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The Squeaky Wheel: How to Complain to Airlines Effectively | Frommer's complaint letter to airline

The Squeaky Wheel: How to Complain to Airlines Effectively Sascha Segan explains when, how and why you should complain--and gives you step by step instructions.

By Sascha Segan

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In the last quarter of 2001, airlines cut flights, slashed food service, and grabbed multibillion-dollar handouts from the government. But Americans seem willing to give the airline industry the benefit of the doubt. They shouldn't.

Of course, 1999 and 2000 were particularly bad years, as unprecedented numbers of delays and cancellations pushed consumer complaints to record levels. The rate of complaints against major airlines more than doubled from 1998 to 1999, and inched even higher in 2000. Gripes had slipped by August 2001, but were still at 2.1 times the 1998 level.

A University of Michigan survey, meanwhile, found that fliers during the first 3 months of 2001 found their experience with airlines to be about as enjoyable as filing their taxes.

At press time for Fly Safe, Fly Smart , no reliable measure of consumer complaints post-September 11, 2001, existed because mail to the Department of Transportation was disrupted by the anthrax scares of late 2001. The missives that got through allow comparisons between airlines, but not comparisons to past months.

Of the complaints that the DOT actually received in November 2001, most concerned problems in obtaining refunds post-September 11, 2001--a lkhmsgph. moncler vancouver derby bootsdeparture from the usual complaints about delays, missed connections, baggage problems, and poor customer service. America West and United were the worst of the bunch, with reliable Southwest receiving the fewest complaints per 100,000 passengers.

Now that the airlines are flying on your tax dollars, you have more of a right than ever to speak up if something goes wrong. And financially shaky airlines have more incentive than ever to listen to their customers. So, what's the best way to get payback for an airline-related problem?

Complaining 101: How to Squeak & Get the Grease

The minute you feel you've been wronged or deprived of your hard-earned money's worth, calm yourself. Instead of blowing up, breathe in deeply, clear your head, and channel your ire into documenting the situation as exhaustively as possible. Note times, take down names of individuals involved, and request the names and numbers of fellow passengers who may have experienced the same difficulty. If you approach members of the airline staff for immediate assistance and they deny you, get their names. Politely make it clear that you plan to write a letter of complaint when you get home. Hoard more details than you could possibly use in your letter. This way, when you make your case or sit down to write your letter, the facts will speak more loudly, and far more productively, than your anger.

1. Know your rights. If an airline has violated its own contract of carriage, you have a much stronger case than if they've just done something impolite. Citing a rule number is especially impressive. Travel Web site OneTravel ( www.onetravel.com ) has an excellent explanation of each major carrier's contracts--click on "Know Your Rights" on the left side of their home page.

2. If your complaint regards something you can document with visuals and you have a camera, by all means snap some photographs on the spot.

3. Try to resolve your dispute before you leave the airport. The airlines usually keep someone on duty to resolve certain problems on the spot. These employees can usually write checks for small claims or pay denied boarding compensation. If your bags are delayed, you can probably get cash right away to buy some clothes. If you are stranded, you may be able to secure a hotel voucher and have the airline research hotels that offer distressed passenger discounts. You may receive compensation on the spot for damaged luggage as well.

First try to speak with the airline's shift supervisor or with an employee at the carrier's special services counter, which is usually located in the gate area. If you're still not satisfied, call the airline's central customer relations number and ask where to locate the individual with the highest authority employed by the carrier at your particular airport.

4. Don't exaggerate the wrongdoing. The folks in consumer affairs have read many letters like yours and in the process have developed keen "BS" detectors. You don't want to undermine your otherwise valid argument by going overboard. Make sure minor gripes don't obscure the chief grievance you're addressing. Sit on the letter for a day after you've written it and screen for strident sarcasm or unfettered venom. You want to win their sympathy, not inspire them to chuck your letter into the loony bin or the circular file. Let the facts ring out your call for justice.

