Reimbursement for canceled and delayed flights on Frontier and United
April 17, 2024 5:44 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I recently flew on Frontier from Denver to Orlando. We were supposed to be back in Denver for one day, after which I would fly to San Antonio on United for a high school reunion and to see the eclipse. tl;dr: Because of problems on both Frontier flights, we have more than $1000 in out-of-pocket expenses. Frontier is offering only a $100 voucher for future flights. How can we get reimbursed?

Details for people interested in train wrecks:

- Frontier flight to Orlando: Boarded flight, plane returned to gate, delayed 4 hours, got to VRBO at 2 am

- Frontier flight from Orlando: Delayed 4 hours, supposedly because a tire needed to be changed, then canceled at midnight because of weather, though Frontier staff had insisted all evening the plane would fly. No one from Frontier was at the gate when the flight was canceled, nor was anyone at the ticket counter. The link that Frontier texted to rebook the flight didn't work until the next day. Eventually got refund from Frontier, but paid more than $1000 in out-of-pocket expenses for hotel and new flights on Southwest. (At this point, I had to go straight to Texas.)

- United flight to Denver: Boarded flight, returned to gate, delayed 8 hours because of problems with hydraulics on plane. United is offering a $50 voucher or 2500 frequent-flyer miles. (Also, United didn't refund the flight from Denver to San Antonio that I couldn't make because of the problems with Frontier.)
posted by lukemeister to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Check your credit card used to buy the flights. A number of travel cards include some automatic travel insurance that might help you out here.
posted by chiefthe at 6:24 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]

Did you have travel insurance? In general, US airlines are only responsible for airline costs (i.e. costs of the flight) and not for incidental expenses (ground transport, hotels, etc.) Nothing stops individual airlines from covering more expenses or offering goodwill gestures -- most mainline airlines (United, American, Delta) will comp hotel and ground transport vouchers for canceled flights or overnight controlled delays (see DOT dashboard here), but they are not obligated to. As you might not be surprised to learn, Frontier does not do this, and they are not obligated to under any US regulation.

Also for reference, here is Frontier's policy.

The TLDR is that you are not really due anything more that what you've already gotten (and I know this may sound chastising or blaming, but I'm just trying to be upfront about what is legally due in the US for a domestic flight. In some cases, e.g. if you were flying to/from the EU, you would be due more protections):

Frontier flight to Orlando
If this was an "uncontrollable situation" you are due nothing (as the flight did take off and you did not choose to not take the flight, in which case you would have been due a refund since the delay was 3+ hours, according to Frontier's policy).

If this was a "controllable situation" you would have been due meal vouchers, but otherwise everything is the same. This is from Frontier's policy.

Frontier flight from Orlando
Frontier is not responsible for your hotel expenses, as an incidental expense, as per DOT policy.

Frontier would have been responsible for rebooking you on the next available Frontier flight, but it sounds like you had trouble doing so. This is a part where I'm not 100% sure, because if you argued that you would have liked to have been rebooked on the next Frontier flight but no one and no tool was available to rebook you, did they really offer this?

However, since you took the refund from Frontier for its canceled flight, Frontier will likely argue that they fulfilled their obligation to you. (Airlines aren't obligated to both refund a canceled flight and rebook you for free on their next available flight -- doing one fulfills their obligation to you.)

United flight to Denver
If this were a "controllable delay" United should have offered you meal vouchers (as per its commitment to offer meal vouchers for controllable delays of 3+ hours) and if it resulted in an overnight delay, vouchers for a hotel, as per United's policy and the DOT dashboard linked above.

But otherwise, as the flight was not canceled, United is not obligated to offer you anything else. If you had chosen not to fly on this flight, this would likely have been considered a "significant delay" under DOT policy and you could have gotten a refund for the flight. The $50 voucher / 2500 miles are a goodwill gesture and not required by any US policy.

United flight from Denver to San Antonio
Unless this flight was canceled, United is also not responsible for refunding you, because this was on a separate booking. Missing the second flight in a separate booking because the first flight was delayed or canceled doesn't obligate the second airline to re-accommodate you.

