United Apologizes for Unfriendly Skies, Again

United just can’t seem to catch a break lately. Or maybe it’s less bad luck and more a matter of incompetence and indifference.

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?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.


  1. John Pekarski says

    Almost every time I fly UA, and I do a lot, something ridiculous goes wrong during my flight. I can’t imagine what goes on with people who don’t complain.
    My opinion is that a business with as large a base and following should do EVERYTHING in their power to satisfy it’s customers And if it doesn’t, this United Miles member will complain..
    Just a quick screw up. I was brought to the United Cub in Narita. I was told not to worry and a wheel chair would be available for me to get to my connection in time. Needless to say I had to get outside the lounge with difficulty and flag down a wheel chair because as the woman at the lounge desk stataed…..she forgot.
    I complained immediatly and was given a $200 voucher which I thought was inappropriate but I didn’t have the time to argue with the United Represenitve.
    My point is this happens over and over again and nothing seems to be being done to remed the problem. I think the Americans With Disability organization shoul be called in to investigate.

    • Joe says

      $200 inappropriate for waiting longer for a wheelchair? What would you accept? A million dollars maybe?

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