Checked In but Denied Boarding

February 7, 2014

in Airport Stories

If you fly on United Airlines you may be treated to a little public service video they share before the safety video, pre-departure. It details how much they care about their customers, and has touching vignettes of UA staff going above and beyond for their customers.

What a crock of sh*t. I’ll try to make my story brief:

I checked in online the day before my scheduled flight out of YVR. The system would not allow me to print a boarding pass, as it said something about confirming my passport details. However, in every other way it indicated that I was checked in. I have screen captures of the UA check-in process documenting this.

So I arrived at the airport at 5 am, expecting to print my boarding pass and proceed through security for my 6 am departure – I don’t check bags. I accessed a kiosk but it wouldn’t print my pass – said to check with an agent. I had to wait 20 minutes to speak to an agent – she told me that the flight was closed – it was oversold, and I wasn’t on it.

I was obviously upset by this – I had a reservation, a seat assignment and had checked in the day before – how could I not be on the flight? The agent was rude and dismissive – told me that it was my fault, I wasn’t checked in, etc. I told her I was checked in – I had done so the previous day. She said I wasn’t – circular argument. She also told me to shut up or else I would not be on the next flight out. So, I was not impressed by UA customer service at this point.

I called their reservations number – they confirmed I had checked in the night before, but as it was now 5:30 and that flight was oversold, there was just no way I was going to be on it. The next flight out was 5 hours later. The telephone agent told me to file a complaint with UA’s Customer Care department online.

I did file a complaint – both about being denied boarding and the rudeness of the agent (“C.” – a 15 year UA employee). I waited a few weeks for a response. UA did respond, but it was a form letter. It didn’t address specifically any of my concerns. I also posted online (Twitter and Facebook), and sent additional emails to UA – I received additional responses, but all form responses of one sort or another.

I filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency – they reviewed the file and noted that UA had acted within the terms of their Contract of Carriage. That is a 47 page document in which, on page 10 if you go searching hard enough, there is language that states you must have a reservation, check in, check bags and print a boarding pass, all 60 minutes prior to a scheduled international departure. So – it is clear from their Contract of Carriage that you have to print a boarding pass 60 minutes prior to departure, but not from anywhere else.

The language consistently used is “check-in” when they discuss time limits. That language is on their website – sometimes on the ticket itself – and at one point I called after completing an online check-in with UA and the telephone agent confirmed I was “checked-in,” even though I did not have a boarding pass yet.

What I am looking for from UA is an acknowledgement that I should not have been denied boarding on that flight. That I fulfilled their requirements based on the language they used on their website to “check in 60 minutes prior.” And some compensation for being delayed 5 hours that day. Also, some indication that the shockingly rude behaviour of the YVR gate agent would be addressed too.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Belle February 8, 2014 at 4:16 pm

It's United, so don't hold your breath, especially in regards to getting any kind of compensation.


Rich February 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I am not a fan of United (especially United at Dulles) but you messed up on this one. You showed up barely an hour before the departure of an international flight when you were told you needed to have your passport checked. That seems pretty clear to me that you needed to talk to an agent. For this reason alone you should have arrived much more in advance of your flight. My wife used to travel extensively internationally on business. I don't recall you were EVER able to check-in fully online. They need to see and verify your passport and possibly visas. Could UA handled this better, yeah of course, but you created this situation all on your own.


Gmr February 11, 2014 at 12:12 am

On international flights most airlines request that you arriva at the airport two hours before departure. I believe the term check-in means at the airport. You can’t check in for flight at home and still expect a seat waiting for you ten or fifteen minutes before departure


madachode February 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm

2 hours early is the min for International Flights on any carrier. Don’t try and pawn off your incompetence, laziness on an Airline and posting on this site shows that you are part of the “entitlement” group; wanting something for nothing. Next time, don’t fly, stay home.


RedHead0186 February 24, 2014 at 1:48 pm

If you weren't able to print a boarding pass (which makes sense, as they would have to check your passport/scan it in person to print the pass), you should have anticipated a bit of trouble and allowed yourself more time at the airport. Assuming that it was all taken care of was a poor choice on your part.

Could the UA employee have handled it better? Sure, and you do have a right to be upset about that. But if you didn't have a boarding pass in hand, you should have planned ahead better for that.


Alex March 4, 2014 at 6:27 am

you got to be kidding me.. you weren't checked in and arrived about an hour before scheduled departure when you where supposed to be 90 minutes before departure at the airport and 45 minutes before departure at the gate? man. .you deserve your missed connection, hope they also charged you a fine for that like they do on emirates flights.


Lucy March 11, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Doesn't matter what airline it is, you have to show up for international flights at least 90-120 minutes before departure!

And you can 'check in' for international flights at home, but check in is not complete until they see your passport!

You dropped the ball. I just feel bad for all of the people who had to read your 'complaint', what a waste of time!


Rachel June 8, 2014 at 12:42 am

A lot of harsh comments here. He said he had to wait around to talk to an agent. No checked baggage either. That’s probably why he thought an hour would be enough time.


RedHead0186 June 8, 2014 at 12:49 am

I'd maybe agree with that for a domestic flight, but the OP was flying international. Plus, if I didn't have a boarding pass, I'd be pretty nervous about that and want to show up early to make sure that was resolved.


mary May 8, 2015 at 2:59 pm

You thought you could arrive at the airport at 5 am and catch a international flight at 6 am? Seriously!


Joan May 6, 2017 at 8:33 pm

Not being a fan of United, I must say that this time the passenger was in the wrong.


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