muay thaiAirlines, both big and small, commit a number of offenses against travelers – and most of them get away with it. As savvy travelers you can fight the airlines and get compensation when you deserve it by being an effective complainer.

I’m not talking about abusing the system but penalizing the airlines when they mess up. Remember, they do the same to you when you’re late for a flight, make last minute changes, or check in a bag.

The First Step: Speak Up

This is the stage that most disgruntled travelers don’t get past – actually voicing a complaint or grievance with the airline. Whether it’s over the phone when your lost luggage never shows up or in-person at the ticket counter, you simply must make the jump and voice your complaint when you feel the airline isn’t living up to its obligations.

  • Prior to speaking up, it’s important to mentally list all of the ways you’ve been wronged or mistreated and what it has cost you (usually time or money).

Now that you’ve gotten past the biggest barrier to getting justice from the airlines you can now begin a multiple-pronged attack to fight for the money you spent on your plane tickets.

Talk To The Right Employee

The first person you need to speak to is the employee that can immediately help you. If you’re at home, this is over the phone to the airline, if you’re sitting at the airport, the person behind the ticket counter, and if you’re in flight on the plane, the flight attendants. So many times upset travelers sitting in long lines or being bumped from their flight complain to everyone but the airline employees or wait until they get home to write a nasty email. The grandmother sitting next to you may have a sympathetic ear, but she’s not going to help you find out what happened to your bags.

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Break Them Down

long lineReader ‘D‘ asked what to do when airline employees dodging your questions. The best way to get in touch with as many airline employees as high up in the pecking order as you can.

  • Speak to the right employees, get on the phone, talk with a manager, and write both an email and written letter as soon as you can. It’s easy for a single point of contact to ignore you there for it’s important to stand your argument on as many legs as you can.
  • Above all, be persistent! Ask direct questions that get straight to the point and are difficult for the airline employee to get around.

Stay Calm But Be Assertive

I’ve learned quite a bit from reading the Dog Whisperer’s books, and much like dogs, the airlines (and their employees) are much more likely to respond positively to you if you are calm and assertive. You want to give the impression that they don’t want to see you get angry, but you are, at the same time, a reasonable person with a valid argument.

  • In fact, it’s best to use hotheads and crazy passengers to your advantage. Get in line right behind one – you will look all that much better when you speak to an airline employee who is going to be more inclined to work with you.
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Don’t Let It Go and Set Goals

Whether you’re complaining over the phone, email, or in person it’s important not to give up or let airline employees brush you aside. It’s easy for employees (and travelers) to look at each other as ‘airline’ and ‘passenger’ when in reality you are just two people talking to one another. Don’t allow an employee to duck their head into their monitor when you are talking, ask them to look up.

  • Set your goals and determine what you want to achieve by complaining. Let the airlines know specifically how they’ve failed to live up to their obligations and how they can correct the situation with you.
  • The airlines are charging passengers higher airfares and to check in luggage; make them earn their money by treating you properly.

You Can Do It!

Have confidence as a traveler and consumer and don’t be intimidated by uniforms or feel helpless against the major airlines. Fighting the airlines effectively is a skill to be learned and you will get better at it with time. As frequent travelers know, the airlines will give you plenty of opportunities to practice.

[photos by: Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer, cafemama]