Think You Have A Bad United Airlines Story? I Think I Can Top It

I just spent over 10 hours trapped inside a United plane at the Newark airport.

The list of reasons for the delay was, well, magnificent:

1) Food was not stocked on board

2) Needed de-icing

3) Needed de-icing again

4) Lost fuel from waiting for takeoff

5) Lost our captain

6) No new captain (stuck in traffic)

7) Lost our crew while waiting for new captain

8) Got new crew

9) Still no new captain (still stuck in traffic)

10) Got new captain

11) Lost new crew while waiting for new captain

I wish I could write comedy that well.

During the 10 hours, we got off the plane only once.

Wait, you may say, they have to let you off the plane after so many hours.  Well, not really.

They tell you that you can leave.  But if you do, they add, you need to remove all your luggage. Translation:  If this plane is ready to go, we will abandon you like a three-legged mule.

Result:  You don’t dare leave the plane.

Remember that guy United dragged off the plane not too long ago? We were longing to be him.

But United added to the experience by offering no WIFI, no water, and no food.  The food part was especially ironic given that the lack of food on the plane was the initial reason for the delay.  Turns out, they weren’t going to give it to us anyway.  Eventually, I walked to the back of the plane and snuck a glass of water from the flight attendant.  I traded away one of my children for it.

But it was all okay, because United kept me informed viatext, telling me in a series of texts that the flight would:

Depart at 3:30 pm (wrong)

Depart at 7:45 pm (wrong)

Depart at 8:45 pm (wrong)

Depart at 9:35 pm (wrong)

Depart at 10:35 pm (wrong)

Depart at 12:55 am (wrong)

Depart at 11:59 pm (wrong) (an odd shift back in time, as well)

Depart at 12:30 am (wrong)

Depart at 12:59 am (wrong)

Depart at 3:49 am (wrong)

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a stunning 0 for 10.  A monkey taking an algebra exam could do no worse.

In fact, their updates were so consistently wrong that I started texting back to update THEM, replying to each of their updates with:

Update:  We don’t have a pilot.

Update:  Crew just left.

Update:  You literally have no idea what’s going on.

And after ten hours on board, they finally cancelled the flight at 1:30 am.

But like a good firework show, United saved the best for last.   They told us all that we would have to go to the United service desk to reschedule.

And that’s where the bad math kicked in.

Number of employees at service desk:  4

Number of people waiting for service desk:  400

So the same people who got off the plane at 1:30 a.m. had the added joy of standing in line until 5:00 am (And beyond.  Line still had 225 people in it when I left at 5:00a.m.).

The good news is that I finally got a new flight by connecting to United on Twitter.  The bad news is that the flight is not until Saturday.  Which means I need a hotel. So I’m out a few hundred more dollars.

United will tell you it’s all because of the weather.  And that’s true.

But it’s sort of like building your next house out of cardboard and blaming the rain when it disintegrates.  

I now get the United slogan – “Fly the Friendly Skies.”  The skies are friendly.  It’s their planes that suck donkey ass.

So next time you have to fly, don’t fly the friendly skies.

Fly the friendly airplane.

72 thoughts on “Think You Have A Bad United Airlines Story? I Think I Can Top It

  1. Ha, you do have me beat. We we only on plane 6 hours. Boarded on time before the snow but mechanical issue. Then the little tug that tried to push us back got stuck in the new snow. Once plane left gate We got stuck to waited for bigger tug. De-ice time put us over crew time and then needed over an hour for an open gate. I am not getting back to Phx (hopefully) till tomorrow. I can not attest, you can’t sleep in terminal C.


  2. Sorry for your unimaginable hassle! Not to be in sensitive, but be grateful that you were not sitting next to RAT!


  3. I haven’t flown United in years. They were never on time the few times I did. I fly SouthWest unless I need to go somewhere they don’t service. Then I fly Delta. Flying ianyone is pretty much a crap shoot these days.


  4. United told you it was “weather” so they wouldn’t have to comp your room. The fact is, the flight was cancelled due to their incompetence, and they should have paid for it – per regulations. They tried pulling that trick on us once with “weather” being the default answer. When we corrected the agent, she actually looked it up, said “oh”, and shipped us across Denver to the nearest hotel.

    Have fun with this… United has given you a gift: time. And you already have the audience.


  5. I live in NJ and deal with that all the time. To make your time in NJ a little better I can take you to a nice restaurant near the hotel. You won’t even have to sign any books in return; you fid that for me last tome you were in Jersey City. Let me know


  6. My friend used to tell me his United horror stories and I laughed – he’s now dead. This is probably the worst. I fly Jet Blue or Alaska wherever possible.

    I support PBS.


  7. You’re lucky they had people at the counter to reschedule. My last time through the City of Brotherly Love airport (which should really be called Screw Everybody But Me), the United gate staff disappeared the moment the flight was cancelled, leaving a hundred passengers stranded with no one to help them.