5. Clearly state what you expect as recompense. Again, don't shoot for the stars. Make sure your expectations are reasonable, and your letter will be taken more seriously.

6. Before you write a letter, call the airline. Get the e-mail address for letters of complaint and see if you can register your complaint by phone. Double-check the name of the director of consumer affairs or customer relations.

7. Send an e-mail. Many airlines nowadays respond to e-mailed complaints much more quickly than to paper letters. If you don't have the right e-mail address, go to PlanetFeedback.com ( www.planetfeedback.com ) and click on "Travel" on the left side of their home page for an e-mail form that will be sent directly to the airline. Give the airline a few days to respond before moving on to a paper letter. Ignore form letter responses.

8. Use your clout. When writing a letter or sending an e-mail, mention your frequent-flier status (if any) or how much money you typically spend on that airline a year (if it's a significant amount). Write a brief, typed, professional letter. Since airlines hate to lose business travelers, you may want to register your grievance on your company's letterhead.

9. At the very least, be sure your letter covers the basics. Describe the problem and when, where, and how it occurred. Mention if you lost money as a result. What have you done about the problem so far? How would you like to see the issue resolved? In other words, what do you think you deserve as recompense and from whom?

10. Save receipts for any out-of-pocket expenses you incur as a result of the problem. Include copies with your letter.

11. Send a copy of your letter and supporting documents to the following agencies: Department of Transportation, Aviation Consumer Protection Division, 400 7th St. SW, Room 4107, Washington, DC 20590 (tel. 202/366-2220 or 202/755-7687); and the Aviation Consumer Action Project, P.O. Box 19029, 589 14th St. NW, Suite 1265, Washington, DC 20036 (tel. 202/638-4000; www.acap1971.org/acap.html ). These agencies function as ombudsmen. While they can't represent you in court or force an airline to compensate you, they can provide leverage and additional information to help you make your case.

It's also a good idea to file your complaint with your local member of Congress (tel. 202/225-3121) and a few travel magazines. Be sure to tell the airline you're doing so. Many travel magazines print readers' letters, and the airlines hate bad publicity. Condé Nast Traveller, for instance, has a very effective ombudsman column. The ombudsman staff will investigate your claim and, if appropriate, try to use its clout to intervene on your behalf ( Condé Nast Traveller, Ombudsman, 4 Times Square, New York, NY 10036; fax 212/286-2190).


complaint letter to airline

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moncler 18-24 months 15 in total)

Email sent to Christina to confirm if she got my email as no confirmation or response received yet

24 Oct (1 week later. 2 weeks since Christina told me she would look into it. 16 weeks in total)

Email received from Christina apologising - she had been out the office unexpectedly with no email access. This email was along the lines that no compensation was due etc etc but a goodwill gesture would be made.

13 Nov. (2 1/2 weeks later. My delay as I had to research and take advice before replying, and obviously bearing in mind that endless correspondence with UA is not actually my job and I have my regular life to attend to first)

Email sent to Christina explaining that in fact UA were in breach of contract and I WAS entitled to compensation. The goodwill gesture offered was not sufficient for me to waive my legal rights away for.

28 Nov (2 weeks later)

Email sent to Christina as I had not had a confirmation or response

13 Dec (2 weeks later)

Email sent to Martin Hand as still no response received from Christina.

So its currently 4 1/2 weeks since my email to Christina with no response yet. Its also 15 1/2 weeks since you first told me you would get someone to deal with it (2 1/2 weeks were my delay) and 23 weeks from the actual date of the letter.

Attached is a document with Christina's outcome as given on 24th Oct and and my reply from 13th Nov.

At this point, I really would appreciate a speedy response.

Sincerely

[passenger]

cc Mr Jeff Smisek

From: cynthia.bond@united.com To: [passenger] Date: Mon, 17 Dec 2012 16:58:48 -0600 Subject: Re: United Airlines breach of contract

Dear [Passenger]:

Thank you for including United in your recent travel plans. The details of your correspondence came to the attention of the United Airlines Executive Offices and I have been requested to respond.