(Unless you somehow bought the Frontier and United tickets together on the same booking, which is very unlikely as they are not codeshare or alliance partners).
posted by andrewesque at 4:56 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]

I have never had occasion to see if lawyer Erica Kullberg's advice [links to her IG profile] holds up, but you might. She puts out Instagram reels educating people on, among other topics, what they're entitled to if their US airline delays them or cancels their flights. She cites federal transportation law, not airline rules. Particularly memorable from her low-budget reels are when she's role playing the airline staff, begrudgingly offering stranded passengers a lowball amount of money.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 10:01 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]

I have to say I was disappointed to see how parsimonious airlines' remuneration policies for delayed & cancelled flights are. USDOT has a "Dashboard" page listing all of the policies and they are across-the-board bad. Frontier is a fair bit worse than most of the others, however.

I had Erica Kullberg's advice in mind, too (linked above by ImproviseOrDie) but that is for cases when you are actually bumped from the flight - for example because the airline has oversold it - and not in cases of weather and equipment delays.

The delays that happened to you fall under that category - "involuntary" delays caused by weather or aircraft problems - and in those cases there is no legal requirement for airlines to compensate you. They voluntarily do a few minor things like a meal or hotel voucher.

I think about your only avenue for (possibly!) getting a little more compensation would to call them again and, very calmly, explain how much money and distress these delays caused you and just ask if there is anything else they can do to help. Emphasize that it is not simply that the flight was delayed, but more so that their system for rebooking the flight failed to work, which put you in a situation of booking the flight with another airline using your own money. At a minimum they should refund or provide 100% credit for that flight that was delayed beyond usefulness and for which their own re-scheduling scheme failed to work in a timely manner.

I wouldn't even be angling for like a few thousand in cash or whatever, but could they offer a little more in future flight credits or frequent flier points - for example, completely replace the flight which their own incompetence made unusable.

The other possible tack you could take is to contact the airlines top execs on social media. Some have had success that way. There, too, I wouldn't be demanding thousands in cash per say but more making the case that "your maintenance, scheduling, and customer service issues cost me thousands - and you're offering me a $100 voucher in return. The link to re-schedule the flight didn't even work until it was too late to use it and I was forced to reschedule on another airline using my own money. Can't you do better than that?"

Also, in the future avoid Frontier seems to be pretty good advice.
posted by flug at 1:50 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]

Looking at the on-time arrival % for U.S. airlines, I note that Frontier is #10 out of the 10 rated (ie, the worst) for 2023. Just another data point.
posted by flug at 1:57 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I filled out the complaint form on Frontier's website, and they replied with legalities and said they don't owe us anything more.
posted by lukemeister at 1:33 PM on April 19

It's possible their "legalities" response was AI/automated, but "signed" by a person. I know American and United (referred to as AA/UA respectively, moving forward) employ AI/automated CS responses, especially with the initial reply (combing keywords). Usually, at least IME (with AA/UA), a reply to their initial response would get an actual human response. I would ask for a callback so you can directly engage with a (human!) CS agent who most likely would be more empowered than AI, and who has a supervisor to escalate to if need be.

If that gets you nowhere, try Christopher Elliott's Frontier page. There's a list of emails for the top brass at Frontier.

As for UA, I'd also try Elliott's page.

Sorry you're going through this. US airline carriers honestly suck these days, because of all the mergers that were approved in years past—less competition, so their attitude is more like "why should I care?". This is an issue across the board. Delta is the only one who seems to at least make more of an effort, but even they aren't the same excellence-filled airliner that they were in ~2016. We are in sore need of an EU261-style legislation here in the USA that would require more duty of care and better customer service/compensation guidelines from USA-based airlines, but aha, capitalism, so here we are. All this is IMHO.

Good luck and godspeed, I legitimately hope you get your money, or at least, a substantial amount, back. 🤞🏼
posted by dubious_dude at 11:37 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]

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