4 Terrible Travel Experiences People Have Had With Airlines

We’ve all heard outlandish stories of some of the worst customer service fails when it comes to air travel, and unfortunately, some airlines have established a reputation that is less than enviable. While most of us look for the best prices when booking travel, it seems like more often than not, we’re willing to seek out our own personal favorite airline simply based on whether we’ve had acceptable, not even exceptional, experiences. We’ve collected a list of traveler testimonies from those who have experienced salty service while flying some of the biggest airlines in the sky — buyer beware!

1. Utterly upset with United

Nothing’s worse than standing around while your flight leaves without you aboard | Source: iStock

I flew United from SFO to Charleston with a connection in Houston — with a baby. The flight was diverted to San Antonio due to weather, so we were late arriving to Houston and had about 20 minutes to make our connection. I sprinted through the airport, holding a carry-on bag, a stroller packed in its bag — lest I waste time unfolding it — and a baby. I arrived at the gate, flushed and sweating, holding my son, and was ecstatic to see our plane sitting right outside the gate with the jet way still attached to it and the plane door still open.

The gate agent told me I could not board the plane. I, along with six other passengers from my flight, asked why not, and he said he would check with the pilots. The United employee actually walked down the jet way to the plane and spoke with the pilots; he returned and said they had already completed all their paperwork so we could not board. Recognizing how ridiculous his response was, we tried to argue but were told to go to customer service to get a different flight.

To add insult to injury, I waited in the customer service line for several minutes, then, when I was speaking with an agent, my plane was still sitting at the gate! The customer service agent even called over to the gate agent and asked why we couldn’t board the plane. Complete ridiculousness ensued. In the end, I was rebooked to Savannah and had to rent a car, on my own dime, to drive to Charleston in the middle of the night. Not once did anyone from United apologize for the inconvenience or show any empathy for a mother traveling alone with her baby for nearly 18 hours.

Long story short, United failed to let 7 passengers board a plane that could have accommodated us, wasted resources rebooking us and earned ire from its paying customers. Pretty sure United doesn’t care about me or my opinion though.

Kristin, San Francisco

2. Delta delays

Delta Airlines
Delta plane | Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The worst experience was with Delta. We were coming home from Jacksonville after our cousin’s wedding. My husband and I were hungover and had our baby with us. We were signed up for all notification services and received nothing from the airline prior to arriving at the airport. Once we had arrived, we were informed of a delay. Three hours later, we were still delayed and our son was a maniac. Numerous inquiries were met with, “We are doing our best, blah, blah, blah…” When a plane finally arrived at our gate, they actually boarded the flight scheduled to take off one hour after ours so that that flight would be closer to on time! I was so annoyed by the whole experience, I wrote to Delta’s corporate office explaining the situation and suggesting that maybe some mileage compensation was in order or I would find another airline for my business. I received some generic response thanking me for writing and that was it.

Christine, New York

3. Sandbagged by Spirit

Spirit Airlines
Passengers trying to get on a Spirit flight | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On June 25, I was frantically packing my bag to jump on a plane for Detroit and head to my first ever wedding! Traveling on a budget, I typically use Priceline and select the cheapest option, which, in this case, happened to be Spirit. I verified my flight status and checked for any email updates just before leaving my house. Upon getting to the airport 45 minutes later, I was dismayed to find out my flight was cancelled. I was told that Spirit could fly me out on their next available flight — six days later — my scheduled return date. They also had no obligation to help me find another suitable flight, as the cause of the cancellation was due to weather (it was sunny from Denver to Detroit, and every other airline was flying planes as scheduled). Sadly, I didn’t have $1,000 to spend on a last minute flight, and missed the wedding. With that, my brief relationship with Spirit bitterly ended.

Amy, Denver

4. Apathy aboard American

American Airlines
American Airlines planes | ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The worst experience I ever had with an airline, in terms of customer service, was an international flight I took with American Airlines. I was living in Paris at the time and had booked my flight home to Miami six months in advance. Unbeknownst to me, they had overbooked the flight, so they stopped letting people on and were accommodating passengers by rerouting them — sending me to Miami, now via New York. This was during the time all of NYC was shut down because of the horrible snow storms, so flights were delayed and people were rerouted, or in some cases, completely screwed. After 24 solid hours of travel, I finally made it home to Miami — but my bag didn’t. American Airlines had completely lost it, didn’t know where it was, and when they did locate it (48 hours later) it came back ripped, with fragile items (like a bottle of wine) shattered. Because of their booking error, I lost a day with my family and everything I owned at the time was ruined.

Jenny, Miami