Tripped Up: Resolving a United Dispute Over Refundable Tickets

My typical advice in situations like this is to complain rationally, respectfully and concisely through one customer service channel (say, calling or an online form), then another (email), then another (social media), hoping that eventually someone with the time and training to step in sees your point. Ms. Jankowski, the United spokeswoman, had a more specific suggestion. “In this case I do think our social care team — which can be found on Twitter and Facebook 24-7 — would have been really helpful in this situation,” she said. “They have the expertise and means to escalate this to a refund specialist.”

Mr. Hobart added that customers should not have to go through all this. “The customer went through the right avenues to get this addressed,” he said. “Our goal is to address it early, to address it on the first attempt, and to address it correctly.”

When I pressed United on what, concretely, could be done to be sure similar situations — or different but equally Byzantine one — were avoided in the future, he said that executives in the “customer leadership group” had been informed and were “keenly interested in this particular scenario.”

“We’re going to look at this and learn from it, use it as a way to avoid something similar in the future,” he said.

Perhaps. But let’s end by looking at what you, Ellen, did right here — and then compare it to something I recently did wrong in my own travels. Realizing potential and unpredictable health issues might disrupt your plans, you elected to book refundable tickets, something many cheaper, less thoughtful fliers (i.e., me) often stubbornly refuse to pay extra for. Then, you carefully read the email confirmation you got (something I’m also guilty of not doing), immediately noticed an issue and called within 24 hours, when airlines are required to refund or rebook you, to correct it. In this case, the airline still erred in how it dealt with your refund, but you ultimately prevailed.

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