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United Flight to Costa Rica that didnt happen

United Flight to Costa Rica that didnt happen

Old Oct 7, 20, 3:32 pm
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Angry United Flight to Costa Rica that didnt happen

On Friday, October 2, 2020, we checked in for our flight at the Sacramento, CA airport, and were told by the ticket agent that, because we had a 14-hour layover, we would need to pick up our luggage upon arrival in Houston that evening, and then check in again. The ticket agent said she was unable to ticket us all the way through and she did not look at our COVID tests. We arrived in Houston at approximately 6:30 p.m. and attempted for 2½ hours--until the ticket counter closed at 9:00--to get ticketed. We were consistently given the wrong information and unhelpful suggestions. So there we sat overnight: 2 first class customers, with 4 suitcases, and 2 emotional support dogs, stuck in the lobby of the Houston Airport.

It had been our understanding from the U.S. Embassy website that the COVID test needed to be done 72 hours prior to leaving, which was from our "state of origin,” California. We were told by Houston United agents and supervisors that the 72 hours preceded the time we were to leave the US, which to them meant Houston, Texas. We had a flight to leave the country from Sacramento CA to Costa Rica. To reach Costa Rica on United necessarily involved a layover, all of which were lengthy and overnight. Ours involved 14 hours in the Houston Airport, with us leaving for Costa Rica the day following our arrival from Sacramento, CA.

Because of this misunderstanding on the part of United agents, we were told by one supervisor that we should leave the airport and get a 24-hour COVID test in Houston. This didn't make sense given that it states on the US Embassy website that people from approved travel states flying into a non-approved travel state for a layover cannot leave the airport and can only layover for up to 18 hours.

Another United airport agent in Houston told us we should have gotten our COVID tests done right before leaving Sacramento, CA, which would have meant we would be arriving at the Houston airport not knowing our COVID status. If we had tested positive, we would have been stranded in Houston because United would not then let us fly back to Sacramento, thus putting us in a Catch-22 position, stranded in the airport indefinitely.

In all of our many attempts to resolve this issue, United agents and supervisors never attempted to help us get to Costa Rica, nor did they look at our approved Health Pass QR codes from Costa Rica.

Because of United’s policy having more than a 12-hour layover, and then forcing us to retrieve our baggage and check in again, along with the COVID test rule of our not being permitted to leave the airport (Texas is not an approved state for visitors wishing to travel to Costa Rica), we were forced to sit in the United airport check-in terminal all night. This is a shameless way to treat any customer, let alone First Class/Premier clients.

Throughout our efforts to straighten out this tangled mess, United agents and supervisors at the Houston airport were repeatedly misinformed, unempathetic, and neither helpful nor caring, simply repeating their "policy," which clearly is wrong. And this even after they read from the US embassy website.

I will detail just two examples of the many frustrating interactions we experienced:

I went to the Premier check-in counter Saturday morning to look into getting flights back to Sacramento, given that this was our only option. Although there was no one in line, I stood there for 10 minutes while a group of agents stood behind the counter chatting. They clearly saw me, yet offered no assistance. While I stood waiting, an agent who was speaking to another person (whom I believed to be a customer), finally stopped his conversation and in a condescending tone asked, "Are you first class?" When I said I was, suddenly one of the chatting agents yelled to me "Do you have a question?" I seemed to be an imposition and there was little effort at assistance. While the agents all stood around her, I asked about getting my return flights to Sacramento, and was told I needed to go to the Additional Services desk to do that. I couldn't believe this was United's Premiere Service.

And yet the Additional Services agent was even worse: a young woman, who clearly did not care about her job or my predicament. I asked about various flights, and she was short and rude with me, so I left to make decisions. I went to consult a manager (I believe his name was Hector) whom I had spoken to on Friday about the offer of returning us to Sacramento. Like the other agents, he’d simply repeated policy. I told him I wanted to work with him alone because I didn't have any confidence in the woman at the Additional Services desk. He took me back to the Additional Services Desk and he told the same woman--the one who’d been rude to me--what needed to be done and then he handed me over to her and left. By this point, I was tired and disgusted with everything we had been through. As I suspected, this woman did not complete the task as it should have been done and so, later in the day when we called to see if we could get the first row seats in first class, we were told by the telephone agent our tickets had been "modified" but we were not "ticketed.” The Additional Services agent also had not added our emotional support animals to our tickets. We were told by the telephone agent that we would have had problems checking in with the "modified” tickets.” It took the telephone agent and her supervisor more than 10 minutes to correct and "ticket" our travel back to Sacramento.

