All too frequently, we see viral videos of passengers being mistreated and even removed from flights. We often don’t see the full outcome, and the story almost always turns out to be more complicated than it appeared at first.
Still, there is no doubt that airlines have an image problem, and they are trying desperately to correct that image. They want the image of happy customers, and would prefer that customers choose their airline over others rather than avoiding it.
However, with crowded flights and airports, security regulations that must be enforced, and grumpy and often stressed out travelers, the airlines are facing a customer service crisis. Employees too are often stressed out and even fed up with consumer issues, and this mix provides a recipe for disaster. Here’s what to do as a traveler if you have problems with an airline.
This is perhaps the hardest advice of all, but in most cases one of the most important things you can do. You are much more likely to get your way when you escalate a situation to a supervisor or seek recourse elsewhere if you can keep emotions out of the equation.
This means applying some basic principles of mediation to the process. Stick with the facts, and don’t direct personal slurs at the person in front of you. Make the argument about policy and your rights as a passenger.
Use the techniques outlined in William Ury’s book Getting Past No, try to “go to the balcony.” Objectively look at the problem from the employee or airline side of things. What are they really trying to accomplish? This can help you see your way to potential solutions.
There may be scenarios where you just cannot get the airline to agree to what you need, or even to compromise with you in some way. Even in these circumstances it is best to stay as calm as possible, even if it means giving in.
One of the main issues airlines have with recent passenger confrontations is that they have gone viral on social media. You can use this to help you not only negotiate, but vent in a way that gets the airline’s attention. Most are paying very close attention to social media signals, and will try to respond quickly before the situation goes too far.
This is also aided by passenger advocate groups, who are also watching the airlines and trying to ensure that passengers rights are enforced, and that their constitutional rights are not violated. In light of recent events, these groups are even more vigilant than ever, and may be able to come quickly to your aid.
Even if you do not have a large social media presence, even before you fly, know the airline’s Twitter handle and any relevant hashtags. You can even use these social signals when selecting what airline to fly in the first place.
Going social simply assures that you have a voice, and that voice is public. If you can record video or audio of the situation, that is even better. It will get more engagement on your post or tweet, and also offers proof of your side of the story.
There are specific laws about when an airline has to offer you compensation for delaying your flight, cancelling it, or bumping you from the roster because they are overbooked. However, there are also some industry guidelines they generally follow, and most will offer you some kind of compensation in certain circumstances.
If an airline cancels your flight or delays it for more than 90 minutes, they should offer you some kind of compensation, but often won’t unless you ask. There are even companies like Get Service who will automatically request compensation for you in the case of delays or cancellations if you share your flight information with them.
You can also receive compensation from the airline if your luggage is delayed or lost. Sometimes the airline will not classify your luggage as lost, as they believe it is still in their system somewhere, so will try to attach the status “delayed” to it for an extended period.
However, you can receive up to $3,300 for domestic flights and $1,500 for international flights if you’ve experienced delayed or lost luggage. It’s all dependent on the duration of the delay. Know what you are entitled to, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
If you are bumped from a flight due to overbooking or another circumstance the airline could have prevented, you also have a right to not just a voucher, reward miles, or possibly a hotel room. If you get to your destination one to two hours late, airlines are required to pay 200% of your airfare up to $675. If you get to your destination more than two hours late, you are entitled to 400% of your airfare and is capped at $1,350.
Of course, you must do the legwork. The airlines will not volunteer this information to you.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this. You as a passenger have rights the airline must honor, and they have a certain duty to treat you fairly. By staying calm, you keep them from having a reason to treat you otherwise. Going social gives you a certain amount of leverage. Always ask for compensation if your flight is delayed, cancelled, or you have any other issues with an airline, your flight, or their handling of your personal belongings.
Issues with airlines are unavoidable. Handling them correctly even if you are booted can result in a big gain for you in the long run.