United honours web booking mistake

Last updated 14:29 16/09/2013

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United Airlines said passengers who bought tickets that were accidentally sold for free because of faulty reservations data will be able to use them for travel.

"United has reviewed the error that occurred yesterday and decided that, based on these specific circumstances, we will honor the tickets," Mary Clark, a spokeswoman for the unit of Chicago-based United Continental Holdings Inc., said.

The company isn't disclosing how many of the tickets were sold.

The $0 fares were only on the United.com website for "a couple hours" at midday yesterday and weren't distributed via channels such as travel agencies, Megan McCarthy, another spokeswoman, said.

United's Shares reservation system didn't cause the fault, McCarthy said, without giving further details.

The carrier had to close the booking engine on its United.com website "so we could correct the error," McCarthy said. The website was back to normal at about 2:30 p.m. Chicago time yesterday, she said.

Many of the tickets cost $US5 ($6.14) or $US10 ($12.27) in total, suggesting that United was only collecting a mandatory 9/11 security fee of $US2.50 per leg, said Rick Seaney, chief executive officer of FareCompare.com, a ticket research firm based in Dallas.

Taxes and fees typically add up to $US22 or more a ticket, he said.

Robert Stokas, an attorney in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn, said he was on United's website when the erroneous data was loaded and bought six tickets yesterday for a trip to Los Angeles next June for $US60 ($73.6) total.

'Bad press'

"I assumed it was a promotion or something," said Stokas, who is 35. He said he is pleased that United will honor the tickets.

"They took the high road, said 'We made a mistake,"' he said. "It may cost them some money on the front end, but it saves them potential litigation and bad press."

A similar pricing mistake occurred in May 2002 when a fare sale accidentally appeared as a US$5 round-trip ticket for about 45 minutes, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.

The latest incident was at least the fourth public computer disruption at United since March 2012, when the carrier switched its former Apollo reservation system over to Shares, the program used by merger partner Continental Airlines.

United's former parent, UAL Corp, combined with Continental in October 2010.

In the reservation shift, United struggled with long lines at airport check-in counters and a surge in call volumes while making the transition.

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Automated check-in access was lost at airport kiosks and on United's website in August 2012, and a software breakdown in the carrier's flight dispatching system delayed hundreds of flights in November.

Separately today, JetBlue Airways, the carrier with the most domestic flights from New York's John F. Kennedy airport, said delays caused by a computer system failure will affect service throughout the day.

- Bloomberg News

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