Does United Deserve a Little Compassion?

There is a conversation taking place on the Fodor’s forums that has absolutely nothing at all to do with the recent United mistake fare, and perhaps everything to do with it.

arizonaguy initiates the discussion with a story about how cancer interrupted a planned trip, and how US Airways’ response, while in keeping with their rules, seemed to lack in compassion:

In January 2014, I booked tickets to Florida for Thanksgiving. In July, I was diagnosed with Stage II Prostate cancer … I cancelled the flights. I then tried to get rebooking fees waived in a letter to US Air in December, stating, I did not know I’d get cancer when I booked.


Well, I never heard, went online, attached the cancer diagnosis,as well as a doctor’s note and the online response said: Your ticket expired on January 23, 2015, one year after issue. ..sorry.

Others share similar health-related travel stories, though many receive much different treatment from the airlines.

We had a similar situation and the trip involved five different airlines. The only one that did nothing for us was United ~HappyTrvlr

we were in London a year ago and ready to fly on Easy jet to Budapest when I was told my brother was dying and if I wanted to see him alive I needed to fly home to Australia immediately. he died 10 days later and Easy jet gave me a full refund when I was able to show them the death certificate ~northie

I had to cancel a flight on UA due to a medical reason. I had one year from the date of purchase to book a new flight with the credit. They waived all but $50 of the $200 rebooking fee when I presented them with a doctor’s note. ~yestravel

So, what does this have to do with the recent United Denmark mistake fares?

Nothing directly, but it is interesting to note how well we as travelers think of airlines that are willing to bend the rules in extreme circumstances – especially when it comes to matters of grave illness – and how poorly we look upon airlines that fail to show any compassion.

I wonder if it might be appropriate to turn the mirror around and reflect on how we might behave should the airline be afflicted with a grave illness of its own.

In other words, could a case be made that a mistake fare of the magnitude United experienced be considered the equivalent of United being diagnosed with, and suffering from, a Stage 2 cancer? Curable, but costly and sure to take a toll on United’s health and well being.

Seen in those terms, would it change how you might approach the airline if you were one of those who purchased tickets at the mistake fare prices? Understanding that it doesn’t and shouldn’t change the terms of the contract.

Personally, I think an interesting outcome of this would be for the government, in the form of the Department of Transportation, to resolve that, like individuals, corporations will be held to the terms of contracts and so United should be legally required to make good on the fares.

However, I think United would be smart to hire a consulting firm to “diagnose” the extent of the damage caused by this financial cancer, and to announce the diagnosis to everyone who purchased a ticket. And if I was United, I would make the announcement in a very human way. Maybe something along the lines of:

While we thank you for your recent ticket purchases and for choosing United, we are writing to request a favor.


Regretably, the tickets you purchased on February 12, 2015 were the result of a mistake in our system. While we try to be very conscientious about taking care of ourselves and our systems, unfortunately mistake fares do happen from time to time and impact our well being. Usually it doesn’t turn out to be too bad – sort of on the same scale as a common cold – and we simply honor the mistake fares, feel down in the dumps for a few days, and strive to take better care of ourselves so as to minimize future occurrences.


But this time it’s quite a bit worse we’re afraid.


After meeting with our financial health consultants we have been told that the prognosis is much more grim this time. The mistake was so large and spread so aggressively through the various news channels that it threatens to do significant damage to our well being.


Of course, we are committed to a full recovery. Fortunately we have insurance to help in times such as this, and our financial consultants are the best in the world and have already established a plan to get us back to full health.


Still, we would greatly appreciate your help and understanding as we embark on our recovery.


While we will gladly honor your purchases and proudly serve as your air transportation provider, we would be forever grateful if you would consider canceling any tickets for trips that perhaps you do not have to take. We fully appreciate that you have every right to keep the tickets and take the trips, but frankly we are requesting the favor of your compassion as we struggle through this serious financial illness.


Thank you for your consideration, your understanding, and your help. We sincerely appreciate it.


And thank you for continuing to fly United.


The (a bit under-the-weather) United Team

What would you think if you received a message like the one above from United? Would it change your attitude and/or behavior at all? Would you cancel some or all of your mistake fare tickets?

Or would you see it as just another slick marketing message? And would a message like this absolutely sink United’s stock prices once the shareholders and general public got wind of it?

Read the thread in its entirety: Check your contract and don’t get cancer

I Told You I Was Sick!” by Peter Dutton. CC BY 2.0.


  1. I’m sure it wasn’t meant as such, but this a pretty offensive post. I understand the need for click bait, but there have to be better ways to go about it than analogizing corporate profits to cancer.

  2. Somehow you found a way to tie the United fare mistake to cancer. CANCER. I mean…wow… This post might be a new low in points blogging…

  3. I have little time for people who expect to have the T&Cs of tickets abridged for them because they’re ill or have other unanticipated reasons for cancelling a ticket. That’s what insurance is all about. Either buy such a policy or use a credit card that provides such coverage, but don’t go crying to the airline! As for UA honouring the latest such fare “error”, it was caused by a third party who bears any responsibility and liability, and UA should not be penalized nor obligated to honour such tickets. Most were booked under fraudulent conditions — the setting of the default country to Denmark — and thus those purchasing were well aware of being complicit in a deceitful act.

  4. Interesting perspective on the UA mess. Don’t listen to these two UA lurkers and continue the great work looking out for the consumer!

  5. As other state, referring anything to Cancer, well that’s just wrong as I am a survivor. As for United, different story. I understand that mistakes happen no matter if made by United or a representative 3 parties away, it happened and as a company who holds their customers to the same standards of carriage they to should follow their own rules. Plain and simple. No excuses, no notes, no blogging. Be a company who cares and appreciates their clients and doesn’t just pass them along to the next agent or plane and provide service that has been decreasing for years now. Be a stand out corporation and take the lead and be proud, something United has not taken responsibility for, for a very long time.

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