August 26, 2017 | Kendall Creighton If you listen to the tales of people trying to get refunds from airlines and tour companies, you realize they’ll go to great lengths to weasel out of their responsibilities. The Economist says investors prefer airlines with good customer service, and that there is value, it seems, in caring. However, last week, a family told News 6 in Orlando that Frontier Airlines threw them off the plane for talking to each other about the flight attendants. Their flight was delayed eight hours and when they finally got to board, they commented to each other, quietly and privately they said, on how miserable the flight attendants looked. This quickly escalated when the flight attendants overheard and instructed them to deplane, because they did not ‘feel safe’ having them onboard. Frontier Airlines kicks father and daughter off flight for “disrespectful remarks” after the crew overheard them talking about the poor customer service. Eric Miller, 70, and his daughter Whitney Miller, 25 claimed they were chatting quietly about their bad experience when they were confronted aggressively by flight crew. Let’s review the customer service fails: 8-hour delay from an airline notorious for minimal customer service? Check. 28″ seat pitch? Check. Crew entitlement? Check. Nickeled and dimed for everything including fees to use overhead bin? Check. ‘Customer experience’ be damned? Check. Yet, there was some good news for the nation’s airlines in a report by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), that their collective score is less awful than it has been before. The authors of the report’s summary said “much of the increase in passenger satisfaction appears to be driven by price. Some of the largest legacy airlines now compete better with the discount carriers.” Most of those same carriers also showed improvement in their on-time arrival performance, and in their in-flight meal service (mainly because they’ve begun serving them again, at least to some passengers, on many flights that used to include no meal service). And most US carriers reported having had fewer lost bags. “Nevertheless,” the report summary said, “as long as competition is limited, chances are that passenger satisfaction will not continue to increase, but ticket prices may very well rise.” So, if lower prices really were a factor in airlines’ customer satisfaction scores then it is possible that higher fares in the future could send their customer satisfaction scores down. The US airlines have ranked near or at the bottom of the ACSI since it launched in 1995.In the 2017 ACSI Travel Report, JetBlue was the top-performing carrier in terms of Customer Satisfaction, with a score of 82. Southwest came in second with a score of 80. Alaska Airlines ranked third with a score of 78. Note: the scores were tallied before the high-profile news of: Dr. Dao dragged off United Airlines, before American Airlines’ strollergate incident and before Delta Air Lines kicked a family off a flight, threatened them with jail and foster care for their children. Passengers made it clear that seat comfort continues to be the worst aspect of air travel, though it too has improved – up 6% to 71.The report explained that airlines have a strong incentive to handle complaints well. That’s because passengers who complain report much lower customer loyalty compared to the industry average, yet if their complaints are handled well, their loyalty improves tremendously. Loyalty translates into repeat business and increased market share and thus revenue for the airlines. The key is always to complain immediately and keep records of every contact. Take the full name and job title of everyone you speak to and note dates and times, as these companies are constantly looking for ways to avoid paying. Know your rights as a passenger Reservations: Once you have a confirmed reservation, you are confirmed on the flight even if there is no record of your reservation in the airline’s computer system. If you have a ticket or print-out that shows a confirmed reservation for a specific flight and date – and as long as you didn’t cancel the reservation or miss a reconfirmation deadline – an agent cannot deny you boarding because you have no reservation in the computer. However, if you don’t show up for a flight and fail to cancel the reservation, you are considered a no-show and the airline can cancel any continuing or return reservations. Refund guidelines vary from carrier to carrier, but there are a few general rules. If you need to cancel a ticket purchased under a nonrefundable fare, you may be able to apply the fare you paid toward a future flight, minus any applicable change or cancellation fees. If you need to cancel a refundable ticket purchased by credit card, your refund will be issued as a credit on the same card you used to make the purchase. (Contact your credit card company for support if you have problems getting a refund from your airline in a timely manner.) Check-In Times: Even if you have already checked in for your flight, an airline can cancel your reservation if you are not at the departure gate on time. Your seat may be given to another passenger, regardless of whether you have an advance boarding pass or an advance seat assignment. By the same token, if you do not check your baggage in sufficient time for it to be loaded on your flight, the airline will not be responsible for any delay in the delivery of your baggage to your destination. We recommend that you