77 Year Old Woman Says United Left Her Standed in Wheelchair for 12 Hours

Oh my goodness United. Sure the people who assist passengers in wheelchairs are contract workers but you bumped the woman from a flight, you see she’s in a wheel chair, and no one bothers to help her. Even when she’s sitting at the gate for 12 hours because she cannot move herself. (See update below, United says the woman wasn’t bumped. Apparently the wheelchair didn’t get her from one United flight to the other before the door closed.)

Of course this happened at Newark. Indifference at Newark isn’t new.

A 77 year old woman was dropped off at Washington National airport scheduled to fly to Newark and connect on to London Heathrow.

“I got a text at 4:30 in the morning saying she hadn’t arrived. I called the airline to make sure she was on the flight and they reassured me three or four times she was on that flight,” he said.

It turns out his mother wasn’t on that flight. He only found that out after hours of frantic phone calls. His mother made it to New Jersey, but Williams says United told him they bumped his mother off her connecting flight to London. He’s still trying to figure out why.

United offered the woman a hotel voucher when they bumped her, but she was on her own to get there. Her son describes her as easily confused and “[t]here’s no way my mom could have pushed a wheelchair at her age, so she sat there.”

The airline acknowledges the incident and says they’ve offered her “a $1,000 flight voucher” (for avoidance of doubt, not $1000).

This was an involuntary denied boarding and so much for United’s promise to offer “up to $10,000” for volunteers so that doesn’t happen.

And so much for United’s promise of “a customer solutions team” if that team leaves a woman in a wheelchair at the gate overnight. At least customer service didn’t throw her out of her wheelchair and shove her to the ground and then threaten to steal all her miles if she complained.

Update: United adds the following statement,

While we offered our customer a hotel and to take her there, she declined our offer of assistance. We checked on her throughout the evening. We have since spoken with our customer’s family to express our sincere apologies. We are working with our team at Newark to review what happened and to ensure we learn from this incident.

Update 2: United follows up to say that they did not bump this passenger. According to spokesperson Maddie King, “the customer missed her flight.” She arrived on United and was to depart on United and travel between the two planes via United-arranged wheel chair and she didn’t make it before the doors closed. But apparently they didn’t oversell the aircraft.

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. So what? United still makes money. People still fly united.

    People keep complain, yet they kept fly united. Hypocrite much?

  2. Can I have what is sure to be an unpopular opinion here? Maybe someone who can’t manage to get out of a wheelchair might unfortunately and regrettably be beyond traveling internationally alone. “Her son describes her as easily confused and ‘[t]here’s no way my mom could have pushed a wheelchair at her age, so she sat there.'” I hate to say this, but maybe the fact of the matter is that she’s just too old and infirm to fly without a family member or paid assistance.

  3. We need to beat up some united and equifax executives, express horror at what haa happened, say it does not represent who we are, and give them a voucher for 5000 redeemable only in timbuktu.

  4. United Rising?
    It’s just not who we are
    We only drag passengers off planes bleeding and beat them to a pulp when they want assistance if their elderly
    All we want is your money

  5. This is terrible. How difficult is it for an airline employee to just say “hello, what’s your name?” “How can I help you?” OMG. This is terrible.

    I’m curious why she was involuntarily denied boarding – was she too late for the flight? Did they bring a wheelchair to her seat and extract her from the seat and take her off the plane? If so, who was the idiot that OK’d that?

  6. My Take is the Woman was NOT fit for travel on Her Own. Easily confused? Immobile? United is an Airline not an Elderly Transport Operation that has unlimited Staff capable of catering to Every Whim of All passengers. What Next…..expect an Airline to hand wash Her Depends? The CONTINUAL Bitchfest that Some of You People Engage In gets R-e-a-l-l-y Tiresome. People expect to Pay the Bare Minimum yet demand the Maximum Benefits…..DREAM ON. Call Trump and see whether He can Make it Happen. What a Sorry Bunch of People, Exterminate the “Woe is Me Crowd”.

  7. @reese,

    Exactly, “the Bare Minimum yet demand the Maximum Benefits”.

    This has been my primary argument when I said let them drown in Florida and Texas. Now the fake news should stop telling us fake news about hurricanes and people dying etc etc. All fake news. People are fine down there. Stop wasting time on them.

  8. Once again, the decline of the US airline industry continually spirals downward. The first villain is the employee who bumped this person and then left her at the gate. That person deserves to be fired, they shouldn’t be in charge of cleaning the toilets let alone boarding a plane. United’s response, once again, is a “sorry-not-sorry” song and dance that reeks of corporate BS.

    Fly the friendly skies

  9. She wasn’t fit to travel alone; if she can’t even use a cell phone to tell her son she didn’t get on the plane, she needs a traveling companion. That said, United claims that it will offer money for voluntary bumps instead of involuntarily bumping people. Didn’t happen here, so United is at fault.

