How to handle a cancelled United flight.

Our snow covered wing of the timed-out Charlotte flight.
Last Sunday, I attempted to come home from Louvain La Neuve. I had a fantastic flight on a code-share Brussels Airline flight, and then landed into the winter storm from Hell in Washington D.C. (10" of snow). Flights on the split-flap display started showing the dreaded red lettered CANCEL before the jet-bridge was even extended to our cabin door. Shannon had already texted me that my later flight was canceled, and soon I would learn all flights into Greensboro were canceled till Tuesday. What strikes me as insane is how in this age of technology, oodles of mindless passengers clamor to the customer service desk for a two hour wait when a more simpler solution is to call the 800 number of the airline. 

In fact, when I fly I have the airlines telephone number pre-programmed into my contact list just in case of a cancelled flight. I immediately saved myself hours in line by calling the 800 number. Within minutes I was re-booked on a 10 o'clock flight to Charlotte, an alternate near-by airport in North Carolina. So while hundreds of others stood inline, I grabbed a smoothie and hung out at my gate. We boarded the aircraft and everything went well until the de-icing timed out the crew. I was told later that night that this term referred to the amount of time a crew could work, rather than a flight slot which the crew had explained it to us as. We ended up sitting on the runway over the FAA time-limit for Passengers Rights in a cramped Express-Jet and had to de-plane on an ice-covered sky-ramp (no bridge). Honestly it was all a part of the adventure, and short of the very angry (and yelling) female flight attendant on that flight who threatened passengers, we all took it in stride. 

Back inside the airport again, I once again broke out my mobile phone and dialed United's customer service. This time there was one seat on a flight into Raleigh the next morning. My telephone-agent noticed someone else was fighting for that seat, but I quickly said "grab it", and he did. That's unfortunate for the poor sod at the counter somewhere but the early worm gets the seat. Not only was my agent quick on the draw, but since that seat was likely Premium Economy he upgraded me for free. In addition I received a customer appreciation email for 7,000 frequent flyer miles.

Sure I slept on a bench in the airport that night. Sure there were parts of it that weren't as enjoyable as it should, but I made it home Monday morning without nearly as much drama as many of the people were experiencing that weekend. I deeply respect how United handled the situation, and will gladly fly with them again based on this experience.

So to sum it up:

How to handle a cancelled United flight.

  1. Pre-program your airline's telephone number into your cellphone before the trip. In the case of United it's 1-800-864-8331 (1-800 United 1).
  2. The moment you find your flight is cancelled call the 800 number. It helps to be near a flight departure board/display to see if their are alternative flights, or airports you can use.
  3. Once you find a flight, ask if their is Premium Economy inventory that you can be upgraded to as a one-time customer service action.
  4. Finally ask if you can receive a "customer appreciation" email for your troubles. These are also available from flight-attendants as a "We're sorry for your inconvenience" cards, if you're able to secure one before exiting the canceled flight, etc. This will provide you access to the website: where you can elect a $150 voucher or 7,000 miles for your difficulties.


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