5 Tips For Complaining To Airlines

The Wall Street Journal has several tips today on effectively complaining to airlines.

Don’t say you’ll never fly them again. Then why would the airline care about keeping you as a customer?
Clearly state your desired compensation. And make the punishment fit the crime.
Money talks. “Top-tier” frequent flyers get more attention.
Send a letter. Then send it again. Less than 5% of complainants send followup letters.
If all fails, sue in small claims court. A ticket is a legal contract and if the airline caused you to incur a real loss, you can pursue a claim.

Have you had any luck complaining to airlines? What strategies did you use? Let us know in the comments. — BEN POPKEN

What Airlines Do When You Complain [WSJ] (requires subscription)


Edit Your Comment

  1. philbert says:

    You forgot the most important; never complain while you’re on the plane. I have it on good authority that if you do the steward or stewardess will spit in your coffee.

  2. cabinaero says:

    “Clearly state your desired compensation. And make the punishment fit the crime.”

    For many issues, I’ve actually found it better/easier to just leave the issue of compensation open for the airline to decide. If you feel it isn’t generous enough, you can always write back and state tht you feel the issue deserves more. A polite, assertive and emotionally restrained letter works great. Be disappointed, not angry. Be gracious.

    @philbert: That’s just not true. Don’t whine to the flight attendant about things which are out of their control — scheduling, non-cleared upgrades, weather delays, etc. But you can and should definitely raise legitimate onboard concerns.

    Most airlines carry complaint forms on board which are used to specifically address broken equipment. Flight attendants don’t mind handing these out at all.

    And what kind of airline do you fly where the coffee service isn’t poured at your seat? Philistines. :P

  3. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Tip#5: “Don’t contact a large number of executives b/c this will not escalate your complaint.” (paraphrase)

    I have to disagree, WSJ. Often, many exec. phone numbers are unlisted/out-of-date. I’ve had great success using Consumerist’s “magic/ninjitsu executive database,” however. Thanks Ben and Meghann!

  4. Gari N. Corp says:

    Yeah, I had a dodgy experience with American the other day (something to do with a upgrade screw-up and an epically rude flight attendant). More the result of the gate agent being devious than the flight staff’s fault. Anyhoo, no response to a letter via the generic address. I then sent an email to their customer service manager who was polite, apologetic, and credited some miles to my account.

  5. htmom says:

    United’s regular customer service sucks–some outsourced guy in India doesn’t really care about how I waited 4 hours in baggage claim (with 2 small kids) for luggage that was supposed to be pulled off a canceled flight or how a reservation was mysteriously canceled. But I will say that an emailed letter that was sent to the CEO and a slew of other senior management detailing all our travel woes got me a response from a senior customer service person that addressed my issues point by point and gave me travel vouchers.

  6. capitalass says:

    I’m in the process of working with Delta. I just let them know that I forwarded a copy of my email to the BBB. I hope that helps. This has been a crazy experience, and all I want them to do is reschedule a flight that was canceled for the next week at the same cost. I’ve already heard of two people who have had the ability to reschedule their flights to the next week with US Air.

    Delta wants me to front nearly double the price of the original ticket by purchasing my replacement ticket for this Friday at today’s price. I could consider leaving this alone–just accepting a refund if I had not been informed that I would receive a ticket for the new flight at no additional cost.

    To be fair, I think that I have received conflicting information each time that I have called in (3 calls for a total of about 5 hours–mostly hold time). Only once was their a suggestion that I could receive the new ticket, but the rep indicated that there was a notation on my account.

    They are currently stating that one can either receive a refund or reschedule a flight provided that travel would commence by today, but when one is initially scheduled to fly out on a Friday, why limit their reschedule date to only four forthcoming days?

    In any case, if anyone knows some sort of Executive contact for Delta, please post it here. At one point, their automated email system was down, so I just picked every email address I could find on their website, and copied everyone on it. Is this a complaint that can go to the AG?

  7. joeblevins says:

    Be careful about accepting travel vouchers. Generally at Delta at least, they CAN NOT BE COMBINED to purchase a ticket. If you have 2 $100 vouchers. Generally they can only be used towards 2 different tickets. That is how Delta can insure (rebate like) that lots of the vouchers won’t get used.

    Read the fine print. They aren’t above screwed you after you have been screwed.

  8. Buran says:

    Hey, how about some working login goodness? bugmenot isn’t doing a thing to help here.

  9. Mr. Gunn says:

    Tip #0. You may be mad, and have a perfectly good reason to be mad, but a true customer service ninja would never let it show.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I had a huge ordeal with AA in 2007. I flew Wichita to New York, with a stop in Chicago. It was June. Made it to Chicago where we got stuck. They couldn’t get us to NY and couldn’t get us back to Wichita. We flew to Tulsa upon agreement of a full refund. The reason was weather—however, the reason was more that it was the end of June and the pilots were out of hours because of all the rain earlier in the month. EVERY OTHER AIRLINE had flights that we not cancelled to NY, but we couldn’t get on any of them.

    AA clerks failed to put the refund on the account–imagine that. I dealt with them for over a month to get a refund. I had to get the BBB involved to get ANY response at all. They mailed vouchers, and I’d already told them I would NEVER fly with them again (sorry WSJ, rule #1 broken) and I wanted my MONEY back (over $600/2 tickets). I had to pay to mail the stupid vouchers back, certified mail of course, so I had proof they were returned. FINALLY got my full refund–but not the money I was out because of nonrefundable events we had planned in NYC. That “trip” was pure hell.

    Haven’t been on an AA plane since and don’t ever intend to.