You can’t get the airline to take your complaint seriously but you don’t want to file a lawsuit.
So now what do you do?
You could file a complaint with one or more consumer complaint websites. Just remember:
- What you say online can hurt you.
- Accuse someone of criminal or shameful behavior, and you can be sued for libel.
- Threaten someone with exposure or financial ruin aunless he pays you money and you can be privately sued and/or criminally prosecuted for extortion.
- And once you click on the “Send” button, there’s no recalling your email.
Review the guidelines offered in Part Six of this series on how to safely craft your letter/email.
Below is a partial list of consumer complaint websites. No endorsement is implied by this listing. It’s offered simply to illustrate the variety of such websites available.
http://www.pissedconsumer.com/ - Pissed Consumer (complaints only)
http://www.measuredup.com/ - Measured Up (“Customers Review / Businesses Reply / Everybody Wins”)
http://www.complaints.com/ - Complaints (post and research consumer complaints)
http://www.thesqueakywheel.com/ - The Squeaky Wheel (submits your complaint to google)
http://www.consumercomplaintagency.org/ - Consumer Complaint Agency (“Take [unspecified] action on your behalf”)
https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ - Federal Trade Commission (does not resolve individual consumer complaints)
http://www.complaintnow.com/ - Complaint Now (complaints only)
http://hissingkitty.com/ - Hissing Kitty (posts your complaint on Google, Yahoo, and Bing)
http://www.airlinecomplaints.org/ - Airline Complaints (complaints only)
http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/problems.htm - Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement (U.S. Department of Transportation) (complaints)
http://www.airsafe.com/complain/complain.htm - Air Safe (“critical information for the traveling public”)
http://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/airlines.html - Consumer Affairs (complaints only)
Don’t do it.
Instead, try to resolve your problem (assuming it can be resolved) with the airline.
Why? Two reasons:
- You may be able to obtain what you want at that level, without having to do anything more.
- If you don’t give the airline the chance to address your grievance, you will be accused of pursuing a vendetta. This will be especially true if you later sue the airline.
Use websites like these as a fallback option–in case you’re unable to can’t resolve your problem with the airlines.
And, frankly, there’s a good chance you won’t.
In its September 3, 2009 issue, Time magazine warned that calling the airlines’ customer complaint lines would likely prove a waste of time.
The major carriers have, quietly, made it steadily more difficult for customers to reach a person with their complaints. “The airlines don’t want to talk to their customers,” says John Tschohl, a consultant to businesses on customer service.
Even the few airlines that still have customer-service numbers bury them deep within their websites. Finding them is often as much a matter of luck as persistence.
So as advised in Part Five of this series: Don’t waste your time with the Customer Service line. Go directly to the topmost official(s) of the airline and make it clear why it’s in their best interests to resolve your problem.
Then, if you can’t find a workable solution, file your complaint with as many consumer-protection websites as possible.
You can also file complaints with one or more federal agencies that hold jurisdiction over the airlines.
If your complaint is safety related, address it to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) at:
Assistant Administrator for System Safety ASY-100
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20591
A final option is to sue the airline.
For most people, bringing in a lawyer is like bringing up the heavy artillery. When should you do so?
Christopher Elliott, author, consumer advocate and journalist, outlines “five times when you should consider skipping the complaints process and going straight to court:
- When they’re playing games.
- When they’ve broken a contract.
- When they’re being dishonest.
- When they’re ignoring you.
- When they aren’t listening to reason.
Elliott’s webpage contains a wealth of practical advice for those who’ve had their fill of airline arrogance. It can be accessed thus: Click here: See you in court: 5 times when you should just sue ‘em.
Yet another must-read for those wondering if they should file suit: Click here: Lies the Airlines Tell Us – ABC News
Assuming you decide to sue, there are three ways to do this:
- In small claims court.
- In regular civil court as an individual claimant.
- As part of a class-action lawsuit.
Each approach has its own series of pluses and minuses. I’ll explore these in my next column.