The US Embassy website article on COVID testing. There is a link at the end of the paragraph for more detailed information, which takes you to a Tico Times article. This article clearly states in bold:

"RT-PCR diagnostic test with a negative result; the sample must have been taken within 72 hours of departure from the country/state of origin."

This was the WORSE Experience we have ever had flying......Its so hard to get to a person to talk to and try to get a resolution.

Steve from CA is offline  
Old Oct 7, 20, 3:55 pm
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Steve from CA, welcome to FlyerTalk. As your thread concerns are mostly about United Airlines personnel and the connecting experience, I'm going to move this to the dedicated forum for United Airlines for more discussion. Ocn Vw 1K, Senior Moderator, and Moderator United forum.
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Old Oct 7, 20, 4:13 pm
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OP - welcome. But no offense, you won't get many sympathies from this crowd. Based on what you have said, there were so many problems from the beginning.

First - why did you follow the instruction of an U.S. Embassy? Costa Rica is a sovereign by itself. Right or wrong - the Costa Rican Embassy has the official information. In fact - I am able to find out the information at the time of this posting. And it is in English.

Second - CR Embassy did mention the 12-hour rule. Why would you schedule yourself a 14-hour layover at IAH?

Third - pre-COVID, EWR-SJO was an option. Was that option unavailable at the time of your booking?

Last and the most irrelevant - why did you need to go to CR at this time?

Your UA experience was less than ideal. That's given. But UA was not responsible for your failed trip. IMHO - your trip was destined to fail regardless what UA has done.
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Old Oct 7, 20, 4:16 pm
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Doesn’t help now, but the Marriott at IAH between the B and C terminals is on airport property, so you wouldn’t have had left the airport if you stayed there.

Did you actually try to your check in on the morning of your originally scheduled flight, or had you already decided to return to Sacramento w/o trying? If you tried, what did they say? Those agents might be better versed at requirements for the Costa Rica flights than the agents at night.

This says up to an 18-hour layover in a non-approved State is allowable, as long as one does not leave airport, but it may not be definitive.
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Last edited by IAH-OIL-TRASH; Oct 7, 20 at 4:43 pm
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Old Oct 7, 20, 4:20 pm
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Was there not a flight possibility that involved a long connection at IAH? I suppose that’s where things went wrong and that United’s check-in system is not built to accommodate overnight layovers.
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Old Oct 7, 20, 4:27 pm
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Are the IAH-SJO flights considered repatriation flights?

Flights to Costa Rica are suspended.
- This does not apply to:

flights arriving from the following states of the United States: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C. and Wyoming;

- repatriation flights.
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Old Oct 7, 20, 4:31 pm
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Originally Posted by garykung View Post
Third - pre-COVID, EWR-SJO was an option. Was that option unavailable at the time of your booking?
Agree with most of your points, but EWR-SJO doesn't seem particularly helpful for someone starting from Sacramento.

OP: Welcome to FlyerTalk. I'm sorry to hear about your situation, but I'm forced to agree with garykung on most of these points. Even if you could have checked your luggage through overnight, I don't really see how that would have helped you very much, except that you could have spent the night huddled in the airport terminal instead of the check-in area. It wouldn't really have been much more comfortable.

I don't know whether or not United would have let you board the plane in the morning, even if you had been in the terminal already. If they didn't accept your documents at the ticket counter, they might not have accepted them at the gate either. (ETA: Based on other replies, it sounds like UA was correct to refuse boarding due to the lengthy layover, and probably would have done the same thing if you'd been at the gate).

Last edited by jsloan; Oct 7, 20 at 10:55 pm Reason: Corrected formatting
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Old Oct 7, 20, 4:44 pm
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OP - Unfortunately for you, because of the routing you chose, you were not eligible to enter Costa Rica and therefore you were denied boarding at IAH. The following from Costa Rica's website (which is the only one that counts) makes it clear that if you have a layover in an ineligible state such as Texas, that you are not permitted to enter.

