A few shockers in my September mailbox


It took the better part of this weekend, but it looks like I’ve sorted through my September mailbag. And I found a few surprises.

For those of you just tuning in, one of my email addresses experienced a total malfunction, holding more than 10,000 messages in a queue since January. I explain everything in this post.

Of course, there are numerous other ways of reaching me — social media, my primary gmail address, elliottc@gmail.com, or phone. But often, people assume a single email always gets to me. Sadly, technology can sometimes let you down.

And at the risk of repeating myself, I feel just awful about that.

Among the surprises:

• A crush of complaints about the usual suspects, most notably airlines. That’s surprising, because I thought airlines were getting their act together when the gripes slowed to a trickle this summer. Alas, it was just the email glitch. Overall, I’m left with the impression that the domestic airline industry is doing whatever it wants when it comes to customer service, and only cares about you if you carry a platinum card.

• An unprecedented number of pitches from companies with new travel products that are completely unrelated to what I cover. These businesses, in a misguided effort to reach every journalist in the world who might want to write about their new amenity kit or lie-flat seat, bombard me with endless press releases. I find the magnitude of this spam to be shocking. Shouldn’t technology allow corporate America to target its pitches better?

• An email from one high-level travel industry employee suggesting there was absolutely no value in working with me to resolve cases, that many of his colleagues felt the same way, and that some simply refused to take my calls. That caught me off guard because no one has ever been so frank in expressing their frustrations with me. I think we came to an understanding after a lengthy private discussion, but I didn’t bother to make an argument that working with me has value. The truth of the matter — that I provide an essential service — is obvious. (By the way, I think we both share a common goal: that one day, the travel industry won’t need an ombudsman. Until then, I’m here to serve.)

Related story:   Are you missing the most fascinating debate on the Internet?

• And then there’s the hate mail. They’re a collection of angry, whiny notes from airline insiders, frequent flier cult members and other know-it-alls. I’m a little surprised by how shrill and illogical most of these missives are.

Why are they upset? Oh, my well-reasoned opposition to the US Airways – American Airlines merger on the grounds that it has zero consumer benefits, for starters. My highly effective takedown of the loyalty programs they worship also vexes them. Mostly, it’s the idea that there’s someone out there who can help a garden-variety, non-elite traveler get to the front of the line that irks them. How dare I?

Where are the travel industry’s thought leaders? Do they even exist?

I’m about to start on the August emails. I’ll have another report soon.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Christina Conte

    I’m not surprised. Sometimes people kick you when you are trying to help them up, or the old adage of “biting the hand that feeds you”. For everyone that sends a “hate” email or nasty letter, there are more of us who appreciate what you do, and know and appreciate your value in aiding us in our time of need. Even when you are not assisting someone in a specific situation, you are still providing a valuable service by giving us travel information, tips and articles on important topics to which we otherwise may be oblivious. Thank you for all you do Christopher, and keep up the good work!

  • Life Lessons Military Wife

    I love how people feel so entitled. You obviously can’t help every single person who contacts you or even write them back! There aren’t enough hours in the day. If most of these bozos would read your lessons learned from previous and similar cases, maybe they can use their own brains to figure it out. Again thanks for doing what you do and sharing with us some of the pitfalls and methods to deal with things that go wrong in the travel industry. I for one appreciate what you write!

  • Thank you! Really appreciate the support.

  • Ward Chartier

    I’ve noticed that whenever you conduct a poll with just two choices, there seems to be a core of 2% to 6% that votes contrary to whatever pretty clear consumer oriented option you propose. Maybe the not so nice mail you receive comes from these disaffected readers. Wonder if there’s a bloc of readers that tends to vote the same way poll after poll? In addition, you handle the nasty and unpleasant responses much better than I would, so my hat is off to you.

  • OzJohnno

    I appreciate all you do for your readers and I just wish there was someone of your dedication and knowledge down here in Australia doing a similar job on behalf of consumers. Unfortunately we’re pretty much left to fight the fight alone. You can die of old age down here before a Government industry Ombusmen gets around to looking at your case.
    Keep up the fight mate. I enjoy the case studies.

  • sweepergrl

    You have more self control than I do. After the third nasty email I would have “accidentally” deleted the rest of them.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m not at all surprised at the rage and lack of logic in the missives from your haters. This country is rife with hate-filled, ignorant, illogical ranters who spew poison in spite of having no clue what they’re talking about. Just watch Twitter or read the comments sections below any news story. A woman of Indian heritage wins Miss America? Twitter goes crazy over an “Arab” and “Muslim” winning. (She is neither Arab nor Muslim, and was born in NY). Michelle Obama touts drinking more water for better health? The comments section below the article is filled with ranters accusing her of trying to harm the nation by spreading “dangerous pseudo-science” that water is good for you. A madman shoots children in Sandy Hook? It’s a conspiracy, the children were all carted off to some other country. 9/11? Inside job. A plane never hit the Pentagon. Hell, 1/3 of Louisiana Republicans blame Obama for the sloppy Hurricane Katrina response, which happened 3 years before he took office! What does that tell you about the relative intelligence of the great unwashed?

    Our nation is filled with stupid, illogical people who wouldn’t recognize a fact if it bit them in the arse. Of COURSE some of them are going to send you rant-filled, illogical missives. These are our neighbors – we’re stuck with them.

    But we can ignore them. And so can you. That takes the wind right out of their sails.

    You have a large following of reasonable, thinking adults who read your articles to learn how to be better consumers, gain insight from the experiences of others, and appreciate the work you do for us lowly travelers. Keep it up.

  • Charles

    “My highly effective takedown of the loyalty programs” ???
    I’ve read these articles and commented on them many times. You’re right, there are frequent flier maniacs out there doing things like one day trips to Dubai. But, those of us who accumulate miles naturally with no specific effort (pretty much every traveler I know) and are able to use those have rebutted your arguments endlessly and you’ve not responded to the reasonable arguments, just the nutty stuff. Heck, you once told me I should drop my Delta FF account with 75,000 miles in it, even though I could apply that as $750 to pretty much any ticket (which I have since done). How is it you measure “effective”?

  • Not just highly effective, Charles, but did I also mention brilliant?

  • BMG4ME

    I learn something from everyone. Even my worst manager taught me something I’ve remembered and taught others for years – never rely on an e-mail to deliver a time sensitive message.

  • Joe Farrell

    Must not have gotten my email . . .and your site does work when it comes to contact information.

    23 AUG wife needs to fly from Burbank to the midwest- its Friday and she works so she takes the last flight of the day. United airlines for the first time ever, encounters weight and balance problems at an airport with a short runway. Or at least you would have thought it was the first time – since it takes one hour to resolve the problem. How was it resolved? They asked a non-revenue passenger [i.e., an employee or family member] to leave the airplane. That took an hour? They did not know it was 95F at Burbank at 5pm in the afternoon [every day] in summer since June? Its amazing how incompetent airline operations truly is . . . completely reactive.

    So she missed her connection – along with 3 other people on the airplane. The airline ground staff blame weather. Weather? Really? So get her a hotel room, take the receipt and send the Elliott.org United contact person a very nice but firm email asking for my hotel bill to be paid. Less than 24 hours later I get a response along with a promise of a check.

    It helps being a pilot – I know that W&B might be weather dependent but it is clearly an operations issue – airports were open – flights taking off and landing – it nothing to do with weather. The check arrived a few days ago,

    Airlines do live up to their contracts – you have to force them too – but eventually they honor their contract language.

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