18 Other United Airlines Horror Stories — Is This the Worst Airline?

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18 Other United Airlines Horror Stories — Is This the Worst Airline?

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18 Other United Airlines Horror Stories — Is This the Worst Airline?

The story of Dr. David Dao’s violent exile from a United flight in April is shedding light on a lot of other PR nightmares for the company.

Many other passengers have horrific United Airlines stories to share, and many of these stories have made the news since the Dao fiasco. Buckle up…

18 Other United Airlines Horror Stories — Is This the Worst Airline?
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1. Nearly displaced for the CEO

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1. Nearly displaced for the CEO

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A Chicago man named Sonny Ginsburg tells the Los Angeles Times he was on a flight departing Aspen in December that was delayed an hour on the tarmac because of inclement weather.

When the plane returned to the gate, a family of five in first class deplaned. After another delay, the family — later revealed to be United CEO Oscar Munoz and his wife and kids — decided to rejoin the flight.

The upgraded passengers, however, refused to leave their new seats. To his credit, Oscar Munoz let them keep their cushier spots and sat with his family in Economy Plus.

Still, Sonny said, “The gate attendant repeatedly tried to shame the standby folks into vacating the first-class seats, shaking her head and making comments about how they should show respect.”

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2. A case of "higher priority"

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2. A case of "higher priority"

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A man from Irvine, California, was threatened with handcuffs if he didn’t relinquish his full-fare first class seat to another, so-called “higher-priority” passenger on his flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles.

“I understand you might bump people because a flight is full,” the passenger, Geoff Fearns, told the Times. “But they didn’t say anything at the gate.

“I was already in the seat. And now they were telling me I had no choice. They said they’d put me in cuffs if they had to.”

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3. A urine-drenched seat

3. A urine-drenched seat

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Micky Levy, a passenger on a Newark-to-Los Angeles flight in March, said her seat smelled like urine and the floor was moist.

She and her seatmates complained to the United flight attendants — who were very rude, she said, and who refused to move her to an empty seat in business class.

The attendants’ solution? “I could go to the lavatories, get some water and soap, and wash my seat if I was really bothered by the unsanitary smell,” Micky told the Times.

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4. Claustrophobic in the middle seat

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4. Claustrophobic in the middle seat

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A Massachusetts woman named Rita Nethersole was flying home from Hong Kong last summer and specifically reserved an aisle seat to mitigate the claustrophobia and panic attacks she feels on lengthy flights.

When she boarded the United flight, her spot had been switched to a middle seat.

“I questioned it and was brusquely told that my seat was changed,” she said to the Times.

“I begged for a change and was still denied. I told them I was afraid I might have a panic attack but got nowhere.”

So she medicated herself and stood in the galley, trying not to succumb to a panic attack.

“No one attempted to help me. No one should have had to go through this.”

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5. A scorpion in the overhead bin

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5. A scorpion in the overhead bin

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We’re warned about luggage falling from overhead bins, but not insects. Still, that’s what happened to a Canadian man named Richard Bell on a United flight from Houston to Calgary — coincidentally the same day Dr. David Dao was violently dragged from his flight.

“I picked it up, and it was a scorpion. And I was holding it out by the tail, so it couldn't really sting me then,” he told CBC.

A fellow passenger warned Richard the bug might be dangerous, so he dropped it on his plate.

“Then I went to pick it up again, and that's when it stung me. It got my nail, mostly.”

United offered Richard and his wife flying credit.

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6. Sexual assault in mid-air

6. Sexual assault in mid-air

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A New Jersey woman named Jennifer Rafieyan told The Huffington Post she was groped and sexually assaulted as she and her young daughter flew United from Newark to Phoenix in April.

Jennifer said the man next to her rubbed her legs, grabbed her knee, kissed her hands, and even wrote “PASIONAT NITE XX” on the to-do list on her notepad.

When she was able, Jennifer reported his behavior to a flight attendant.

“She said, ‘I’m so sorry. We felt really bad putting him next to you, but there was nothing we could do. He was doing the same kind of stuff to the other flight attendant.’”

“FAA regulations prevent the boarding of an intoxicated person and selling alcohol to him,” she wrote in an official complaint to the airline.

“The [flight attendants] knowingly put a drunk person who had sexually harassed the [flight attendant] next to me and my daughter. United jeopardized the safety of everyone on board.”

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7. Barred from flying in leggings

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7. Barred from flying in leggings

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The Washington Post reports agents for United prevented two teenaged girls from boarding a flight from Denver to Minneapolis in March because they were wearing leggings.

“Since when does @united police women’s clothing?” eyewitness Shannon Watts tweeted.

