How to complain about an airline to get the best results

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Sooner
or later, nearly everyone ends up complaining about an airline — usually
aloud, but sometimes in a missive that goes to the airline. After all,
you’ve paid your hard-earned money and you expect something in return,
something you paid for.

Lodging your complaint effectively is key to getting results, whether you’re doing it in person or by email or snail mail.

On
a recent flight from Los Angeles to New York, something went amiss. I
used miles for a first-class ticket, and although I had booked my seat
months in advance, when I tried to check in online 24 hours ahead, it
told me to do so at the airport, always a bad sign.

There
was no seat for me. I asked what happened, but the ticket agent could
offer no explanation. Instead of ranting and raving, I remained calm,
went to the lounge and asked the front desk what could be done. I was
put on a flight leaving 59 minutes after my original flight, same seat.

Because
the delay was less than an hour, the airline didn’t owe me denied
boarding compensation. Because I was polite about the situation, the
lounge agent found me and handed me a $400 travel voucher anyway. Maybe I
would have gotten the voucher even if I had ranted and raved. I suspect
not.

If you have an airline complaint, whether lost bags, a
delayed flight, or poor service, always try to resolve it politely at
the airport. If that doesn’t work, send a letter or email to the
airline.

• Be polite, specific and as brief as possible, citing
flight numbers, seat location, employee names if known, cost of fare,
etc.

• Include your frequent-flier number.

• It’s always a good idea to sit on your letter for a few days so you can cool down and rephrase things.

• Never say, “I will never fly your airline again!” That gives the airline no incentive to help.

• Ask for a specific remedy, whether it is extra frequent-flier miles, a refund or a voucher. Be reasonable.

• Remember, even airlines with stellar reputations err from time to time.

The
accompanying sidebar contains the corporate mailing addresses and
websites for U.S.-based airlines. Although many people like to email, a
well-written snail mail letter can be more effective because there are
so fewer of them. It’s also easier to include photocopies of relevant
documents. Plus you can also pay the post office for a confirmation that
the mail has been received.

By the way, you can also use these methods for saying something nice about your flight or an employee’s extra care.

On the Spot

Robert Neubecker / For The Times
George Hobica

 – LA Times

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