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.