Some links to products and travel providers on this website will earn Traveling For Miles a commission that helps contribute to the running of the site. Traveling For Miles has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Traveling For Miles and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. For more details please see the disclosures found at the bottom of every page.
We’re living through difficult and challenging times right now but one small silver lining to the giant grey cloud that’s engulfing the world is that we can use these challenging times to learn. We can learn about ourselves, those around us and those with whom we do business.
We can learn about how to be better and more responsible as a society, we get to learn who our friends really are, and we get to see the unmasked faces of corporations that, in better times, love nothing more than to tell everyone how they’re all about doing what’s best for their customers.
Right now there are a few corporations in the travel world that aren’t doing a very good job of looking after their customers but there’s only one that’s actually taken measures that will very obviously make their customers’ lives worse…and all at a time where the very opposite is what’s needed – meet United Airlines.
A little over a week ago United Airlines made a stunningly self-serving policy change by declaring that it would no longer offer customers a refund when it changed their schedule by 2 hours or more. The new policy stated that United would only start offering refunds if it changed a flyer’s schedule by 25 hours or more.
Just think about that for a moment.
Under this new policy, a United Airlines customer could suddenly find themselves booked to fly the day before or the day after they were originally scheduled to fly (because of a change made by the airline) and the airline would not be required to offer that customer a refund.
It gets better – United also said that the new rule would apply retrospectively!
Leaving aside the fact that it’s almost certainly illegal to change the terms of a fare that has already been purchased, the sheer gall and arrogance of United to pull such a stunt is mind-blowing.
How can any airline possibly think that it’s ok to change a customer’s itinerary by up to a day and still not offer them a refund?
After most of United’s frequent flyers told the airline exactly what they thought of its latest policy change, the airline tried to placate some of them by saying that this wasn’t a hard and fast new policy and that they’d work on a case-by-case basis when deciding if a customer should be refunded….but the airline didn’t actually roll back the policy change.
On Friday (13 March) United changed its policy once again (HT: LiveAndLetsFly):
“When schedule changes occur, more than 90 percent of our customers are being automatically re-booked on a flight that leaves within two hours of their originally scheduled flight. Any customer whose travel is disrupted by more than 6 hours because of our schedule changes will be eligible for a refund. The relatively small percentage of customers who are delayed by 2 to 6 hours are eligible to cancel and retain the value of their ticket for future use. In the case of special circumstances, customers can work with the United Contact Centers to find a resolution.”
Clearly this is better than the 25-hour policy (it couldn’t really get worse!) but that’s still no consolation to all the customers who purchased tickets when the policy stipulated that only a 2-hour schedule change was necessary for a refund to be offered.
This, however, wasn’t the end.
On Saturday (14 March), the following wording appeared on the United Airlines website:
International rebooking: Our goal remains to automatically re-book as many customers as possible within six hours of their originally scheduled flight. For any customer whose international travel is disrupted by more than six hours because of schedule changes resulting from government restrictions, they will retain a travel credit equal to the value of their ticket. That credit can be used towards any flight, to any destination, for 12 months from the time of purchase. If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they will receive a cash refund at the end of that 12 month period.
So customers with international itineraries that see schedule changes of 6 or more hours will not be offered an automatic refund. Instead, a travel voucher will be issued (valid for a year) and only if that voucher remains unused for a year will the airline offer a cash refund.
What an amazing way for an airline to give itself a 0% interest loan for a year! I don’t know if I should be disgusted or if I should applaud the audacity of such a move.
I recognize that I can be pretty cynical at times (I’m a firm believer that a cynic is what an optimist calls a realist) but not even I thought that an airline would push through such blatantly self-serving and customer-unfriendly policy changes at a time like this.
All of this is very clearly a desperate attempt by United to preserve its cash reserves but all the airline has succeeded in doing is shining a big spotlight on the fact that all it really cares about is itself. Its customers are assets to be used at a time like this. Nothing more.
You can ignore all the propaganda that you’ll find on the United website which uses phrases like “We are committed to helping all of our customers with their travel plans” and “We are doing everything we can to assist customers with flights that need to be changed” because that’s nothing more than words. United doesn’t give a damn about its customers right now and we’re finally seeing its true colors.
Big corporations like United love to tell everyone about their deep commitment to social responsibility and their commitment to the communities they work in, but we only really get to see the true face of these corporations when a disaster like this strikes…and United’s face is a very ugly one right now.
At a time where some of the major US airlines (including United) are going cap in hand to the government and begging for taxpayer dollars to bail them out (yet again), it’s more than a little disgusting to see United trampling over those same taxpayers as it scrabbles around for cash.
I don’t expect charity from big corporations (I’m not that naive) and I understand that the responsibility of the board of directors is first and foremost to the corporation’s shareholders…but a corporation has to have some ethics too. United clearly has none.
I’m not going to say that I’m never going to fly with United again because I know that wouldn’t be true. I have a stash of United miles that I need to burn and I know perfectly well that all it will take is an amazing Business Class fare to tempt me back on board…but I’ll never be a frequent United flyer.
Why would I ever want to fly frequently with an airline that has shown itself to be devoid of ethics and capable of changing its policies retrospectively with little regard for the effects on its customers?
I’ve always suspected that you can’t really trust most corporations (especially airlines) but United is one of the few that keeps giving me solid proof that I’m right.