Hundreds of United Passengers Stranded Overnight at O’Hare Were Woken at 4am to Take Blankets Back

Plenty of passengers were stuck spending the night at Chicago O’Hare on Monday night when United delayed flight UA1610 to Portland, Maine more than 10 hours overnight, along with several other flights.

The airline didn’t organize rooms for passengers despite mechanical issues, saying they couldn’t secure rooms but that they would reimburse up to $200 total for room, roundtrip transportation, and meals (if no meal vouchers were provided, in this case $10 vouchers were offered).

Consider this a reminder that many premium credit cards include up to $500 in trip delay coverage. That coverage is secondary to anything the airline provides. But expenses over $200 in this case could be covered. Unfortunately it’s not an embedded American Express benefit. However it’s worth paying attention to which credit card you use to pay for tickets — so you don’t wind up like this:

Here are passengers lined up sleeping on cots. That’s better than sleeping on the floor. So good job for that, United and O’Hare. Some of these passengers may also have come from United 2015 to Denver which was delayed overnight 13 hours and United 5003 to Fort Wayne, Indiana which was delayed overnight 12 hours.

It’s rough enough sleeping in the airport, on a cot, in a brightly lit space, surrounded by strangers. If you’re able to get sleep at all, it’s not going to last. Because passengers were woken at 4 a.m. by security.

Apparently they needed the blankets.

Airports generally accept passengers dozing off, even overnight, and sometimes help make it more comfortable. But they usually don’t like homeless living in airports. It’s a tough distinction to make and I’ve covered homeless living in the Frankfurt airport before, and a homeless man once stumbled on $354,000 in the Paris airport.

Rousting the homeless is a difficult question to wrestle with, but approaches to the homeless aside these are people that were proactively given cots to sleep on, they were invited because their flights were cancelled. Waking them at 4 a.m. and pushing them out when flights wouldn’t leave for many hours seems truly insult to injury. Shame on O’Hare.

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. Yes, United is garbage. But the cots and amenities are compliments of O’hare. Since they can’t have cots all over, they need to put them away before the first flights out in the morning. United offered compensation, but was unable to guarantee a hotel for everyone. It seems reasonable to provide cots and $150.

  2. I have little sympathy for people stranded overnight in airports. Why? Because having traveled more then 3 million air miles during my working years, I had my share of “stranded in the airport” events. I remember getting in line to get a pillow – only to be told that they were all gone as other passengers took three or more for themselves. I remember being without a cot and trying to find a place to sit only to be met by other passengers who decided to use three or four seats as their bed – unwilling to give up their space so others could at least sit. I really do not have any sympathy for the airlines either. I belonged to the Admiral’s Club, the Red Carpet Club and the World Club. They elected to close the clubs at the designated times even though we were stranded forcing us out into the overly crowded halls. These clubs weren’t freebees. These clubs cost me substantial amounts of money yearly that I gladly paid for a place to work between flights. Fare wars, cheap seats and no-frills have made air travel the Greyhound of the air. You get what you pay for.

  3. t the Airline industry seems to working under It may be well worth my time (And Money!) to either invest in a pilot license or to actually purchase a share in a private plane transport service. i.e. $1000.00 plus tickets and still no guarantee that you will get to your destination in a timely manner…

  4. Some years ago, I worked for Aspen Airways/United Express during the ski season at the old Denver Stapleton. Evening weather cancellations due to visibility below minimums at Aspen were frequent. We gave the “inconvenienced” passengers discount vouchers for airport hotels, which always had plenty of rooms available at all hours even though other airlines were also cancelling. We booked these passengers out at 6 AM the next day on a “special section” flight, because that’s when we had an aircraft and a fresh standby crew available. We did not have enough seats on subsequent flights to accommodate them later in the day (it was ski season, every flight was overbooked), although passengers were free to try to book later. If we weren’t able to run an extra flight, we chartered luxury buses which they boarded right at the gate. Hard to imagine that Stapleton had more airport hotel rooms available, even in the face of widespread cancellations, than O’Hare does, with only a few cancellations on one airline involved.

  5. It’s too bad that passengers/government don’t enforce the Rule 240 that used to be in the tariffs. It’s one thing to be stranded due to Force Majeure as the airline has no control over such events. When the event is airline controlled, they should “man up” and take care of the passengers FIRST. The costs of rooms, transportation and meals will wind up being far less “expensive” than the loss of future revenue. It all boils back to how the airline treats its employees. The airline employees should be empowered to “do the right thing”. One CEO said it best, “Good will pays dividends…and good will is an asset that won’t show up on the balance sheet, but is the most important factor in operating a successful airline.”

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