When Liz Smith went to board her flight at a busy US airport, she never expected the series of events that would culminate in her taking this image.

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking this is a scene from a morgue. But the bizarre image actually shows stranded passengers camped out at Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

Shortly after midnight, two plane loads of United Airlines passengers were told their flights — including one to Portland International Jetport — would be delayed until the morning following a series of mechanical incidents.

Despite delays of up to 12 hours, the airline refused to put them up in hotels as "everything is closed now". Instead, in a move labelled "cruel and unusual" they offered the travellers — including the elderly, disabled and small children — cots and blankets that were set up in the halls of the airport.

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Liz took to Twitter to share her disbelief at the arrangements, which soon turned to fury when the group was woken at 4am by airport security so the airline could collect the cots and blankets.


"Older folks, young kids … it was appalling," Liz wrote. "The whole space was cleared in five minutes and people were told to move along.

"A mother asked to keep the blanket for her son and was told they were not allowed and were collecting all the blankets."

She said all they were given was a $US10 ($A13) voucher, but all the shops were closed so it was useless. The treatment airport staff gave the group was appalling, the frustrated flyer said.

Small children were among those left to sleep in the airport hallway. Photo / lizsmithmfa, Twitter
Small children were among those left to sleep in the airport hallway. Photo / lizsmithmfa, Twitter

"United had massive mechanical plane problems tonight and they did not want to foot the bill to take care of their passengers, so they kept some flights back too long to get a hotel and then lied to passengers about the $US150 ($A202) airport compensation.

"What really gets me is there were tons of little kids on my flight, and several older folks in wheelchairs and they kept us until midnight (for a 7.30pm flight) before delaying to 6am. This is unacceptable …

"They treated the passengers around them like rabid animals rather than as human beings and customers. It was appalling. Wish I had thought to grab video, but I was kind of scared — lots of angry passengers and the agents doing nothing to calm the situation."

The bemused traveller said it's not the first time the airline has disappointed her recently.

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"I've been flying @united for maybe eight years and they used to be great. The last year or two has gotten exponentially worse."

Wake up time - it's 4am at Chicago O'Hare. Photo / lizsmithmfa, Twitter
Wake up time - it's 4am at Chicago O'Hare. Photo / lizsmithmfa, Twitter

According to Inc, the use of the cots and blankets are only allowed at O'Hare Airport between 9pm and 4am.

Karen Pride from the Chicago Department of Aviation told Inc it's part of a program that has been running for decades.

"The Passenger Assistance Program (PAP) is designed to provide comfortable accommodations overnight when flights are delayed or have been cancelled by the airlines.

"Initiated at the request of its airline partners, Chicago Department of Aviation staff oversees the PAP between the hours of 9pm and 4am, until the next daily operations resume."


However, while it may not look super comfy, we are sure many travellers would be overjoyed at not having to sleep on the cold hard floor or the awful chairs. So it could have been worse …