US News Oh Great: United Airlines Redefines “Cancelled”


The Helper Connoisseur / Ex-MineCraft Host
Staff member
There has been a lot of frustration among people regarding the ways that airlines have handled refunds. Even in countries where the government is requiring airlines to provide cash refunds for flight cancellations, we’ve seen airlines take a few different approaches:

  • Some airlines just outright defy regulations
  • Some airlines promise refunds, but say it will take a long time for them to be processed
  • And then you have one airline that’s redefining what it means for a flight to be cancelled… and yep, that airline is United

The US Department of Transportation has made it clear that airlines need to provide cash refunds in the event that they cancel flights. The requirements in their enforcement notice seem pretty straightforward (bolding mine):

“U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.”
Well, United isn’t happy with this policy, so what are they doing? They’re simply choosing to redefine what it means for a flight to be cancelled.

View from the Wing notes the way that United is communicating with those requesting refunds when flights are cancelled.

United argues that their schedule change refund policy is in compliance with DOT requirements. United has just redefined what words mean, and they claim that their definitions are compliant with applicable law.

In the United Airlines dictionary, here’s how things are defined (this is not sarcastic, this is a direct quote based on United’s communications):

Schedule change: A flight is removed from our schedule, but the customer can be accommodated within 6 hours.

Significant Schedule Change: A flight is removed, and a customer cannot be accommodated with an impact of 6+ hours.

Cancellation: A flight is removed, and we cannot accommodate the customer.

If we remove a flight from our schedule and can accommodate the customer with another flight within 6 hours, that is not considered a cancellation.

A cancellation is not based on flight number or tail number, but on the ability to provide transportation to our customer without significant delay.
That’s right. United defines a flight being cancelled as a situation where “a flight is cancelled removed,” and where they can’t accommodate you on another flight within six hours.

The real story here is that United Airlines doesn’t “cancel” flights anymore, but rather they only “remove” them.

Read more here. (One Mile At A Time)
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