As a business traveler, you probably have had more than one opportunity to grouse about the fees airlines have tacked onto the cost of travel. Since we're frequent travelers, we probably encounter them less often because our membership in mileage programs alleviate some of those fees. But leisure travelers encounter them all the time, everything from asking for a real person at check-in to baggage fees to cancellation and rescheduling fees.
The Silent Traveling Majority?
So why don't we hear about passenger backlash regarding fees? Well, for one thing, leisure travelers aren't "organized" -- by definition they travel only occasionally, and usually accept what is imposed on them because they don't have any leverage with the airline.
However, in the fall of 2010, a website called www.MadAsHellAboutHiddenFees.com used their website and media attention to put together 50,000 signatures and deliver them to the Department of Transportation in time for the close of public comments on a potential change of rules about airline fees. In April 2011, the DOT issued a new set of rules that took effect in August 2011. In case you missed hearing about them, here's a short list:
- Bumping: The new rules raise the amount airlines must pay for "involuntary bumping of passengers." For short delays, you'll be entitled to up to twice the amount of your ticket, up to $650. For longer delays, you can get up to four times the ticket price, or up to $1,300.
- Tarmac delays: The new rules impose a four-hour limit on the time international flights can sit on the tarmac before allowing passengers to get off. Domestic flights are limited to three-hour delays.
- Refund of bag fees if luggage is lost, but you'll get your checked- bag fees refunded only if the airline permanently loses your luggage.
Two other rules were delayed until 2012:
- Advertised fares must include all government taxes and fees -- no more misleading advertising that leave those fees off!
- Travelers have 24 hours to cancel non-refundable tickets without penalty. Some airlines already do this, though you might not discover that fact unless you've had to cancel and you tried calling the airline hoping for mercy. Now it'll be a rule.
You can get a more detailed description here: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/travelwise/2015938600_trpucci21.html
Handling Grievances with the Airlines
Trying to get the attention of an airline when you have a problem can feel like being David and taking on Goliath. Arm yourself with facts and knowledge of your airline's procedures, and you stand a good chance of getting the remedy you seek. Remember, David won over Goliath with a few well-placed stones!
Ticketing: Most airlines post links to Customer Service on their websites. Among those pages you'll find procedures for ticketing and pre-flight changes or refunds.
Baggage: Not every business traveler checks a bag or two (I usually have to), but if you do check yours and they go awry, it's essential that you head straight for the baggage claim office and report it. Thank goodness for bar-coding -- most of the airlines can tell you WHERE your bag is, even if it's not going to arrive anytime soon.
During Travel: If you don't already have the phone numbers for your airline in your phone or PDA, take time before you leave to add them to your contacts. Trying to track down that information is frustrating at best, and really inconvenient in the middle of a travel crisis. When you fly internationally, be sure that you have the numbers on paper as well as in your phone/PDA, in case your battery runs out.
Don't give up on getting a remedy for your issue with the airline. Document every conversation (date, time, person you spoke to, etc.) so that you can impress the next person you talk to. Be polite, be firm, and be consistent in your follow-up.
As for using the media (local consumer advocate, Facebook, Twitter, etc) to air your grievances, use that only as a LAST resort. If you put something on the Internet, it's there forever, and your angry words will probably come back to haunt you, even on an unrelated topic.
Got a travel horror story for which you eventually GOT a remedy? I'd love to hear about it through your comments on this newsletter.