‘Get off or pay for another seat.’ United customers share their bad experiences

Travelers walk outside the United Airlines terminal at O'Hare International Airport on April 12, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. / AFP PHOTO / Joshua LOTTJOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images ** OUTS - ELSENT, FPG, CM - OUTS * NM, PH, VA if sourced by CT, LA or MoD **
(Joshua Lott / Getty Images)

I received hundreds of emails in response to my column on an Irvine investment manager being threatened with handcuffs by United Airlines if he didn’t give his first-class seat to a “higher-priority” passenger.

Most of the messages recounted indignities large and small suffered by other United customers. Many were too long, or expletive-laden, to be posted online (which tells you something).

Here are just a few emails that arrived:

Subject: United Story

From: Steven Terpe

United put our luggage on the wrong plane, then when we arrived at our destination, United agent refused to reimburse the luggage fee and told us we would have to come back to airport tomorrow and pick it up ourselves. Had to argue w/them for over an hour before they agreed to deliver luggage themselves. They dropped it at the front door w/o even knocking or ringing the bell.

Subject: United article is right on. I had similar experience

From: Greg Pucci


I also had a horrible experience with United Airlines. Flew to Spokane from Grand Rapids Michigan and after they added $60 for baggage and $179 for extra leg room " I’m 6-3" on the return flight I tried to change to an earlier morning flight out vs. a noonish flight due to a family emergency. Was told the morning flight was not full, but would need to pay a $ 200 change fee which I agreed to. Then they hit me up that I would also have to pay a $1,100 fee difference. Ended up calling Southwest Airlines and buying a ticket for around $240 dollars and literally throwing my United ticket in the trash. Also btw I sat bulk in bulk head with Southwest and they didn’t charge me for my 2 bags. I will walk before I ever fly United again. I am also a business owner with a BIG MOUTH who also flys 25+ trips per year. I also since the incident wont allow employees to fly United on my dime.


Thanks for revealing the worse customer service company in the airline industry.

Keep up the good work!!

Subject: United complaints blog

From: K H


you should set up a very public United Complaints site. The stories worth a book.

Mine came in the form of Christmas Eve San Francisco to Rochester via Chicago with my first child at 3 month old, going to see my in laws with my husband for the holidays.

I was kicked off the United flight. Apparently, the seat United assigned for me was not “intended” for infants.

Get off or pay for another seat in another cabin. I paid another $1000 for another seat right then and there. The issue became who would watch my infant now sitting in business class?

United’ economy seats infant strap available were sold out.Instead of 2 economy seats side by side: United now had me in economy and my 3 month old in business class.

I flew with my son in my lap in business class and the 2 economic economy seats I left were filled by standbys (even though I officially still owned one of the seats).

The ludicrousness of United attendants, gate agents are really to fault.

The last mile and the customer facing side for United is their Achilles heel.

Thanks for the article.


Subject: Regarding: “United passenger threatened with handcuffs to make room for ‘higher-priority’ traveler”

From: Julie Lewitzky

I had a very similar experience with UAL on July 30, 2015 - FL 1688 from O’Hare to San Francisco. I had purchased a first class seat months before; had my boarding pass in hand when I was told at the boarding gate that I had been “dropped” from the flight.

After the plane was totally loaded (someone was in my reserved seat) I was squeezed in a center seat in coach. I was handed a time limited $200 voucher and later at my request a $123 refund. Needless to say this was a very distressful and infuriating experience. I will never fly UAL again.

Subject: United airlines

From: Rebecca Moore

Another bad situation with United. Last year my disabled husband and I flew from Seattle to San Diego, first class using our frequent flyer miles. Everything was fine on that leg of the trip, then we were returning to Seattle from San Diego, first class using our miles ( we had a round trip ticket). They had started to load first class and my husband being disabled started to go and I said hold on, they have my name on the screen, so I ask what the problem was, and was told that I had been bumped back into economy class by someone higher on the food chain. I said to the agent, my husband needs me to help him as he is 100 percent disabled vet. Her comment was sorry. I was so frustrated, I was talking loudly telling her that this is crap! So I told her I want my miles given back to me and I want a $300 dollar voucher as she had just announced that there were $200 vouchers at that moment and I figured they would go up. So she gave me what I wanted ,I know just to shut me up. But then during the flight I tried to go up to first class to check on my husband, and I was told to return to my seat, I wasn’t allowed in first class. As we exited in Seattle, they did not have the wheel chair waiting for him that I had requested. So he was made to stand and wait about 10 mins for a chair. We have used United many times, as we were stationed in Japan for 6 yrs and we flew a lot....but we will NEVER fly United again, even though I have a voucher and we both have miles. They are so rude and uncaring of their passengers! Thank you for listening, I’m sure there are a million more stories that people have that are much worse than mine, but just wanted to get it out.

