Flying the Unfriendly
As I mentioned in last month’s
column, my luck has not been particularly good with airlines.
Tomorrow I am flying to Michigan and I hope not to encounter
significant delays or a flight cancellation, which have become
all-too-common occurrences in my travels.
Two readers from Ettrick, Wisconsin,
wrote to say they too have been “flying the unfriendly
skies.” They experienced cancelled flights twice in Minneapolis
because, they observed, there were not enough passengers for
the La Crosse-bound flight. They also had clothing and luggage
damaged on a separate flight.
Under federal law, the U.S. Department
of Transportation (USDOT) is solely responsible for reviewing
and acting on consumer complaints relating to airlines. A bill
to give states such authority—a move that I supported
as Wisconsin’s top consumer protection official (but which
the airlines strongly opposed)—failed to pass Congress
in 1999. A major reason for my support was that USDOT only had
a few investigators to review many thousands of complaints.
The state could have helped. After all, we had considerable
experience resolving many other types of consumer complaints
and, overall, this might have left consumers with a higher general
opinion of the airlines.
Partly in response to the federal
legislation and a rising tide of consumer complaints, the 14
major airlines created customer service plans in September of
1999. The plans detail what the airlines will do in such areas
notifying passengers of known flight delays
meeting customers’ essential needs
during long on-aircraft delays,
allowing reservations to be held or tickets
to be refunded within 24 hours of purchase, and
being more responsive to customer complaints.
You can judge how the airlines are doing. If you
are unhappy and want to complain, you can call, write, or e-mail
USDOT. Phone 202-366-2220 at any time to record your complaint.
Due to staffing limitations, USDOT will not return phone calls.
Letters and e-mails will be reviewed, acknowledged, and, when
appropriate, forwarded to an airline official for further consideration.
USDOT’s mailing address is: Aviation Consumer Protection
Division, U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 7th Street,
S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be brief and concise in the description of your problem and
be sure to include your name, address, daytime phone number
(including area code), name of the airline or company about
which you are complaining, flight date, flight number, and origin
and destination cities of your trip. If you write, you should
also include a copy of your airline ticket (not the original)
and any correspondence you have already exchanged with the company.
Important pressure can be brought on the airlines through
your complaint. After all, it just might be your complaint that
makes service better for all of us.