The remainder of your issues are all, sadly not relevant.

If you wish to try this again, you will need to devise a routing which does not include a connection exceeding 12 hours. If that does not work departing SMF, consider SFO.

"Travelers from the United States: Only those foreigners who are residents in one of the following States are permitted entry: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Distrito de Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nueva York, Nueva Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming. The outbound flight to Costa Rica must be initiated from one of the previous-mentioned States. Any layovers in other States should not exceed 12 hours and the visitor should not leave the airport during the layover."
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Old Oct 7, 20, 5:06 pm
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Immigration restrictions are on the pax, and Costa Rica's requirements are clear. Your trip never met the requirements, and that was on you.
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Old Oct 7, 20, 6:33 pm
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OP sorry this turned into a mess.
It looks like the key issue is 14 hr connection vs 12 allowed and computers flagged it. Agents didn't care much to find a solution. Customer service is not a strong point of most domestic airlines and I bet with imminent layoffs it is even worse now. I hope you can reset and make that trip after all.
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Old Oct 7, 20, 7:06 pm
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So there we sat overnight: 2 first class customers, with 4 suitcases, and 2 emotional support dogs, stuck in the lobby of the Houston Airport.
The quoted part totally makes this feel more like a DYKWIA rant than anything else.
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Old Oct 7, 20, 7:54 pm
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These threads if anything are a reminder that checking and re-checking the rules during these strange times is more important than ever.
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Last edited by WineCountryUA; Oct 7, 20 at 8:05 pm Reason: unneeded, unwelcoming comments removed
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Old Oct 7, 20, 8:00 pm
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Welcome to FT!, Steve from CA

Unfortunate set of circumstances, Guess the question is what did you want UA to do?

The 14 hour / overnight not able to check-thru bags is a clear UA policy and is on the website, guess UA could have waived that policy. How is their policy "wrong?" It is inconvenient but it is what it is. ANd it would have not changed the outcome.

The fact of a 14-hour layover violated the Costa Rican requirement of a max of 12 hours, UA could not waiver that and could have been fine many $$$$ if it had.

The 14-hour layover did mean you had a break in your flight and your USA departure was Houston -- for future reference, there are more frequent flights to Houston from San Francisco and it may be a better use of your time to use SFO vs SMF ( Sacramento ) for these trips. A longer drive, but shorter connection at Houston.

UA could not help you find a hotel as the Costa Rican requirements do not allow you to leave the airport (unclear if the Houston Marriott was an allowed choice)

The fact the US State Department site was inaccurate was not UA's fault nor is it the rules UA most follow.

It is unfortunate you did not feel well treated but these entry requirements are complex, confusing, and do not provide any leeway by UA.

On the surface, it looked like this trip was "broken" from the beginning and it is not the airline's responsibility to validate your trip choices at booking as the number of options are vast. It is UA's responsibility to check on day of travel if you meet the entry requirements UA finds on "IATA Timatic" -- the industry's authoritative source of entry requirements (which the US State Dept is not). UA provides passengers access to TItmac on the United site. It is referenced in your online reservation.

Travel in today's COVID entry restricted world is a mess and unfortunately, you and others have gotten caught up in it.
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Last edited by WineCountryUA; Oct 7, 20 at 8:08 pm
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Old Oct 7, 20, 8:02 pm
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Originally Posted by cfischer View Post
These threads if anything are a reminder that checking and re-checking the rules during these strange times is more important than ever.
Sii CR is not banana republic from the pov of entry etc. Mis amigos were denied boarding from LIM to SJO because of yellow fever vac lack. Airlines know they will be fined for carriage of ineligible visitors and are careful. Some other places in Mesoamerica not...
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Last edited by WineCountryUA; Oct 7, 20 at 8:07 pm Reason: Quote updated to reflect Moderator edit
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Old Oct 7, 20, 8:48 pm
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Sometimes thread titles make me assume the topic will be different than what it turns out to be. The flight did happen - the OP just didn't make it.
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