Responding to the controversy, the airline said the girls were subject to a special dress code because they were using a United employee pass.

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8. Trapped in the plane after landing

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8. Trapped in the plane after landing

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In 2010, a 36-year-old woman named Ginger McGuire sued the airline for negligence, false imprisonment, and infliction of emotional distress — after she slept four hours past the flight’s arrival in Dulles, as NPR reports.

Once cleaning crews found her and woke her, federal officers kept her in the plane until they determined she wasn’t a terrorist.

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9. A dog's ill-fated voyage

9. A dog's ill-fated voyage

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A 7-year-old Golden Retriever named Jacob was supposed to fly from Detroit to Chicago to Portland to reunite with his owner, Kathleen Considine.

Kathleen said United employees in Detroit told her mom the pet carrier would fit on both planes, but it didn’t fit on the second plane, and it took the airline 20 hours to get Jacob to Portland.

"The second that Jacob looked at me in the eyes, I knew that something was wrong,” she told Travel + Leisure.

Shortly thereafter, Jacob died from gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome, which can be caused by stress, and though Kathleen isn’t sure United is to blame, she said she was disgusted by the lack of sympathy airline officials initially displayed.

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10. A child's missed connection

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10. A child's missed connection

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In 2012, Annie and Perry Klebahn called United in a panic when a summer camp counselor called to say their daughter Phoebe, 10 at the time, had not arrived on her flight to Traverse City, Michigan.

No one at Phoebe’s layover in Chicago showed up to help her make the transfer, the Klebahns said in a letter to the airline, per NBC News.

Worse yet, Phoebe reportedly asked United employees three times to let her call her parents, and she was told to wait.

Finally, she made it to Traverse City after Annie and Perry appealed to a United employee who was a mother herself. The airline letter told the family that a third-party vendor handled unaccompanied minor services and “forgot to show up” this time.

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11. No empathy for autism

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11. No empathy for autism

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In 2015, Oregon woman Donna Beegle claimed United booted her and her family off a Houston-to-Portland flight because of their teenaged daughter, who’s living with autism.

15-year-old Juliette has difficulty communicating and only eats hot foods. Donna told ABC News a flight attendant offered a hot sandwich, but it arrived cold.

“I could see [Juliette] getting frustrated,” Donna said. “I asked if I can purchase something hot for my daughter and [the first class flight attendant] said no.

“I called him back over and I said to him, 'Please, help us out here.’”

After more pushback, a flight attendant brought hot jambalaya, which Juliette ate.

Then the flight crew announced the plane was making an emergency landing, and paramedics and police officer met the plane on the ground.

The cops said the captain had ordered the Beegle family off the plane.

Fellow passenger Jodi Smith said she overheard the entire conversation and the first-class flight attendant was being “totally ridiculous.”

“This was the epitome of discrimination,” Jodi said. “I have never in all my years of flying seen anything like this.”

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12. Ousted for a seat change

12. Ousted for a seat change

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Utah couple Michael Hohl and Amber Maxwell were kicked off their flight from Houston to Costa Rica on April 15 — as they were heading to their destination wedding, no less — because they were trying to change seats.

Michael and Amber said they boarded Flight 1737 and found a man asleep and lying across their reserved seats, 24B and 24C. So they took empty seats 21B and 21C — “simply in an economy row a few rows above our economy seat,” Michael tells local news affiliate KHOU.

The groom says a flight attendant asked them to return to their assigned seats, and they did, but then another official told them to get off the flight.

“They said that we were being disorderly and a hazard to the rest of the flight, to the safety of the other customers,” he adds.

The airline’s statement, however, paints a different picture:

“These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase, and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats. We’ve been in touch with them and have rebooked them.”

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13. A mobility aid on the no-fly list

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13. A mobility aid on the no-fly list

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A man named Trey Harris, who lives with spondylitis and uses a Segway miniPRO as a mobility aid, writes on Medium that United made him ditch the Segway for his flight this March from Newark to San Diego for a honeymoon cruise with his husband.

“I’d called United’s Special Needs desk well before the flight,” he says. “They asked about the device’s specs and gave me what sounded like the official OK.”

Unfortunately, gate agents deemed the device a hoverboard, and the captain wouldn’t allow it on the plane, Trey writes. He had to leave it at the gate.

“We take off, and my honeymoon starts with me sobbing for an hour, my husband consoling me,” he recalls.

Trey spent several hundred dollars renting a clunky scooter for the cruise, and just as he started enjoying his honeymoon, he got multiple voicemails accusing him of abandoning “a hazardous material at an international airport.”

