United Airlines Accused of Faking Unruly Passengers to Solve Business Class Overbooking Crisis At Newark

Friday’s United Airlines Newark to Dubrovnik flight was reportedly oversold in business class. United doesn’t normally sell more tickets in business class than they have seats, and it doesn’t appear that the aircraft was swapped to one with a smaller business class cabin.

Nobody would take the airline’s generous offers of compensation, even though “[t]hey offered 2500 and then 3000.” The flight was already delayed three hours, and the Boeing 767-400 was oversold in business by three while economy and premium economy were full.

Unsure who would be flying – though presumably passengers without seat assignments were not – gate agents “said only [coach] and [premium economy] could board.”

One passenger on the flight “heard the gate agents scheming that they would call a supervisor to solve the issue by claiming unruly passengers.”

There had been no unruly behavior. Indeed shortly thereafter as boarding was still held while the entire Y and W cabins had boarded, a couple expressed their irritation that they had paid lots of money for their vacation which was being unnecessarily delayed which was then backed up by an elderly woman.

Not aggressive, unruly or physical – an assessment backed up by many other passengers. Sure enough gate agents claimed them to be unruly and offloaded them. The elderly woman’s husband of course refused to fly which explains why the fight went out 32/34. Presumably one of those two was crew rest.

On the one hand, this story about gate agents manufacturing unruly passengers in order to offload them and get the flight out makes no sense.

  • They could involuntary deny boarding to passengers and owe a maximum of $1,550 cash per passenger

  • It’s not the agent’s money, so what’s the incentive here anyway?

  • Involuntarily denying boarding is not harder than dealing with unruly passenger reporting.

On the other hand, this makes perfect sense: it’s Newark. Still, while yelling at a passenger seems completely plausible there, I don’t find that employees at Newark want to go out of their way to do much work? And being nasty to passengers so that the passengers will respond aggressively so that they can bump those passengers off the flight without compensation just seems like a lot of work for little personal benefit.

A witness to the events at the gate for that flight doesn’t think this is what happened, so I’m betting that the agents were joking about passengers being unruly and getting kicked off solving the overbooking problem and then it just so happens that passengers did become aggressive with the oversale (and perhaps the agents were themselves aggressive in response, having them kicked off the flight).

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. Global service is guaranteed swat in their cabin on next flight if misconnected. That could be the cause of the oversell.

  2. You’re better than to post this poppycock.

    You are just adding to the climate of distrust in an effort to get clicks.

    Do you really think the gate agents would do this?

  3. @Goforride – did you even read what i wrote? apparently not, considering your third sentence. I refer you to my bullets in the post, and to my conclusion.

  4. In Nashville a few years ago, I was on a Southwest flight that was oversold.

    A gate agent walked around the boarding area, spotted three guys drinking beer (which you can buy post-security and then take to the gate). She told them they were too intoxicated to fly and needed to sober up before flying. Which fixed the oversell situation.

    Gary, let’s not pretend the gate agents aren’t pressured to find creative solutions that don’t involve shelling out money.

  5. well MY goodness! You mean all them boxes of Whitman candy I get at WalMart to hand to the FA at the front door won’t get me upgraded when I fly next time! I read on the internet, it happens every time.

  6. Worth pointing out that the “witness” saying it never happened was the captain of the flight, or at least is claiming to be.

  7. Even if they were kidding, the fact that it crossed their mind in some way is alarming.

  8. UA has been overselling business class recently – or there are air marshalls or pilot/crew repositioning that they did not plan for, not sure which. I got $2500 for getting bumped a month ago.

  9. I hate flying through Newark. It seems everyone who works there have attitudes and get easily irritated by even asking a question. I always ecpect a sarcastic or nasty response.

  10. You said it gary. It’s Newark. This totally rings true to me.

    And if you reading this are a gate agent in Newark working for United – yes I’m talking about you. You stink..

  11. United has some of the rudest meanest ticket Agents and Flight attendance specially in Memphis if they just don’t like you for any reason, they make up a story and they tell you hey Shut up or you won’t fly This needs to stop. We had the worst experience flying with United from Memphis to Newark they hire any ghetto garbage person they can find They need to be fired for the crappy attitude Toward consumers shame on you

  12. Common denominator – Newark.
    Absolutely the worst customer service on the planet. It seems also that the flight and gate crew of United have been emboldened to disrespect customers and treat them in an unprofessional manner. This is the problem when corporations feel they they no longer need to work for your business.

  13. Not surprised!! Airlines are adverse the in interest of the PAX!!
    Credit cards are more important!

    OMAAT, LALF, this website, etc, all blog about poor service, peso miles, god awful attitude, rock hard seating, etc.

    What’s new!!

  14. United getting creative with their lying doesn’t surprise me a bit. I quit flying them because of their lying. I would think that the proper way to handle the situation would be to open up the rebooking plus the cash to all passengers (not clear if this was done.) With many more passengers in coach, it would be easier to find one willing to take the final offer of $3,500. A person from business class would be downgraded and compensated for the difference in ticket price. I would expect the new seat to be a middle seat. I have never been offered cash like that to take a flight the next day but in most cases I would jump at the chance. If the ticket was part of a round trip, making sure that the return flight would take place with no extra charges would also be part of the consideration.

