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Trip Report: Trying to Fly During United’s Massive Meltdown

A United Boeing 737 rotating out of Washington Dulles. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Peter Weiland)

As a flyer one of the worst things you can hear is that your flight home has been cancelled. This happened to me, as well as thousands of other passengers, last week. I was in Los Angeles after covering Avelo’s flight to Burbank from Bozeman and as I so often do, booked my return flight on the once daily nonstop flight to Bozeman. This flight alone is the entire reason I am a United Elite. That flight has always been there, and it always leaves on time, or so I thought.

I knew the flight was being canceled about 15 minutes after checking into the H Hotel at LAX. A text message, that I normally would have ignored, followed swiftly by a push notification from the United app, “Due to operational reasons your flight to Bozeman has been canceled.” My heart sank and I immediately got on the app to see if I could rebook on to a flight to Denver and then on to Bozeman – sold out completely. I was now going to be spending two nights in Los Angeles, one completely unplanned. To make matters worse, the H Hotel was sold for the next night. I decided to use my Marriott points to book a room at the Sheraton.

The next morning, I packed my things and prepared to move to my new hotel fully expecting to be flying out the next day, I hung out for the day and ended up ordering dinner. Nothing from United so I assumed the flight would depart to Denver as planned until that unfortunate text message came through at 7 am, “Due to operational issues we have had to cancel your flight to Denver.” This message was shortly followed by a notification explaining that they had rebooked me. I’ll fully admit that I was excited, I still got to go home! Except this rebooking was for the next day and would see me fly from LAX to SAN then onto DEN and finally home to BZN. Being the tired and frustrated passenger that I was, I ended up booking the only seat available on the only available Delta Flight, every other airline was either sold out or priced outrageously. I knew Delta would get me there and I didn’t want to get stuck in either San Diego or Denver. I canceled my United booking and got home safely and on time with Delta.

Ultimately I had to spend well over $2000 on hotels, food and my additional flight purchase and the only response from United, when I submitted all the receipts to them, was that it could take up to 90 days for a reimbursement to be processed if they even deem me eligible to receive one.

I understand that many more people were stranded for much longer periods of time and may or may not have the flying experience that I do but I wanted to write this trip report because I feel it’s important for people to understand what it’s like to be stuck at the mercy of an airline that’s completely melting down internally. United’s CEO Scott Kelly has blamed both the weather and the FAA both for the shortcoming of the airline last but talking to so many employees over that four-day period of time it seems that there is a lot of work internally that needs to be done.

I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude to all the United employees that worked tirelessly to help the thousands of stranded passengers last week. You all are the unsung heroes of the airline industry.


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