This isn’t how we operate

There are things we won’t do.

Unfortunately, from time to time disappointed consumers contact us asking us to use our platform — and our clout — to do these things. When that happens, our answer is a polite “no.”

As consumer advocates, when we receive requests for help, we look to see if the companies in question have treated their customers fairly. That means that we review the companies’ terms and conditions and determine, based on the customers’ paper trails, whether the companies have adhered to their own policies. And even when they have, we will reach out to the companies if it appears that strict adherence to the letter of the policies has not resulted in good service and fair treatment of the customers.

But we don’t practice law or public relations. We don’t ask for resolutions that punish the companies for poor customer service; nor do we threaten the companies with bad publicity or legal action by way of “strong-arming” them into giving unhappy consumers what they want. And we don’t ask the companies to bend their rules for customers who are not entitled to exceptions.

Consider the case of Wendy Glavin, a “disabled” woman. (Disclosure: Glavin is a former writer for Glavin had a bad experience with American Airlines and wanted us to threaten the airline with a “nationally publicized” story of its treatment of her.

Says Glavin:

I traveled with my son to visit colleges. During the last leg of our return, from Philadelphia to New York, I was screamed out [sic] for having “a disability” and, “seating in the Emergency aisle.” When I told them that those were the only seats left on a fully booked flight, the stewardess called me names and said loudly, “You have a disability. You can’t sit here.”

I said, “I had no choice.” Next, the people behind us graciously offered to exchange seats. The stewardess yelled “The pilot wants to see you.”

I got up with great difficulty and walked to the pilot. … The pilot pointed at me and angrily said, “Go back to your seat … or I’ll have to remove you from the plane.”

My 17-year-old son was humiliated [and] extremely upset, and we were offered nothing during the flight. I asked if she could get a wheelchair to greet me. Her response was, “You should have done that ahead of time.”

I tried to get [the crew members’] names; they turned their name tags around. As we deplaned, I snapped a picture, and she yelled, “She’s taking pictures!” …

I’m at the point of going public with this. … This is a great national story. …

I am impressed by what you do and know together we will get a great outcome (without threats of a lawsuit, and educating the public.

We don’t go after “great outcomes.” We go after fair ones. And we don’t do it by “going public” or threatening to do so. Since we always warn customers not to make threats of any kind when self-advocating, including bad publicity or legal action, it would be hypocritical, not to mention ineffective, of us to engage in such behavior ourselves through our advocacy or our stories.

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Yes, we publish stories on our website to educate consumers and companies on how to handle various customer service matters. But we don’t do it to publicize “great national stories.”

We’re also not travel agents.

We turned down a case from a news anchor who wanted us to help switch the name on an air ticket she purchased through Groupon. And in another case we aren’t advocating, we were contacted by a couple who had canceled a flight after their son died. They were offered another flight that they felt didn’t work for them because it was longer and the wife has deep vein thrombosis. They wanted our help in reinstating the original flight. As sad as their situation was, it’s not one we can help them with.

In both cases, travelers who self-booked their original flights asked us to act on their behalf. But assuming they deserved the resolutions they were asking for, it’s not our job to make or adjust travel reservations. We can only help consumers who have problems with customer service — not booking, canceling or rebooking trips. All we can do for them is advise them that they should have made their reservations through an actual travel agent or directly with the companies.

So we ask those of you who want our assistance to pause a moment before filling out our help request form and consider the resolution you are requesting.

If you have a straightforward case of paying for something and not getting it or receiving inappropriate treatment from a business, we may be able to help. But if you want us to threaten it with bad publicity or legal action or to adjust your travel arrangements, you’re out of luck.

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That isn’t how we operate.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • BubbaJoe123

    So, in an article about how you “…don’t do it to publicize “great national stories,” you print the story that you were being asked to publish? Seems like you should at least have redacted the airline’s name. Also, Ms. Glavin would have had to explicitly choose those exit row seats, and explicitly acknowledge the exit row requirements, whether she got them on the website, or got them at the kiosk at checkin.

  • Alan Gore

    Internet shaming is developing into the consumer’s best weapon against corporate power, but the place to do it is on social media.

    If you see something, get video of it.

