Whenever readers ask for advice on writing a good complaint letter, we always suggest that they keep the letter on-point, even-keeled and as direct and brief as possible. That is not exactly what 3-time “Survivor” contestant Jerri Manthey has done. Displeased with her experience on a recent U.S. Airways flight, the reality star might have gone a little too far in penning a 3.300-word, three chapter epistle to the airline.
For a case study on how not to write an effective complaint, here’s the letter in its entirety as it was posted on Jerri’s Facebook page. If you plan on reading the whole thing, you might want to hit the bathroom before you start.
CHAPTER ONE: CONFUSED, ANGRY, VIOLATED
The time is 2:35 AM, Eastern Standard Time on March 4th, 2010. I have been checked into a hotel near Charlotte airport in North Carolina and am still processing the overwhelming feelings of anger and confusion. I have gone over and over the horrifying scene in my head trying to figure out why the flight attendant on my flight decided to single me out, embarrass me in front of everyone and have me removed from the plane.
My parents, who I just got off the phone with, are happy I am okay, but are still trying to process the fact that I won’t be coming home tonight. They had been waiting at the airport at my final destination in Huntsville, AL when I called.
I feel violated and harassed. Plain and simple.
CHAPTER TWO: MS. [REDACTED] MAKES IT PERSONAL
It started the moment I set foot on the plane. As soon as I turned onto the aisle to make my way to my seat, Ms. [Name Redacted] stopped me and told me I couldn’t take my carry-on with me and that I would have to leave it to be put underneath the plane. Her reason had something to do with it having wheels (?). I would like to point out that my carry-on is far below regulation size and has NEVER been a problem on the many flights I have taken since I bought it over a year ago – even planes that were much smaller than this one. I explained to her that I’ve never had a problem and reassured her it would fit perfectly underneath the seat in front of me and I was more than willing to show her that it did. I also reiterated what the voice over the intercom had said to all waiting to board, “All carry on luggage must be no larger than the size of a briefcase.” She immediately became argumentative and disagreeable.
I then explained that the contents were extremely valuable and that I could not comfortably part with them. The contents were as follows: my 15” laptop computer, my digital Canon still camera, my Sony digital video recorder, DV tapes from past events and vacations, my brand new iPod and iPod speakers, jewelry I have purchased from all over the world and my personal and business checkbooks and bills. Everything was irreplaceable and priceless. I carry them with me at all times and would never dream of checking them in let alone leaving them behind on an airplane walkway.
I have checked with US Airways’ online information regarding what is allowed to be carried on with a passenger and found that regulation states each passenger can carry on a small carry-on (up to 14” X 9” X 22”) plus one personal item. My carry on measures: 13” X 7.5” X 17”. (Pictures are attached.)
Ms. [Redacted] then had me stand to the side in the “kitchen” while she helped a woman with a very large piece of artwork onto the plane, directing her to see the flight attendant at the back – [redacted] – for assistance in finding a place to put this very large piece of art (approx. 3 ft X 4ft) which she requested “lie flat somewhere”.
I stood and watched in dismay.
Then, I witnessed a man with a very large briefcase (with wheels), carry his item past her with no issue. I tried to point out that my piece of luggage was much smaller than his and she exclaimed in an irritated and confrontational voice, “I’m helping another person right now, you need to wait.”
The stream of people continued as I stood patiently off to the side in the “kitchen” area. Ms. [Redacted] continued to ignore me as I watched many more larger pieces of carry on baggage go by: a couple of very large backpacks – compartments unzipped, expanded, filled to capacity and more than three times the size of my carry on, and more briefcases – much larger than my piece (MOST with wheels)! It should be noted that all people who boarded took a moment to look over at me as if trying to figure out why I would be standing by, wondering if maybe I had done something wrong and was being punished in some way.
This was merely the BEGINNING of the embarrassment I was subjected to.
She finally decided to acknowledge me and made me talk to the pilot (Capt. [Redacted]). I explained to him the situation and pointed out that even his briefcase was much bigger than my piece. I then explained what was in it and why I couldn’t leave it to be put under the plane. He then muttered something to me about weight (which makes no sense whatsoever as my piece was well under 15 pounds – regulation states it can be up to 40!) and decided to call the manager. I pleaded with him to let me take my bag on, and “the last thing I wanted to do was cause any sort of problem.”
Ms. [Redacted] had taken my carry-on and placed it outside the plane while my back was turned, so when I turned to get it, it was gone. I had a moment of panic – someone took my bag when I wasn’t looking! Like I said, the items in it are IRREPLACEABLE. I couldn’t believe Ms. [Redacted] would just pick it up and move it without my consent – especially with the information I had shared regarding it’s contents. I was in a state of disbelief and sheer horror as I frantically asked where my bag was. She informed me it was outside the plane on the walkway – tagged and ready to go under the plane. At this point I was shaking and fighting off tears. I felt bullied.
