showed up 10 minutes before departure, but missed our flight to Honolulu.
Are we entitled to more compensation?
Last November, I flew to
Hawaii on United from Salt Lake City through Los Angeles to
Honolulu. We had an hour-long connection in Los Angeles, so my
friend and I checked in at the gate, noticed that we needed to be
back at the gate by 10 minutes before departure, and then went to
get a snack.
When we returned to the gate, promptly 10 minutes before
departure, we found the gate area empty and the plane fully
boarded. The gate attendant informed us that we were too late and
that the plane was about to take off.
We were stunned. As we begged him to let us on the plane, another
couple showed up. They had also previously checked in and were
denied boarding. Then, 10 other people arrived. Their connection
had been late, and they were running and were out of breath. The
gate attendant informed us all that there was nothing he could do,
that they had boarded the plane 15 minutes before departure
instead of 10 minutes, and that they would not put the ramp up to
let us board.
Then, with 14 angry passengers demanding to be let on the plane,
after we had been there for five minutes, we watched the plane
take off five minutes early. It was an outrage! All that United
did was give us $50 vouchers for the inconvenience. We didn't end
up leaving for five more hours. On a long trip already, those
extra five hours was quite an inconvenience, especially when they
very well could have let us board.
When we asked why they had boarded and left five minutes early,
they said that United has been trying to improve its on-time
record. Well, that's a great intention, but when they are so
unreasonable as to leave five minutes early when 14 passengers are
wanting to board, and four of those arrived at the appointed time,
I see no rhyme or reason.
Do you have any wisdom to shed as to why any business would treat
their customers this way? Tickets to Hawaii are not cheap and
United's customer service that day was plain rotten.
Also, do you have any suggestion as to what our chances are in
seeking more compensation? This was something that was completely
within the airlines' control. I think I am entitled to at least a
free ticket, not just $50.
Thanks for your advice,
Rachel in Colorado
There seems to be a lot of confusion these days as to when
passengers need to be at the gate and aboard the aircraft. Airlines are
zealously trying to improve their on-time performance by closing the
aircraft doors five to 10 minutes prior to the departure time. According
Airlines' Contract Of Carriage, even if you have checked in for your
flight, United can cancel your reservation (and all continuing and return
reservations) if you are not at the departure gate ready to board at least
30 minutes prior to departure time.
Given that you had been told personally by agents to be at the gate 10
minutes prior to departure, I contacted United Airlines regarding your
problem. They responded with the following letter.
|United Airlines Responds:
Dear Ms. Dunham-Potter,
…I am sympathetic to the situation that [Ms. F.] and [Ms. W.]
experienced in Los Angeles on November 8. In researching the
history of their reservations, I can verify that United Shuttle
Flight 2877 from Salt Lake City arrived in Los Angeles at 12:34
p.m. or approximately two hours prior to the scheduled departure
of United Flight 55 to Honolulu.
Our gate agents begin the check-in process for flights
approximately one hour prior to a flight’s scheduled departure
time. The actual boarding of our wide-body aircraft, as was
utilized for the F./W. party’s flight to Honolulu, begins 40
minutes prior to departure. For flights to Hawaii, any unclaimed
seat assignments are released to stand-by passengers at 30 minutes
prior to the flight’s departure. This policy applies even when a
boarding pass has previously been issued. Our agents begin the
final closeout procedures for a flight ten minutes prior to
scheduled departure. At that time, reservations are subject to
cancellation if the customer is not checked-in and on the
Once a flight has been prepared for departure and the captain has
obtained permission from the local air traffic authority to leave
the gate, the flight is considered closed. Should passengers
arrive at the gate late and after final boarding has been
concluded, our agents are trained to arrange alternate flights on
the first available United flight to a passenger’s final
Ms. Dunham-Potter, although we do not feel that our gate
representatives acted outside of the bounds of their
responsibilities, our agents should certainly have made sure all
options for boarding the late arriving passengers had been
considered. I regret any misunderstanding or miscommunication that
may have occurred. As a gesture of goodwill from Customer
Relations, please extend the enclosed discount travel
certificates, which are in addition to the travel credits Ms. F.
and Ms. W. received in Los Angeles. We look forward to an early
opportunity to serve their travel needs again.
(Editor's note: United Airlines extended $150 in certificates to
Ms. F. and Ms. W. in addition to the $50 voucher they received in Los
Angeles. Their total compensation was $200 per passenger.)
While United admitted no wrongdoing, I feel they have been very fair with
their "goodwill" gesture in this matter. This incident should be
a lesson to all fliers to play it safe, and be at the departure gate at
least 40 minutes before scheduled departure. In addition, passengers need
to realize if they are flying on a wide-body aircraft, boarding time
usually starts 45 minutes prior to departure. Although United accommodated
Ms. F. on another flight, they are not required to do so. Understand that
most airlines' rules of carriage state that if you do not show up for your
flight, they can cancel your reservation and charge you an additional
amount to continue your trip. The airlines' only obligation to you is to
refund your ticket; any cancellation fees will apply to this type of
refund. The aforementioned does not apply to a non-refundable ticket.
I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!
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