  8. I am so sorry this happened to you! But look on the bright side – you’ll probably get a year’s worth of comic strips out of this experience! 😉 perhaps you can add a new permanent character to the strip – Snake or Weasel?


  9. I was delayed in Paris over 3hrs last month so due to law there I’m entitled to compensation over $1000 per passenger. Europe is so much more progressive.


  10. Why do I have a sense there’s a future Pearl’s Sunday strip about flying on “Divided Airlines” coming?


  11. Quit flying the “Friendly Skies” long ago. After being stranded in Chicago, I have taken other airlines, who have a little more sympathy for their customers. Next time think Jet Blue, Alaska, or Southwest.


  12. OMG! The no water/food/WiFi would make this unbearable. I’m surprised there were no ‘medical conditions’ on the plane.

    I was on a United flight that was only stranded for about 5 hours. All the toilets get clogged … but they gave us all a Coke and some pretzels.


  13. OMG! The no water/food/WiFi would make this unbearable. I’m surprised there were no ‘medical conditions’ on the plane.

    I was on a United flight that was only stranded for about 5 hours. All the toilets get clogged … but they gave us all a Coke and some pretzels.


  14. I had my 100th segment on Delta yesterday. Longest delay was less than one hour and zero mechanical delays. It is a common occurrence at my home airport hearing United and AA announce delays and cancellations. I never use either.


  15. Here is what I had to deal with in SF with United (what I wrote them).
    My mother & I had a connecting flight from San Francisco to Seattle ended up one of the worst experiences of our life! I can understand a flight delay due to weather. But then loading people on a plane, only to kick them off because you “don’t have pilots” was the first of many insults. Then they lied to us & told us we would have a flight at 230am. No updates were given after that, I & others had to go inquire only to then find out that we would have to wait until 10am to fly out, 11 hours after we were supposed to depart. Then they gave others special privilege to rebook spots to the other scheduled flights around 7 & 8 am. While a lot of us were still waiting to rebook one of your managers at the location was going around screaming at the gate workers “NO HOTELS!” No blankets were even offered until about 330am to people wanting to sleep, nor did they even announce it, I saw them bring out the blankets & yelled out to everyone there was finally blankets. People needed to sleep & did not have the money to front for a hotel & only hoped to get reimbursed let alone transportation to & from said hotels your company did not care! Then one of your gate employees said right in front of everyone “Well I was supposed to get off work several hours ago & just left after one rebooking of the customers & she forced her co-worker to finish up the re-ticketing alone. Then while rebooking some travelers, he also claimed that no one could speak Spanish. So I had to use Google to translate & tell these 4 passengers that (only one barely understood English) what was going on & where their gate was going to be at. So after the absolute worst customer experience I have ever had in my life & my 61y/o mother agreed. What do you offer us as an apology? A few snacks & $75 off a flight. Big deal! That means I would have to spend more money on your company & you would still profit. Your company & its treatment of people is disgusting!


  16. I had a similar experience a few years ago at the Lafayette, LA airport with United. The plane (the same type of commuter jets that fly into Sonoma County) had a flat tire. The maintenance people didn’t have a spare tire. The closest place that had a new tire was Shreveport, a couple of hundred miles away. No one thought to have a new tire loaded on an incoming flight into Lafayette. Oh, did I mention that the airport’s restaurant was closed for “renovations,” the vending machines were broken, and there was a group of teenagers from a boarding school tying to get back home for Christmas. Seven plus hours later, United FINALLY admitted the flight was cancelled because the crew had put in too many hours (sitting on their cans). At least I was able to go back and stay at the same hotel I was booked in the previous night and eat something on United’s dime.

    Oh, and don’t get me started on how United is surprised every time it snows at O’Hare in the winter….


  17. Although you were in hell, I am so glad you wrote about it- you are one of the few people that can make hell look fun! I love your work, and am a fan for life. Thanks for sharing your amazing talent with us!


  18. There used to be a website dedicated to documenting United’s many issues

    United took legal action and got it taken down.


  19. Actually, you can get off the plane and if you have checked luggage now THEY HAVE TO go through and find YOUR bag and remove YOUR bag before the plane can take off – I know this because someone on my flight that sat at the gate for an extended period of time (not 10hrs) got up and left and they were advised to stay near the gate in the event that it magically was able to fly away. Person left the plane…plane finally cleared to take off, but now because person did not return they had to see if they could find them, in the mean time the baggage guys had to come out and dig through the bottom of the plane for the next 30min to find their bag and remove their bag. Then we were finally able to take off…so yeah, if you have checked luggage get off the plane you have at least a good 15min before they find your bag unless it literally is right there when they open the cargo bay doors.


