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How to Complain (Constructively) to an Airline

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Everyone will end up complaining about an airline sooner or later. For some reason, I've never had to write a scathing letter. Maybe I'm lucky. The only time recently that something went amiss on a flight I've taken was on a Los Angeles-to-New York flight on American Airlines. I had used miles for a first-class ticket, and although I had booked my seat months in advance, when I attempted to check in online 24 hours ahead I was told to do so at the airport, always a bad sign.

Sure enough, there was no seat for me. I asked what happened, but the ticket agent could offer no explanation.

Instead of ranting and raving, I remained calm, went to the lounge, and asked the front desk what they could do for me. And sure enough, I was put on a flight departing exactly 59 minutes after my original flight, same seat.

Because the delay was under an hour, American didn't owe me denied boarding compensation. But because I was polite and pleasant about the situation, the lounge agent found me and handed me a $400 travel voucher anyway. Maybe I would have gotten the voucher even if I had ranted and raved, who knows. Somehow, I suspect not.

So if you have an airline complaint, whether it's lost bags, a delayed flight, or poor service, always try to resolve it politely at the airport. If that doesn't work, send a letter or e-mail to the airline, and follow these guidelines:

— Be polite, specific, and as brief as possible, citing flight numbers, seat location, employee names if known, cost of fare, etc.

— Include your frequent flier number.

— It's always a good idea to "sit" on your letter for a few days after writing it in order to cool down and rephrase things.

— Never say, "I will never fly your airline again!" since that gives the airline no incentive to help.

— Ask for a specific remedy — whether it is extra frequent-flier miles, a refund, or a voucher —and be reasonable.

— And remember, even airlines with stellar reputations err from time to time, as happened in this snafu involving Emirates and JetBlue that I attempted to fix with limited success.

— You can also complain to the U.S. D.O.T., however don't expect to get a reply or resolution unless it's a safety/security or disability/discrimination issue.

Perhaps the best advice, though, is to avoid setting yourself up for air travel #fail to begin with, as I documented in an earlier column.

Airline contacts for consumer complaints

Here are the e-mail, website and corporate mailing address contacts for U.S.-based airlines. Although most people like to e-mail these days, I find that a well-written, snail-mail letter can be more effective since so few people send them and they tend to stand out (plus you can include photocopies of relevant documents if applicable). And you can also pay the post office for a confirmation that the mail has been received.

Oh, and by the way, you can also use these methods for saying something nice about your flight or an employee's extra care.

Airtran

5230 Clipper Dr., Ste. 200

GC 4RC

Atlanta, GA 30349-8127


Alaska

P.O. Box 68900

Seattle, WA 98168


American

4333 Amon Carter Boulevard

Fort Worth, TX 76155


Delta

Customer Relations

P.O. Box 20706

Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001


Frontier

Customer Relations

7001 Tower Rd.

Denver CO 80249


Jetblue

27-01 Queens Plaza North,

Long Island City, NY 11101


Hawaiian

3375 Koapaka Street

Suite G350

Honolulu, HI 96819


Southwest

2702 Love Field Drive

Dallas TX 75235


United

P.O Box 66100

Chicago IL 60666


US Airways

4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.

Phoenix, AZ 85034


Virgin America

555 Airport Blvd., Fl. 2

Burlingame, CA 94010


Airlines are also using Twitter to resolve complaints, but some are better at this than others. Here are their handles:

@AlaskaAir

@AmericanAir

@DeltaAssist

@HawaiianAir

@JetBlue

@SouthwestAir

@United

@USAirways

@VirginAmerica

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. Airfarewatchdog features the best airfares on thousands of routes verified by a team of expert fare analysts.

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