I’ve rarely been so upset with a company. But the current treatment of their customers by United warrants a sharp response. If not just for myself, then for the others that are affected by their inane policies. In short, after dealing with them over a flight cancellation while watch them beg the federal government for bailout money, I’ve decided that I’ll never give them another nickel, if I can help it.

It may seem like small beans for me to argue with United over $125. I could pay them the award redeposit fee that they are requesting and simply be done with it. I’m not missing the $86 in fees I’ve already paid, and what’s $40 more? It comes down to the principle: United should refund a disrupted itinerary such as mine, no questions asked. Yet they won’t. And I don’t have a choice except to take no for an answer.

United Is Showing They Don’t Care A Bit About Their Customers

I detailed my United flight cancellation experience in a post over at Miles to Memories, so I won’t recount the specifics here. The gist of it is: the flights on the itinerary are all messed up, with multiple cancellations, an extra segment added, and an arrival time changed to hours later than scheduled. Any one of these should qualify the itinerary for a refund.

The answer I received from each of four United phone agents was “no, we will not redeposit miles unless you pay the $125 redeposit fee.” Unequivocally. There was the typical “I’m sorry” and “I wish I could help you,” but the answer remained the same. The agents are simply not offering refunds, likely based on direction from the top.

So I took to Twitter before and after penning my first post. Today the stories started rolling in as comments on my other post, and I found many more on Twitter. People are irate, demanding (rightfully) their money back. United doesn’t care. Flight canceled? Here’s a credit. Go pound sand.

Asking For Money While Holding Ours

The audacity doesn’t end there. While simultaneously holding back the miles and money of numerous customers, United is asking the government for a bailout. They plan to lay off  workers, reduce its schedule, and park planes. I’ll freely admit that this is an unprecedented crisis for the aviation industry.

However, United is partially to blame for not having a rainy day fund. Hoarding lots of capital in the current business world is frowned upon, as it could be used for growth or other ventures (among a number of things). But moments like this illustrate that keeping a good supply of working capital is not only healthy, it is necessary. United spent billions on stock buybacks over the past years as a means of propping up their share prices. This cash would come in handy right about now.

Instead, United is hosing its customers, from the occasional leisure traveler to the most loyal. No refund for you. You’ve now given the airline a temporary, involuntary loan. They offer you nothing except future credit for your trip.

I hope United gets sued. That is a class-action suit I will jump on, and I don’t care if it puts them under. Although they are facing a crisis, they still need to do the right thing by people.

But, no, United will get their billions while refusing to refund their customers. If they’re hoping to get some cash in the bank to be able to offer refunds, then at least they could be candid about this. They could instruct agents to be honest with folks that this is what management has decided is necessary. Yet even this is unacceptable. Me? I’ll survive. The parent who bought tickets to visit London with his family over spring break for $4,000? He should sue.

If United goes bankrupt, I won’t care. Even with 130,000 miles currently sitting with them (including those “stuck” with this ticket). Our tiny airport has shown itself to have a reasonable demand for travel, even growing in the past couple years, and someone will pick up the pieces when this is all over. Hopefully the next airline SkyWest contracts for will be better.

an airplane on the runway

Yes, I’m Swearing Off Paying United. Ever.

I’ve seen for years how well Delta and Alaska take care of folks when things go wrong. Once I asked Delta if I could cancel my flight on the day of travel due to family circumstances. The agent was entirely understanding and told me I would receive the full ticket value for future travel. This was for a 100% voluntary change.

United stands in stark contrast. Multiple delays and flight cancellations later, and I’ve learned that to get more than a note saying “we’re sorry your travel was impacted today,” you have to fight with them. For anything. Three-hour mechanical delay? Here’s a $75 voucher to go away. Flight canceled? I guess we’ll give you $125 for future travel, even though it cost you $250 in additional expenses. The low-dollar vouchers are just a gateway for you to spend more anyway. I can’t exactly book a round-trip to Europe for $125.

This current situation takes the cake, though. The previous experiences have been bad, but to kick people when they are down? It’s too much. I will not willingly give my money to United any longer. I’ve booked many trips with them, both personal and for work, but that will end.

What About Award Flights?

You may be thinking I’d be crazy to completely swear off flying United, as this means driving an extra 3-5 hours to the next closest airport. Yeah, that hurts. But I do it anyway routinely already.

Flying in and out of Arcata-Eureka already costs an arm and a leg. I won’t fork over another dollar to United, but I will have no issues using miles to fly them. Preferably, I’ll use partner miles, such as Turkish Miles & Smiles or Avianca LifeMiles, which are an excellent value for flying out of our airport.

But the actual dollars? Nope. Not anymore. Not unless they change their tune on this. I’m just one person, but many more will undoubtedly feel the same.

an airplane wing over a beach

Final Thoughts

I hope United changes their current refund policy. The only way to make things right with people is to reverse course and offer full refunds for affected itineraries. Doing so would show me that the company has indeed listened to their customers and actually does want to put them first. Their staff have been put in the terrible position of fielding phone calls from irate passengers demanding their money back.

It wasn’t quite the wording, but I could essentially hear, “I’m sorry, I’d help you if I could, but I can’t.” The resignation and frustration in the agent’s voice during my second refund request go-round with United was apparent. Undoubtedly, United has instructed their staff to avoid issuing refunds at all cost. I’d even guess that this is under threat of suspension or termination.

Under any other circumstances I would be able to refund this flight, no questions asked. Instead, United is holding the money and miles from numerous people hostage, sometimes in the thousands of dollars. If I was someone who had booked a dream trip with them for $1,000s and was now out of work due to the coronavirus and needed the money back, I would be enraged. Luckily, I’m simply sitting on a ticket that I’ll have to use down the road.

EDIT: To everyone who thinks I deserve a verbal thrashing in the comments, says I must murder puppies, and that I’d be upset if a multi-car crash delayed my commute to work, here is someone else’s take on United’s terrible policy. Yes, United is hurting. Yes, their employees have uncertain futures. But a company doesn’t get to take an interest-free loan (at best) from their customers.