a large white airplane in the sky

We’re very humbled to receive lots of mail from readers asking for insights into their travel woes. Travel problems suck and unfortunately, airlines are often very slow to properly address what’s legally owed to a passenger. While there are lots of best practices for addressing airline directly, sometimes others must step in to get what’s rightfully owed.

Choose Wisely

Let me start with an important preface: you do yourself and every other passenger a disservice if you take airlines up relentlessly over non issues. Minor delays are standard, luggage dings may happen, sometimes in flight entertainment is broken. That doesn’t mean you’re entitled to nothing, but hounding airlines over minor issues deducts from their ability to handle serious issues.

Escalate With Airline

It’s practically written in most airline customer service handbooks to deny or undermine all initial claims. It’s infuriating, we hope they change it – but for now, it’s the case. So don’t be deterred if you have a significant issue and receive an initial rebuffing. Ask for the issue to be escalated, and for someone to take a manual look at it. See where that leads, and in severe cases – don’t be afraid to put pen to paper (or just print out a letter) and send actual correspondence to the CEO or head of customer service. Their info is easy to find using Elliot.org.

When That Fails

In the US, your only hope is an ombudsman, or the Department of Transportation (DOT). In the UK, you have the CAA. Most countries have their own governing body, which can enforce rules upon airlines and passengers alike. Simply search “air passenger rights governing body” with your country. Using Germany as an example, the search results would turn up the LBA, who handle cases in Germany.

Interesting Example

A reader and friend of GSTP recently booked a Singapore Airlines award ticket using miles. He was initially waitlisted, and his waitlist cleared the day before his flight. Once cleared, his ticket became a  confirmed reservation. Only hours later, Singapore cancelled his flight and refused to offer him a confirmed reservation on a later flight. They would only waitlist him. This took place in the UK. After Singapore’s outright refusal to accommodate according to CAA regulations for passenger handling, the reader contacted the CAA and explained the situation. Within hours, not days, the reader was confirmed on the next available flight of his choosing.

How To Deal With Governing Bodies

Before contacting a governing body, it never hurts to let the airline know they’ve left you no choice but to do so. Sometimes this can nudge an airline to offer a rightful solution before they face potential consequence. Be sure to CC the airline on all correspondence with your relevant passenger complaint body. Keep emotion to the side, stick to facts and do your best to quote laws, regulations or airline customer service plans to bolster your case. Provide receipts, proof of delay, relevant weather or other data too. Anything concrete to back up your thoughts.

Be Realistic With Time

In a perfect world, you could solve customer service issues via Facebook chat. But this is not a perfect world. Airlines take days, weeks and sometimes even months to come to sensible resolutions. This process can be even longer when a body such as the DOT, CAA are forced to intervene on a passengers behalf. But don’t give up. Stay on the case, but allow reasonable time for a response. The more significant the issue, the more time it may take. But to summarize: when you are legally entitled to something, you’re not alone, and you don’t need a lawyer.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Lots of help and advice available here for those that have suffered with one of the most regular offenders…

    …and gstp I fundamentally disagree on in flight entertainment *on longhaul* it’s often / normally part of what you’re paying for and part of the “premium” experience that is supposed to differentiate full service carriers from low cost. When an airline persists in flying with broken systems for months if not years without any attempt to mitigate or repair and persists in claims to offer a premium experience it’s simply a lie.

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