United Rebooked Connecting Flight for the Wrong Year. What Compensation Should They Offer?

One of my cousins booked a United MileagePlus award to Warsaw. She was meeting her brother there — he booked an award, too, in business class. She doesn’t have as many miles, she was in coach.

She was booked on a double connection via Newark and Zurich. Weather was slowing down air traffic in the Northeast.

She wisely tried to stand by for an earlier flight to Newark. She was called up to the podium, ready to board her, since the person she was behind on the list wasn’t in the gate area. As the agent is about to hand her a new boarding pass, he runs up and the agent puts him on the flight instead.

United Airlines at Newark

Sadly her original flight to Newark was delayed and caused a short connection. She arrives at her gate for the Zurich flight. The door is still open, but the agent says they closed the flight and she can’t get on.

Fortunately she had planned for this! She had United back her up through Frankfurt.

Computers crashed at Newark and she was given a handwritten boarding pass for her Frankfurt flight.

The agent also “wrote out” her onward Lufthansa segment to Warsaw.

When she arrived in Frankfurt though Lufthansa denied her boarding. United had booked her onto the correct flight — 11 months into the future exactly.

Now I understand why Lufthansa wouldn’t put her onto the flight. She didn’t have a reservation or a ticket for that flight. She had a ticket to travel mid-next year.

From her perspective — and that of any ‘normal passenger’ — it was frustrating. United and Lufthansa are partners. She was clearly supposed to be on the flight to Warsaw. There are seats to Warsaw. She waited for Lufthansa’s help for an hour. Could they really not do anything for her?

It’s United’s ticket. United had to fix it. She gets rebooked for the next flight — eight hours later.

She’s now got a connection of just under 12 hours (too short for the trip delay coverage from her credit card to kick in, by minutes). However both her credit card and United are going to be on the hook for expenses incurred as a result of delayed baggage (so she’ll have to sort through which is liable for what).

She does have a Priority Pass card and I tell her with her 11 hour connection she should head to the lounge for a shower (if not into Frankfurt itself). What should United do for her after rebooking her to travel in the wrong year?

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. Throw her some miles. Nothing more – it’s a mistake, mistakes happen. Airline fixed it as best they could.

    I think EC261 doesn’t apply here – United flights into Europe aren’t subject to the regulation, and she didn’t have a valid LH ticket (through UA’s screw-up) so LH isn’t on the hook either.

  2. @Bob says “Throw her some miles. Nothing more – it’s a mistake, mistakes happen. Airline fixed it as best they could.”

    United should give her equivalent miles back. If she missed the flight from her own negligence, she’d lose her points. United screwed her thru their negligence (11 months later is nota mkstake, it’s a eff up), so they should suffer same loss. That she eventually flew 12 hours later is immaterial.

  3. For 8 hours delay as a Premier Silver, she could probably write a short note to United Customer Care and get a voucher for $250.

  4. @ A – How did you arrive at that math? She didn’t pay cash for her ticket, so she could be scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of compensation. By comparison, United offered a paltry $100 voucher for a full 24-hour delay when I was Premier Gold. Eventually, they upped the amount to $200 and said that I didn’t pay enough for my ticket to justify anything more. This Premier Silver passenger could get $250 as you suggested but I wouldn’t count on it.

  5. They should refund her miles and compensate expenses. If she doesn’t want the miles back, they should compensate her at the EU261 rate (which maybe they’re not obligated to pay but it’s a fair amount). They had two opportunities to not screw things up, and they blew both of them, giving her the wrong date and then not having reliable technology. Time for companies to own up to their failures, especially in this era of nickel-and-diming for changes.

  6. This strikes a cord as I am reading in an airport hotel close to O’Hare. My flight got cancelled (sorry, delayed by 9 hrs) due to mechanical failure as I was checking out of the hotel. Called United and got a ticket on AA and get to the airport to find out that it was mistakenly booked for tomorrow by the agent who helped over phone. As a Silver member I m not sure what I might be able to get (other than get angry). I wouldn’t be surprised if they offer a $50 voucher. Everyone’s time is valuable unless of course you are a customer of most airlines who have already paid for a ticket.

  7. If she was on vacation, $1,000 to $2,000, approximately 2x the typical cost of one full vacation day.
    The amount she paid for the tickets would also be refunded. Airlines have no problem charging large amounts for last minute tickets or changes.
    The error itself should have been anticipated and SOP in place to quickly fix the problem at the gate.

  8. I’d think they should either refund her miles, or cover her expenses for a day (hotel, food vouchers), maybe throw her a small travel voucher if they really want to apologize. Probably they wouldn’t, but I think those would be mostly fair.

    She should definitely go into Mainz with a 12 hour layover, though (assuming it’s not just overnight). I think it’s actually closer than Frankfurt, easy to get to on the train, the train station has lockers, and it’s very pretty (and you can walk through the whole city in a few hours). I’ve actually intentionally done this before 🙂

  9. Lufthansa denied my family boarding in BCN because UA had changed my flights but not my ticket. LH seems to not follow their PNR; both LH and UA PNRs showed the correct flights. A few months in advance of the flights I called UA reservations asking for the ticket to be fixed, and when it wasn’t, I emailed UA customer service. No response. All LH would do at BCN when we attempted to checkin was to say I had to get my ticket changed. Call UA in the states.

    I did have a phone which worked in ES and called UA in USA (early AM in USA) to UA’s credit the tickets were changed in just a few minutes after I told the agent that LH would not check us in with ticket not matching the PNR. We made our flights (2 connections) but only one bag out of 4 made it. Remainder of baggage came in one at a time over 4 days.

    No compensation was requested or offered. We were happy to get on the flights. Rebooking would have been impossible for a family of 4.

  10. Again, your incessant hatred of United and love of delta is obscenely visible in articles almost next to each other. Delta loses a guys wedding suit and says “not our fault, screw off” and you think it’s hilarious and blame him for taking an “inadvisable” routing. United makes what is clearly a fat-finger mistake, then corrects it, and covers charges, and you demand they provide even further compensation. How is anyone supposed to take anything you say with any sort of objectivity? Get it together.

  11. @Jake – my love of Delta, are you for real?? The article right before the wedding suit was:

    I’ve even directly called into question the character of Delta executives, something I’ve never done with United or American (other than, perhaps, former United CEO Jeff Smisek but only when he was ousted in a bribery and corruption scandal):


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