I found the piece around the corner of the walkway, dwarfed by the group of larger roll on baggage outside the plane that had been checked with yellow tags and left unattended to be placed under the plane. I picked mine up and moved it back to where I could stand next to it outside the plane door as I waited for the manager. Two more passengers boarded – one with yet another large backpack that dwarfed my piece and another briefcase that was bulging and unzipped with paperwork and a laptop. Both men asked what was wrong. I told them that I wasn’t being let on with my carry-on. They both looked at it and shook their heads in disbelief as they compared it to theirs. “It’s so small” said the man with the bulging and over stuffed briefcase.
It didn’t make any sense.
The manager arrived. I gave him the full story, he assessed the bag, and went inside the plane to talk to Ms. [Redacted]. She was clearly angry and making quite a fuss – an unwarranted reaction to the situation. It was me who should be losing my cool. Not her!
Despite the fact that my blood was boiling, my heart was racing, I was fighting off tears and trying to make sense of all the confusion, I was still being one hundred percent cooperative. I even offered to show the flight attendant and the manager that my bag would fit perfectly under my seat. She refused to let me.
The manager seemed to get nowhere with Ms. [Redacted] and returned with a couple of plastic bags and asked if I would remove the contents of my bag into them. In a completely frustrated state, wanting nothing but to get on the plane and get home to my family, I chose to fill my purse with what I could fit in it and carry the rest by hand. At this point, my purse was even larger and more difficult to handle than my original bag and I was left with expensive electronics being carried by hand. My carry on had been left behind completely empty except for a few power cords and a magazine.
I muttered “this is ridiculous” on the way to my seat.
Everyone was staring at me. I was uncomfortable, embarrassed, and so angry I had to fight back tears. I was confused, I felt harassed and now violated.
The plane was nowhere near full, many seats were empty and I approached Ms. [Redacted] to ask if I could sit in the first row of seats which were unoccupied. She told me that “no one is allowed to sit in the front seats”. I let out a breath of disgust, waited for the man in the aisle seat to let me in and sat in my window seat, arms bulging with all my personal belongings. The man next to me – Victor – asked if was okay. I told him “I wasn’t allowed to bring on my small carry on… I’m sorry for the mess and I’ll never fly US Airways again”.
I look up and see the manager coming back to my seat. “Now what?” I say under my breath. He asked Victor to let him sit by me and in a very quiet voice told me, “I am very sorry for any inconvenience you are experiencing” and that I “should avoid any and all conversation with Ms. [Redacted]. She clearly has something personal against you and I don’t understand it myself”. I began to wonder who this woman was and how she could single handedly control and instill an almost palpable state of fear (?) in so many authority figures. I agreed to keep my true feelings to myself. “I just want to get home to my family who I haven’t seen in almost a year!” I stated. He apologized again and exited the plane.
We pulled away from the gate and I sat staring out the window, trying to fight off the tears that were forming in my eyes. I was already embarrassed and humiliated enough as it was.
After I had taken a series of deep breaths and talked myself back into a calm state of mind and my heart had returned to a normal pace, Ms. [Redacted] approached me and asked me if I was holding my laptop in my lap. Being now unprotected, I had decided to hold onto it so that it wouldn’t be jarred or damaged in any way. With all my belongings in disarray and shoved under the seat in front of me there was then the danger of everything sliding around during take off and I was trying to keep everything together and safe. She insisted I place it under the seat or stow it in the above head compartment. I somehow found room to squeeze it under the seat even though I was far from comfortable doing it. I was trying my best to comply to every ridiculous request being thrown at me.
Then she looked at my jacket and insisted I stow that as well. I had a short, waist length, bomber style cotton jacket which I was using as a blanket because it was cold and blankets were not provided. She again insisted that absolutely everything must be stowed under the seat or in the above bins. “Why is this happening to me,” was all I could think in my head. I have been flying my whole life (I’m 39 years old) and have NEVER had anyone try to take my jacket from me.
At this point, everyone around me was aware of the situation at hand. She continued to berate me about my jacket over and over until I frustratingly handed it to her and exclaimed, “Fine! Take it!” I then said under my breath, “Jesus Christ!”. She gasped in horror and threw my coat back at me. “You just took the Lord’s name in vain. Hold onto your jacket because you’re going need it when I have you removed from this plane”, she stated as she stormed through the aisle of the moving plane. I saw her approach Ms. [Redacted] with what I will describe as “shear delight” to tell her what I had just said.
Next thing I knew, we were stopped on the tarmac, and the remaining passengers on the plane were growing restless and upset. We sat for almost 15 minutes. Suddenly, the door was opened and security, police and the manager I had talked to earlier were approaching me. The entire plane was now involved. People were shifting in their seats and staring at me confusingly, trying to figure out what had happened that could warrant the onslaught of security and law enforcement. There was a sudden sense of danger and confusion onboard. Even I was wondering what had happened. It all seemed way to intense to have been caused by the combination of my carry on, my laptop, my jacket and saying Jesus’ name in vain!!
