Downgraded by US Air During IRROPS

A few months ago, I flew to Europe using my United miles and had the opportunity to experience some awesome European Airlines hard and soft business class product. Despite this, on my return, I flew Lufthansa’s’ 747-8i to Washington DC and was supposed to connect to US Airways to Charlotte and then onto Seattle. Yet, due to irregular options (IRROPS), US Air rerouted on United from DC to Phoenix and then on to Seattle on US Airways. My entire flight was originally booked in business, but due to the IRROPS, I was rebooked in Economy because there was no business class space available between DC and Seattle.

Long story short, minutes before boarding, a domestic first class seat opened up on the United flight from IAD to PHX and I asked the gate agent if I could be rebooked upfront and explained to him that due to the IRRPOS I was downgraded. The agent looked at my reservation and told me he couldn’t upgrade me because my ticket was not upgrade eligible since US Air had rebooked me in the economy class cabin with a fare code that could not be upgraded. I explained the situation to the gate agent but he refused to listen, handed me the phone and told me to call the rebooking line.

30 minutes later the plane was ready to depart and the first class seat was still open. The agents on the phone could not book me in the first class because the seat was under the gate agent control. The gate agent also refused to speak to the agent on the phone because, as he claimed, he was too busy preparing the flight for departure. The agent on the phone was empathetic and understood the situation and apologized profusely but there was nothing she could do to secure the seat for me. Finally, I had to let her go and boarded, otherwise I was going to miss my flight. The first class seat flew empty and I ended up in the economy class cabin.

The lead flight attendant had witnessed a bit of the exchange between myself and the premerger United gate agent and was dismayed by the handling of the situation. Her warm smile and apology was more than welcome, I was fustrated but would rather get home then be stuck in an airport. Then, once at 30,000 feet, herself and another FA came by to apologize and wanted to get the full story on what happened (this exchange was made easy because I had the exit row to myself). Before I knew it, the Premerger Continental employees were bringing me drinks and snacks from the front of the plane. One FA looked at me and said, “I’m sorry man, they treat us the same way” and basically told me that the two companies are STILL not playing nice together.

The flight turned out to be quite enjoyable and honestly, I would take an economy seat with a row to myself over a domestic first class seat any day, so in the end, it all turned out for the best. Despite this, the attitude presented by the gate agent was uncalled for and extremely rude. Due to his lack of professionalism, I decided to write United a letter about the situation. Within 3 days, United called me to profusely apologize. Hector, the customer service representative who called me, was genuine and actually seemed embarrassed by the situation that took place at IAD. He was even more confused on why the agent would let a first class seat fly empty instead of upgrading an elite passenger or a passenger who was clearly downgraded; a quick search of my itinerary showed the history and the downgrade due to IRROPS. After a short and pleasant phone call with Hector, he informed me he was going to see what he could do to resolve this issue and would be in contact with me by the end of the week.

A few more days passed and on Friday morning, I woke up to an e-mail from Hector apologizing for the customer service fall out I experienced at IAD. Included in the personalized letter was an e-certificate for $200 off my next United flight.

I think stories like this are important to share because it proves that the corporate offices are listening. Despite having a bad experience with the gate agent, United recognizes there was a falling out. Thank you United for the voucher and instead of just sending me a generic e-mail and thank you for taking the time to speak to me on the phone. The voucher was very generous!

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DanR July 23, 2013 at 01:32 pm

I think the UA gate agents at IAD are often terrible and unwilling to help (or even admit they are wrong).

Dena July 23, 2013 at 02:26 pm

Be careful about publishing too many stories on compensations - a lot of people (and certain someone over at BoardingArea) were kicked out of the MP program because of being too vocal. Though IMO he just has too big of a mouth and brag about abusing the system.

CP July 23, 2013 at 06:05 pm

You have more travel/IRROPS issues than anyone I've ever seen! Unfortunate situation, though. IAD gate agents have screwed me too many times that I've restricted myself from going through there.

Nick July 23, 2013 at 07:53 pm

Who was kicked out of MP? I only complain when something that should be under the airlines control goes wrong. Not weather related or even mechanical - I understand stuff happens. Like if they overbook F and downgraded me, even if just a complementary upgrade - is a fair complaint IMO.

Phil July 24, 2013 at 07:13 am

I had a similar situation happen to me at IAD, just in the past couple of weeks. My upgrade had cleared, but just prior to boarding my name was announced to see the gate agent...never a good sign. Turned out the forward flight attended seat was damaged and I was being bumped out of first so the flight attended could have my seat. Obviously I understood, but inquired if she would ask someone else on the list if they would take the downgrade and $200.00 voucher as I was flying with my wife and we preferred to sit together. She adamantly refused and rudely said "it's going to be one of you, I can choose or you can choose." I even divulged that this was the last flight on our honeymoon trip but no dice. It was a short flight and I understand the mechanical issue, but the rudeness and unwillingness to even make an announcement to see if the other guy on the list wanted the bump and voucher so we could sit together really left a bad taste in my mouth.

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