Please allow me to assure you that I have re-visited your concerns, and I regret that our services continue to leave such a negative impression with you. It is important that you to know your comments have not gone unheard, and we have made every effort to resolve your issues. Your valuable feedback has been sent to the appropriate management team, and we are certain that your constructive comments will be helpful when reviewing the products and services that affect your travel experience.

Airlines are not required to offer compensation unless you are involuntarily denied boarding as a result of overbooking of a flight when you check in on time. Please review United Airline's Contract of Carriage, accessible via our website, which advises that United Airlines is not liable for any consequential, compensatory, indirect, incidental or punitive damages arising out of or in connection with the performance of its obligations.

You state there has been a breach of contract due to the delays you encountered during travel; however service was provided on the same date of travel and within a few hours of your original travel time.

Per our Contract of Carriage, which can be found on our website, Rule 4.E states that seat assignments are not guaranteed although we will do all possible to accommodate our passengers with special needs. In reviewing our records, they do not reflect that you were charged a premium seat. I also sincerely regret that the flight was delayed departing Newark. The inbound aircraft was delayed departing the station due to Air Traffic Control and was not able to arrive as scheduled.

We realize an apology alone does little to alleviate the unpleasantness you experienced on this occasion and I recognize that you are seeking compensation in the amount of $5000 because you lost your reserved seats as a result of an agent error. As actual seat assignments are not guaranteed and travel was provided on the day you had planned to travel, I must respectfully decline your request.

Because we value your business, I have reviewed this matter with my leadership team. Although they understand your point of view, they support Mrs. Vigil-Thompson's previous response; I regret we are unable to resolve your case as you had requested. As a goodwill gesture, you were sent a $450.00 Electronic Travel Certificate (ETC), including redemption instructions as well as Terms and Conditions, for you and your son in October. It is our sincere hope that you will accept the ETC in the spirit in which it is intended.

While we sincerely regret the circumstances associated with your travel, [Passenger], we would like to move forward in our business relationship with you. Thank you for this final opportunity to review this matter. We believe that we have addressed your concerns and as such, consider this matter closed. Please know your business and goodwill are never taken for granted, and we look forward to welcoming you aboard a future United Airlines flight.

With kindest regards,

Cynthia Bond Corporate Customer Care Manager 900 Grand plaza drive Houston, Texas 77067 6080429

From: [passenger] To: cynthia.bond@united.com Subject: United Airlines breach of contract Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2012 19:55:49 +0000

Dear Cynthia,

Thank you for your reply. I feel you are missing a couple of points here so will try and explain it simply. Please note this is my last attempt before taking the matter to further, either to a Solicitor or Small Claims Court.

There are two possible breaches of Contract here.

Cancelling my reservation.

The Contract of Carriage provides Rules in which tickets can be cancelled. Either by the Passenger or, in certain situations, by United Airlines. You will note that none of the Rules applied in this situation and therefore UA were in breach of Contract.

You will further note that Rule 5F absolves United Airlines from any liability for consequential, compensatory or other damages. However the Rule clearly stipulates that this is only in the event that the cancellation was done pursuant to the Rules. As the cancellation was not done for any of the reasons in Rule 5, United Airlines are in this case liable.

Involuntarily Denied Boarding.

The DOT specifically confirm that a Passenger is eligible for compensation even if the airline are unable to find the reservation on their computer. Your own Contract of Carriage declares that a reservation is considered to be valid unless it is cancelled pursuant to Rule 5 (which was not the case). In this instance, we had confirmed and valid reservations, we presented ourselves to check in with ample time, yet, even when staff discovered the nature of the issue, we were told we could not get on this flight because it was full. This fully complies with the definition of Involuntary Denied Boarding.

Moreover, as Passengers who were Involuntarily Denied Boarding we had rights which you failed to provide. Specifically, as a result of your not performing your rights we suffered in the following manner:

A. It has taken me many months of effort, hassle and distress to attempt to resolve the matter with you.

B. I had the right to board an earlier aircraft than the one I was placed on, even if it was operated by another airline.