  • sirwired

    It is, of course, absolutely true that you MUST be able-bodied to sit in the exit row. You can’t even get a boarding pass without acknowledging this. Somebody that needs a wheelchair to meet them at the gate probably doesn’t qualify. Somebody that used to write for a travel site should be experienced enough to know this. (And the flight attendant is the wrong person to ask for a wheelchair at your destination airport; they don’t have any reasonable way of contacting the airport at the other end.)

    If the exit row is the only seats left on the plane when it’s time to pick seats, then you simply ask for help (at check in, at the gate, or on the plane) and they’ll move you.

    Beyond that, if we take the story at face-value, it sounds like it could have been handled better, but I have a feeling this is one of those cases where some things are being left out.

  • Rebecca

    On what planet are the exit row seats the only ones left available? I call shenanigans.

  • Altosk

    “Great National Case” lady sounds like “let me make a stink, scream disability, and collect some cash.” Glad you stayed away from that one.

  • John Baker

    Sounds like a “do you know who I am” case… Oh… “Rules don’t apply to me” … Fine my friend’s a writer I’ll embarrass you.

    Sorry Wendy… If there’s no seat you can legally use, don’t lie and say you’re ok. When you do and get caught, own up to it.

  • sirwired

    On some planes at least some of the exit rows are actually rather terrible and seasoned flyers avoid them (seatguru is your friend)… One or more of: No recline, thin seat cushion, no extra leg room, sometimes restricted leg room, the armrests might not move (tray tables in them), no under-seat storage, freezing cold, tiny/no window, etc.

    The worst flight I ever took was in an exit row. It was a just behind a side-door. The emergency slide blocked much of my leg room, I couldn’t raise my armrest, I had no window, it was freezing, there was no under-seat storage (there might not have been any nearby overhead; can’t remember.)

  • JewelEyed

    Actually, you’ll see that they did not do what they were asked to do because they didn’t threaten AA with a story to get a resolution for the person who requested it. And they nowhere substantiated the claim, they only posted what the LW said in a block quote.

  • KanExplore

    It seems like a completely unnecessary confrontation. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a calm announcement to the effect that, “If you are unable or unwilling to do the duties associated with the exit row please identify yourself and you will be reseated.” Didn’t that happen? Didn’t she acknowledge she needed another seat? It seems to me the flight attendant took what should have been a minor inconvenience requiring a minute or so to resolve and escalated it into a power trip with yelling, threats, and unprofessional service during the flight. Maybe she is lying. Maybe in the absence of a paper trail or video evidence, there is nothing to advocate. I understand that. But if she is convinced that her story is true, she certainly can complain to the airline and to DOT, go to regular and social media, and even check into her ADA rights.

  • Rebecca

    I know some exit rows suck; I don’t think these ones did, but for sake of argument. The likliehood that every single person on the flight checked seatguru and purposely avoided that row, choosing rows in the very rear of the plane, middle seats, etc (these were also 2 seats together) and only left those two seats is way too farfetched. The OP also stated the people in the next row offered to switch, without being asked, they just volunteered.

    So I’m sticking with my call of shenanigans.

  • cscasi

    Of course, we were only presented with one side/version of the story. Did all that actually happen as she presented it? If something did happen, was it presented correctly or embelished to make the story more palatable to the readers here and to garner sympathy? We have been seeing a flurry of stories appearing in the news about mistreated/mishandled passengers as of lateFact is, we do not know.

  • pauletteb

    Since the OP was a writer for this site, she should have been well aware that she wouldn’t be allowed to sit in an exit row. Her version of the incident smells more than a bit.

  • pauletteb

    Her version, not necessarily the true story.

  • Lee

    You may not have gone national with her story but you did just write it up, names and all, in detail and publish here on this site – Not what she obviously wanted but more details than you included for the other examples of requests you declined.

  • Lee

    I agree – a lot has to have been left out because while there are some airline staff on board who can be rude, having both the attendant and pilot speak to a passenger like this is pretty unlikely, I suspect.

    So, either she was very aggressive and non-compliant and disregarding the potential harm she could be responsible if she were needed to assist in an emergency – or, that plane was unfortunate in having two rude staffers. I know which scenario I think it was.

    I am able bodied but a small, slight woman and would never sit in one of those rows because I wouldn’t want to risk anyone’s life/lives by not being strong enough to do what is necessary.

    Her disregard for others’ safety and sole focus on her own needs makes this whole story – unpleasant….

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