In a viral TikTok video viewed over five million times since being posted on Wednesday, United Airlines passenger Danielle Schwab alleged that her fiancé was downgraded from Polaris to economy class in order to accommodate a crew member on a transatlantic flight. Her partner was not offered a refund in the fare difference or compensation for his inconvenience.
What (supposedly) went down
The couple was traveling from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare on Polaris tickets they purchased with cash. According to Schwab, upon boarding, airline staff alerted the Schwab’s partner that because there was not enough room in the crew rest area at the back of the plane to accommodate crew members, he would have to move from Polaris to coach.
Upon landing in Chicago, the couple were met by a United customer service representative who gave them his business card and offered to take them through customs ahead of their next flight as well as to waive overweight bag fees, despite (according to Schwab) their bags not being overweight. He did not offer them compensation or upgrades on their onward flight to LAX.
After approaching numerous employees at O’Hare to complain, the couple were advised to submit an online claim.
Is this legit?
Involuntary downgrades can occur for any number of reasons. What’s strange about this story is not that it happened but the way United allegedly handled it. Three things stand out:
- United is contractually obligated to refund the couple for the difference in fares between the two cabins. It is also legally required under UK 261 to refund part of the cost of the segment. That it failed to proactively anything to the customer is, if true, pretty sleezy.
- The downgraded passenger wasn’t offered any monetary compensation for the inconvenience. That’s a little hard to believe given that United does compensate for this sort of thing, sometimes generously. In 2020, for example, they gave 10 passengers $10,000 of flight credit each for taking downgrades on a flight from Newark to Honolulu.
- The United customer service employee that escorted the couple through customs tried to claim their bag was overweight so as to be able to offer the couple a waiver for overweight fees. Excuse me??
This is an outlandish story, but I believe it for a couple reasons. First, it was corroborated by another passenger, who was also downgraded. Second, United can be, simply put, a sleezy company, and their customer-facing employees are generally not empowered or not motivated to provide good service.
I have no doubt that the fiancé will be given a refund for the fare difference between Polaris and economy since United is contractually obligated to do so. I also think there’s a good chance United will compensate for inconvenience given the very public nature of this incident.
Still, it’s disappointing United wasn’t proactive about meeting their obligations with respect to a refund or compensation, and the couple’s experience with the customer service representative at O’Hare sounds downright terrible.
By all accounts, this is another instance of the characteristically poor customer service we’ve come to expect from United over the past few years.
A viral TikTok video alleges United Airlines involuntarily downgraded passengers from Polaris to economy class on a flight from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare to accommodate a crew, without offering refunds or compensation. Upon landing, the couple received expedited customs processing and waivers for non-existent overweight baggage fees, but no financial amends. United’s handling of this incident, corroborated by another passenger, seems to be another example of seriously lackluster customer service quality at the airline.