Trouble with United Airlines – any advice?

Reader question:

Long story short, in January my son returned to college and one of his bags was lost. It was his ski bag with his helmet, boots, etc., in it. The item was a carry-on which he was told he had to have put in checked baggage, so he handed the bag over in the “jet-way” outside the door of the plane. Upon arrival in Colorado, no bag.

I called United and, after about ten days of the bag not being found, I was told by someone at United that we should go out and purchase the items, we would be reimbursed. I asked a number of times if there would be any problem with reimbursement and both my son and I, in separate conversations, were assured that there wouldn’t. I even asked the name of the person I spoke with, it was Rahul, operator number 062497.

My son purchased, in good faith, only what was missing, we sent the receipts to corporate head quarters in Chicago, as per their instructions, and he received a letter stating that they weren’t responsible for the bags, no refund.

I finally found a way to speak with someone in the US, a woman named Ginger at 847-427-6754, and she said she would look into it.

We actually just received a call from US Air (the first carrier, both United and US Air confirmed it is the final carrier that is responsible) and the bag was found, which alleviates any doubt that the bag ever existed. When I asked, at the time we were told to replace the items, what would happen if the bags eventually showed up, I was told it wouldn’t matter; I guess this is referred to as an “interim expense” meaning a necessary item to be used when your items are unavailable.

I have $850 worth of charges on my credit card and United, just today, told my son the “case was closed” that there was nothing they could do at this time. Ginger, from United, has not returned my recent calls.

I am not interested in giving up so I am looking for a way to contest this. Is this a federal case? Can I just put in a claim in a small claims court? Should I write to someone else at United? It’s really horrible that United would be so unresponsive and unethical.

My answer:

There are a few things you can try but none are real likely to work. You could email the CEO, Jeff Smisek. His email address is jeff.smisek at (public info is their corporate email address construction, not giving anything away here).

Whether you write an email or a letter (or an email, following up with a letter), if you want to get quick resolution, outline the situation like you have, when you placed the calls, relevant information, etc. The more comprehensive your present your case, the more they are not going to want to mess with you and they will simply have it processed by claims as a write off.

if the CEO writing does not work, you can take your issue to social media. A good blog post that gets some traffic and promoting on Facebook (try the United Facebook page) and twitter will get the service department on the case. Comments on well trafficked blog posts about travel and airlines is good too. They do not want that kind of stuff posted out there for bad publicity.

You might contact a local TV station and speak with consumer affairs/investigative reporter.

Unfortunately, you are in a tricky situation here with respect to the contract of carriage.


EXCLUSIONS: UA shall not be liable for the loss of, damage to or delay in delivery of any of the following:

bb) Recreational and sporting goods, including but not limited to, archery equipment, baseball equipment, boggie/kite/skim/speed/skate boards, bicycles, bowling equipment, camping equipment, fencing equipment, golfing equipment, gymnastic equipment, hockey/lacrosse sticks, javelins, oars, paintball equipment, parachutes and parasails, pool cues, skating equipment, tennis equipment, water skiing/snow skiing/snowboards/wakeboards, hang gliding equipment, kayaks/canoes, personal human transporters, fishing rods, sculls, surfboards, windsurfing sailboards, vaulting poles, scuba diving masks and pressure gauges, copes, and sporting trophies.

So, any compensation they would offer on delayed sporting equipment is a ‘courtesy’ and not a legal right. Furthermore, reimbursable interim expenses for mishandled snow skiing equipment typically include rentals for delayed skis/boards/poles/boots/helmet and ‘reasonable’ cold weather gear (e.g. not Patagonia). Of course, if the cold weather items are permanently lost, that will be reimbursable up to the stated limitation of liability ($3,300) since they do not fall into one of the exclusions.

Therefore, a claim for new ski boots and helmet as an interim expense when the mishandled item is ultimately returned will be denied in 100% of instances.

Your best course of action is to try to return the gear and take the issue up with your credit card company. Of course that’s not really fair to the merchant you bought the replacement ski gear from but from a selfish standpoint it’s your best bet.

On the airline end, I would seek compensation for the delay (~$3-400 travel certificate) but there’s little else you’ll be able to do. By purchasing the ticket, you implicitly agree to all terms of the Contract of Carriage, and no employee has the authority to modify the terms of that contract, despite any representations they make to the contrary. Accordingly, you probably won’t get any traction by claiming, “XYZ told me to do it!”

Filed Under: Airlines + flying

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