The manager was apologizing profusely as he once again sat in the seat next to me. “We’re going to escort you off the plane. I’m sorry this has happened,” he said. Suddenly, Victor, who was in the seat next to me and now standing in the aisle, was explaining to the manager that I had done nothing wrong and that he was a witness. Then a man two rows in front of me – Craig Stephens – came to my defense as well. “Can I please speak to the pilot? The flight attendant is over-reacting and I want to tell him she is way out of line. This woman has done nothing and doesn’t deserve to by removed from the plane. This is ridiculous!”, he said.
Another woman – I believe her name was Melissa was absolutely livid as she explained that her grandmother was “literally on her deathbed waiting for her to get to the hospital in Huntsville” and that if she “got there to find her already dead, the airline would never hear the end of it”. There was pandemonium, confusion and a slew of apologies directed towards me from other passengers. They all wrote down their names and numbers (included in this letter) and agreed to be my witnesses to what had happened.
According to the manager, policy states that the pilot and flight attendants have the last word and had spoken. I’d been voted off the plane.
One small detail I haven’t shared is that I am a rather well-known television personality from “Survivor.” People know who I am. Because of this and the fact that everyone recognized me, I was even MORE devastated and embarrassed than your average non-recognized person. I was HUMILIATED. And for no reason whatsoever!
I got off the plane to find a group of people waiting for me as if I were some sort of criminal or terrorist. Most of them had heard over the radio that I was from “Survivor” and I felt as though they were waiting to get a glimpse of me. Daniel Hewat – a very helpful young man – retrieved my empty carry on and my checked bag from under the plane and I was escorted back to the gate. The security and police as well as the manager apologized again and stated that they were all going to “file a complaint against the flight attendant for being way out of line”. I was given a hotel voucher, rebooked on a flight for the next morning and sent on my way.
I then had to call and explain to my extremely concerned mother why I would not be coming home that night. She said that she also had negative experiences on US Airways and swore sometime in the last year she would never travel on the airline again. I was now in one hundred percent agreeance with her.
I checked myself into the hotel and quickly found that there was no food available. I hadn’t eaten all day because I was waiting to get home to eat my mom’s home cooking. All that was available was a vending machine and I had no cash.
I called my close friend, Heidi Blessing, who works for Continental Airlines at the Las Vegas airport to get her take on my story. Ironically, her job is to remove problem people off planes. After telling her the exact story I am sharing with you now, she was dumbfounded as to why I would be removed from the plane. She told me that it is very common for people to take carry-ons that don’t fit but that she at least gives them the opportunity to show her whether they do or not. Sometimes she’s right and sometimes she’s wrong. To add insult to injury she states that she has NEVER heard of anyone insisting a jacket by stowed – especially in winter when coats provide warmth in situations where blankets are not provided.
CHAPTER THREE: EXHAUSTED, BUT FINALLY HOME
It is now Thursday, March 4, 2010. I am safely home with my family just outside Huntsville, AL.
As suspected, my flight today went without a hitch. With the SAME EXACT carry-on, I boarded my flight (FLT 3557) and arrived at Huntsville, AL airport. No one questioned my carry-on, no one stopped me or gave me any grief whatsoever. As previously stated, my carry-on fit perfectly under the seat.
At this point, I am SICK TO MY STOMACH knowing that I have to fly US Airways home back to Los Angeles on the 17th of March, but I am NEVER going to fly US Airways again.
I am currently on television in the latest “Survivor” and therefore scheduled to make a large number of appearances in numerous media outlets. I have decided to make it my personal mission to share with the world this horrifying and very personal story. My plan is to post this story on the internet so that the literal thousands of people who visit my website and my Facebook Fan Page can read it and know how US Airways treats their customers. I also plan on telling this story to all of the radio stations, newspapers, magazines and television talk shows that I am scheduled to appear on in the upcoming months.
NO ONE should be treated the way I was treated. I did absolutely NOTHING wrong! I was treated like a criminal, embarrassed, harassed and unnecessarily inconvenienced.
In a time when flying has become a major inconvenience in general, airlines should be going out of their way to make people who pay hard earned money for their tickets feel comfortable, safe, and appreciated. This has been the norm for many years of travel, but as of late, customer service has clearly been compromised.
My personal recommendation would be to begin by FIRING flight attendants who become power hungry, bitter, and apparently no longer like their job. It was very clear to me that Ms. Patricia [Redacted] and Ms. [Redacted] were NOT happy with their job anymore. I believe they are far too elderly and/or weary to perform their tasks at hand in a professional, courteous, thoughtful manner. And they clearly did NOT have my safety, comfort or convenience in mind.
It is apparent that flight attendants have been given far too much power and are now abusing said power to manipulate and control those around them. I understand with the recent terrorist threats that certain choices must be made for the safety of all on board, but it is very clear that Ms. [Redacted] and Ms. [Redacted] have now begun overstepping their boundaries and punishing passengers for their own personal as well as religious issues.
I have included a list of the passengers who were seated around me who willingly and eagerly gave me their names and numbers. They are all free for comment and offered to discuss further what they witnessed.
I will also reiterate that the security, the police, as well as the manager on duty that night said they were going to file a complaint against Ms. [Redacted] for overstepping the boundaries of her job. Hopefully, they followed through and you can now add their information to my case as well.