United Airlines escalation advice for 2 x consecutive cancelled flights, promised taxi travel compensation being refused


Apr 10, 2011
There's a lot of issues to describe, apologies for the long post:

I was booked on UA842 SYD-LAX on Sept 3, which was eventually canceled due to mechanical issues. The communication from the gate staff was abysmal. After lining up (for almost 2 hours) at the check-in counter as instructed, I was admonished by staff for lining up when I'd already been rebooked (I'd received a text from UA while in the queue that I'd been booked on the same flight the following day. It was not clear on why I was lining up - I thought it was maybe for a meal/transport comp.) After 8 hours at the airport, I ultimately decided to return home instead of staying at a hotel that night, and the staff at the counter advised me to keep my taxi receipt and present it the following morning for reimbursement.

Upon checking in for the UA842 flight the following day (Sept 4) I was told that they don't reimburse taxi fares at the check-in counter, and to go to the service desk. Another 45-minute wait, only to be told they don't do that, and I would need to submit my request online using the refunds portal. I proceeded through security around 7 am, only to receive a text that the flight was delayed from 9:30 am until midday. After another several hours of waiting, the flight was canceled AGAIN. For the same issue, it turns out the repair hadn't been made, and the plane was still out of commission.

I rebooked myself on the SYD-SFO-LAX flight for the 5th Sept so as to avoid the possibility that the airplane would still be out of action on the SYD-LAX route. This time I accepted the airport hotel accommodation, so it would be easier to return to the airport on the third day.

The SYD-SFO flight on Sept 5 was also delayed. I made my SFO-LAX connection with around 5 min to spare, and then THIS flight was stuck on the tarmac for perhaps 30 min while they fixed a mechanical issue. We proceeded out of the gate and were notified that the entire UA fleet worldwide was grounded for an unknown reason. Another 2 hours were spent on the tarmac, while the United computer system had completely gone down. I finally arrived in LAX around 56 hours after my initial scheduled arrival.

After submitting my taxi receipt online for reimbursement, I was informed that United does not cover taxi fares (I wouldn't have caught a taxi if this was the case) - I was given a $150 flight credit instead. I escalated this complaint yesterday (I just returned home) and received the exact same response. I have also requested reimbursement for the hotel I had booked in LA - I paid for 3 nights and only stayed one night due to the delays. My travel insurance will not cover it - for 'fine print' reasons they say it's the airline's responsibility. United is ignoring my requests for both taxi and hotel reimbursement. They did not even acknowledge the hotel costs (which are minor for LA, around $450AUD.)

Not sure if it matters, but my flight was booked/paid for using Velocity points.

Does anyone have experience escalating complaints with United or advice on how to deal with this level of inconvenience/cost due to delays?
Not many takers offering ideas, so I will chip in.

My complaint about the shoddy treatment we received in the United SFO Polaris lounge didn't go any further than bouncing around call centre staff.

My lost baggage compensation claim with Lufthansa bounced around their call centre staff to/from me for about three weeks until I was paid.

I can only suggest a reminder of first principles when dealing with airlines and insurers.

a) Be tenacious
b) Be concise : Include the specifics of the various flights, delays, hotel costs and promises. As a summary section, state exactly the amount you request. Throw in your bank details for good measure.
c) Include reference to ACCC Consumer rights and your intention to pursue this.
d) Get on their X and FB socials. Don't let them distract you into Direct Messages. Keep your complaint in the public domain but do provide the confidential info to them via DM but otherwise expose them on their social channels.

Same goes for Insurers whom will often brush off tenuous claims. I see the Qantas travel insurance says things like "Any costs for delays, rescheduling or cancellation caused by or within the operational control of your public transport provider." Was a broken part within their control? who knows.

Anyway, I think you should definitely put in a travel insurance claim with all of the info you have. Consider treating it as multiple events which can fall as neatly as possible into the TI categories of your policy.

Keep us updated.
Sorry to hear about your experience.
I had my own delays with United and submitted a reimbursement claim on their website, took them 10 weeks to actually reply and then another few weeks after that.

Keep contacting them to request the refund until they acknowledge and provide an offer.
In my situation I had paid ~$450USD for hotel accommodation and United said the most they could offer was a maximum of $200USD provided as a flight credit.

I couldn’t be bothered to argue further with them and took the $200 flight credit.
Good luck!!

I don't think any airline would reimburse lost hotel bookings at the destination due to delay.
Airlines do reimburse for out of pocket expenses - these are "extra" expenses incurred such as the taxi fare, meals and accom due to delays and cancellations, but not the already booked and paid hotel "expenses" at the destination.

The liability would be with your travel insurance depending on the wording of the product disclosure statement and exclusions.
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I take it "mechanical breakdown" is excluded in your TI policy? I've been stung by that before so it's the first thing I look for in a PDS now. Incredible that such an exclusion exists in a travel insurance policy.

UA cancelled the EWR-LHR leg of our DCA-EWR-LHR ticket in June and the recovery was just ok. Everything was done via text, including hotel selection and acceptance of new flight which re-routed us via BOS. I spoke to an agent over the phone as I didn't want to connect again but that was the best they could do. They also insisted we use the free EWR hotel shuttle, even though it meant waiting ages at 12am with a couple of young kids in tow. No reimbursement for taxi if the hotel had a free shuttle. They also wouldn't reimburse the London hotel night we missed. My TI covered that and the taxi fare to get there, less the excess. Hardly worth the paperwork really, but better than a flight credit that I'd struggle to use or even want to use. The whY flight MEL-SFO was pretty ordinary. None of the UA staff I came into contact with during IRROPS (including the lounge dragons) showed the slightest amount of empathy or did anything but minimum required.
It does not matter what United Airlines says. There are two words you need to tell them that will get them to shut up and hand over the reimbursement: Montreal Convention. This trip you were on was an international flight between two treaty countries of the 1999 Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air (more informally known as the Montreal Convention). This convention specifies how much airlines have to reimburse you when they delay or cancel flights on such international trips (details here). Essentially they can reimburse up to $7000 USD.

What you should be able to claim under the convention are out of pocket expenses for items such as:
  • Taxis
  • Nights lost at hotels you prepaid for in Los Angeles
  • Any meals or hotels you had to buy in Sydney
I suspect (although I could be mistaken here) that this will end up being far less than $7000 USD. And by the way, airlines like United do pay when they screw up. They have a whole team of people reviewing claims for EU261 compensation when flights get delayed/cancelled out of there since failure to comply with EU261 compensation rules in a timely manner can result in huge fines.


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