For some people, the mere mention of an airport can cause an immediate blood pressure spike. From late check-ins to lost luggage, air travel can be incredibly stressful, and mistakes by airlines can cost you valuable time and money.
But don’t hold off on booking that last-minute vacation! If you prepare yourself by knowing your rights as an airline customer, you can avoid a number of travel nightmares.
Know exactly what you’re entitled to as a paying traveler — and know how to argue for it if anything goes wrong before you reach your destination.
Your Basic Rights, from Booking to Refunds
Did you know that you can reserve a flight without having to pay for it immediately? This is especially helpful for impulse flyers (including all you folks who just made Memorial Day Weekend plans!).
Simply call your airline directly and you can hold spaces for up to 24 hours without the price changing.
You’re also entitled to cash if you’re bumped off your regular flight or if your luggage is delayed. Seriously — cold hard cash, paid out by your airline.
If you’re in Miami but your bag is in Tulsa, you can request a “reasonable” refund; this varies by situation, but sometimes can be as much as $3,300 for domestic flights, and $1,500 for international flights.
The same goes for canceled flights. You may be offered frequent flyer miles, or a new flight, but remember that you can also ask for a full refund if you so choose.
Get a Reimbursement from a Stubborn Airline
Knowing the facts about airline mess-ups and refunds is one thing, but bargaining with difficult airline employees is another. The key is to be short and sweet: state your claim as simply and calmly as possible, and try to keep a smile on your face.
You’ll probably be joining a whole line of upset customers, so being polite can go a long way towards getting you what you want.
Also, keep in mind that if your problem isn’t solved right away, following up is essential.
If your luggage was left behind on a layover flight and your airline tells you they need time to locate it, make sure you walk away from the airport with a customer service number and confirmation info. Keep reminding the airline of your existence so you don’t fall through the cracks!
Common Tactics for Procuring a Refund
If you’ve got your sights set on a refund rather than a travel voucher, and you’re not getting any help from gate agents, call the airline from your cell phone.
That way you can call in some backup and possibly get the problem resolved before you leave the airport.
You can also call a consumer contact at your airline. That information can be accessed through the Department of Transportation.
Go this route if you feel like you’re not getting a desired response through any other customer service channels, or if you want to elevate your claim to management level.
Or Take a Road Less Traveled to Resolve Your Complaint
Still not successful in arguing your case? Go outside the box. One popular way of alerting an airline to your complaint (and drumming up some undesirable negative publicity) is social media. Don’t be afraid to tweet your dissatisfaction or post it on Facebook, and make sure to @-mention or tag the airline company. Most airlines monitor their social media and know i’ts importance for attracting business.
You can also complain to the FAA if you’re getting poor service and no resolution to your problem. Their Aviation Consumer Protection Division has a 24-hour hotline for all your travel complaint needs.
Be Proactive and Pursue Customer Satisfaction
Remember, you paid for your flight and accommodations — you deserve to be compensated if your airline makes any errors in your travel!
Natural obstacles are one thing (like bad weather), but if your airline is at fault for any losses or delays, you’re entitled to restitution. Whether it’s a free flight or a refund, research your rights before you fly so you’re prepared for the worst.
Have any nightmare travel stories? What are your preferred methods for haggling with airline personnel? Let us know in the comments.