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How to Resolve a Complaint with an Airline or any other Travel Company

On the scale of fun to “nightmare,” travel has slipped dramatically in the past ten years. Airlines trim costs, add surcharges, and book flights to capacity and beyond. Outside first the class cabin and business class, “passenger comfort” is a thing of the past. The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) screening procedures make airports a place to wait, stand in line, and be uncomfortable. And both business and vacation travelers are subjected to anything from bother to major stress.

Complaints are common. In addition to the travel conditions you can’t do anything about, there are many annoyances you shouldn’t have to put up with, where a complaint can lead to resolving your problem.

This How-to will help you understand your rights as a traveler, offers tips for resolving legitimate complaints with travel providers, and shows how PeopleClaim's online dispute resolution system can help get your problems solved to your satisfaction.

Common Problems

  • Reservations or ticketing difficulties
  • Unreasonable restrictions or conditions when buying tickets
  • Delayed or canceled flight
  • Overbooked flights
  • Lost or damaged luggage
  • Delays in getting refunds or rebates
  • Overbooked hotels
  • Unsafe or unhygienic conditions
  • Lost or stolen personal property
  • Passport or customs problems
  • Rude and uninterested customer service
  • False advertising

Step One: Know your rights.

Know your rights before you start your trip. You can get air travel information from the US Department of Transportation’s “Flyrights”. There’s no single place to find out what your rights are at other carriers, hotels, or travel destinations. So we’ve listed some of your rights, including new ones guaranteed in the Air Transportation Modification and Improvement Act of 2012:

Travelers’ rights
  • Full disclosure of fees for air travel and tour packages
  • Notification if your flight will be delayed by more than 30 minutes, cancelled, or re-routed
  • Compensation for overbooked flights
  • Airport “tarmac delays” no longer than 3 hours (4 hours for international flights); adequate food and water provided if the delay is more than 2 hours; functioning lavatories; and medical assistance as necessary for delays greater than 2 hours
  • Smoke-free inflight environment (recently extended to charter flights)
  • No discrimination by air carriers because of disabilities
  • Your right to not answer questions about your destination or purpose of your trip during an airport “SPOT” check (though this will lead to further screening)
  • Your right to opt out of a TSA airport body scan (this will mean a mandatory pat-down inspection
  • Your right to have a witness present if an intensive pat-down (“resolution pat-down”) is required after a standard pat-down or scan
  • Your right to have a supervisor present if your bags or personal electronic devices are searched
  • Your right to a receipt if your laptop, cell phone, camera, or other device is confiscated.
  • Your right to reimbursement for lost baggage. Limitations apply, and vary by carrier (there is currently a $3,300 upper limit for domestic flights) and certain items in your luggage are not reimbursable. You do have the right (for a fee) to declare a higher value than a carrier’s standard reimbursement limit, and receive full compensation for the declared amount if the bag is lost.
Things that are not travelers’ rights
  • You have no right to refuse fingerprinting when entering the US either as a legal resident or visitor.
  • You have no right to decline a TSA airport pat-down if requested.
  • You have no right to remain on an overbooked flight if you are bumped.
  • You have no “Rule 240” right. (Rule 240 existed before air travel was deregulated in 1978. It required airlines to get you to your destination via the next available flight on any airline if your flight was delayed or canceled.)
  • You have no right to compensation for delayed or canceled flights.
  • You have no right to travel on the specific aircraft scheduled for your flight if a substitute is necessary.

With all the legal loopholes, it’s wise to examine the specific rights described by airlines in their “Conditions of Carriage” policies (available on their websites and airport ticket counters), in the fine print in your contracts with hotels, rental car companies, tour operators, and other providers. As you'll see below, if you feel your rights have been violated PeopleClaim offers powerful tools to get your complaints resolved. These include posting unresolved claims on the Web, to be viewed, commented on, voted for, and circulated via Facebook and other social media. things that travel providers want to avoid.

Step Two: Let the other party know you have a problem—when it happens

Both the US Department of Transportation and the American Society of Travel Agents say this is an essential step. You’re on the move and probably won’t return to the place where the problem happened, and many routine difficulties can be fixed on the spot. Note: This is absolutely essential for lost or damaged baggage – if you don’t report the loss immediately, the airline won’t reimburse you. Registering your complaint when it happens helps if you need to pursue your case after your trip.

. . . and be sure to follow up when you get home. If you couldn’t get your problem resolved during your trip, follow up when you get back—in writing. This gets attention, establishes a record, communicates your side of the story, allows the other party to evaluate your case and respond. Proofread before sending. And don’t delay. If you wait too long some avenues for resolution may close.

How PeopleClaim can help: PeopleClaim turns your complaint into an organized, professionally presented claim, with powerful options to convince the other party to settle. If you’ve already contacted them but are being ignored, filing a PeopleClaim can add extra pressure and urgency for the other party to take care of you.

