United Says Your Ticket Doesn’t Include Air Conditioning

For those of you who missed the beginning of the story yesterday, you can read it here.

The short version is a customer paid for Economy Plus on a long transcontinental flight from LAX to JFK. Before boarding United apparently knew the cooling was not working in that section of the plane, since the flight attendant told the passenger about it upon boarding.

United denied her request for a refund of just the upgrade portion of her fare since she sat in the seat for the flight. The plane was full and she asked to be relocated back to a regular seat. Obviously, United couldn’t move her on a full flight.

I wrote about it yesterday and figured that would be the end of it. Another sad customer service tale in a long line of them from United.  I’m guessing United must have seen some of the social media buzz, because Karen has reported back to us on her most recent contact from United:

UNITED UPDATE: I just got a call this morning from customer service, same person who denied my claim for $79 refund for the prem seat after no air-conditioning in that section for entire 6 hour flight & flight attendant told me they knew before take-off and I should file a complaint. BUT instead of making things right customer service started giving me a hard time about filing the complaint! Once again I was stunned. She talked about how unreasonable I was being saying I had paid for 5 inches of extra leg room and they had given me that why was I complaining. I again explained how hot the flight was, uncomfortable without air in that section and not a prem experience so that’s why I wanted refund and she got madder saying I had paid for leg room not air-conditioning and I had no reason to complain or ask for anything. UH WOW…finally I said I didn’t know why she was calling to give me a hard time, we can agree to disagree and I’ll take this to someone else. I couldn’t believe they took the time to call to give me a hard time and deny my claim again, lecturing me about the legroom I got, etc, etc…WOW! #NotFriendly

I mean, why would you choose this way to resolve the issue. Leaving it alone and never contacting the customer again would have to be better than this.

And, it would be so easy to award some miles to make this go away.

Two very easy solutions that don’t involve dozens of negative social media impressions for your company.

I still can’t imagine what manager would approve of an employee to reach out in this manner.

I can live with smaller seats, less legroom, more crowded planes and declining did quality.

But, can’t the airlines at least be civil when they’re charging us more for less service?

Duly noted, United. I won’t expect a comfortable temperature on upcoming flights. But, one small request?

If this is going to be an ongoing pattern, can you at least give me the option to buy air conditioning for my flight?


  1. Ed, thank you for sharing my story so other travelers can know what they’re up against. I was shocked yesterday when my merger $79 claim was denied via email but to have someone call this morning and give me a hard time about filing the claim in the first place and lecturing me on the fact I had paid the $79 for extra leg room and I had gotten that, what was I complaining about and that I hadn’t paid for air-conditioning and was being rude and hostile is NOT customer care it felt more like bullying. I have no idea why they would call to just make it worse and be rude? There has to be a better way they can spend their time, perhaps some training on how to better treat customers.

    1. Karen, setting aside the fact that I agree with compensating you for this, it baffles me United would call to scold you. It just goes against every principle of customer service.

  2. That’s why UA’s FB is bombarded with negative comments and complaints–the worst among the legacy three. And that’s why I don’t fly UA.

  3. That’s why UA’s FB is bombarded with negative comments and complaints–the worst among the legacy three. And that’s why I don’t fly UA.

  4. The fact she called to give me a hard time for filing a complaint and lecture me about how I never paid for air-conditioning only extra leg room so what was my problem was pretty unbelievable. I even asked her why she was calling to give me a hard time, made no sense, I thought this was about finding a resolution her resolution was to angrily say “I’m denying your refund. Your NOT getting one!” How calling to bully a customer ever a good idea?

    1. At this point, I would file a separate complaint about the temperature issue. Keep it straight forward. They will probably provide some travel vouchers and/or miles for the discomfort.

      Separately, I would send a letter to Sandra Pineau-Boddison, SVP of Customers, and describe the rudeness of said employee.

      1. Great advice, thank you, although my original complaint was only about the air-conditioning issue, that is the one that was denied. I wrote back explaining again my concern for temperature issue and is is that same rep that called today to tell me I had no right to complain about it as I hadn’t paid for air but for leg room that they gave me. But I agree, the extremely unprofessional customer service call is a completely different issue and concern and I have just followed up with that to CEO Jeff Smisek.

  5. So if the -upgrade- didn’t include AC….then the main ticket did. I would ask for a refund on that. 😉

    I can totally see while yes, the upgrade is what caused YOU to have no AC, but all seats on that plane should have AC, you paid for the seat and it did not have comfortable temperatures.

    not that I think you will get much further on it…..but

  6. Karen, I think you need to focus on the real problem here.

    UA absolutely should provide compensation for the A/C issue, regardless of the cabin you were in. Asking for a refund of the E+ fee doesn’t make sense, however, as they did provide you with the E+ seat. The employee is correct that you paid for extra legroom and that’s what you got. That’s all Economy Plus offers. It’s a not a true “Premium Economy” product.

    That being said, the behaviour of the employee is unacceptable. I would absolutely file a complaint with the SVP of Customers as suggested above, asking for compensation for the A/C issue and the abusive phone call. Just don’t count on getting the E+ refund, since you really aren’t entitled to it.

    1. Arcanum, I still think this falls in the category of deserving compensation. Not disagreeing that maybe $79 isn’t the right number to ask for, but UA should have recognized the need to apologize correctly for this.

      1. I absolutely agree, both with the need to provide compensation and to apologize correctly. I’m just saying she should be complaining specifically about those things. Asking for the E+ refund when the E+ service was provided is not warranted, and that seems to be where the nitwits at UA customer service are getting hung up.

        The tendency at some organizations (including banks, insurance companies, and UA apparently) is to look for any excuse to deny a request. By asking for the E+ refund instead of compensation for the non-functional A/C, she’s giving them an easy excuse to say no.

  7. I too received a phone call from United a few weeks ago about an issue I had on a flight from SFO to SAN. I too had asked for a refund of the upgrade amount I had paid since one- we did not fly all the way into SAN we flew to LAX at 1AM in the morning and all got to board a bus to go the rest of the way home….not a first class experience and they had the opportunity to make it right before we even left SFO. I am still upset that United continues to undermine its customers by thinking we will return to use them….I do have other choices and will exercise them.

  8. As a United Airlines shareholder, I have one thing to say: That CSR should be disciplined and retrained. It that doesn’t work, fire her. If it turns out a manager authorized the call, that person shouldn’t even get retraining, they should be shown the door immediately.

    A friend posted a crowdsourcing question on FB yesterday inquiring about airline options NYC area to Shanghai (he is a very infrequent flier). 2/3rds of the many comments were “Avoid United!” Stories like this one are clearly why.

    I am looking for the right time to sell my UA shares. Soon, I think.

  9. I have two thoughts on this….

    1. Since United is being uncooperative….call the federal aviation administration. Look on the faa website. Look for flight standards district office for the airport the flight originated at. I’m sure that non functioning AC should be a reason for grounding that airplane.

    2. If this happened to me they would be diverting because of a medical emergency. I have Asthma that is heat aggravated. I’m sure the diversion would cost them more than fixing the AC.

  10. At least United didn’t respond to the air conditioner failure by offering to open the retractable roof like Southwest did a few years back.

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