How to File a DOT Complaint and Next Steps with United

Feb 12, 2015

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Yesterday, United Airlines cancelled thousands of tickets just hours after customers purchased heavily discounted first class fares. Citing a third-party currency conversion error as the problem, United released the following statement:

“United is voiding the bookings of several thousand individuals who were attempting to take advantage of an error a third-party software provider made when it applied an incorrect currency exchange rate, despite United having properly filed its fares. Most of these bookings were for travel originating in the United Kingdom, and the level of bookings made with Danish Kroner as the local currency was significantly higher than normal during the limited period that customers made these bookings.”

What might have been one of the best flight deals in history (and an opportunity for United to make hay with good publicity) is instead shaping up to be an interesting legal challenge as disgruntled flyers take action. Was United’s action justified, and what recourse do you have if your ticket was cancelled?  Read on to find out.

How will the Department of Transportation handle claims from passengers whose tickets were cancelled?

My Thoughts

Personally, I think this move is a blunder by United. I’m sure the potential revenue lost was substantial, but a savvy PR team could have worked this gold mine of a story for well over a year and more than recouped those losses. At a time when United is earning record profits, and when one of its main competitors is committing loyalty program suicide, it seems like engendering goodwill would be more profitable than booting a few thousand passengers who scored underpriced fares. Apparently United disagrees, and seems to be embracing the United Unfriendly point of view.

Fortunately for consumers, United Airlines does not have the final say in this matter. The Department of Transportation has jurisdiction, because the flights almost all go through the US. It’s hard to predict how the DOT might rule in this situation. Each case is different, but it was only a few years ago that Swiss Airlines similarly cancelled first class mistake fares between Canada and Myanmar, and was subsequently spanked by the Canadian Transportation Agency and ordered to reinstate tickets.

United isn’t just going to hand over the tickets, but the case isn’t closed.

Options if your ticket was cancelled

It may be some time before this all gets sorted out, but in the meantime, there’s action you can take now that will help inform the DOT and add weight to the complaints against United. It took me just 4 minutes to file a DOT complaint thanks to the info in this FlyerTalk thread, which offers the following tips:

  • File on DOT for every ticket number affected.
  • If you have one reservation with four people traveling (four tickets) file 4 DOT complaints (one for each ticket).
  • If you have separate reservations, file a DOT complaint for each.
  • The DOT complaint website may take several minutes to load, depending on demand.
  • When you go to upload a file, be careful as it will reset all your radio buttons. So, if you want a copy of the complaint, make sure you double check that “Yes” is still selected before submitting, especially if you upload a file.

That same FlyerTalk thread also provides this handy template for filing a complaint:

United has unilaterally cancelled my ticket without my consent. Facts:
1. The ticket was ticketed (had a ticket number).
2. I received a confirmation number, ticket number, and emails stating both
3. The ticket was paid for and my credit card charged.United must reinstate the ticket within its original cabin. This trip is for travel TO the United States.At no time during the booking process was any other fare than the Danish Krone equivalent displayed. As a reasonable, prudent consumer, I believed I was paying the price displayed to me on the website. United never sent or displayed the equivalent fare in any other currency.Trip Details
Ticket #: 016XXXXXXXXXX
Routing: LHR-EWR-LAX-HNLAttachments: Attached is a document showing the ticket, routing, and providing proof that the reservation was ticketed.Filename: Cancelled – UA Reservation – LHR-EWR-LAX-HNL – XXXXXX – 016XXXXXXXXXX.pdf

Naturally, you should input your own ticket number, routing, etc. I filled out a DOT complaint and instantly got a standard form response, but (unsurprisingly) have heard nothing further since. As I said, this will likely be a protracted ordeal, but I still have hope that these fares will be honored.

Stay tuned!

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