Are Airlines Liable When WiFi Doesn’t Work During Flights?

Mar 15, 2015

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TPG reader Ben tweeted me to ask:

@thepointsguy—”Is United liable for its WiFi not working when it was promised on the flight?”

As someone who travels frequently, I know how annoying it can be to board a flight that you think has WiFi, only to discover once you’re in the air that the connection doesn’t work. I’ve experienced this many times, and it always frustrates me.

It can be really frustrating when you expect inflight WiFi and it doesn't work. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
It can be really frustrating when you expect inflight WiFi and it doesn’t work. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

TPG reader Ben paid more for a United flight because it had WiFi and he had things to do online, and then the WiFi was broken. So, is Ben owed compensation? As per the contract of carriage (the agreement the customer makes with United when purchasing a ticket) I’m sorry to say that you’re out of luck. United really has just one obligation, which is to get you from Point A to Point B, and there isn’t much in the way of consumer protection when it comes to ancillary fees for airlines.

In fact, United has been in trouble before for not refunding fees for upgrades to Premium Economy. Passengers have waited months for their refunds, and have really had to go after the airline to get what was owed.

If you have United MileagePlus Premier status, you can try to leverage your loyalty by writing a polite letter to see what customer service can do for you. You may get some miles (or maybe nothing). I once got 15,000 miles from American Airlines when I had a seat that didn’t recline, which was a very nice gesture.

It never hurts to ask, and while I doubt you’ll get anything, you may as well try. Please report back to let us know what happens, and good luck!

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook, or send me an email at

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