After a United Airlines flight delay, where’s his refund?

United Airlines Refund

After a United Airlines flight delay from Portugal, James Tate’s fellow passenger and colleague receives a $700 check from United Airlines. But why doesn’t he get one as well?

Q: I was supposed to fly from Porto, Portugal, to Washington, D.C., via Newark on United Airlines. My scheduled departure time was 12:55 p.m., but we had an 11-hour delay.

Underwritten by Pomchies -- Pomchies makes an array of functional products out of swimwear material -- from hair scrunchies to luggage tags to headbands and more. Forced to pivot in 2020, Pomchies started manufacturing masks and changed the entire trajectory of the business. With over 4 million masks in circulation and a strong demand, Pomchies is now one of the most popular mask companies in the United States. To view the entire product line or to learn more, visit Pomchies.com.

United Airlines gave me meal vouchers but would not provide transportation or accommodations. Instead, the airline offered the option of leaving the next day, but with an eventual arrival into Dulles, rather than Reagan, which I reluctantly accepted. I spent the night in Porto, taking a cab to a hotel.

A colleague, who was on the same flight, accepted a different routing, and spent the night in Newark. United Airlines offered him $738 in compensation under EU 261, the European airline consumer protection regulation.

I cited his case, not mentioning him by name. United told me it had made a “mistake.” I have read the regulation, as well as the experiences of dozens of other travelers, and firmly believe I am due the same $738 compensation. I’ve been polite and professional.

United has offered no fewer than three different — and inaccurate — reasons EU 261 didn’t apply. The airline says the flight was canceled. Then it says it diverted the flight. And finally, it claims the crew needed rest time. United mysteriously emailed me a $500 travel voucher link. To redeem it, I have to click a button that releases the airline of all liability. Can you help me get the $738 for my United Airlines flight delay? — James Tate, Mclean, Va.

A: You deserve $738 for your United Airlines flight delay under EU 261. No two ways about it.

EU 261, sometimes also referred to as EC 261, provides assistance and monetary compensation to airline passengers in events such as overbookings, cancellations or flight delays. The type of assistance and amount of monetary compensation depend on the circumstances. I have details on when EU 261 does, and doesn’t apply, on my advocacy site.

A careful reading of the regulation suggests United correctly compensated your colleague — and incorrectly denied you. By the way, this kind of creative re-interpretation of the rules is fairly common in the airline industry. You should not tolerate it.

Not bad weather for this United Airlines flight delay

I reviewed the paper trail between you and United. And, to be honest, I’m a little baffled by the excuses it generates. You’re absolutely right. The airline incorrectly blamed bad weather and then tried to invoke a clause for “extraordinary circumstances” by saying its crew timed out. Finally, a representative claimed United would fire her for fulfilling a legal obligation to you.

Direct quote: “I am not willing to be terminated and end my 17-year career with United, for authorizing a draft under EU261, when in fact the flight is non-compensable.  I appreciate your understanding in this matter.”

Come on.

I list the names, numbers and email addresses of the United Airlines customer service managers on my advocacy website.  A brief, polite email to one of them might have helped. Otherwise, you handled this correctly. Your requests were cordial and factual. Nicely done!

I contacted United on your behalf. Although it continued to insist it had made a mistake when it compensated your colleague, it cut you a check for $738.