Should I be this mad at the airport, and if so, what do I do?
April 8, 2014 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Anonymous because I'm not sure if legal action is a possibility. After many times of travelling with his CPAP machine with absolutely no problem, my SO was not allowed to board with it this time at our local airport. (There was a death in his family and he was flying on short notice.) They insisted it needed an FAA approval stamp or at the very least a letter from the manufacturer. We found the relevant letter on our smartphone but the airline employee (the one who was holding the machine hostage) insisted it had to be "on their letterhead." With only an hour before the flight took off, he had to go without it -for three nights. I called the TSA, and they were shocked. I called the relevant airline, and they put me on hold and then told me it was a local airport rule. I sent an email to the airport, and they claim it is an airline rule, and that I was misinformed, and that they were passing my email to the local rep of the airline. (after I responded.) I have not heard back so far.

Being that this is a medical device, and being that so far I cannot find anything online telling me that these were requirements, and being that he has flown many times with this same machine with no difficulties, and being he had a really rough time for three nights with his sleep apnea in a state which is at way higher altitude than our home state, should I even bother pursuing this even further? At this point we are not sure what we could do if he has to fly again.

Just how mad should I be? Considering that I felt his health was at risk for this period of time?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd be VERY angry.

Who denied you boarding, the TSA, or the gate agent at the airport? VERY big difference in who you target your complaint to.

If it was the gate agent, I'd find out who the station manager is and call that person specifically. I googled a random airline and a random airport and the words "station manager" and found the station manager on LinkedIn.

Send a letter to the station manager with a copy to the President of the airline.

Every corporation has "an office of the President" to whom you can address "presidential complaints." Call the head quarters and ask to speak to someone in the "office of the president" ask for an address to send your complaint letter, you'll be provided with one, or you may even get to discuss with a very skilled customer service person who will take your complaint VERY SERIOUSLY.

Frame your complaint in, "my husband's health was at risk" and "we don't want anyone else to have to endure this kind of issue".

Now, watch how quickly everyone springs into action over this.

In the future, if a gate agent tries this nonsense again, insist on speaking with a supervisor, then the station manager, because this is nonsense.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:28 AM on April 8, 2014 [15 favorites]

It sounds like this doesn't have anything to do with the airport. It was an airline employee who told you that you couldn't take the machine on board. The person in the call center you talked to probably does not know why the employee did this.

You should start by sending a complaint in writing to the airline. Calling people on the phone will get you nowhere. So will going through the TSA or airport. If you are unsatisfied by the airline's response, send a complaint to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

I think it's worth pursuing this because you will probably need to fly with this airline and airport in the future and resolving this will reduce the risk of this happening again, or help you know how to solve the problem in real time.
posted by grouse at 5:29 AM on April 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Just how mad should I be? Considering that I felt his health was at risk for this period of time?

I'd be pretty damn angry about the CPAP issue, and frankly even angrier that no one is giving you a straight answer about why this happened and whose rule it was, etc.

I'd write all the nastygrams Ruthless Bunny suggests and if nothing happened I would consider legal action (but I am a fairly vindictive person, so YMMV).
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:30 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know it is very frustrating, but it is probably worth letting this one go. It sounds like someone somewhere goofed in applying the rules and that's why they keep passing the buck. Maybe they've gotten a behind-the-scenes tongue lashing or maybe not. I don't think you will get far with legal action if there are no lasting health effects and if your SO made the choice of traveling without the device (instead of rescheduling).
posted by whitewall at 5:32 AM on April 8, 2014

What do you want to get from the airline or airport? First decide that, then proceed. I don't think this is the time for legal action, though you may want to consult with a lawyer before following Ruthless Bunny's advice to make sure that you do things right in case you later decide to go that route.

That said, I think it is important to pursue this and create a paper trail in case this situation comes up again.
posted by lharmon at 5:51 AM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding: Don't call, write letters.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:00 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Uh, so either you were on the same dtw-phx flight I was on last week, or more than one person has been denied boarding with their medical equipment lately. I think you should pursue this, especially if it was a gate agent refusing to let you carry it on; the airlines should make sure their employees are taught that their recent crackdown on the size of carryon items has a medical exception. (Even if this wasn't how your husband ended up without his CPAP, whatever did happen could happen to someone else, and the airline should train their employees to make sure it doesn't happen again.)
posted by nat at 6:16 AM on April 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I can't speak to whether or not you should pursue (although I agree with the above answers), but there's a tag on our CPAP noting that it's a medical device - do you have that tag? (if not, it might be useful to get one just in case, not saying that it would have prevented it from happening this time).

I'm so sorry this happened to you/your husband.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:29 AM on April 8, 2014

You could try twitter; the airlines have dedicated customer service teams that monitor it. See this article for details.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:44 AM on April 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just how mad should I be?

