This Would Have Driven Me Slowly Insane On An Overnight United Flight

A United Airlines passenger recorded his inflight experience flying from Washington Dulles to Edinburgh, Scotland. The buzzing sound was “endured” by everyone in the cabin for six hours. He complained to United about it, and they responded with a perfunctory customer service offer.

I’m actually not sure whether this would have kept everyone up, at least those passengers in business class able to lie down. For some it might have just blended into the background of aircraft noise. At least I hope so. However that’s just a matter of the extent to which a passenger might be able to tune things out, and 2500 miles or $50 in United scrip seems insufficient for what others would equate to discredited CIA tactics.

There’s a certain level at which an airline is selling a night’s sleep in business class. Former United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz declared “sleep is the new black” when unveiling the carrier’s Polaris business class product. As such, service disruptions in business class should yield far greater compensation to passengers than airlines usually deliver. The airline literally isn’t delivering the product they’ve sold. Airlines like to say that all they ‘owe’ under their contract of carriage is transportation from one place to another, but that is explicitly not what they are marketing to customers to get them to pay more.

However for other products it’s a bit of a different matter. Premium economy is a little more space so you’re not quite so crammed in. A seat that doesn’t recline at all deserves compensation, but ‘disturbed sleep’ isn’t quite the promise breaker that it is in business class. And for passengers in economy? Airlines are almost literally promising you’ll be uncomfortable (except on Delta before the pandemic).

Does an airline promise to get you to your destination in physical safety, or to get you to your destination without driving you slowly insane? And do they owe you anything back when they fail to do the latter?

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. I would have gone bonkers, that’s for sure. I would bet though that noise cancelling headphones would have filtered most if not all of that out, but I can’t sleep with them on in a lie flat, so I’d be annoyed like others.

  2. This is another reason why I haven’t flown United since the 1980’s.
    There are just better airlines.
    Especially flying across the Atlantic or Pacific.

  3. On Sunday night, I was flying United from SFO to IAD. I booked he 777-200 plane and paid cash for business class seat so i could sleep as i had a client meeting in the morning in DC and did not want to cut my long weekend in Napa short.

    777 get swapped for a 737. I lose the lie flat. United offers to switch me to another flight but there is nothing with a lie flat so I get on the 737 in “first” with the old recliners (literally the oldest ex-Continental 737 in the skies) and the seat is broken, it won’t recline at all.. So now I’m sitting upright for 5+ hours when I paid for a lie flat.

    United’s response? crickets.

  4. That kind of noise just isn’t supposed to occur so the bigger issue is an unwillingness to figure out what was wrong and ensure there were no safety issues.

  5. What aircraft is that? An old 767? They don’t tend to fly the best planes on second tier routes like to EDI.

    But there really should be more compensation for that.

  6. So, United SUX.
    They Break Guitars.
    And, they beat the crap out of people and drag them off the plane.

  7. That’s awful. But I’m not sure noise pollution is always a high priority for travel companies. It’s a totally different situation of course, but the worst I ever endured was on a modern cruise ship where someone had foolishly designed the stage to be right across from the customer service desk. And then as is typical of shows the MCs ran everything far too loud. I had a dB app on my phone and measured it staying in the range of 97 to 105; you had to scream to talk to the service people. I wrote the cruise line and said that they were in line for big lawsuits once former employees reported significant hearing damage, and perhaps passengers would consider these too. I think they turned things down after that, at least the next ship I took was pretty reasonable. But things like that or what happened on this flight are just unconscionable.

  8. Two things to always pack

    1. Earplugs
    2. Mint lip balm to apply above your lips in case your seat mate has extreme BO

  9. Mint lip balm…..

    I’m gonna have to remember that one. I could have really used it on a flight several weeks ago.

  10. It more than likely was a bad door seal on the plane. Standard sound for it when a tear in the seal occurs. Still safe to fly because pressurization is maintained within the cabin, but yes its still miserable. Happened all the time in the military.

  11. “The plane had a leak, the captain never came back to check on it”

    What’s he going to do? Try opening the door and closing it again at 30,000 feet? A slightly leaky door seal (if that was indeed the problem) isn’t something that the Captain has any need to “come back and check on.” It doesn’t make a difference to flight safety and there’s nothing that can be done about it in flight. While I agree that UA’s compensation should have been higher, there’s absolutely nothing that would be helped in this situation by the Captain going back to “check on” it. All they can really do is note it for maintenance to look at when they’re back on the ground.

  12. Getting ready to trial the new ‘buy-up’ to UA premium noise cancelling headphones service, only $25 per flight

  13. That would be tortuous! I use earplugs and noise cancelling headphones on flights, but I’m not sure these would eliminate that noise. How awful and uncaring of United! I’m sure that sound was reported on previous flight/flights and the mechanics choose to not repair it because that would take the aircraft out of service.

  14. I had this on a Northwest flight from Asia obviously years ago. Being a pilot of smaller planes I recognized the leakage noise readily. The Northwest attendants were perplexed and flight officers were busy.
    . I simply got a plastic shirt bag. Felt around the door for airflow and just let outward airflow suck bag into crevice. Problem solved. The noise was a bother but worse I was freezing to death under 3 blankets!

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