United Airlines just told me “We Don’t Force People out of their Seats…”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware of United Airline’s mishandling of recent situations with Dr. Dao. In case you actually HAVE been living under a rock, feel free to reach about that incident here.

I just booked a flight on United Airlines for a client who has an ADA covered disability. Because of that, we needed to sit in the bulkhead for more leg room. Most airlines block certain seats for customers with disabilities, and even then, they’ll try and accommodate passengers as needed. 

From United’s own website:

Seating accommodations for customers with disabilities

We’re happy to assist our customers with disabilities in securing a comfortable seat that best fits their needs in the same class of service. We highly encourage customers to submit their request more than 24 hours in advance of the scheduled flight. We’ll do our best to accommodate requests for travelers who have a disability and one or more of the following:

  • Need assistance accessing the aircraft with the use of an aisle chair
  • Have difficulty moving over a fixed armrest and need to be seated in a row with a moveable aisle armrest
  • Travel with someone who assists you during your flight and you would like adjoining seats
  • Require extra legroom to accommodate a disability

The problem? The bulkhead seats were already requested by another passenger. We don’t know if that passenger has a disability that requires them to sit there or not, so I asked United if they could check the reservation, or perhaps call the client on our behalf. This has happened to me before, as I’ve received a call from an airline asking if I wouldn’t mind moving seats because of a client with a disability. At this point, the agent said to me:

No, we’re not going to call that client, that’s not United’s Policy. You’ll have to try your luck at the airport, ask nicely, and see if that person would be willing to move their seat for you. We don’t force people out of their seats here at United…”

I’m sorry, do you realize what you just said? Need I remind you?

Dr Dao United Airlines


Under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), certain airlines are required to provide certain seating accommodations to qualified passengers with disabilities who self-identify as needing to sit
in a certain seat in order to better accommodate their disability-related needs.

ADA Requirements

ADA Requirements

So, it doesn’t look like United is following these rules, or even trying to accommodate. I guess we’re going to have to try our luck at the gate, and if they won’t move, I’m not opposed to the court of public opinion as I shame that passenger into moving their seat.

Anyone have other suggestions? What should we do?

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. Escalate. Try a supervisor. Maybe HUCA. Possibly the Twitter team could do something. Not the most helpful advice, I realize, but short of emailing Oscar Munoz or mounting a local media campaign, what else can you do?

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    • I’m hoping that when we get to the airport it’s not going to be an issue. A man with one leg in a wheelchair is usually no-brainer.

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  2. United should have worked to accommodate you. However, you say you “I’m not opposed to the court of public opinion as I shame that passenger into moving their seat.” That passenger may have paid $50 for that bulkhead seat and you are going to ask him/her to move to a presumably worse seat. Keeping in mind, United isn’t going to be refunding the person their money. I’m not sure how this is different from you asking a first class passenger to give up his/her seat so that your client can sit in that seat. Someone paid for a better seat and you want them to give it up, without compensation, for your client.

    This sounds like you are rightfully angry at United and because of this are willing to resort to unethical activities against an innocent person in response to United’s actions.

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    • 1) I would never ask for someone to give up their first class seat if I paid for coach. If I paid for first, and I need to have someone re-accommodated IN THAT CABIN then yes they have to move. It’s the ACAA and ADA not just my whim. 2) United will refund them if they are moved because of an ADA compliant passenger. If they don’t, you dispute it with your credit card company. Done. 3) They might not have paid for it, they might be an elite member and got it for free. We won’t know until we get to the airport day of. 4) You’re right, I am pissed at United, and there is nothing unethical about asking for what the law of the United States grants the passenger. It’s the law, simple.

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      • I am with Dan on this. A disabled person deserves certain things and I am all up for it, but it shouldn’t usually involve screwing over another passenger and feeling entitled to do so. For example: I would be more than happy to give my seat up for someone who needs it more than me even if I paid for it, but if I am sitting with my 1 year old son, I am sorry, unless you can reseat us both. I hope you tried to work around what is available first, before calling United (perhaps a different flight, a different day).

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        • The airline is required to move you both and accommodate you both, so that wouldn’t be an issue… because you have a lap child right? This does get back to the “right” of a disabled person. You’re not screwing over the other passenger.. it’s the law. I don’t know how many ways to say it, but the law is the law. The law is there to protect certain people, because not everyone will do it willingly. Plain and simple.