  15. Musical instruments are for dorks. Keep your guitars and all instruments at home.

  16. This is an old Continental trick that has been used for years. Just as Bafoon would tell a customer to go fly someone else, he approved of doing this a very long time ago.

  17. A United gate agent in Chicago made a bad mistake last week, which resulted in him bumping me down from Polaris to economy (and giving away the remaining Polaris seats to standby passengers!) for a replacement transatlantic flight after maintenance issues forced us back to the gate. He admitted to me when he came back on the plane to count passengers and check for empty seats that he had thought I had a lower class ticket and that was why he had refused to assign me a replacement seat in Polaris. But then he said ” We need to get the door closed, sorry, there’s no time now. You have to accept this,” and walked away. The FA then came over to tell ME off for questioning the matter at all! Reading this, I wonder now if they were trying to get me angry so they could throw me off the flight. The lack of maintenance and the constant lying from United personnel are really worrying now.

  18. @Gary If your conclusion was so different, why the title or even publishing this? Seriously, dude, are you really that desperate?

  19. As someone who had a flight booked on United, from Zurich to Edmonton Alberta Canada through Newark, this story does not surprise me. When I went to check in my luggage, had printed boarding passes the day before, a supervisor was called and I was not only bumped from my flights, I changed airlines! Cue mad dash to check in with another airline, crappy seat, and was threatened with a 10 hour delay at the airport in Toronto. I dread my trip with United in October.

  20. See? Look at all the comments after mine where people suck it in, hook, line, and sinker.

    It doesn’t matter that you say what other people said and then say you don’t beleive it. People who are inclined to believe it don’t care if you ended by saying YOU don’t beleive it.

    THEY beleive it and it just reinforces them.

    It’s like when Trump says “Some people say…”

  21. United is a terrible airline and company, and Newark is the United of airports. I quit flying United because of lies and terrible service. It almost seems a prerequisite to work there.

  22. Only once in almost 30 years flying internationally have I had anything stolen from my luggage. No prizes for guessing which airport. That’s right Newark.

  23. I concede that my flying experience is far less that most of you here, but I’ve always found the Newark agents to be friendly as well as determined and helpful with rerouting due to delays etc.

    It is Houston where I’ve typically found the most angry and apathetic agents. Don’t dare approach the counter before they have decided they’re ready to even look up, let alone talk to you.

  24. > Do you really think the gate agents would do this?


    Two lady cops flipped a coin to decide whether to arrest a driver they pulled over whom they suspected of DUI but passed all the sobriety tests. The video is on YouTube.

    So why not?

  25. A little off topic, but I once went on united airlines website and the economy non-refundable ticket was same price as refundable. I went on a different computer the next day, ready to book and the non-refund showed 200$ less and then it somehow adjusted itself after a minute and prices became the same again. Looks like they are doing very deceptive things, or their website is pants…thankfully on a positive note, an agent let me book at the lower price without agent admin fee when i told them about the glitch.

  26. It’s because of people like you that the news media is no longer trusted. Have some ethics, check your facts and report accurately. It was a bad situation and it was dealt with as best as possible. There was an irate passenger. After most coach had boarded a passenger started getting upset. His anger increased to the point of yelling at the gate agents and remaining boarding passengers. Thanking everyone, sarcastically, for ruining his vacation. To the point where I thought they should have called port authority to have him removed. Please get your facts straight and try to be a decent human being!

  27. Both my wife and I have recently experienced disgraceful gate agent service on United in Newark. We are frequent fliers and deal with routine flight delays calmly. A senior, long time gate manager I spoke with sincerely apologized and acknowledged that they’re struggling to meet staffing requirements and with the quality of candidates after the COVID collapse.

  28. Last month in Dallas I experienced two gate agents with United threatening to remove someone from a flight because the person simply asked a question about a cell phone. I was there before the question and after the question and the agents just blew up on this poor guy. Told him he wasn’t going to fly and he just stepped back and wait for a supervisor. Right before they close the doors they advised him he could fly if he hurried. He ended up flying but they were completely and totally wrong in how they handled the situation

  29. My experience with United in PHL not much better….they check in Air Canada pax and are evidently unaware of Veteran Perks with AC…I get three free bags regardless of class of ticket. He was insistent I had to pay US$112 extra which I was having none of for the short hop to YYZ. I finally got a supervisor that would listen after I showed them AC’s website. He got quite nasty.

  30. Let’s stipulate that everyone here has had bad experiences with UA at various stations. Is this somehow different from other US carriers? Doubt it.

    The simple fact of the matter is that flying, and working for airlines, have become so stressful because of increased traffic and corporate greed that both pax and front-line workers are under tremendous pressure. Of course there are going to be blow-ups!

    It’s still better than flying a cheapo carrier to or from a leisure destination. That’s where all the videos of pax and F/As fighting appear from.

    One quick question: in the original post, Gary stated that IDBeing off that flight would have cost UA less than $1600 per person, while they “generously” offered up to $3K first. Can someone confirm that an IDB from C is worth exactly as much as Y?

  31. I got to the right place by Googling “dot bumping” and ticket class is not a consideration for IDB compensation.

  32. The fact that you don’t believe that the agents did this when clearly they did is crazy.

    Those agents ABSOLUTELY did that.

  33. Its 2024, George Orwell himself, if still alive, could never have imagined this, and the previous twenty awful years.

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