Airline Woes: When should airline passengers expect compensation in the form of tickets or otherwise from an airline?
January 23, 2008 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Airline Woes: When should airline passengers expect compensation in the form of tickets or otherwise from an airline?

My flight was cancelled at the last minute because of mechanical issues and I really needed to be at my destination in the morning. Though the airline said that they would put us (the passengers) up in a hotel and fly us out later the next day, their deal would not have helped my situation at all as I REALLY needed to be there in the morning. Because of our being close enough to the destination, we asked for a van to take us to the destination. They refused. So I offered to rent a car and drive and asked for them to pay for the car. They refused. I told them that I was disappointed in the service and wanted a refund. They refused. Then I stated that I wanted at least wanted a free ticket for my trouble and.....ta-da...they refused. I couldn't wait any longer and paid for a car and left, but I am really disturbed by this service issue and feel that I was punished for their problem. I really think passengers in my situation deserve some compensation?

Does anyone know when an airline would be forced to compensate passengers? What can I do to help my chances as I think about pursuing this? Thanks.
posted by boots77 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Which airline? You need to review their contract of carriage to see what your rights are.
posted by nathan_teske at 7:13 AM on January 23, 2008

The only obligation they have to you is to get you to your destination by air as quickly as they can manage. Trust me on this... as a frequent flier who has had to rent cars and drive 10+ hours through the night on multiple occasions to make it on time for a wedding or whatever, you have zero chance of retroactive compensation. Even if your grandmother died in the hospital while your flight was delayed. The airline cartel has you by the short curlies.
posted by fusinski at 7:21 AM on January 23, 2008

we had an instance in December due to airport closings an employee couldn't make it to a school on time and the airline fully refunded his ticket. This was a non refundable ticket at the time of purchase.. I don't see a difference really here. I can understand them not paying for the rental, but do not understand not refunding or at the very least giving you a voucher for the future.

I would definitely argue.
posted by domino at 7:21 AM on January 23, 2008

In 2003, something similar happened to me on a Southwest flight. While I was left to make my own arrangements that night to get where I needed to go, I wrote a detailed letter to their customer service department explaining the situation as soon as I got home. I didn't ask for any compensation in the letter but they sent me SWA vouchers that equaled the cost of my original ticket. (I've never been compensated by airlines with anything except their vouchers.)

Write a really good letter, even if your complaint seems to fall outside of what they say they normally cover. You'll feel better and you'll probably hear back from them.
posted by juliplease at 7:23 AM on January 23, 2008

They can do anything they want to do. We had a situation where we booked a flight to England using frequent flier miles. As a result of the airline's snafu, we had paper tickets but weren't in their system. The best they could do was fly us to Gatwick. Our pre-paid rental car was at Heathrow. This was during the time of a transportation strike.

They were very conciliatory. Gave us cash, paid our expenses. It ended up costing them a bundle. But...and this is an important but...we were very frequent fliers. They wanted to keep us as customers. Do you fly this airline often, or do you have any other leverage? They can pay you money, give you vouchers, do many things, but they don't usually have to do anything at all.

In the end, it never hurts to ask - and ask nicely.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:36 AM on January 23, 2008

Seconding writing a letter. (perhaps try a phone call first, but letter may be better) Be polite but explain how their lack of a flight caused you to miss an important business meeting, family event, or what have you and how you were open to a number of solutions (van, rental car, seat on another airline) but they were not helpful to you or the other passengers. Mention how you'd like to continue being a loyal customer. At worst, you lose the price of a stamp.

Good luck and sorry to hear about your hassles!
posted by pointystick at 7:41 AM on January 23, 2008

There was paperwork when you bought your ticket. Read it.
posted by koeselitz at 7:42 AM on January 23, 2008

oh, and be sure to include the flight number, date and time.
(sounds obvious, I know)
posted by pointystick at 7:42 AM on January 23, 2008

I would expect nothing. Writing a letter might make you feel better, and even a very small probability of compensation is greater than exactly zero, but still. Frankly, offering to put you up in a hotel instead of just telling you "This is the airport, get comfy" is more than I would expect from a modern airline.

