Bamboozled September 11, 2017: United Airlines passengers fight for promised refunds

About a month before Hurricane Irma swarmed over Key West, Fla., Brad and Michelle Nolan spent a couple of days there.

They said they had a great trip — until it was time to fly home.

The Nolans said after one leg of their return flight was cancelled, United Airlines promised to reimburse them for a car rental and other fees. But nearly a month later, the couple was still waiting for refunds.

The five-day trip was booked using 75,000 miles from their United Mileage Plus credit card, they said.

The couple said they took United from Newark Liberty International Airport on Aug. 1, flying to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. From there, they’d grab a connecting flight to Key West with United’s partner Silver Airlines because United doesn’t fly direct to Key West.

United arranged the connection.

It all worked fine on the way to Florida, but the way home was anything but smooth.

First, Brad Nolan said, when they checked their bag with Silver, they had to pay a $25 baggage fee, which the Silver rep said would be refunded by United because the couple had the United Mileage Plus credit card.

“We just needed to give them a call when we got home or go over to their gate agent, however, since it was a weekend, the desk was not staffed,” Brad Nolan said.

While waiting to board a flight that was eventually cancelled, Brad Nolan took a photo of the Silver Airlines plane sitting on the tarmac.

After they checked in, they learned the flight was delayed by 45 minutes because “the flight attendant needed to get settled,” Nolan said they were told.

“At the end of the 45 minutes, weather rolled in and we spent the next two hours in our lovely Saab 340B on the tarmac while we waited for air traffic control to lift the ground stop.”

That never happened.

The flight was cancelled, and passengers were told that agents at the gate would get everyone rescheduled, especially those, like the Nolans, who risked missing their connecting flights.

When it was the Nolan’s turn to rebook with the Silver agent, there was a problem.

“She said since we bought our tickets using miles, we would need to contact United directly as she cannot rebook us,” Nolan said. “Again, since there was no [United] gate agent, there was literally no one in the Keys that could assist us.”

The Nolans called United, and they were placed on another flight from Key West to Orlando, and from there they’d catch a flight to Newark.

With the United rep still on the phone, Nolan returned to the Silver gate agent to confirm the flight.

“The gate agent said despite having ‘tickets’ for the flight that United just got for us no more than three minutes earlier, we would not be allowed on the plane,” Nolan said. “She started aggressively telling us that United needs to fix this and not her.”

And all the other flights were booked solid, Nolan said the rep told them.

Nolan said he got back on the phone with United.

“After another 15 minutes of trying to find another way home including flights to/from West Palm, Orlando and Miami, we found that every flight from the Keys regardless of destination in mainland Florida was booked through the following evening,” Nolan said.

They did have one option: They could rent a car, drive to Fort Lauderdale to catch a flight, and they’d be reimbursed for the car rental. The rep also said they would be reimbursed for the $25 baggage fee paid to Silver, and for the extra day of parking in Newark for $27. They’d also get their miles back for the cancelled flight, plus a refund of the booking fee, they said they were told.

The Nolans jumped, thinking they had the best case scenario. They rented a car for $306, and took the more than four hour, beautiful 113-mile drive on the Overseas Highway.

“We stopped at Arby’s for some curly fries and arrived in Fort Lauderdale,” Nolan said. “We got on the flight six hours or so later than we were going to, but at least we were home.”

That’s when the refund drama began, Nolan said.


Michelle Nolan called Silver on Aug. 8, but the airline said she needed to call United.

She said the United rep agreed they’d be refunded all the fees — $306 for the rental car, $22.40 for the fees, $27 for extra parking and $25 for the baggage fee for a total of $380.40 — onto their MileagePlus Credit Card. Plus, 75,000 miles would be returned to the account. This would all happen in 48 hours, they said they were told.

By Aug, 12, nothing had happened, so Michelle Nolan called United again. The airline said it should take another 24 to 48 hours.

Brad Nolan called on Aug. 16 to say nothing had been processed.

“After 90 minutes on the phone, we found that there was no record of anything previous besides that we had our flight changed,” Brad Nolan said. “I was also told that there was no written record anywhere of what the agent told me over the phone about getting everything reimbursed.”

They were told to resubmit everything, and they’d get all the refunds in five to 10 business days, they said they were told. The miles refund would take about a week.

The couple said they waited as instructed, but two weeks later, there were no refunds.

The next time they contacted United, they said they were told they would not receive the refunds, but instead would get $200 worth of United gift cards for future travel. The cards had to be used in the next year.

The Nolans were not happy with that, so they tried another rep.

This one said they would receive all the original refunds.

Then Michelle Nolan received a different call.

“Another rep called my wife to say there are to be no further refunds which we think is in reference to the miles, but she was not told anything specific,” Brad Nolan said. “My wife tried to stop this guy from speaking so she could ask a question but he screamed at her saying ‘I’m not here to get abused. You listen to me!'”

After that, and the fact that still, there were no refunds, the Nolans called Bamboozled.

“I am only trying to get what I was promised multiple times by multiple people,” Brad Nolan said. “We have had up until this point extreme brand loyalty but now between this huge runaround and getting screamed at on the phone?”

We shared the Nolans story with the folks at Silver Airlines, but no one responded to our requests. We also contacted United, and it contacted the couple. United said it apologized and “provided compensation.”

The Nolans shared the specifics.

United said it would refund the rental car fees, give a $125 certificate for a future flight and the couple could keep the $200 in certificates they were already offered, the Nolans said. They would also get a refund of 40,000 miles on their credit card.

The Nolans said they appreciate United’s offer, but they’re still frustrated it had to go this far.

“It really just seemed like they didn’t know what they were doing,” Brad Nolan said. “One person would say everything is approved and is going to be a few days and a few days goes by and another person says there is no record of anything.”

“Their reps shouldn’t be promising things that the company can’t fulfill,” he said.

We’re glad United came through for these customers.