C. The payment of compensation has been delayed for many months.

I would also point out that you have misunderstood one element of my complaint. You write that "I recognize that you are seeking compensation in the amount of $5000 because you lost your reserved seats as a result of an agent error." That is incorrect and a false representation of what I have explained the problem to be. To be frank, it seems like you are deliberately re-defining my complaint so as to make it seem inconsequential, with my requested compensation thus looking extremely unproportional.

The actual reason I am seeking compensation is because the agency error and the callous attitude by the ground staff caused me huge hardship , physical and mental anguish, inconvenience and embarrassment by putting me in an impossible predicament. I was stuck abroad having been denied boarding on my own flight through no fault of my own and due entirely to the fault of United Airlines. I was travelling with an infant and a 5 year old - both of whom require constant attention on a flight and both of whom I need to keep constant surveillance on when crammed in an aeroplane surrounded by hundreds of strangers. Had I been at home, I would have refused to board the flight under such conditions even if the entire flight was offered to me for free. I would not willingly subject myself to that experience no matter the cost or savings. Yet I was not at home and thus entirely at the mercy of your staff, who threatened that if I were to complain about it, they would simply not offer me a place on the flight. So it its not simply that 'I did not get my reserved seats', rather it is that I lost my reserved seats and was forced into a horrible situation, which could easily have been avoided but UA opted not to do so, preferring to subject me to that nightmare than to relinquish a higher grade seat which was available and would not have cost them much, if anything.

From a technical and legal point of view, my understanding is as follows. I appreciate that seating is not guaranteed. Accordingly, had United Airlines decided to leave me on my original flight but not give me the allocated seats, they would perhaps have been within their legal rights. However, because the basis of this part of the complaint is UA's liability for their error, it now makes no difference as to whether UA could have changed the seats. The fact is I was reserved on those seats and could reasonably have expected to sit in them had things gone smoothly. Therefore, the error which was caused by United Airlines had a direct consequence which caused me much hardship. And as we have established, in the event of a reservation being cancelled non-pursuant to the rules, UA IS liable for consequential and compensatory damages.

************************************************************************************

The parts in your Contract that support my position are as follows:

Rule 4C

Once a Passenger obtains a Ticket indicating confirmed reserved space for a specific flight and date either from UA or its authorized agent, the reservation is confirmed even if there is no record thereof in UA's reservation system.

EXCEPTION: Tickets shall not be valid if reservations are cancelled pursuant to Rule 5 or cancelled by the passenger or

his/her representative.

Rule 5C

None of the Rules referring to cancellation apply here. The closest is 5C but that too is not applicable as UA DID receive notice of the cancellation.

Failure to Occupy Space - If a Passenger fails to occupy space which has been reserved for him/her on a flight of UA and UA fails to receive notice of the cancellation of the reservation before the departure,

Rule 5F

UA is not liable for any consequential, compensatory, or other damages when it cancels reservations (whether or not confirmed) of any Passenger in accordance with this Rule

Rule 25 A3B

If space is available on another Carrier’s flight regardless of class of service, such flights may be used upon Passenger's request and at no additional cost to the Passenger only if such flight provides an earlier arrival than the UA flight offered in 3) a) above.

Rule 25 A4B

If UA offers Alternate Transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the Passenger's Destination or first Stopover more than four hours after the planned arrival time of the Passenger's original flight, UA shall pay compensation to Passengers denied boarding involuntarily from an Oversold Flight at the rate of 400% of the fare to the Passenger's first Stopover or, if none, Destination with a maximum of 1300 USD.

Rule 25 A5A

Compensation in the form of check, except for travel from Canada, will be made by UA on the day and at the place where the failure to provide confirmed reserved space occurs, and if accepted by the Passenger, the Passenger will provide a signed receipt to UA.