  10. United messed this up badly, but certainly equal fault lies with a family member who put an elderly relative on a very long flight when she was clearly not capable of flying on her own. And with a connection in Newark, when there are plenty of direct IAD-LHR flights! Who would do that? That is borderline abusive.

  11. I don’t think the family planned well, but there can be fault in more than one place, and the major problem is United’s. They seem to have a staff comprised entirely of “not in my job description” employees who simply do not care, from the very top down to the incompetents in this incident. The compensation is laughably inadequate.
    1) Involuntary denied boarding (of a wheelchair user, no less) against their own purported policies.
    2) Said repeatedly that she had been on the flight when asked.
    3) A hotel voucher with apparently no transfer arrangements.
    4) The family had arranged for wheelchair assistance.

    I think United and the wheelchair assistance vendor will someday soon be announcing that an undisclosed settlement has been reached with the family. And it won’t be for $1,000. As long as the flights are full the “we don’t care” attitude will prevail with this miserable company.

  12. The family are a bunch of idiots!!Allowing a woman who cannot be mobile by herself and is confused !!travel on connecting flights to London…they are nuts..why didn’t a family member go with her???? This goes on all of the time. Usually when they make it onboad their seat mates are stuck making sure they get to the bathroom and not wander around ..sometimes with help from the FA’s. No one should have be babysit someone else’s grandmother!!! and then blame it on the airlines!!!!!

  13. Where is the whackjob former “special forces” commenter that predicted United’s certain downfall after the Dao incident? We are what, 3 or 4 United public relations screw-ups later and everything is fine.

  14. It really looks like this will not improve until people go out of their way to avoid United or the government steps in with regulation. Experience teaches that price is the prime consideration for most.

    I have not flown United in years, but then again I’m not hub-captive to them.

  15. @Jon (September 14, 2017 at 7:39 am), +1.

    I have seen first-hand when the the issues arising when the incompetent elderly are traveling internationally while having to deal with mental decline and language barriers – I found it very cringe worthy.

    On the business front, United and other airlines can probably find additional revenue in extend their unattended minor program to begin to include anyone (for an appropriate fee, which is sure to be expensive particularly for those with medical issues).

  16. God help United Airlines– they just cannot run an airlne like caring adults that lost all common sense, if they ever had it. It’s called ” Caring” & taking the time to care & being proud of your work & being empowered by those in charge to take the ” bull by the horns ” & get the job done right for their customers. I have always been impressed by Southwest Airlines employees for their real caring for the passengers they SERVE so well. I go back a long way– remember Braniff Airlines– totally like United & unlike Southwest. I was so glad when they finally went out of business– they deserved to never fly again. They made me spend 12 hours in DFW lying to stranded passengers — me included– Memorial Day, 1976, I never forgot their lousy attitude & never will forget it. I traveled a lot in those days, you can beat I did my small bit to help them go down finally. I saw those jerks & worse have a man drug off by Security Thugs for demanding answers as opposed to their B S— after he waited there for 10 hours ! I know how he felt– it was that flight– I wanted answers too, my wife was in Austin waiting for me with our 1 1/2 year old daughter who got sick from the insane delay & starting throwing up . Just a nightmare night overall ! Memories of Braniff, like United today. Fly The Friendly Skies of United– what a load of B S ! I have other stories too of United, but enough for now ! Ugh !

  17. Here’s my comment
    How pathetic lame statement made!!! Who the funk kicks old handicap woman with NO assistants off, who, oooooo, that’s right people who just don’t give a damn, if your making your money, anyway why more customers don’t boycott united completely baffles me, I did in past , haven’t in shit 9 year cannot even rememeber, whatever, not point, point, you keep on same merrygoround you love insanity !!!!!

  18. Same old united. Bet Kirby and Oscars moms get full assistance in their wheelchairs in lieu of sole reliance on a son.

  19. Im an Australian, due to the contstant stories of poor customer service, i will not be flying United or their affiliatrs when next to the States or Canada.

  20. @jon you are 100% correct . Why send a 77 yr old wheel chair bound lady who can NOT care for her self.!! SOME CHILDREN only thing of themselves.

    Do NOT blame United, it is not their responsibility to care for the lady. it is THE CHILDREN. So all of you who think you are going to drop a easily confused lady that can not push a wheelchair at her age at an airport and run, think again. United is NOT a NURSING HOME.

  21. While I agree since she has family, she should have had a companion, United dropped the ball numerous times here. If she had United-provided wheelchair to and from flight, why didn’t they know she was in transit? The helpers all have radios. How many employees didn’t notice this wheelchair-bound woman sitting in one place for 12 hours?? The lack of just basic humanity and decency is what bothers me most about these stories. WTF is wrong with people nowadays.

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