United has not publicly responded to Trey’s case.

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14. Accusations of child trafficking

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14. Accusations of child trafficking

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Huffington Post contributor Maura Furfey says United Airlines flight attendants believed an inebriated passenger who thought that Maura’s husband, who’s Mexican, was trafficking their 3-year-old daughter as they flew from Cancun to Newark.

“She claimed that my fair-skinned daughter didn’t look like her Mexican father, and stoked suspicion that he had kidnapped her. This passenger had no basis for this claim, nor any evidence to back it up,” she writes.

Once the plane had landed, officers from the Port Authority and Customs and Border Patrol escorted Maura’s husband and their daughter from the flight, peppering him with questions.

“A simple check of the passports or flight records would clearly show that there was no problem in this situation,” Maura writes.

“We never thought, however, that flight attendants on a major airline ― United Airlines ― would choose to take such an observation seriously ― and in doing so, that the Port Authority and CBP would drag my husband and daughter off an airplane and interrogate them with a presumption of guilt.”

So far, United Airlines has only responded with an apology and a $100 travel voucher.

“This is useless to us because we won’t ever fly with this particular airline again,” Maura says.

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15. R.I.P. Simon

15. R.I.P. Simon

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A three-foot-long continental rabbit named Simon died on a United flight from London to Chicago, as The Sun reports. SImon was found dead in the cargo hold of the Boeing 767.

According to breeder Annette Edwards, Simon was expected to become the world’s largest rabbit, surpassing his 4-foot 4-inch father, Darius.

“Simon had a vet’s check-up three hours before the flight and was fit as a fiddle,” she said. “Something very strange has happened, and I want to know what. I've sent rabbits all around the world and nothing like this has happened before.”

In a statement, United said it was “saddened” to hear of the 10-month-old rabbit’s death.

“The safety and well-being of all the animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team,” a representative for the airline told BBC. “We have been in contact with our customer and have offered assistance. We are reviewing this matter.”

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16. A flight canceled over a cell phone video

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16. A flight canceled over a cell phone video

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37-year-old Navang Oza from Hercules, California, says his reservation on a New Orleans-to-San Francisco flight was canceled because he videotaped his confrontation with a gate agent.

Navang, who admits he still had alcohol in his system from the previous night, says the agent wanted to charge him $300 to transport the same luggage that cost $125 on the outgoing flight.

In the footage from the weekend of May 6-7, you can see the woman asking Navang to stop recording and then telling a coworker to cancel Navang’s flight.

“I was shocked because I didn’t know she had the right to cancel my flight because I started recording,” he tells NBC Bay Area.

United has apologized in a statement: “The video does not reflect the positive customer experience we strive to offer, and for that we apologize. We are reviewing this situation, including talking with Mr. Oza and our employees to better understand what happened.”

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17. A scorpion stowaway

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17. A scorpion stowaway

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Scorpions are becoming frequent fliers on United! After one stung a Canadian passenger the same day as the Dr. Dao debacle, a second scorpion was found on board a flight from Houston to Ecuador on May 11. 

According to United, a scorpion reportedly crawled out of a passenger’s clothing Thursday on Flight 1035 as the flight was preparing to take off to Quito, Ecuador.

This time, no one was stung and they got another plane as a precaution, resulting in a 3.5 hour delay.

"We provided all passengers with a meal voucher due to the delay and the flight, with the customer aboard, has departed for Quito," United said in a statement. At least they got a free airline meal! 

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18. An infant’s seat double-booked

18. An infant’s seat double-booked

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Shirley Yamauchi had purchased two tickets for United Flight 2047 from Houston to Boston on June 29 — the final leg of her trip from Hawaii — one ticket for herself and one for her 2-year-old son.

The only problem: Another passenger had a ticket with the same seat number as her son.

“It was very shocking,” she tells KITV. “I was confused. I told him, I bought both of these seats. The flight attendant came by, shrugs, and says, ‘Flights full.’”

She knew what happened to David Dao, the man violently dragged from a United flight in April, so she didn’t make a scene.

“I’m scared,” she recalls. “I’m worried. I’m traveling with an infant. I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want either of us to get hurt.”

So Shirley was forced to keep her son in her lap for the entire flight, even though the FAA says it’s unsafe to do so.

Worse yet, when Shirley called a United hotline, the airline said they could offer her a refund but would have to cancel her ticket back to Hawaii.

 

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The story of Dr. David Dao’s violent exile from a United flight in April is shedding light on a lot of other PR nightmares for the company.

Many other passengers have horrific United Airlines stories to share, and many of these stories have made the news since the Dao fiasco. Buckle up…