A woman angrily took to social media claiming that United Airlines downgraded her fiancé from “first class to coach” so that a member of the flight crew could have his seat. She is understandably upset, but let’s better understand what happened.
Woman Upset That Fiancé Was Downgraded On United For Flight Attendant, But There’s More To The Story
Danielle Schwab was traveling from London (LHR) to Chicago (ORD) on United Airlines in Polaris Business Class with her fiancé. Onboard, he was downgraded on the premise that his premium cabin seat was needed for a member of the flight crew, which they later found out was a flight attendant.
Schwab lamented that she had “booked fair and square” and found it unacceptable that her fiancé was “moved to coach” so “part of the crew” could “sit in first class instead.”
“This is not fair. This is not customer service. I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous.”
If you listen to her above, she comes across as quite reasonable…I certainly would be angry too.
But there’s more to the story than United simply booting out a passenger so that a crew member could have his seat. And her fiancé was not moved to economy class, but premium economy class, which is quite a step up on United (not that it really makes the downgrade much better).
A United spokesperson explained:
“To provide the required room for crew members to rest during the flight, we had to reassign two customers who were originally ticketed in Polaris to Premium Plus seats instead. We understand this is frustrating for our customers, and we refunded the price difference for the seats and offered each customer a $1,500 certificate for future travel.”
I realize that $1,500 and a refund for the difference in cost is often not a deal the downgraded passenger would have made voluntarily. But she was on a Boeing 767-300 jet (you can tell by the horrible fluorescent light in her video above). These planes do not have a crew rest area, like on other jets. Typically, seat 1A is reserved for pilot rest and flight attendants have a block of seats in the rear of the plane that have enhanced recline and a footrest.
But in a follow-up video, we learn that the flight attendant rest seats in the rear of the plane were somehow unavailable or broken, meaning that a pair of business class seats were needed for the crew (again, due to a contractual requirement).
This clip gives us another clue as to why this man may have been downgraded. Notice when she holds up her boarding pass she is traveling on a basic economy ticket. It isn’t clear to me how she was able to upgrade her London to Chicago flight (maybe it was a separate ticket), but United will typically bump passengers with the lowest MileagePlus status on the cheapest tickets first. If these folks were traveling without status on basic economy tickets, there is a decent chance he was chosen on that basis.
On the other hands, as I found out once on a flight to Brussels, sometimes specific seats are needed and the status of the passenger does not matter.
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Certainly the optics of downgrading a paid passenger so a flight attendant can occupy a business class seat are not great. Here, however, it seems like United handled the situation well. Even in Chicago, while the resolution may not have been to the satisfaction of the couple, I’m somewhat impressed they were met at the door of the aircraft and escorted through passport control and customs.
Downgrades are a never fun and thankfully are rare, but contractual obligations require this sort of thing. I’m not sure United could have done it any better here onboard…I received nothing when I was downgraded…
But the couple may be due some additional cash compensation, per UK261 (the post-Brexit version of EU261, which requires cash compensation in the case of last-minute downgrades). It is not clear how much United refunded them.