How United Airlines may compensate you at the airport

United Airlines airport customer service agents can give you as much as $125 in travel certificates under a new program. Photo: Travel Collector/Flickr (Creative Commons.)

United Airlines airport customer service agents can give you as much as $125 in travel certificates under a new program. Photo: Travel Collector/Flickr (Creative Commons.)

United Airlines this week began allowing airport workers to give goodwill travel certificates for as much as $125 to passengers who receive poor service. 

United agents have free rein to decide how to dole out the electronic certificates, though the airline included some examples in a bulletin to workers. United still recommends passengers with more complicated complaints about delayed flights or broken equipment contact its customer care division. This program is apparently for more minor issues.

The new program started on Nov. 2. Here are some of United's suggestions for when to give out certificates:

  • Employee Conduct. Meant to "atone" for another employee who was rude to the customer.
  • Baggage. As a reward for customers who are willing to stay in the airport to wait for a checked bag that arrived late. [Otherwise, United has to deliver the bag to the passenger's home.]
  • Appreciation. To thank a customer who helps a United employee. An example: A customer who is willing to give up a seat to a family or disabled person. 

As you might expect, how much you receive depends on how loyal and profitable you are to United.

Business and first class customers, as well as those in United's top two frequent flier elite levels - Global Services and Premier 1K - may receive up to $125. United's Premier Platinum and Premier Gold members can receive between $50 and $100. Regular customers seated in economy can get up to $50. Agents can only give each person one certificate.

Over the years, United has had many programs that reward customers at the airport, and these are just the latest guidelines.  "These compensation guidelines allow 'in-the-moment' recovery when extenuating circumstances warrant a gesture of goodwill," United told employees. I am not sure what the old travel certificate guidelines were, but I suspect this is a more generous airport program. 

As a suggestion, I would not go to the airport trying to score a certificate. United tracks that sort of thing, and you do not want to receive a reputation as a certificate hoarder. [Don't forget the story of the Minneapolis rabbi banned from. Northwest's frequent flier program (and later Delta's) for complaining 24 times in eight months back in 2008.

United is having a tough period for customer service, but judging by the memos that make it to me, the airline is aware it has an issue and seems to be trying to solve problems. Better service was a priority for CEO Oscar Munoz, but unfortunately he had a heart attack last month, and he is not involved in the airline now. 

In recent weeks, I have written about United's new policy to give free alcoholic drinks to its best customers. I have also written about a new upgrade program for United's most loyal passengers, as well as a new policy that allows first class fliers a choice of more food options.  And airline executives recently said they planned to improve onboard coffee in response to customer complaints. 

Have you noticed better customer service on United? And what do you think of this new certificate program?

UPDATE: A United spokesman emailed this information about the certificates. 

Airport employees have been offering customers travel certificates after a customer disservice, voluntary denied boardings, etc. for many years. Sometimes agents and supervisors refer customers to Customer Care via united.com; in listening to employees, we found that many wanted more guidance on what they could do to solve customer issues in real time and how what they offer could be more consistent. Hence the Nov. 2 memo.


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