If I really need to be somewhere on the morning of the 23rd, I'd leave on the 21st, not the 22d, or at the very least schedule my flight as early as humanly possible on the 22d so that I could catch a later flight if my flight didn't work out for whatever reason. Unless someone else is calling the shots about my flights, anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:51 AM on January 23, 2008

Airlines don't HAVE to give you compensation. Your mistake was in asking for it. Don't ask for anything specifically. Just make the complaint.

I've had a very similar situation -- mechanical issues with plane leading to extremely late departure -- and after phoning their customer service and being very sweet and telling them how often I fly, they gave me a $200 voucher.

I've also had an airline "lose" a cooler full of perishables like lobster and clams that I was bringing home from the East Coast. I still suspect it was stolen. But the airline allegedly lost it so that it couldn't be on my connecting flight, and when I called again the next day, they said: "well, we threw it out, it went bad." They were also very rude during this and didn't even send out a claim for me to file. The rudeness was even worse than the monetary loss. I ended up, after going through several levels of management, getting the entire value of the cooler of food reimbursed AND getting four round-trip vouchers. Seriously, four, even though there were only two of us even traveling when this happened.

But the key is to be very polite, unfailingly polite, and never to ask for anything specific. Once you start demanding specific stuff, they assume you're just out to take their money.
posted by InnocentBystander at 7:51 AM on January 23, 2008


domino: I would definitely argue.

I know that domino means you should try to get compensation, but be careful about how you go about this. You need to understand how modern companies work. The customer is routed according to the impression that each successive representative of the company takes of them. There are terrible, terrible places that you don't want to go in any company, and you should try to avoid those places: places where people who are paid to talk to deadbeats and thieves will gladly earn their keep and tell you that it's your fault, that the loss is yours, that there's nothing they can do, and that they're very sorry you feel that way, but that's the way it's going to be. Every single employee of the company has the power to send you in the direction of that hell. Your goal is to avoid it. Therefore, in a large company where very few will likely have the power to grant what you'd like, and most will merely have the power to pass you either up the chain to someone more powerful or down the chain toward the demons, it doesn't pay to make any enemies early on.

In other words: the best way to deal with such things is to be nice, but firm, and to elicit as much sympathy as possible. If there's some tragic story behind why you had to be there then, tell it. If it's not a tragic story, make it sound tragic. Stop talking about "your rights" and "what you ought to get from them" (not that you have, but I would have if I were you) and start talking about how tough it's been, how you like the airline and wanted to fly with them again but this was tough to deal with. Make as many friends as you can until you find someone there who can help you. Learn to start by saying, "I have an interesting problem, and I'm hoping maybe you can help me."

I work in a call center, so maybe this is just my perspective, but I've found that the only way to finagle things from companies if they can be finagled at all is through the light touch. Unless you can find something in your paperwork that entitles you to a refund or replacement ticket, then anyone who gives you those things will be doing you a favor. Find the person who can do you that favor, make them your friend, and convince them to help you.
posted by koeselitz at 7:52 AM on January 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

You don't say where you were. If you're in Europe then the rules on compensation are different than those in the US and you may have a right to compensation. See here for details.
posted by biffa at 8:02 AM on January 23, 2008

My flight from Newark to San Francisco was delayed by about 4 hours last year and everyone was given a voucher for 20% off their next flight. The airline was United.
posted by infinityjinx at 8:17 AM on January 23, 2008

If you're in Europe then the rules on compensation are different than those in the US and you may have a right to compensation. See here for details.

Similarly if you are on a flight that either starts or ends in Europe. Here is another link with details.
posted by rongorongo at 8:52 AM on January 23, 2008

ask "what can to do to make this right?" and then keep restating the question until you get a satisfactory answer.
posted by Good Brain at 8:54 AM on January 23, 2008

We just had a Delta flight cancelled and had to buy tickets on another airline to make our connections. The man at the Delta counter said that the airline would refund us for the cancelled trip (because we paid for a trip that we didn't take, through no fault of our own). We've sent a letter with receipts, although I admit I'll be surprised if we acutally get a check. Anway, my point is that a Delta employee said it was routine to give refunds for cancelled flights.
posted by robinpME at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2008

keoselitz is right. my wife and i volunteered to be bumped off of a cheap ($100/person) American Airlines flight that was oversold, with the understanding that we would be on the next flight and only an hour or two later than originally planned. That one was oversold too, and was the last flight of the day, so they were going to put us up in a hotel that night. The ticket agent asked our patience as she finished up another flight and then forgot about us for an hour.