  20. There was a whole website against United called UnTied. United is suing them because they’re assholes. Honestly, all the airlines suck but I feel United is the worst of the worst.


  21. Hi! I’m reposting this ’cause I’m not sure if the first one went through. I live in NJ, and it happens all the time there. In fact, one time it took me 22 hours to get back to NJ from Wisconsin.

    There are a lot of great restaurants near your hotel, and I’d be happy to treat you to dinner at one. I wouldn’t even ask you to sign anything (you did that on your last visit to Jersey City). Let me know if you’re interested and we can take care of the details later.



  22. So by my math… You could have walked off and rented a car and been just about anywhere in the Continental USA before the plane arrives… But I love a good road trip. 😉


  23. What a ridiculous article. The first sentence says you spent 10 hours “trapped” on a plane, later you say that you were told you could get off at any time. There were “400” people in line at the service desk after your plane cancelled, yet United doesn’t have any planes that hold 400 people. Lastly, it was a blizzard, do you think Southwest or Delta or anybody else’s operation was running any better? The multiple departure times come from ATC, not the airlines. They have zero control over that.
    Grow up.


  24. OMG Stephan –

    I cannot believe I received an email from you.


    Thank you for this.



  25. Send in your hotel receipt to United for reimbursement – they’re supposed to give you a hotel voucher for cancelled flights. Also, depending on which credit card you’re using, it might reimburse you for any other expense (meals, for example) for flight delays.


  26. Yes, you win, that tops my story by a ton. The prize though is a free round trip to Bupkus, Arkansas. Enjoy.


  27. Stephan  You have every right to be pissed – and United deserves to be dissed – And I hate to be rude – but it seems you’ve been screwed – without even having been kissed!  BevSent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.


  28. Stuck in Newark too after United delayed the flight several times until they got the plane in to take us to Atlanta. Then they cancelled us outright. Spent ha hour on the AirTrain going from C terminal to the car rental.


  29. You do know this happened with almost every airline? There was a snowstorm! People died, people got stuck in the highway for hours. Yet you blame United like they’re the only ones that this occurred to. If planes don’t de-ice they can’t fly, they need to keep doing it, pilots and flight attendants max out, they’re human too.
    If you didn’t want to be on the plane for so long they gave you the option to get off…you know of free will right? In all that time in the plane did you happen to look outside?


  30. i have a million and a half miles on United over twenty years, i dare you to try to tell me something i have not seen before! Rat would be put to shame over many of those things I’ve seen… I lived in a city that required me to fly to the hub every time on a regional jet, but have since moved to a hub city and fly a different airline. I am here to report that unfortunately they are not all that much different from each other…


  31. I never check luggage, so I would have gotten off and hung in the airport. Newark has a nice United counter, at least at 11am it was nice. Did any passengers get off the plane? Kind of surprised you stayed on that long by choice.


  32. Ummm….to the guy, Mark, who called this a ‘ridiculous article’ and then finished his comment by saying that ATC (Air traffic control) determines the departure times…Okay, NO. THEY. DON’T. If air traffic control determined departure times, no one would leave anywhere. My husband worked 25 years as an ATC and the AIRLINES determine the departure times, not air traffic control. Good grief, man. Seriously, you don’t think air traffic controllers have enough to do? They just clear for take-off or arrival. They do not schedule the departure times…the airline does that.


  33. I love it when lay-people thInk that they understand something. I am a 20,000 hour major airline captain, and I can assure you with zero doubt that during severe weather events like we are discussing in this article, ATC determines who leaves and when. The reason for the many updated departure times mentioned in this article are because of constant changes to ATC flow times. The airlines have zero control over this, other than negotiating with ATC to swap one of their flights with another, in other words, use a wheels up time for a different flight than ATC originally planned. Whether even that happens is also ultimately up to ATC.
    You are apparently confusing scheduled departure time (from the airlines) with what happened in this article. Go back to and talk to your husband, maybe he’ll enlighten you.


  34. So sorry for that (sorry, can’t think of a word negative enough to describe it). Have had some ridiculous experiences flying, but this tops them all. Guessing there may be some good material for a strip, or several, maybe, unless you decide to forget about it completely, if you can.


  35. apparently I haven’t flown enough, or maybe just not from cold weather areas (I live in Florida-land of the impossible to cast a vote polling places. Send Rat down immediately- Georgia is a good second choice. The only issues I generally have are those of small print.. ” waddaya mean it costs 50 bucks more for carry-on. The agent says it was free…” That kind of issue. Oh, and I sat behind one of your guys in the “box of stupid people”. I wasn’t in the box , but I sure could have used Guard Duck. Next time I fly I’ll slip a few of your books in my carry-on. They’ll either calm me or send me into orbit.