Subject: United Airlines - Fearns Story

From: Ilya Nikolayev

Hi David,

I experienced similar treatment on a flight last Saturday from West Palm Beach to Laguardia on JetBlue. My wife, 8 month old baby son, mother, and I were seated in seats 1A, 1B, and 1C. We brought several small bags with us onboard for our baby son’s food, diapers, etc. We were told that the bags cannot be placed under our feet. Perfectly reasonable. We went to place the bags in the overhead compartment but found it to be full despite there being one passenger at this time, in the first several rows. Upon asking the flight attendance for assistance, she said we should place the baby’s bag at the back of the plane where there is room. Upon asking for assistance in making space, the gate agent was called and we were told that we (along with our baby) would be escorted off of the plane if we further complain. Here’s the kicker: as it turns out, mid-flight, we discovered that the overhead above us was occupied by that flight attendant’s suitcase (she decided to remove her suitcase mid-flight from the overhead area above us).



From: Melanie Greenlee

Dear Mr. Lazarus,

I am writing to tell you about an incident that occurred just before Christmas of 2016. My family encouraged me to speak out about this, but I honestly didn’t think I would be heard on a large enough scale to make a difference.

My fiancé is an active duty United States Army corporal. He is airborne infantry (paratrooper), which is a highly dangerous job. He is stationed in North Carolina at Ft. Bragg. He will be deploying to Afghanistan in July of this year.

As you can imagine, every moment he can spend with his family is precious to us and him. I live in Boston and as a result of United Airlines terrible customer service, he now takes 20 hour bus trips back and forth from Ft. Bragg to Boston.

Back in November 2016 he purchased a round trip ticket from United airlines for about $400. They offer no military discount, which is annoying, but fine. So December rolls around and it gets closer to time for him to come home for Christmas, and if you know anything about the military you know that things change at the drop of a hat and as it turned out, he was released a little earlier for Christmas than we had planned.

The first thing he did was call United and ask if they could alter his trip and if so how much that would cost. Well, of course the answer was they wanted $300 or something ridiculous to change it and it would have cut our time together in half. So my parents, as a Christmas gift, bought him a one way from NC to Boston (from a different airline at a small fraction of the cost) assuming he could take his return flight home, no problem.

Well, being the kind and considerate person my fiancé is, he called United and told them his plans, intending to offer up his seat since it was the holidays and he thought maybe it could help someone else out if they could essentially double sell his seat to someone else.

Little did we know the shitstorm that was about to fall upon us. Apparently, since he purchased a round trip he couldn’t just take the returning flight, he would need to pay $700 to cancel his round trip and buy a new returning ticket, which wasn’t even for the day he had originally planned to return. Corporals in the army don’t make enough money (especially when they have kids and aren’t married yet) to pay over $1000 for a plane ticket. After literally a back and forth between my fiancé and United’s shitty customer service that lasted 8 hours, his best option was to just eat the $400 he paid for the flight, not use it all and drop another $250 on a bus ticket back to base, thus cutting down our time together. They refused to give him any sort of military discount, they refused to give him a voucher of ANY kind, no refund (obviously), absolutely nothing. On top of that, none of the customer service agents were polite or sympathetic at all. They were all about policy and refused to see that in this particular case, their policy was wrong.

To treat someone this way who literally puts their life on the line for this country is outrageous. It is slightly validating to know they’ve been mistreating other people too, but ultimately we are scarred from that event.I hope you are able to share our story and I hope it prevents others from being treated this way in the future.

Thank you so much for your time.


Melanie Greenlee

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