My wife and I were in a really good mood that day I guess, because we didn't complain about anything. When the agent realized she had forgotten about us, she called us over and handed each of us vouchers for $1000, and got us on the first flight out the next day first class. Plus they put us up in a small but nice hotel room w/ food vouchers for the evening.

We were not the only people who got bumped that day, and I am completely convinced that the other people didn't get the same treatment we did, because they bitched and complained a lot. We were friendly and let the ticket agent know we understood that this wasn't her fault, and were rewarded for it.
posted by nushustu at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

My flight out of Chicago was delayed because of weather on the east coast. When I arrived - four hours later - at Dulles in DC, my plane to Frankfurt was going to leave in five minutes. I missed it, and so did several hundred others. This meant I couldn't leave until the following day - on the THIRD plane out (because the others were overbooked) - and I had to stay for the night in DC, at my own expense. Because I missed the Frankfurt flight, I missed my flight to Budapest and could not reschedule it because it left on a Friday and there were no more flights until the following Monday. So I had to stay overnight in Frankfurt at my expense and take a 10-hour train to Budapest (at my expense) and then wait to take the last train to Szeged. Getting to my destination in Europe should have taken about 12 hours; instead it took 75 hours and cost me an expensive train ticket, two hotel rooms and the waste of an inter-Europe flight I'd paid for.

I later found out that the plane from Dulles to Frankfurt left with twenty passengers aboard. Had they waited half an hour, they would have had a nearly full plane. They inconvenienced hundreds of passengers. Why? The United Airlines representative told me that the company preferred to maintain their "on-time departure" record rather than do the right thing by hundreds of customers. The only thing any of us got out of it was a "discount voucher" good for a reduced price room in DC - but later I found out that this provided no actual discount over what I could have gotten alone, it just made it a little easier to find a cheap place. (Not that there were any, since thousands of travelers were in the same boat!)

Ultimately, United's decision to screw over everyone by not showing any regard for service cost me about $500 and two days of my life.

I'm venting, obviously, but the airline business is corrupt and driven by anything but service. You can't expect a thing from them, at least not in America. I'm sorry about your hassles.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:08 PM on January 23, 2008

Boots, what you think is reasonable and the airline does are two separate things. There has been a reality show called Airline, which is mostly how people lose their minds when things go wrong.

What do the airlines owe you? They spell it out on their ticket and people have echo'd it here. What can you do? Well, if you're angry, complain. The rest of the comments are 'complain intelligently."

The website the Consumerist is all about what happens when things go wrong (and they do - car dealers, cell phones, housing, cable, etc.) In a day where we want the best bargain, we often forget what the disadvantage is in going for the best price. A guide for consumer on how to complain how to be found here.
posted by filmgeek at 2:16 PM on January 23, 2008

I was in a similar situation where I got involuntarily bumped from a flight that was the last one going to my destination that night. I got a $400 flight voucher (required compensation for involuntary bumps), but I really needed to get to my destination that night.

I was promised by a random airline rep that if I took the next flight to a nearby location, the airline rep there would arrange a car rental. I was stressed and had about ten minutes to get on that plane, so I foolishly took him at his word and didn't get any documentation; unsurprisingly, the rep at the destination refused to honor the promise. I'm making a long story short, but the whole experience was worsened by the nasty attitude of several reps and the fact that they lost my luggage twice in two days.

I rented the car anyway, but I was pissed and pursued the matter. When my complaint to customer service went unacknowledged, I sent an email to various mid-level executives detailing (a) my understanding that problems are unavoidable, but that I was (b) disappointed with the airline's lack of flexibility with alternative arrangements and the nastiness of their customer service reps, and (c) the inconvenience and frustration I experienced, which was tempting me to (d) send a detailed account to blogs focusing on consumer and passenger rights, which was why I was (e) specifically requesting compensation for the rental car.

I'm not a frequent flyer by any stretch of the imagination, but I was contacted by a customer service rep a few days later. After I sent her a letter rehashing the details, I received a check in the mail. Amazingly, it didn't bounce.
posted by lalex at 12:48 AM on January 24, 2008

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