UA839 LAX-SYD Monday May 1 | Australian Frequent Flyer
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UA839 LAX-SYD Monday May 1

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Active Member
Dec 13, 2004
(cross-posted to the United Mileage Plus Forum on FlyerTalk).

I know from time to time we read on these forums about people's horror stories for a flight that they've undertaken and hope that it never happens to us.

I hope you'll allow me to rant-on somewhat about my experience with United flight UA839 out of LAX this past Monday nite.

I was travelling back in business class from New York and flew into LAX on the UA Premier Service sector of UA839 before boarding the LAX-SYD bound 744. The first incident was with a pregnant woman who the crew thought was unwell to continue with the flight and she was bumped off and had to have her luggage removed.

Next, after about an hour whilst still sitting at the gate the captain makes an announcement that they're experiencing a discrepancy with the amount of fuel that got pumped into the plane and what the fuel gauges were saying as to how much fuel they were holding. He said they were having maintenance people looking into the problem and would keep us advised. Eventually after another hour of sitting in the plane the captain announced that they were unable to resolve the problem and had decided to cancel the flight for the nite and that UA839 would be rescheduled to depart at midday on Tuesday (at this time it was about 12.30am).

Everyone was made to disembark with United saying that everyone's checked-in luggage was going to be kept on the plane and we were then given hotel vouchers to nearby hotels and were taken by shuttle bus to their hotel. I was fortunate enought to be travelling with only hand luggage so I had everything I needed to have a change of clothing and underwear.Next morning we were picked up by shuttle and taken back to the airport.

After going thru security boarded the plane and it pulled away from the gate on time and proceeded to taxi for take off. As the plane reaches the point where it would swing onto the runway for take-off it suddenly veered off in the opposite direction and stopped. The captain announced that as they were taxing it was noticed fuel was gushing from the end of the wing. Next minute a whole convoy of fire trucks, FAA and UA maintenance descended on th plane. After sitting on the tarmac for about 30 minutes we were told that they were bringing out a tanker to drain the fuel tank that is at the very end of the wing and we would then be towed back to the gate.

After getting back to the gate and everyone being disembarked we were told to wait at the departure gate for further advice. It was noticed that whilst the plane was at the gate fuel was still gushing from the wing...not a good sign.

Finally it was announced that it was going to be impossible to repair the plane in time for it to take off and arrive in Sydney before the curfew and that the flight was now going to be postponed until 8.00am Wednesday morning. Well....there was almost a riot, which explained why there was a bunch of airport police at the gate as I'm sure United was expecting a less than favourable reaction. Most peple were of the opinion that two cancellations were enough and started complaining quite vocally.

By then it was every man for himself. I headed off to the Red Carpet lounge and along with quite a number of other people managed to secure a routing change by flying up to San Francisco on a 7.12pm flight and then catch UA863 to Sydney at 10.30pm. A few lucky ones managed to get themselves onto the regular UA839 flight that nite.

Whilst having something to eat in the terminal I got talking to some people who were sitting on their 747 LAX-ORD bound service when it was cancelled with something to do with the fact that their plane had a fault where the fuel gauges weren't showing the same reading as what was pumped into it. Yes folks, it was obvious that their flight was being operated with the very same plane that I was on the night before and UA had obviously thought that they had been able to fix the problem when it hadn't been. Apparently overnite they had drained the planes fuel tanks completely and gone inside the tank to attend to what they thought was the problem and when they reloaded the fuel the problem was still there!

Anyway got back into Sydney this morning 24hours later than I should have. I'm now preparing my letter of complaint to United's customer service seeking compensation. One of the things that I will be saying is that after flying with United regularly for over 20 years this would have to be the worst experience I have ever encountered. I can honestly say that approval for SIA to operate a service between Sydney and LAX can't come soon enough. I'm also interested in seeing what mileage credits I end up getting.

As a post-script to this story I thought I would check today's arrivals to see what time the original UA838 flight was going to be getting in. Well, according to Sydney Airport's arrival information it said that the flight had been cancelled...I don't want to ask!

Sorry if I've bored anyone with this rant but it's one way for me to let out my frustrations that had built up. If there's anyone else out there who was on the same flight and can add to or clarify what I've written, I welcome them to add to this thread.


Established Member
Jul 6, 2004
That's OK, cssaus, I've been in a similar situation with UA before

A couple of years ago I had a nightmare trip to the US. I boarded a flight in SYD, and an hour into the flight to LAX, the captain announced that we were returning to SYD because the fuel in the tail tank was not accessible.

So, on return to SYD (not to mention a very heavy landing), we were bundled off to various hotels (must admit the Avilion was quite nice), and were told we were to be picked up in the morning to try again.

The following morning we all got onto the plane as planned, but then a Qantas fuel truck crashed into one of our engines. So, this plane wasn't going anywhere for a while. Then UA announced that the SFO plane had been commandeered to take us to LAX, so we all got on that, and, thankfully, it got us to LAX, just about 24 hours late.

The return trip was even worse, however.

The flight from LAX to SYD was quite uneventful, but I was travelling on to MEL, and that was the flight that ran off a taxiway into the dirt (I'm sure you will recall this) and was stuck there for several days. Let me tell you it was quite scary, with the plane veering all over the taxiway and eventually bogging itself within a few inches of the port outer engine.

Needless to say there were a few delays that day (and the next), and it's interesting to note that the enquiry which ensued suggested that the pilots were having some kind of disagreement in the cockpit when the aircraft veered onto the dirt.

Makes you wonder...
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Active Member
Dec 13, 2004
Kiwi Flyer said:
and yet you continue to fly UA frequently
Listen QF is not a whole lot better. A friend of mine was flying to LAX a few weeks ago catching the 10.00am flt and he got bundled off because a crack in the wing was discovered. He said they were forced to wait at the airport until 10.00pm to fly out after a replacement plane had come in from Tokyo.

Who can you rely on these days?
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