Resolving your complaint: Do’s and Don’ts


  • Keep a record. Save your tickets, hotel bills, car rental contracts, and all documents from your travel agent if you’ve used one. If you’ve had extra personal expenses because of the problem, you’ll need those receipts as well. Hang on to promotional materials, too—they can help make your case if something promised wasn’t delivered. Make notes of any incidents and conversations, including names, dates, and details of phone calls; save all emails.
  • Review relevant policy statements from your travel documents. Tip: airline conditions or contracts of carriage vary by carrier. Find the complete text of these policies at the airline websites or airport ticket counters.
  • If your problem is with an airline, cruise line, hotel, or other provider you booked through a travel agent, ask the agent for help. They have more clout with these companies than you do, and are often willing to intervene on your behalf. Tip: If you’re filing a complaint using PeopleClaim it’s easy to cc your travel agent, so they’ll have full details and be in a better position to go to bat for you.
  • If your problem is with a travel agent, check to see if the agent is an ASTA member (American Society of Travel Agents). The organization offers informal mediation of disputes with its members. Note: if filing a PeopleClaim against an ASTA agent you can copy your claim to ASTA’s Consumer Affairs Department.
  • Be specific about what you want (e.g., “refund for one day’s room charge because guaranteed no-smoking room unavailable”; “reversal of $780 repair charged to my credit card for rental car damage I did not cause”). Make your demands reasonable. Air carriers and others deal with weather and other complications beyond their control. Things don’t always go as planned.
  • Stay calm and be polite when presenting your problem, both while traveling and later when you’re following up.
  • Set a deadline for resolution.
  • Keep an open mind: you might be offered something you hadn’t considered, and if it works for you, think about accepting it.

How PeopleClaim can help:PeopleClaim's online process helps you state your complaint and assemble the relevant facts: you can attach text documents and photos, and even have the system create a timeline for you.

PeopleClaim - Stating your complaint
Above: Stating your complaint


  • Don’t exaggerate. Stick to the facts. False statements weaken your position and credibility.
  • Don’t be abusive. Don’t use words like "liar," "crook," or “cheat.” Regardless of rights and policies, you’re dealing with another person who is much more likely to try and help if you’re nice to them. A leading travel magazine recently reported that it could not help an American traveler whose accommodations in France were not as advertised because the tour operator was offended by the customer’s rudeness. Your behavior can easily gain (or lose) you the benefit of the doubt when it’s up to the other party to decide.
  • Don’t take No for an answer. If you’re not satisfied with the response you’re getting, keep moving your complaint up the ladder until it reaches a decision maker. Tip: Complaints filed through PeopleClaim get through to the right people, and the system offers powerful incentives for resolving your problem. See how below.

Add some extra oomph to your complaint

Choosing these options when you file your complaint with PeopleClaim gets management’s attention and lets them know you’re serious:

  • Make it public. PeopleClaim’s public posting option lets you set a deadline and have your complaint post on the Internet if it’s not resolved to your satisfaction.
    Note:your personal information is kept private when your complaint posts publicly.
  • Copy your claim to relevant government regulators, independent watchdogs, and media. This option tells the other party your case could escalate if it’s not resolved, and it makes the authorities aware of you.Note: Filing a claim through a government agency (such as the U.S. Department of Transportation) will require a separate process you'll need to initiate on your own if the agency doesn’t contact you directly.
  • Invite a free consultation from lawyers through PeopleClaim. (This is voluntary, and any further engagement would be between you and the lawyer. PeopleClaim does not participate in any fees you may agree to.)
  • Talk with others about your complaint. Share information and ideas with people who have had similar problems with the same company. If your claim posts, allow viewers to comment on it and show support for you. Alert your Facebook friends so they can add their voices to your cause. You can do ALL of this through the PeopleClaim system. When people get together around the same complaint, it’s a big plus for you, and something any airline or other offender wants to avoid.

If the other party doesn’t settle by your deadline, these incentives continue to work after the posting date to help get your problem resolved later.

PeopleClaim - Copy your complaint to regulators or invite review by lawyers.
Above: Above: Copy your complaint to regulators or invite review by lawyers.

Looking ahead: Before you travel

Anyone who travels has a horror story. So before you book with an airline, hotel, cruise line, car rental company, travel agent, tour operator or other travel company, do a quick search online for other peoples’ experiences. Find out what kind of reputation the company has. Posted complaints filed through PeopleClaim generally show up near the top of search engine results when you search for a company—or search our database of unresolved travel complaints at database of unresolved complaints.

If an advertised travel package looks too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. Travel-related scams are among the most frequently reported consumer complaints.

And, if you do decide to use a travel company that has problems and later need to submit a complaint of your own, you have excellent ammunition. If you can show that others have had similar complaints, and yours is a recurring pattern, the company is more likely to want to settle the problem and make it go away.

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