When “F” Turns Into “You’re Effed” on UAL

Did you know that United first- or business-class ticket you just purchased for your upcoming trip might not actually guarantee you a seat in first or business class?

Sure, you will get to sit in your ticketed class of service if you fly on that exact flight number and on that exact plane. But if irregular operations should cause a need to switch planes or flights, well then, you probably should have read the fine print on your ticket.

embarcadero1, for one, considers this fraud and is leading the rallying cry to do something about it:

…if you are the victim of United’s bait-and-switch fare fraud, PLEASE FILE A DOT COMPLAINT. … I’m genuinely sorry that this airline has devolved to this point. If you’re not willing and able to gird for battle each time you deal with them, there’s a very real chance you won’t get what you want, what you paid for or even what you need. I once looked forward to trips on United, but that is a very distant memory now.

Whether this practice can technically or legally be labeled “fraud” is debatable, and is debated as part of the discussion. But semantics aside, most of the travelers posting in this thread are none too happy about the practice or the way it’s communicated to customers:

When you go to book, there is a price under the “First Class” column. As far as any reasonable consumer is concerned, that is a confirmed seat in F. Not a KUP, MUP, VUP, XYZUP, instant upgrade, or whatever other crap they want to call it. F is F. And then when IRROPS happen, those people get absolutely hosed.


If they want to sell those kinds of tickets and clearly mark them as “Instant Upgrade”, that’s totally fine imo. But there is zero disclosure unless you dig through walls of fine print, and that practice should be illegal imo. ~DWFI

I think it’s a bit bait-and-switch. I do expect, when I’ve bought a first class fare, to be taken to my destination in the class of service I paid for. If UA wants to offer fares that are “F on this flight, J if irrops’d” they should advertise them as such at some point in the booking process. ~mherdeg

What I find frustrating about United is that there is no way to go back and see the terms and conditions you had agreed to when purchasing the ticket. I’ve gotten into the practice now of clicking on the T&C, entering in the captcha, and then saving the displayed T&C in pdf form. ~sannmann

And while I have been criticized by some commenters about combining frequent flyer and political topics on a recent tongue-in-cheek post, in this particular case some posters wish politicians would become more involved:

There’s a lot about airfare pricing and practice that ought to be illegal, but until Congress grows a spine, consumers have to live by their wits. ~BearX220

Not that I’m contending this in any way excuses the ridiculousness of my earlier post. Nope that other post is as silly today as it was the day I wrote it.

Does embarcadero1’s movement have legs? What do you think about the practice discussed in this thread? And would you consider filing a DOT complaint to have it stopped?

Read the thread in its entirety: IRROPS, United’s ongoing fare fraud and why you should complain to the DOT

Image: “Librarian humor” by sylvar. CC BY 2.0.


  1. Just another reason to avoid UA at all costs. In over 20 years of business travel, I can count the number of times a UA or CO flight actually went off without a hitch on one hand – and have fingers left over.

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