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  3. Lol. That united agent is just lazy. Their line of thinking is as simple as this: its your client, you do the extra work. You got paid by your client. I’m not paid extra to do your chores.

    By the way, when shaming the already reserved passenger, be cautioned. If they paid for the designated seat, they have the right to refuse to move or demand compensation. Shaming could backfire in courts since your legal relationship is with the carrier not other passenger. You may win eventually, but your client will be dragged in discomfort and his/her immidiate problem isn’t solved by your action.

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    • Actually, United is very clear. You can REQUEST a seat, but you are not guaranteed any specific seat on the aircraft. That’s why it’s called seat selection, but it’s also implicit that you may have your seats reassigned for a variety of reasons. That client does not have the right to refuse the law. If the law says the disabled person gets the seat, tough cookies. You lose. That person does not have the right to demand any compensation unless they paid for a seat. The only compensation that can demand is that United refund that paid seat selection. I do agree with you about United’s lack of give-a-shitness

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  4. Hahahahaa…. you are a funny guy. Trying to be vigilante for the case of Dr. Dao, whereby he has been compensated by United. Or maybe you’re trying to gain sympathy from the reader of your blog for your (client’s) benefit? Lol. Goodluck in your job.

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    • Not sure where you’re going with this one dude…

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  5. Keep calling different agents until you get the answer you want. That’s how the game is played. If one agent denies you, there are hundreds of others that you can ask that might.

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  6. Gotta say shaming whomever is in that seat seems disrespectful to me as well. I’d say the better option is to book on another airline and demand a refund from united for this

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    • Sometimes you don’t have choices, being that this is the only way to get to the place we need to be on a direct flight. But the person does have a choice to give up their seat to someone who is disabled. If United is not willing to do so, and the person is not willing to do so, the only remaining option is public shaming. It’s very simple… you don’t have a choice in the matter. If the person fits the requirements for the law, then they must be moved. If they also meet the requirements and need the seat for a listed disability, then so be it, but if not, move a row back. And have a heart for God’s sake.

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      • Ohh, i see below this is in first. Who cares then the person will no doubt move. If you were kicking someone from like a bulkhead to a non economy plus middle seat…. But first to first who cares. Although one time I couldn’t believe it. My wife and I had to book last second. She was very pregnant and needed some help doing things like getting up, getting into the overhead bin etc. So we were booked in row 2, seats were ABCD all we could get was seat A and C (a window and on the other side of the aisle, an aisle). I asked the person in B, can you move. So happens, he is disabled. Says he can move, but we have to carry him. Of course, no we dont need to do that…cause you know, seat D could move instead. He would be going window to window, row two, first class to first class. Who cares right? Well, he did. Refused to move. I couldnt believe it. You should have seen me on that flight on purpose I kept taking pictures of him just to piss him off, spread my legs as far as possible into his territory etc. 6 hour flight, he didnt dare to ask me to move to let him out to go to the bathroom lol

        I wish you good luck I do think the person will move for you. Let us know how it goes

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        • PS, once the baby came out of her belly, we havent had a single problem getting people to switch seats! Something about possibly having to sit next to a screaming, pooping baby opens people’s hearts

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  7. I am sorry but you are wrong to shame a fellow paying passager. You should book first class if your desired seat is unavailable and more space is needed.
    This is exactly the reason why every person in America is entitled just move someone else out of my desired seat cause I said so.
    You should work a supervisor to try to make it work for everyone not just make demands

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    • This IS in first class, Mike… we need the space, IN first class. And they won’t move the person from the bulkhead. Also, it’s not just an being entitled American. It’s the law. I trust the situation would be different in your eyes if you were disabled and needed the seat.

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  8. I think the age old strategy of calling a few more times to see if you can land a CSA with a brain might be a good bet. Increasingly I find poorly trained CSA cause a lot of trouble, and calling back and getting someone good often breaks the jam.

    Also however, consider posting to UALs facebook and Twitter in advance, with the flight number and the situation. Also email UAL to get it in writing and tag Oscar Munoz however you can. This is a not a story they will want to have told,

    Sometimes starting the bad publicity in advance can get people to move. Good luck!

    Also, stop flying UAL!!

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    • I wish there was another way for us… but United is the only one that flies this direct 🙁

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  9. I’m confused, on a domestic first class flight there isn’t more space in first row of first class, in most cases there is less. United does sometimes block first row of coach for disabled passenger…

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    • The benefit to the bulkhead is that no one can recline into him, causing him discomfort and potential injury.

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