Sincerely

[passenger]

From: [passenger] To: jeff.smisek@united.com Subject: United Airlines breach of contract Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2013 17:35:06 +0000

Dear Jeff,

2 months ago I sent an email to a Corporate Customer Care Manager by the name of Cynthia Bond. My email was specific and clearly detailed exact Rules of UA's Contract of Carriage that you have fallen foul of.

Despite the detail of the information, and the clear conclusion that UA are in the wrong, my email was completely ignored. I find it surprising that in the face of this information an employee of yours would feel that its acceptable to just ignore it. I will add that I have since tried on various occasions to make telephone contact with Cynthia Bond and Christina Vigil-Thompson on the contact number that was given to me previously by Christina and have not yet managed to get through to them on a single occasion.

I trust that as CEO, you would like to be aware of what is going on and I therefore refer you to the email below. It is my hope that you are more willing to confront a genuine problem than your employees seem to be. I therefore look forward to hearing from you shortly.

Sincerely

[passenger]

From: christina.vigil-thompson@united.com To: [passenger] Date: Mon, 11 Mar 2013 09:26:47 -0500 Subject: RE: United Airlines breach of contract...Claimed by Gwen sent to Cindy Bond (rebuttal)

Dear [Passenger]:

Please accept my sincere apologies for not responding sooner. I was out on medical leave and have only just returned. Your letter was forwarded to my attention for review and response.

I regret that you were not satisfied with our response to your concerns. Please allow me to clarify, because of an agent error, your return segments were cancelled. It was not that we could not find your reservation, it was that your reservation had been cancelled and you were no longer holding confirmed space. When this issue was identified, our representatives worked to rectify the matter. You were accommodated on the next available flight which experienced a delay as the inbound aircraft returned to the gate under a directive by Air Traffic Control.

Passengers to whom the denied boarding rules apply to are passengers holding confirmed space on a specific flight that was oversold. As your segments had been cancelled, albeit in error, and you were not holding confirmed space, the rules governing denied boarding are not applicable in your case.

Because we value your business, I again reviewed this matter with my leadership team. Although they understand your point of view, they support my response; I regret we are unable to resolve your case as you had requested. It is our sincere hope that you will accept the travel certificates in the spirit in which they are intended.

While we sincerely regret the circumstances associated with your travel [Passenger], we would like to move forward in our business relationship with you. Thank you for this final opportunity to review this matter. We feel that we have thoroughly researched and addressed your concerns and as such, consider this matter closed. Please know your business and goodwill are never taken for granted, and we look forward to welcoming you aboard a future United Airlines flight.

With kindest regards,

Christina M. Vigil-Thompson Customer Care Manager

From: [passenger] To: christina.vigil-thompson@united.com Subject: RE: United Airlines breach of contract...Claimed by Gwen sent to Cindy Bond (rebuttal) Date: Mon, 11 Mar 2013 18:58:56 +0000

Thank you for your reply.

You agree that the reservation was cancelled in error. This means that you agree that the reservation was cancelled 'non pursuant to Rule 5'. Thank you. As I have pointed out to you, because that's the case, United Airlines have full liability for all consequential, compensatory or other damages.

Moreover, although you say that I was not holding confirmed space and therefore would not be considered Involuntary Denied Boarding, I am afraid that the DOT and your own Conditions of Carriage state otherwise.

Your conditions of Carriage consider a reservation to be valid unless they have been cancelled pursuant to Rule 5.

The DOT consider a passenger to be eligible as Involuntary Denied Boarding if they hold a valid reservation, even if it cannot be found on the reservation system.

This means that because the reservation was not cancelled in accordance with the rules, the fact that you could not find it on your reservation system even though that may be because it was cancelled in error is irrelevant and I was Involuntarily Denied Boarding.

Its as simple as that.

Sincerely

[passenger]

From: [passenger] To: christina.vigil-thompson@united.com CC: jeff.smisek@united.com Subject: RE: United Airlines breach of contract...Claimed by Gwen sent to Cindy Bond (rebuttal) Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2013 14:10:51 +0000

Christina,

Following our previous correspondence, I wish to progress this matter independently. Please can you therefore confirm the following:

You received my email on the 11th March 2013.

