United Airlines on Monday quickly reversed itself in what could have been another embarrassing public relations gaffe for the carrier.
United will reimburse U.S. Army soldier Pfc. Benjamin Jimenez for the money he spent to get home to Michigan from Germany after his original flight was cancelled on Saturday, Dec. 22, and will also pay for his return flight to Frankfurt, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Benjamin and his family were looking at more than $5,000 in airline tickets to bring him back to Michigan for the first time in a year, and then a return flight to Germany in January before his leave expired.
Instead, United is picking up the tab.
“I’m happy,” Benjamin’s aunt, Sarah Mundt of Monroe, Mich., told the Free Press.
The issue started on Saturday. Benjamin had spent $1,116 in November on a round-trip flight to come home to Michigan for Christmas. But he found out that the flights were canceled by United codeshare partner Lufthansa, and was told by United that the best they could do was have him purchase another flight – at a cost of $2,300 one way – and dispute the charge with his credit card company.
The Free Press published a story on the ordeal on Sunday and it immediately became a viral sensation, prompting callers and well-wishers who wanted to donate to Benjamin and his family.
"I made it very clear, I don't want anything for free,” Mundt told the newspaper. “I understand this is a business, you guys have to make money. I don't mind paying the original fare that he originally bought ... but we want the $2,500 back, and we need a way for him to get back to Germany.”
United, stung in the past by public relations gaffes and insensitive and/or ill-timed responses, jumped in quickly after the initial story appeared.
The airline said it would send Benjamin and his family a check to cover the $2,300 the soldier spent on his ticket to Michigan after his original flight was canceled. And, United will fly him back to Frankfurt next month, free of charge.