Was There a Riot at Newark Airport This Week, and Did United Cause It?

Have a look at this video from Newark airport, apparently after United cancelled a flight to Barcelona this week.

Here’s the video’s description.

I’m skeptical about the claim that “United airlines cancelled the same flight #2096 3 days in a row.”

The normal Newark-Barcelona flight is UA120.

According to Flight Aware only the Newark-Barcelona flight on June 15 was cancelled (and after a lengthy delay). Other flights appear to have operated normally in the preceding days.

It also appears that United 2096 was a separate section run to accomodate that cancellation. So passengers appear to have been given the opportunity to get out the next day.

Now, this is not a route on which I’d depend on on-time performance.

I have no doubt that United customer service in Newark performed poorly. The very existence of this video is proof of that.

And United is ultimately at fault, since they chose to cancel this flight rather than another one and because they’re responsible for hte maintenance of their aircraft. I’d be livid, too.

But when things go badly we have a tendency to exaggerate just how badly they’ve gone. Like titling the video “United Airlines Riot” .. it is a bunch of irate passengers, but it is not actually a riot.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. This is not a riot. This isn’t even particularly threatening. You want to see riots, try dealing with African passengers.

    During the volcanic ash shutdown of European airspace, passengers at Accra airport literally smashed up the offices of a major European airline at the airport. Every window was broken, every computer was smashed and the staff had to literally flee for their lives. My own office was stoned by passengers (they smashed in the door and broke our coffee machine!) and one of our security guards wound up in hospital.

    This? This is amateur hour!

  2. As angry as those passengers are…I would guess there was more then 1 day of delays. I have suffered thru delays before and passengers just don’t get that angry unless there has been alot of issues! Maybe a few can get annoyed but not like those in the clip.
    That guy from the airlines attitude towards the end was truely awful. I hope the passengers got home in the end.
    I avoid that ailines like the plague!

  3. @Sean: Breaking the coffee machine! The horrors!

    However, this is in line with my experiences with UA. In 2012 (the last time I flew them), the cancelled a flight from BUF-ORD after an 8 hour delay. They called cops to the gate area before they made the cancellation announcement. Flight crew did not want to go, and they snuck out through the tarmac access rather than face irate customers even with police/TSA backup.

  4. Riot worthy or not, United occasionally cancel flights to merge passengers on a more profitable flight. For example, NRT has a ton of United flights flying into the U.S. If one flight has too few occupancy, that flight might be mysteriously cancelled, with passenger diverted to fill up another state-bound flight. Happened to be a few times when trying to get back into the country.

  5. @Kai They don’t routinely cancel a flight at the last minute for that reason. There are too many costs involved with planes and crews being out of position. Generally if there is a cancellation at the last minute, there’s something beyond their control, like an aircraft with a mechanical problem or a sick or missing crew member. Now they may cancel a different flight and reallocate the crew or aircraft based on what is operationally more efficient or gets the most pax to their destination, and that can include looking at loads.

  6. The original video posting does seem to exaggerate both the passenger response and the delay/cancel scenario.

    However the UA employee who is recorded on the video certainly handled the situation poorly, and perhaps he doesn’t have the skills or training for how to deal with the situation and perhaps UA needs to provide him with more resources, whether that’s additional gate agents to help or vouchers for the passengers. Generally customer service at EWR is pretty darn poor, it would behoove the UA execs to come down from the clouds at their ivory (Willis) Tower and come spend a few days observing the employees at EWR check in and gates to see what the passengers experience every day.

  7. @Carl I say this because the times when they did cancel the flights, they were the same plane that took us to Narita. (i.e. SIN-NRT-IAD on UA 804). So maybe there were some mechanical/personnel issues mid-flight (i.e. sick crew member) that the passengers weren’t made aware of.

  8. I think United’s issue here has more to do with Newark than anything else. I’ve had so many flight delays there than anywhere else in the UA system, and I live in SoCal flying through LAX/SFO and usually via IAH/DEN most of the times (I avoid ORD at all costs). That being said, I’ve also seen some of the best UA gate crews ever at EWR managing the situations quite well and keeping us informed, just as often as I’ve seen some of the worst gate agents ever there.

  9. The degradation of service, fewer choices and higher fares in the post mergers environment have people frustrated and sometimes things come to a boil. The execs think that consummation of the merged airlines is the end of their responsibility. Customer satisfaction is a forgotten trait among them.

  10. When an airline is more concerned about bringing in a quick dollar than creating a longterm relationship with it’s customers this is what you should expect from such a company.

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