My Coronavirus United Flight Cancellation Experience
I’ve had a beef with United Airlines for years. Our history goes back as long as I’ve been flying them between our tiny regional airport (well, it’s actually SkyWest, but they fly with UA livery), and I have many a horror story. Delays and cancellations in or out of SFO are par for the course. And often the airline just shrugs their shoulders in an attempt at sorry. Still, they are a necessary evil for much of my travel. But maybe they won’t be in the future, as getting a coronavirus United flight cancellation for an award ticket takes things to new lows.
A Game of Chicken
I have an itinerary I booked back in early February that I was really looking forward to flying. Coronavirus was just hitting the global news radar. While I thought it might be a concern, I didn’t expect the outbreak to become so widespread or dire so quickly. I’d found award space on Air New Zealand from London to Los Angeles, which I was hoping would be my first fifth freedom flight experience. It was a part of a one-way itinerary that would take me from Copenhagen, Denmark back home to northern California.
However, as things got closer, I knew that I wouldn’t be taking the trip. For a while I vainly held out hope that travel wouldn’t be restricted, or that the outbreak of the disease wasn’t actually all that concerning. But as things got closer, I knew I’d be canceling.
Given that none of the flights on my itinerary changed, even with massive shifts in entry and exit policies for multiple countries, I entered a game of chicken with United Airlines. I knew that if I called to cancel, they’d ask me to fork over the $125 redeposit fee. No thank you.
United Makes the First Move
A few days ago, United finally changed the itinerary. Actually, two changes were made on successive days. First, my flight back to Arcata was changed by a few hours as frequency was reduced. This wouldn’t be enough for me to get anywhere, so I just confirmed it.
The second change was more substantial. United added a 4th flight to the itinerary, sending me CPH-ARN-LHR instead of just CPH-LHR. This should be enough for them to be willing to cancel the booking and redeposit miles without a fee. Considering that Denmark has also closed its borders to non-essential travel, I can’t even travel anyway, even if I wanted to.
So I called United. It was Monday morning, and I had hours to remain on hold while I worked on other things. My MileagePlus account was matched to my phone number, and the system immediately asked if I was calling about my upcoming reservation departing Copenhagen. The system proceeded to tell me that the reservation hasn’t been ticketed, and asked if I was calling to do this. Sorry, what? This is the first time I’ve heard that I don’t have a valid ticket. United should definitely be refunding my miles and taxes for free now.
You Can’t Be Serious
Amazingly, the hold time was quoted as 20-25 minutes, and an agent picked up after only five minutes. After they picked up I proceeded to tell her exactly what I knew and what I’d just been told: 1) an extra flight had been added into my itinerary, 2) the phone system had told me that my itinerary wasn’t even ticketed (i.e. ticket was canceled), and 3) I would like to cancel my trip given the changes and current situation. I did specifically ask for the fee to be waived.
The agent floored me with her response: to cancel I’d need to pay the $125 redeposit fee.
I asked her why they are requiring this. Not only has an extra flight been added into my itinerary and my original flight out of CPH canceled, but the system said I didn’t even have a valid ticket. She told me that the ticket has been “canceled for security purposes”. Okay. I assume this must be due to COVID-19. Beyond the other reasons, I can’t even enter Denmark due to their restrictions to be able to get out.
So I asked for a supervisor. We’ll take this to round two.
Like Talking to a Brick Wall
The hold time to reach a supervisor was substantially longer. I waited nearly 20 minutes. Once he’d picked up and confirmed my name and details, he asked what he could do for me.
Explaining everything again, I expected him to see the logic of the situation, including the fact that I’m sitting on a canceled ticket and the fact that there have been two changes made to my itinerary, including adding a 4th segment. If anything should qualify for a cancellation, this should.
His response: I’m sorry, but to redeposit the miles, the $125 redeposit fee must be paid.
My head was ready to explode. I’m ashamed to admit the verbal rant started. It was classic. “So you’re telling me…”
It didn’t matter. I tried reasoning, I tried explaining, I tried to help him see how customer-unfriendly of a policy this is. But Brian the supervisor would not budge. I finally told him that I’d call back tomorrow and hope to reach someone who could actually provide reasonable and intelligent customer service, wished him a happy Monday, and hung up.
The Last Card Up My Sleeve
There is a week left until the flight departs. I’m going to fight for a couple more days to get the miles redeposited, but my gut tells me this will be futile. The other card I plan to play is change the flight to a future date. If United can’t offer this without a fee, I’ll be floored. They’ve made multiple changes to the itinerary, and Denmark can’t even let me in. A voluntary change to later in the year had better work.
It’ll be easy enough to find another business class itinerary departing Copenhagen. Maybe that isn’t even necessary and I could fly from anywhere. I’ll be hopeful and plan it for sometime this summer.
It shouldn’t come down to this, though. It really shouldn’t. I know the airlines are bleeding cash, but they shouldn’t be able to take it out on their customers like this. What I garbage airline. I know I wouldn’t get this treatment from either Alaska or Delta.
Do You Have a Coronavirus United Flight Cancellation Experience?
If United doesn’t offer this, then I’m not sure what I’ll do. It’d actually be easier with a cash ticket, as I’d file for a charge back. I’m sure United would contest that, but it’d be easy to show why I should be able to cancel my ticket. Or maybe Chase would side with United. Who knows.
Given the fact that these are miles, and not cash, though, I don’t have the same leverage. I’m guessing United knows that as well, and that’s why they are making this impossible.
Anyone else in this situation? I’m *so* frustrated right now.