Does United Basic Economy Mean Having to Clean Your Own Seat? (What’s Grosser Than Gross?)

Passengers get sick on flights all the time. Sometimes they’re just ill. Other times turbulence does them in. That’s why cleaning between flights is so important. Although Frontier Airlines has an alternate solution, earlier this year a woman was arrested and her child sent to protective services after complaining about vomit at her seat, because of the ‘post-9/11 security conscious environment’.

Regardless, perennial air travel advice: Don’t Eat The Fish.

A family traveling on Sunday’s United flight 2057 from Vancouver to Houston found vomit on one of their seats, and the seat in front. They brought this to the attention of a flight attendant, whom they say replied “Oh, yeah, we can get a cleaning crew, but you’re going to be the reason this flight is delayed.”

  • A cleaning crew was called
  • The family was “handed..a wad of paper towels to clean the vomit”
  • The cleaner arrived “with a spray bottle and towel” but didn’t thoroughly clean the space and there was still residue remaining.

According to United, they’re “disappointed that this aircraft did not meet our standards for cleanliness. Once the issue was brought to our crew’s attention, cabin cleaners were called on board to clean the seat prior to departure.”

American Airlines has revealed they sacrifice aircraft cleanliness for on time departures. Earlier this year British Airways tested not cleaning its planes between flights within Europe. So United’s lack of cleanliness certainly isn’t uncommon.

The airline’s pilots were apologetic and agreed bringing cleaners on board made sense.

Four years ago United failed to clean vomit between flights and didn’t call cleaners, leaving a family with a choice of sitting in it or waiting until the next day to fly. Just a few months later a couple flying United on their anniversary to Hawaii found a full barf bag in their seat back pocket.

Airlines don’t do enough to clean planes between flights. I feel especially bad for the cleaners who have to deal with the mess passengers leave behind.

When a customer is faced with a seat that hasn’t been properly cleaned, and can’t be prior to takeoff, I view the seat as inoperative or out of service — if the airline can’t move them, it’s tantamount to an involuntary denied boarding. Cash compensation should be due.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Preach it, Gary!

    The US airlines are in a race to the bottom. Most all US carriers have become the equivalent of a flying Greyhound-bus ride. Just gross.

  2. Refuse to take the seat until it is cleaned to your satisfaction. Let them call the cops. They’ll side with you.

  3. The last few Mesa CRJ700’s I flew between IAD and LGA looked like they had not been cleaned in months. The carpeting (what as left of it) was black. Absolutely disgusting.

  4. It is a health safety hazard and should be treated as such. Vomit contains that person’s germs and who knows what illness. Immune compromised people cannot be exposed to this. I agree it should be taken out of service and compensation due to the parties affected.

  5. On an Air Canada flight recently, in my last-row seat, the floor below me and my seat had gobs of ground in crackers, peanut-butter and jelly sandwich pieces, crumbs from cookies or cereal ..(the typical aftermath of a 4+ hour flight with a child). I asked the indifferent flight attendant if a cleaning crew had been aboard, or were coming, and (without even looking at me) she said. “No”. I asked, are there any other seats I can move to? “No, we’re full, and we won’t upgrade you , if that’s what you’re after.” I followed … is there a cleaning kit on-board, and I’ll just clean it myself? “No, you can get off the plane and take another flight…” So, I had to use the emergency briefing cards to scrape the floors and clean the food out of my seat, and put a blanket over the seat so the peanut butter and jelly did not stain my pants. As an ex-flight attendant, I know its not their job to clean the plane, but, come on Air Canada. (and other airlines…), help us out a bit?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.