How To Get Compensation When Things Go Wrong On Flights

Jul 23, 2012

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In general, I’m not a complainer. I know things go wrong on flights all the time and that there’s only so much an airline or crew can do to fix them. Beyond whether meal service sucks or an entertainment system is on the fritz, they’re there to keep us all safe and get us where we’re going on time.
However, when things do go wrong that are within the airline’s power to fix, it pays to demand appropriate compensation for your troubles.

Case in point: I just flew from Miami to London in British Airways first class on miles. I was really looking forward to the experience since I’ve had great trips on BA’s first class service so far. However, the plane’s in-flight entertainment system didn’t work.
Malfunctioning in-flight entertainment won’t ruin my First Class experience!

Without having to ask, the purser brought around cards awarding everyone 20,000 Avios, which seemed fair to me. Especially since I slept for most of the flight, and when I wanted to watch something, I could whip out my iPad for entertainment. For passengers without anything to watch on their personal electronic devices, however, that would have been a long, boring flight, but you should always be prepared with your own entertainment (or sleeping pill!).

I applaud British Airways for proactively compensating us, but for anyone who’s sat on a transoceanic flight with nothing to watch, or been bumped from flight after flight without any explanation, you’ll know that airlines can be very slow and stubborn to offer compensation of any form—whether it’s vouchers, miles, or even just an apology note.

If you do get into a situation where you feel like you are owed something for an airline’s mistakes, here are a few things to keep in mind so that your complaint is both effective and successful at earning you some form of compensation. Remember, passing along feedback is a good way to get airlines to improve—especially since we all know they need to. So here are my tips:

1. Often the best way to ensure getting compensated is to resolve a situation on the spot. If things go wrong and a situation is unfolding, ask for what you want or need immediately. Ask for a supervisor if you need to. Stay calm and reasonable, even if you don’t get anything, though, since you can always write a letter later. For instance, on a recent flight I was on from New York to Miami, the first class lavatory was broken, so I complained and got 2,000 miles the flight attendant who printed me out a voucher from their handheld machine they use to process credit cards for in-flight purchases.  It never hurts to ask, and many airlines empower their higher-level service crew to provide compensation on the spot.

2. When and if you do need to write a complaint letter, keep it short and sweet. Outline the facts of your situation quickly, succinctly and unemotionally. Lay it out like a legal argument, point by point, and include all pertinent details including dates, flight numbers and factually accurate information. You want to appear as calm, collected and professional as possible and state what you think is fair compensation.

3. Start by emailing your request. You’ll have an electronic, date-stamped record on file for when you complained, to whom, and what your letter contained. This will often be a more effective way of communicating than calling a customer service line and speaking to a low-level representative who might not be empowered to offer you any compensation. If you don’t get responses to your emails, your next step can be to send certified hard copy letters. Be sure to keep a record of all correspondence.

4. If your concerns aren’t addressed, or if you feel like any compensation you are offered is too low, don’t be afraid to push back. Be polite, though, and have a number in mind—a reasonable number. No one’s going to take you seriously if you ask for hundreds of thousands of miles.

5. Use social media to your advantage. Often situations can get resolved very quickly if you know whom to tweet. For instance, @deltaassist can address concerns and problems and fix them right away before they become bigger issues.

You just need to be proactive. Airlines have been proven to respond faster to complaints via Twitter than almost any other method. However, beware of complaining too often since airlines will flag you as a trouble passenger. Remember, social media works both ways—if you’re going to complain when airlines do things wrong, you should consider praising them for good experiences.

Readers: What have some of your experiences been with compensation for complaints? What was the problem, how did you complain, and what did you get as compensation? Comment with your story below!

I hope all your flights are smooth, but in case things do go wrong, here are the phone numbers and contacts for the major airlines.


Alaska Airlines
Email Form
Physical Address:
Alaska Airlines Customer Care
PO Box 24948-SEAGT
Seattle, WA 98124-0948
Phone: 1-800-654-5669
Twitter: @AlaskaAir

American Airlines
Email Form
Physical Address:
American Airlines Customer Relations
P.O. Box 619612 MD 2400
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612
Phone: 1-800-433-7300
Twitter: @AmericanAir

Email Form
Physical Address:
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
Customer Care
P.O. Box 20980
Department 980
Atlanta, GA 30320-2980
Phone: 1-800-221-1212 or 1-404-773-0305
Twitter: @deltaassist

Email Form
Physical Address:
JetBlue Airways Customer Relations
PO Box 17435
Salt Lake City, UT 84117-0435
Phone: 1-800-538-2583
Twitter: @JetBlue

Email Form
Physical Address:
Southwest Airlines
PO Box 36647-1CR
Dallas, TX 75235
Phone: 1-214-932-0333
Twitter: @SouthwestAir

Email Form
Physical Address:
Customer Care
United Airlines, Inc.
900 Grand Plaza Drive NHCCR
Houston, TX 77067-4323
Phone (voicemailbox): 1-877-624-2660
Twitter: @United

US Airways
Email Form
Physical Address:
US Airways
Attention: Customer Relations*
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Fax: 480-693-2300
Phone: 1- 480-693-0800

Virgin America
Email Form
Physical Address:
Virgin America Guest Care
P.O.Box 4271
Burlingame, CA 94010
Phone: 1-877-359-8474
Twitter: @VirginAmerica


Air Canada
Email Form
Physical Address:
Air Canada – Customer Relations
PO Box 64239,
RPO Thorncliffe
Calgary, AB, Canada
T2K 6J7
Fax: 1-866-584-0380 or 1-403-569-5333
Phone: 1-888-247-2262
Twitter: @AirCanada

Air France/KLM
Email Form
Physical Address:
Air France Customer Relations
P.O. Box 20980
Department 980
Atlanta, GA 30320-2980
Phone: 1- 877-247-9247
Twitter: @AirFranceUS

British Airways
Email Form
Physical Address:
British Airways Customer Relations USA
PO Box 300686
Jamaica, NY 11430-0686
Fax: 1-212-251-6711
Phone: 1-800-247-9297
Twitter: @British_Airways

Email Form
Physical Address:
Lufthansa Customer Relations
P.O. Box 425
East Meadow, NY 11554
Phone: 1-516-296-9650
Twitter: @Lufthansa_USA

Virgin Atlantic
Email Form
Physical Address:
Virgin Atlantic Customer Relations
PO Box 747
Dunstable, LU6 9AH
United Kingdom

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