Update: United Apologizes For No Air Conditioning And Rude Employee

There’s an update on the situation I reported on last week involving a United flight with broken air conditioning.

In case you missed it, here’s the initial write-up on a customer who paid for Economy Plus seating, ended up with no air conditioning on a long flight from LAX to JFK and was then refused a refund of the money she paid to upgrade to Economy Plus.  The customer is a TV personality.  I saw one of her tweets and wrote about it shortly after she got the word from United.

Not too long after my post, she was contacted via phone by United and scolded by the employee for filing a complaint.  There are absolutely more egregious situations I’ve seen or heard about with airline employees over the years, but this was definitely in the pretty bizarre category.

Now, according to Karen, she’s received a compensation offer from United even though they declined to compensate her previously (and without her asking again).  I have to think that was at least partly driven by media attention, in that I doubt there’s someone at United who audits customer complaint e-mails after a resolution speciality closes out a request.  It’s within the realm of possibility, but I think it’s more likely they saw her tweets or other media attention (hey, I may not have as much traffic as that superstar from One Mile at a Time, but a few people stop by here) and decided that they should do something to try to create a positive spin.

They offered her a refund of the money she paid for the E+ upgrade and a $200 travel voucher.  In the olden days of United, that would have been borderline weak.  But, in the new age of stinginess, that’s actually pretty reasonable compensation given what I hear from others who have issues.  There was also a written apology about the attitude of the employee who called her.

So, the story has a happy ending after all, though a lot more runway on it than needed.  It would have been perfectly reasonable for United to issue a refund of the E+ surcharge or a travel voucher in the beginning.  I don’t think that was anywhere near an audacious ask.  Instead, they get a bunch of blog posts and social media attention and probably end up giving more compensation than they needed to.  Not necessarily a winning strategy, and the customer is still probably at least a little frustrated.


  1. I sure hope that employee is 1) identified so management knows who that customer service person who is that negative and bizarre. 2) gets some re-training or counselling to improve the next interaction. People make mistakes but a business should correct both the mistake and take corrective action to ensure it doesn’t happen again and require the employee change behavior. The challenge is that if the employee reacted that way there is likely no amount of retraining that can change them – customer service approach can be “learned” somewhat but a pre-disposition to it is printed in your DNA.. or not. That conversation sure points to NOT…

    1. Donna, I agree that some people just aren’t built fit customer service. I don’t know what sort of oversight this department has at UA. I suspect these are not union jobs so there shouldn’t be a big barrier to retraining and, if necessary, repurposing or terminating the employee.

  2. $200 voucher is pretty weak. I received three $150 vouchers and two $75 vouchers in an 18 month period in 2010-2011. During one 6 month period I had 5 EWR-ORD R/T flights that were delayed. It was apparent that they understood my frustration and offered me the vouchers as a sign of goodwill since they knew I flew them monthly. I never threatened to use social media to shame them into compensation but simply told them if they keep getting me to my destination late I wouldn’t fly them anymore. It seems that in 5 short years United has really changed their position. You now have to share your story with social media in order to get any response let alone compensation for legitimate issues like surly employees and sub par service. I am not one of those people who claim “this airline is the best!” or “this airline stinks!” because everyone has different experiences. For my money though, based on my personal experience, I prefer to fly AA and DL over UA. I have had enough lousy flights and see far too many snafus from UA to think they are a quality airline. Jeff Smisek has over promised and under delivered for over 5 years and that is one of the reasons UA is my least favorite carrier.

    1. Captain Kirk, UA has gotten much more tight-fisted with compensation since pre-merger. Before I switched some of my business to them (right around the merger time) I heard how generous they were and even experienced some of it for various delays or plane issues. That’s progressively gotten worse, while the airline is not offering a significantly improved product. That’s a bad formula for building customer loyalty. But, since planes are full, airline executives aren’t as worried about loyalty.

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