United Airlines or United Apologists? If you were to judge by recent media coverage of the carrier, you might think United’s core business was issuing apologies for blunders and misdeeds made in its secondary business, commercial air transportation.
The latest in a long series of high-profile incidents occurred last week, as Shirley Yamaguchi and her two-year-old son traveled from Hawaii to Boston. As reported by USA Today, on the final leg of the trip, United gave her son’s seat, for which Yamaguchi had paid $1,000, to another passenger. The flight was full, so Yamaguchi was compelled to hold the 25-pound toddler in her lap for the duration of the three-hour flight.
Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable flight for both mother and son. And the arrangement violated United’s own rules, which require that anyone over the age of two occupy his own seat, and FAA guidelines, which warn against children sitting in adults’ laps on safety grounds.
As it has gotten in the habit of doing lately, United issued an apology, refunded the cost of the ticket, and provided additional undisclosed compensation (likely frequent-flyer miles or a credit toward the price of a future flight). Yamaguchi was unimpressed with both United’s explanation and its idea of adequate compensation. “What happened to my son was unsafe, uncomfortable and unfair.”
United’s apology to Yamaguchi follows hard on the heels of the airline’s apology to Emily France, whose infant son had to be rushed to a local hospital after overheating on a delayed United flight from Denver and El Paso on June 22. As the plane sat on the tarmac, the airline was either unable or unwilling to cool the cabin to bearable levels, in spite of the baby’s visible distress.
Like Yamaguchi, France was unimpressed with United’s initial response, apology included, and has hired an attorney to pursue the matter.
“Unsafe, uncomfortable, unfair.” Not exactly “Fly the friendly skies!”
Reader Reality Check
Is it just United, or are such incidents representative of the airline industry in general?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.