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FAQ: Air Traveler's Handbook 4/4 [Monthly posting]
Section - [4-4] Complaints and Compliments

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If you have a legitimate complaint about service, write a
well-written letter to the appropriate people at the airline. This can
often result in real results. But don't become a habitual complainer.
Many airline customer service departments keep records of all
complaints and compliments. If you complain too often, you'll get
tagged as a flamer, and they'll ignore future complaints. If you are a
frequent flyer and don't complain often, complaints can end up in
travel discount compensation.

Airlines do keep track of who complains and how frequently, so if you
complain too often about trivial matters, your complaints won't have
the same effect as they would if you complained about only important
problems. Keep track of the names of all airline personnel you deal
with, and be as specific as possible about dates, times, places, and
flight numbers in your letter. Enclose copies of any receipts for
expenses incurred because of missed/delayed flights. 

When writing a complaint letter, tell the airline what it can do to make
you happy. If you're realistic and reasonable, giving them some
leeway, your complaints will be addressed much more quickly. Venting
anger in a complaint letter won't get you results. Remember, the
people reading your letter aren't the cause of the problem, and they
have to read thousands of angry letters. They're human beings, with
feelings. So if they get a nice, calm letter, that describes the
problem, suggests a solution, and says what you want to make you
happy, they are much more likely to respond positively.

If you're complaining on the spot (e.g., they lost your reservation)
and feel you're not making headway with the agent/clerk you're talking
to, try asking to speak to a supervisor or manager. Sometimes clerks
don't have the authority to address the problem. The more flexible you
are, the more likely they are to come up with a solution that
satisfies you. Losing your temper and getting loud and obnoxious won't
help.  Remember, the person you're talking to probably wasn't
responsible for the problem, so yelling at them hurts them without
being productive.  Keep the conversation at a calm and professional level.
(Breaking down into tears will get you a lot further than any quantity
of angry words. Why in doubt, start crying.) If you're making no
progress, try calling your travel agent collect and telling them about
the problem.

If the person you're talking to doesn't seem willing or able to help,
try talking to someone else. Different employees tend to give
different answers to the same questions. The person you're talking to
may not know the answer to your question, or may not have the
knowledge and/or authority to deal with the problem properly. Try
asking for that person's supervisor.

Whatever you do, please don't complain about something minor or make
meaningless threats. Saying "I'm going to tell all my friends to stop
using your airline" or "I'll make a post on netnews, nyeah, nyeah,
nyeah, nyeah" really won't accomplish anything, unless you happen to
be the CEO of a large multinational firm.

   The Department of Transportation accepts consumer complaints
about airlines and records, compiles, and publishes statistics on
airline performance. The statistics are available in a monthly Air
Travel Consumer Report. For a free copy, write to the Office of
Consumer Affairs, US Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh Street, NW,
Room 10405, Washington, DC 20590. 202-366-2220. The statistics vary a
lot from month to month. They receive 400-500 complaints a month from
consumers. Here are statistics for 1993:

   On-time (within 15 minutes of schedule):
      Best  -- Southwest    88.0%
               Northwest    85.7%
               America West 79.9%
               American     79.3%
               TWA          77.9%
               Delta        77.2%
               USAir        76.7%
               Continental  74.6%
               United       73.7%
      Worst -- Alaska       68.5%
      Avg   -- 83%
      Best  -- American 89 involuntary bumps/19 million passengers
      Worst -- America West 1,805/3.7 million
   Mishandled baggage:
      Best  -- Southwest
      Worst -- America West
   Complaints per 100,000 fliers:
      Best  -- Southwest    0.10
               America West 0.48
               Delta        0.50
               Northwest    0.55
               USAir        0.58
               United       0.67
               American     0.88
               Continental  1.28
      Worst -- TWA          1.45
On average, airlines mishandle 4.75 bags per 1,000 passengers. An
on-time flight is one that arrives within 15 minutes of the scheduled
arrival time. Some airlines list longer flight times or connection
times to improve their standings in the DOT statistics, so take these
numbers with a grain of salt.

Current DOT rules exempt flights delayed by mechanical problems from
being counted as late. As of January 1, 1995, the exemption will be

According to a recent survey by JD Powers & Associates, for long
trips, customer satisfaction was highest on Delta, Continental, and
Northwest, and for short trips, customer satisfaction was highest on
Delta, Southwest, and Alaska.

Customer Relations Departments of various airlines:
Aloha Airlines Inc., Customer Relations, PO Box 30028, Honolulu, HI 96820.
Alaska Airlines, Consumer Affairs, PO Box 68900, Seattle, WA 98168. 
American Airlines, 1-800-967-2000
America West Airlines, Consumer Affairs, 222 South Mill Ave., Tempe,
AZ 85281, 1-800-247-5692.
Continental Airlines, Customer Relations, PO Box 4607, Houston, TX
77210-4607, 712-987-6500.
Delta Air Lines Inc., Consumer Affairs, Hartsfield Atlanta Int Airport, 
   Atlanta, GA 30320, 404-765-2600. 
Hawaiian Airlines, Consumer Affairs, Honolulu Intl Airport, PO Box 30008, 
   Honolulu, HI 96820-0008.
Northwest Airlines, Consumer Affairs, Minneapolis/St. Paul Intl Airport, 
   St. Paul, MN 55111, 612-726-2046.
Southwest Airlines Co., Customer Relations, PO Box 37611, Love Field, 
   Dallas, TX 75235-1625, 214-904-4000.
Trans World Airlines Inc., Customer Relations, 605 Third Ave., New
   York, 10158, 914-242-3172.
United Airlines, Customer Relations, PO Box 66100, Chicago, IL 60666,
USAir, Consumer Relations, Washington National Airport, Washington, DC
   20001, 703-892-7020. 

Federal Aviation Administration/US DOT, 202-366-2220.
American Society of Travel Agents, Consumer Affairs Dept., 703-739-2782.

If you encounter problems as a result of buying tickets from a
fly-by-night organization (pun intended), contact the Better Business
Bureau, the state office of consumer protection, and/or the state
attorney general's office. You can protect yourself by using a credit
card to purchase the tickets and by confirming your reservation
directly with the airline.

If you ask the flight attendant for a comment card, they'll provide
one. (Most of the comment cards use business reply mail, so you don't
even have to pay for the stamp. But there isn't much space on the
cards, so you may be better off writing a letter and paying the
postage yourself.)

If you have a legitimate complaint that isn't being addressed (not
just a consumer out to see how much you can get out of the airline)
and you have tried all of the avenues discussed above, send a letter
to the airline by certified mail, return receipt requested. In this
letter begin with a summary of the problem you encountered, the steps
you took to try to seek compensation, the kind of compensation your
were seeking, and the airline's response so far. Do not get into a
long-winded story, and stick to the facts -- if your letter is longer
than a page or so, it's too long. Be as businesslike as possible in
this letter. (You should enclose with the letter photocopies of all
your correspondence with the airline, and a copy of your long-winded
detailed description of the events that transpired.)  State that this
is your final attempt to resolve the matter directly with the airline.
Ask for a response by a given date, not earlier than one month in the
future. This will make it clear that you are serious in pursuing your
complaint. If you don't get a response, take the whole kit and
kaboodle to your lawyer, and feed the vultures.

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Top Document: FAQ: Air Traveler's Handbook 4/4 [Monthly posting]
Previous Document: [4-3] On-line reservation services
Next Document: [4-5] Glossary

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