about United being lame. I will never, ever spend my own money to fly United.

  7. Airwave says:

    And at PDX, if the fueling truck doesn’t arrive and causes you to miss your flight, nobody cares: http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-21459-paying_double.html