Another United Horror Story, And An Uplifting Tale Of Another Airline To Make You Feel Better About Flight

Trey Harris suffers from a spinal condition which impairs his ability to walk and gets around on a segway.

While planning his honeymoon, he says he spoke to the TSA and to United’s Special Needs desk and that both confirmed he’d be able to bring his segway onboard his flight. He says United documented his reservation.

Harris made it through security just fine with the segway, but at the gate United refused to let him bring it onboard and didn’t allow him to gate check it either.

He made the best of the situation and rented a scooter for the cruise, however

Harris says he got a series of voicemails saying that he had abandoned a hazardous item at an airport—that is, the Segway. He was told he could face both criminal charges and fees for the disposal of the device.

Ultimately United didn’t call the police on him, and he even got his segway back.

Contrast that with this story from last year where a couple boarded their Etihad flight in Manchester, UK bound for Australia via Abu Dhabi. They got a missed call on their cell phone, which they noticed as they were about to turn it off for the flight.

Ok, so they didn’t turn off the phone quite when they were supposed to because the plane was taxiing when they got a text “saying their grandson was in intensive care and they needed to get there.”

The grandparents told the crew, and the captain decided to go back to the gate to let them off. Etihad even “he couple’s baggage and assisted them back through the airport.”

According to Travel Weekly, the couple’s car was collected from the car park and taken to arrivals so they could drive off straightaway.

The flight still went ahead after the couple got off.

Unfortunately, their grandson died the following day on March 31.

I don’t know whether risking a delay is right or wrong in any given case, especially since I don’t know the costs to other passengers on the plane. And even a few minutes’ delay is incredibly costly to an airline. But it was sure wonderful for these two passengers that the captain made this decision.

It sort of reminds of the Delta pilot who returned to the gate so a family could get on and make it to a funeral.

And it contrasts with Southwest Airlines which two years ago didn’t turn around.. and instead forced a woman to turn off her phone when she got texts that her husband during pushback saying he was going to kill himself.

Oh did I mention though that United CEO Oscar Munoz derides Etihad, saying it isn’t an airline. His United Airlines is an airline. Well respecfully, Mr. Munoz, I think your customers would disagree.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Good on Etihad for allowing those folk to see their grandson one last time.

    Gary, the linked article about a few minutes’ delay does not seem relevant here. The linked article says that if _every_ flight is delayed a few minutes, that’s costly. But an emergency personal situation would occur on _very few_ flights and those rare delays would be much less costly, I imagine. Either way, it is the right thing to do.

    An ambulance that stops traffic to tend to a wounded person on the side of the road is technically incurring a cost on other travelers, but you wouldn’t wonder whether that cost is right or wrong to impose.

  2. Enough with the United bashing already!!!!!!!!!!!!! You could have just made this a positive article and just cited the Ethiad one.

  3. Jamie S – It’s a blog and they are entitled to write as they wish. It’s now your turn to read it or not.
    Sounds like you’re a United fan and you can continue to be one as you wish, but they did bad things and deserve the bad press and a new CEO. Facts are indeed facts.

  4. @JamieS…
    The airlines will need to rewrite their policies and procedures given the unintended consequences of United’s actions. Last week was lose/lose/lose/lose for airlines, customers, employees, and airport police.
    For instance, I have previously commented on Southwests policy of no reserved seats for parents with children. If you get in line at the wrong time, your minor child could be sitting in a random middle seat with his parent sitting in another random seat. Completely unacceptable given the fact that an airplane is subject to turbulence, mechanical issues, bird strikes, whatever. My solution was to pay $40 for priority boarding to sit together, but what if we were late to the plane, and had to board last on a sold out flight, even after paying for priority boarding. Then we are turned into begging for someone to give up their seat so we can sit together.
    So the blog’s, there are only about 2-3 dozen, allow a way for airlines to be held accountable, instead of customers complaining through email or website comment forms sent privately to the airlines. Will Southwest even attempt to say that they never faced a particular scenario if it was posted on a blog 2 years prior? Or will they have a knee jerk response solution like Delta did, and go to the other extreme that is completely disruptive in another way?
    The next time we flew, my solution for reserved seats was to fly JetBlue and at a lower price. But I don’t plan to fly Southwest again. They were much too unsympathetic to our plight, and instead made $40 off of me and forced me to tell other passengers that two seat rows were saved for other family members (5 total). Very uncomfortable. It is the last $40 I spent with them. If I fly them in the future, it will be with points, not dollars, and not family. And I assume that is what they prefer.
    I think I will email this post to them. On second thought, no need. Much too unsympathetic.

  5. Trey needs to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation. This kind of treatment of the disabled is not tolerated by DOT.

  6. The Segway has a lithium battery. It is 350 watt hrs. This is more than twice as big as can be legally carried on an airline. So carriage of his Segway is prohibited by the FAA due to its battery size.


  7. I was about to miss a connection to an international flight from ORD….due to back up at the gate of my incoming UA flight. The gate agent CLOSED the flight and told me I missed my flight. I texted a friend on board, who told the purser…and the captain ordered the gate agent to get back to the gateway, and open the door to let me on. There ended up being 4 of us. When I wrote to UA…..the problem was handled in an appropriate personnel manner. AND the captain, even gave me his personal email address so I could let him know how everything turned out.

    I am a fan of UA. This is just one example of the great service I have seen.

  8. @Rob Does your definition of “doing the right thing” not include the airline’s experts at the Special Needs desk giving people with special needs correct answers?

    If you know that a Segway has >300Wh Li-ion batteries, and that this violates FAA regulations, seems to me they should, too.

    At best, United did 50% of the right thing.

  9. Re: your last paragraph, it is time for a new CEO and a new direction for United. This kind of stuff will keep following United around until they do so.

  10. I had a job interview in Dallas, that went on longer than normal when they offered me the job pending I just meet the national sales manager for “a minute or two.” By the time I got to DFW there was no way in hell I could fly directly to PHX and home. The only option to arrive very early in the morning was to fly American to Albuquerque, catching an America West flight to Las Vegas and to connect in Las Vegas with a 1:30 am departure for PHX. My Dallas flight was very late getting into Albuquerque, my connection was pulling away from the gate. The thought of spending a night at Albuquerque when it was extremely important that I be home to take my kids to an event I had promised for months wasn’t a happy thought. As we pulled into our gate, my name was called over the intercom, and I was told to rush to the front so I could be the first off when thee door opened. It seems that the pilot had asked a favor of the pilot of the connecting flight which came back to the gate long enough to allow me to board. I made it home by 3:00 am, and II was there for the kids to have a special day. Nice huh
    Now America West has been churned into failing US Air, before becoming American. The smaller carrier that treated people as ifhey were people not seat numbers is only in the history books. We have 3 large airlines along with Southwest, large too but different. Why the Feds allowed the mergers of healthy airlines to killl competition is a mystery to me.

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