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Travel tips - How do you Lodge a Formal Complaint with an Airline?

Imagine it's your first time ever in first class on an airplane. You've used a combination of frequent flyer miles from your spouse's business travels and points earned through a rewards program with your credit card to book the two of you on a nonstop flight to a romantic destination for the weekend. You're excited about your first time in first class having enough room to be comfortable and getting the extra perks that come along with the prestigious seating.

as the flight attendant walks by for the first time you ask him, "Excuse me, do you have any magazine's I can look at." He turns and says, "I'm sorry. Haven't you heard about 9/11, airlines in bankruptcy, employee layoffs, overworked flight attendants? Of Course, we don't have any magazines. You should have brought your own." You think to yourself, "But I thought I was in first class. I thought I'd get waited on hand and foot." Then your spouse, who is a very frequent air traveler, lets you know that first class isn't what it used to be.

Next, you try to put up your tray only to find out that it's broken. It sits right in your lap, making it useless. When you point this out to the same flight attendant (actually, the only flight attendant it seems), he tells you that you must be doing something wrong. It's not broken. When you show him it is broken he says, "Huh," and walks away. You spend your flight with food in your lap and a huge disappointment over your "first class" treatment.

this, of course, is a true story that was relayed by a friend of mine, and one many air travelers can probably believe and most likely top. It seems that the service you get on an airline truly isn't what it used to be, and most air travelers have learned to adjust. But what should you do if you're met with rude airline employees or unacceptable amenities on the plane?


it would have done my friend no good to complain to the flight attendant. He clearly didn't care and most likely wasn't in a position to change anything even if he had cared. So who should you complain to and how should you go about doing so?

Situations like this are best left to filing a formal complaint with the airline after the air travel experience is done. The best way to file a formal complaint is in writing either by written letter or e-mail.

before writing your complaint, attempt to get a hold of the airline's passenger's rights statement, often called a "conditions of carriage" or "contract of carriage" statement. It will spell out the airline's policy on how passengers are to be treated. If you can find that your treatment or situation was against what is mentioned in their statement, it is best to include that in your letter. Copy the specific wording from their statement in your letter and relay exactly how your situation is in violation of their policy.

your written complaint should be professional and to the point and include the following information :

  • Your flight information so that the airline knows exactly which flight you were on and which seat you were sitting in
  • Focused details about your complaint. Explain what the situation was and why it was specifically a problem for you. Include the names of any airline employees who were rude, disrespectful or just plain made the situation worse. Also, if there were any employees who tried to make the situation better, but couldn't, include their names also. Sometimes, your complaint has nothing to do with employee conduct.
  • Choose which aspects of your experience to complain about and keep your letter to the point. In my friend's case, the rudeness of the employee was much more of a problem than the fact that there were no magazines available for the passengers. The rudeness of the flight attendant should have been the focus of the incident.
  • If you are a frequent traveler with that airline, state it in the letter. If the experience has made you rethink your relationship with the airline, state that also. It will get their attention.
  • Send a copy of your complaint to The Department of Transportation and the Aviation Consumer Action Project and let the airline know you're doing so. This will also get their attention. The address for the Department of Transportation is 400 7thStreet SW, Room 4107, Washington, DC 20590. Address the letter to the attention of the Aviation Consumer Protection Division. The address for the Aviation Consumer Action Project is P.O. Box 19029, 589 14 th Street NW, Suite 1265, Washington, DC 20036.
  • A detailed explanation of how you would like the airline to go about remedying the situation. You could ask for monetary compensation, frequent flyers miles added to your account, discounts, free travel, or perhaps just an apology. Don't get greedy, however. Is an overworked, disgruntled employee's snip about no magazines really worth a free ticket?
  • You may wish to include a photocopy of your tickets, but don't EVER send your original documents.

Before writing a formal letter of complaint, you may try making a phone call to complain and remedy your situation, but most experts agree that writing a formal letter of complaint is a much more effective way of getting satisfaction from the airline.

If you have not heard from the airline within 30 days of your initial complaint, resend the letter. This time send it by registered mail.

it is best to write and send your letter of complaint in a timely manner, as close to the date of the flight as possible. Unfortunately for my friend with the disappointing first class experience, the complaints were heard by friends but never by the airline. It is now a year past the experience and too much time has passed for the complaint to seem important to either the traveler or the airline.

About the Author: For more useful travel tips like this, visit the site mentioned.

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