  36. I think some context of the actual chaotic early season snow event last night (11/15/2018) in north jersey should be mentioned. My coworkers were trapped in their cars for 8+ hours last night and didn’t have the option of “getting off” like you did. They were truly stuck. Context matters. This post should reflect that. This wasn’t some sunny 80 degree day. I’m not saying United’s actions were justified (they weren’t) but this wasn’t business as usual on a sunny day either.


  37. Hope to never have a story like yours. Bummer. Maybe rat was trying to give you fodder for several more frames of Pearls Before Swine. Hey – real life is great for coming up with new ideas. Hopefully you traded your least favorite child. Let them worry about feeding and hydrating an upset child. No internet!!! that would be the ultimate. At least with internet or a movie it could while away the hours. Certainly a testimony for buying food in the concourse and taking it on board with your Starbucks coffee and large bottle of overpriced water.


  38. Went thru same thing with American in Dallas. If they had just been honest, we could have rented a car and been home to Houston before being put on and off plane, not to mention the time waiting for help at desk which took hours. No refund, no compassion, no nothing, except frustration.


  39. I expect a month of Rat as Untied or Detinu CEO and Guard duck as his employee. Will be much better than your lame puns!


  40. I was once on an Air Canada flight that was grounded because of a suspicious white powder found on board. After being surrounded by security, men in hazmat suits boarded, took samples, and then tested the powder in a portable lab right on the runway. While we were only stuck on the plane for a few hours, we were actually quarantined in the terminal for a couple of hours afterward. They let us go when the suspicious white powder was determined to be Coffee Mate.


  41. My understanding is that if they let the passengers off, the crew stops getting paid. You are a profit center.


  42. It feels so wrong to “like” this blog. There should be a jaw-dropped, gasping, fist-clenched but also sympathetic emoji to respond to your awful experience. I’m so sorry for your loss (of time, temper and faith in just about everything at this point).


  43. I hate to say I think I’ve got you beat. Was flying Delta from Barcelona to NYC. Before the plane even started to taxi, the child seated across the aisle from me started barfing. As the airline had declined the father’s repeated requests seat them together, the young couple next to him was left to hold his head and clean up. The crew vaporized before each barfing incident. And they were legion. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t take the kid off the plane before we left the ground. it was loud and nasty and he was clearly VERY ill. Anyway – this poor child vomited off and on THE ENTIRE TRIP. He was barfing as the plane landed at JFK; that’s at least 8 hours later. He wasn’t eating – not sure WHERE all this was coming from.
    I did send a letter to Delta upon landing asking why they didn’t have some protocol for this – at the very least the child and his father should have been moved to the back of the plane. As it was, for at least 25% of the flight, barf was in the aisle next to me. And yes, it was a packed plane so no chance I could have moved either. I got an INCREDIBLY snotty reply back saying ‘how inconvenient it must have been for you to be seated near a sick child’. Spent the next month hoping the kid was ok AND that I hadn’t contracted the plague being exposed to whatever he had for all that time. NEVER flying Delta again.


  44. United routinely schedules two flights to a location then cancels the first at the last minute, even if there are not enough seats on the later flight for all ticketholders. They did this to me, and as you describe, I wound up in a line of 100+ canceled people at a far-away ticket counter where 2 agents were working (8 stations empty). I reached the counter 40 minutes later and was told it was too late to put me on the remaining flight leaving in 10 minutes. She added helpfully “you should have got here earlier.” (What??) This was in the mid-90s. I will never ever book a United flight again. I hope they get sued into oblivion.


  45. It feels so wrong to “like” this blog. There should be a jaw-dropped, gasping, fist-clenched but also sympathetic emoji to respond to your awful experience. I’m so sorry for your loss (of time, temper and faith in just about everything at this point).


  46. Wow, I’m late to the party but had a similar experience in July 2006 going from Dulles to NYC La Guardia. It’s been so long I don’t remember the airline or what the problems were but we sat for hours in an un-airconditioned plane with no food or water. I an a friend ended up sleeping in a hotel bar after it had closed to avoid paying for a room. Not too comfy for two ladies in their 50’s. The desk clerk took pity on us and gave us each a banana. The next day we got to NYC but by that evening I had tripped and fallen and broke my patella and spent the next seven days in the hospital. Ticket home was no good and had to buy another one on Jet Blue to get back to Richmond VA. On the trip home I had a cast on my leg but two women older than me would not give up their seats at the escape door so I could stretch my leg. Not fun!
    I tell you this story because this blog was the only way I could contact you to tell you what a genius I think you are. Your humor is my humor. A rare thing to find these days. I have clipped and saved many of your cartoons. Your latest on 7/18/21 is a hoot as they all are. The Richmond Times Dispatch used to carry you daily but now it’s just Sunday. It has become such a rag but I now have you bookmarked on my laptop. Take good care of that crazy brain and keep ’em coming!!!


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