I'd be pretty mad, as indicated by other responses in this thread. I'd pursue the courses of action suggested in this thread. I'd also start a credit card chargeback on the transaction, with the reason that the item purchased (the flight) was "not as described", since you were never communicated a restriction on CPAP devices. Normally, this isn't possible with plane flights planned in advance, because chargebacks generally need to occur within 60 days of the statement containing the transaction, but in this case, you may be in the time window. Further, I find that airlines are quite responsive to credit card chargebacks because the chargebacks cost the company a lot of time/money (the cost of the flight and the cost of dealing with the chargeback) and because chargebacks are comparatively rare for plane flights (most people don't think of issuing one for a service rather than an item).
posted by saeculorum at 6:53 AM on April 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

With all due respect to whitewall, I disagree about letting it go. This is a prescribed medical device. End of story. If I were your hubby I would have escalated the sh*t out of the issue up until the moment the plane left the gate.

At this point, I would continue escalating until I got a clarification (and possibly a guarantee) in writing from the airline and/or the TSA about what is needed each time he shows up at the airport with that machine in order to travel hassle free. Letter from the manufacturer? Okay, we'll have it every time. Copy of a letter from his doctor that it is medically necessary? Okay, we'll have that too.

On the surface it looks like a hassle for you, but not having a necessary medical device is more of a hassle in the long run. What this amounts to is you forcing the responsible party to address what should be for them an in-house training issue, but so be it if it affects the health of someone in your family.

As to how to go about it, if you are not getting satisfaction (and I personally would be pushy enough to demand an answer within days, as opposed to weeks or months), I have heard accounts of people posting their long-ignored complaints on Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and getting almost immediate satisfaction. ymmv on that one, but worth a shot.

Do check back and let us know how it works out.
posted by vignettist at 8:50 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Was this Southwest by any chance? I don't intend to ever fly them again because too many of their flight attendants don't understand basic rules about medical devices (and are rude about it to boot).

I think the advice about social media contacts and other escalation is good.
posted by wintersweet at 9:11 AM on April 8, 2014

When you send your letters don't forget to CC your local state legislator, your US senator, and then forward to the local news.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:24 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

i would talk to an aviation/americans with disabilities act lawyer pronto. you want to do a sufficiently scorched-earth thing here so that it never, ever happens again, and if your SO can jack about 50 grand out of this, it would go a long way toward assuaging his ruffled feelings.
posted by bruce at 9:32 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd be super pissed. On top of all the above suggestions, I'd do an Executive Email Carpet Bomb. If you want some press, Consumerist would probably be interested in this, it's right up their alley.
posted by radioamy at 3:10 PM on April 8, 2014

Much as I hate Twitter, it seems like throwing shit fits on Twitter gets you whatever you want these days.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:49 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

One reason you musn't let this go is because right now there is some boarding agent putting a stop to someone's CPAP machine and consequently setting that person up for a possible serious medical problem.

I think Ruthless Bunny's ideas are top notch. Call out the Big Dogs - because this is important.
posted by aryma at 7:41 PM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

From the OP:
I was contacted by the airline customer service and they were snotty as heck. I contacted the manufacturer of husband's CPAP and they are mailing us a sticker for the device.

I still cannot find anything online with these directions of needing a sticker or letter. I looked again. Meanwhile the airline's customer service (USAir which has merged with American) wrote me back and gave me directions for what you have to do IF you are using the device on board-we don't need to do that, we just need to transport it!!!

Part of me wants to just let this go but part of me is so enraged it's frightening. I am considering contacting Consumerist but I will take any and all suggestions. All I want is an apology and a clear statement online for anyone who needs to fly with these devices, and for someone to actually give a damn. That last bit might be a stretch for this airline from what I have seen so far.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2014

It looks like they might be confusing a CPAP machine with a portable oxygen concentrator for which you might need a sticker to use on board.

All I want is an apology and a clear statement online for anyone who needs to fly with these devices, and for someone to actually give a damn.

You are going to have trouble getting any of these things. Airlines get tons of complaints and they rarely announce policies due to a single customer's complaint. You might get an apology or not, but spending a lot of time on this to get a meaningless apology from a corporation seems like a poor use of time.

Email customer relations again. Tell them your CPAP machine is not a portable oxygen concentrator, and you do not use it on board. You may wish to state that you are a passenger with a disability and that they have violated 14 CFR 382.121(a) by refusing to allow you to bring your assistive device into the aircraft cabin. Say you would like a written statement that they will not violate this regulation again and that they do not require any special sticker or letter for you to transport your CPAP as carry-on luggage.

It has been US Airways, not USAir, for almost 20 years. Being clear about what you want and getting the details right is important in pursuing your complaint.
posted by grouse at 7:07 PM on April 10, 2014

Update: They apologized. Admitted they broke the law, and are giving us a voucher to go towards our next flight. I think the tipping point was when I went on Twitter and expressed our opinion on how my husband was treated. They reached out to him, and voila. ( He thinks they were scared to talk to me. )

I'm happy. They apologized to him and that really is all I wanted. The cpap company sent us a sticker for the machine so hopefully we are good for next time.

Thanks for the moral support here. I was literally so angry I frightened myself. Y'all made me feel much better.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:10 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the update. Another win for complaining on Twitter! Worked for me a few times with various companies.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:48 AM on April 23, 2014

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