You are aware of the matters in which I believe United Airlines to be in breach of contract, specifically the unauthorised cancellation of my reservation and my being Involuntarily Denied Boarding.

You deny that United Airlines were in breach of any of the above.

As matters have been delayed inexusably thus far, I must ask for you to please respond within the next 7 days. If you cannot give a definitive answer to the above within that timeframe, please ensure you nonetheless respond within 7 days informing me of when you will be providing the answer to the above.

Sincerely

[passenger]



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Did you know, it takes as long to fly from Philadelphia to Portland, Oregon as it does to fly from Philadelphia to Shannon, Ireland? The flight time last night was 6 hours and 10 minutes into the jet stream. It was a smooth, but very long trip.

The audio program was not working in seat 2F. I tried my Shure ear-buds and then the US Airways provided set and still got nothing. So, no in-flight movie, and no music for almost 6 hours. The food was OK and I did play solitaire on my computer for a few minutes, and watch the end of a movie that I had downloaded beforehand. The iTunes loaded into my laptop worked fine, but the battery is only good for so long. What should I do?

I’ll sent a letter to US Airways to let them know of my unfortunate situation. Here is a sample complaint letter:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am a Star Alliance Gold member that typically flies United Airlines domestically and BMI internationally. You offered an outstanding First Class fare from Atlanta to Portland, Oregon and I decided to try out your first class cabin. My itinerary was flight 927 on March 17, 2008. I was seated in seat 2F.

The food was good, service was pleasant and continual, and I enjoyed your first class leather seat. Unfortunately for me, the audio system for this particular seat was not working and there were no other first class seats available. I first tried my own Shure ear-buds without success and then ask the flight attendant for a set of headphones that you provide in the first class cabin. I was still unable to hear the audio from the movie, music, or television features thereafter. It made for a very long first experience in first class. The flight attendant indicated that two other audio systems were not working. That means 25% of the 12 seats were inoperable.

We now spend our winters on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and I was looking forward to an enjoyable trip on your airline, as you provide service directly from the island, and I would like to consider using you in the future because of that.

I am in hopes you will consider my request for some sort on compensation for the lack of audio in my first class seat. I will leave the amount and form to your discretion as this has not happened to me in the past on other carriers, and I want you to have the opportunity to make this right and earn some of our future business. We are a retired couple with extensive travel in our future.

A partial refund of the ticket amount would be acceptable, or a $$$ off voucher on a future flight that you feel is fair for our inconvenience.

I look forward to your email response and am in hopes our future business is important to you.

Respectfully

Richard Ingersoll

So, let’s see what happens. I’m guessing a voucher in the amount of $150 will be issued for a future flight. There is no way that they will refund part of the ticket price. My current frequent flyer balance with them is 0 miles and I don’t want miles deposited in my account as a remedy. Remember I am crediting these flights to British Midland for the 625% accrual as a first class ticket.

This is not the typical letter I would write, as I am leaving the choice of compensation up to them. I typically request a specific remedy for a mishap and if reasonable my request is usually granted. Here I am steering them to a $ off voucher, as I know they will not do a partial refund.

I suggest if you are writing an airline or hotel, your letter be respectful, mention the nice things about your flight or hotel stay, and then follow up with the problem you encountered.

The travel industry is extremely competitive and the mention of future potential business is just what these companies are looking for.

Don’t ask for more than is reasonable, as they will likely just turn you down instead of making a counter offer.

And remember the street goes two ways. I have appreciation certificates from both American Airlines and United Airlines that are given to employees for doing a great job. I give them out freely when they are deserved.

I’ll let you know how this works out.

Rick Ingersoll All Articles | Follow on Google+ View: FTG Review | Reward Breakdown | Points Breakdown Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card Annual Fee: $95 fee waived for the first year Foreign Fees: No Card Type: Bank Apply Now
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