arrive at least two hours before your departure time (or earlier if you’re flying internationally or over the holidays). Delays/Cancellations: Airlines are not required to compensate passengers for delayed or canceled flights. Each carrier differs in its policy and there are no federal requirements for passenger compensation. Most airlines will book you on their next available flight if your flight is canceled. If your plane is delayed, the airline may pay for meals or a phone call, so it’s worth asking. Some will offer no amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or other conditions beyond their control. Compensation is required by law only if you are “bumped” from a flight that is oversold (discussed below). Note: If you are traveling in the European Union, you do have the right to compensation if your flight is canceled or delayed under certain circumstances. At this time there are no US federal rules for delays while passengers are in the terminal, but there are limits for planes on the tarmac, (FlyersRights.org’s landmark legislation): Airlines operating flights within the US cannot keep passengers on a plane on the tarmac for more than three hours, and they must provide drinking water and some sort of food for any delays longer than two hours. There must also be functioning lavatories onboard during the delay, as well as medical attention when necessary. The maximum delay for international flights is four hours. Airlines who violate this rule must pay a penalty. Overbooking/Bumping: It is legal for airlines to sell more seats for a flight than are actually on the plane. If too many people show up for your flight, the airline must ask for volunteers to give up their seats. Those who choose to be bumped from a flight may receive cash, vouchers for future travel and/or a hotel stay. This must be negotiated on an individual basis with the airline. If you are bumped involuntarily, the airline must explain your rights in a written document. You may keep your ticket and use it on another flight. Or, if you choose to make your own arrangements, you can request an “involuntary refund” for the ticket. Depending on the delay, it could be entitled to as much as $1,350. Denied boarding compensation is essentially a payment for your inconvenience. However, if the airline arranges alternative transportation that gets you to our destination within one hour of your originally scheduled arrival time, the carrier does not have to compensate you. Delayed/Lost/Damaged Luggage: As soon as you determine that your luggage hasn’t shown up with your flight, you’ll need to file a claim with your airline at the airport. If your bags are delayed, airlines usually agree to pay “reasonable” expenses until the luggage is found. The amount paid is subject to negotiation, and you may have to fight for a decent payment. If your bags are not found, you must file a second claim, which takes some time to process. It is normal to wait six weeks to three months for reimbursement. For bags lost or damaged on flights within the U.S., a liability limit of $3,400 applies. On international trips, the liability limit may vary, as it is governed by an international treaty called the the Montreal Conventions. If you pay a baggage fee and your bag is lost, the airline must refund this fee as well. Your Letters: The last flight we took was in Jan 2017 on United 757-900. My wife and I have flown many many times over our long lifetimes, but on this particular aircraft, I was actually afraid for my life. This is because that there was just NOT ENOUGH room to ever be able to evacuate this plane successfully. The aisle width was inadequate for a normal sized person to travel down without having to turn sideways much of the time. I had an aisle seat, and the aisle was so narrow, that anyone traveling down the aisle had to hit my elbow on the armrest. I find this absolutely intolerable and do not understand why the FAA, Congress, or those that supposedly are in charge of airline safety do not get on the ball and do something about this situation IMMEDIATELY. If FAA is in charge, then there NEEDS to be TRUE evacuation tests on a typical fully loaded plane (which are always fully loaded now) just to see how long it takes and how many passengers are injured trying to get off in any kind of emergency. Since the Airline Industry will not do this themselves, perhaps it is time to go back to regulating the Airlines. RP There is literally no other industry where use of government force is accepted as a business practice for denying service to someone who paid for it and otherwise isn’t a disruption or safety hazard. An airline ticket is a license to a seat. So is a ticket to a sporting event. Imagine what would happen if someone at an NFL game who was otherwise behaving acceptably was forcibly removed by police at the request of the NFL or team because a “higher priority” fan arrived late and needed a seat. It’s time for the FAA to tell the airlines to behave like every other industry in America. From my view breaking up airlines to create more competition would be ideal. I used to fly when airlines like Continental, Eastern, Northwest, US Airways, etc. existed and service was actually a competitive differentiation. How many other free-market oriented corporations can make you, by force if necessary, give back something you’ve legally and fully completed a transaction for (i.e. you gave them your $ and they’ve fully acknowledged and taken it)? KH Sign up for this newsletter!