That’s the sound you hear of Air India’s response to Janette Neff’s long list of complaints.
Neff, an elderly passenger, experienced several problems on a flight from San Francisco to Delhi. Unfortunately, she had too many issues, and she didn’t document them during the flight. Had she done so, Air India might have responded to her request for compensation with some gesture of goodwill.
But the airline ignored her request — probably because it contained too many complaints. Its agents may not have finished reading it before they decided to reject it. Her story is a reminder to consumers to keep customer service complaints simple and concise.
On the outbound flight, which was 16 hours long, 45 seats on the plane did not have working media systems, overhead lights, air vents or call buttons.
“For hours on end I could not even read,” says Neff. “I had to sit in the dark as I can’t sleep on planes. The flight attendant told us they had not worked on an earlier flight and weren’t repaired. It was a sold out flight, so no seat change [was possible]. It was very hot.”
For the next two weeks, Neff called and emailed Air India’s customer service, seeking compensation or a free seat upgrade for her return flight. But on the day of the return flight, two supervisors rejected her request, telling her that the only way she could get an upgrade was to pay for it.
On the return flight, Neff again found herself in a seat with a broken media system and a malfunctioning call button. Two of Neff’s fellow passengers tried to make them work but had no luck. Unfortunately, the plane’s flight attendant was unhelpful, insisting that the media system and call button worked although three passengers had not succeeded at getting them to function properly.
A supervisor told Neff that she could not put her purse under the seat in front of her as “no airline allowed” this, but that “everything had to go in the overhead bins.” And the plane sat on the runway for three hours in addition to the flight time.
After the flight, Neff wrote to Air India seeking full reimbursement for her ticket. Air India responded by asking for her ticket number. Then an Air India agent wrote the following to Neff:
Thank you for contacting Air India
With reference to your e-mail, we certainly understand your situation and hence we have processed your request/concern to the relevant department. We request you to kindly wait for some time for an appropriate reply.
Neff then replied:
I will speak to my attorney in San Francisco and will post my info on Facebook, I am a senior and that long trip was intolerable. A complimentary ticket is not an option. plesse [sic] respond immediately.
(Note: Boldface is per original communication from Neff to Air India.)
Neff waited, but no reply, “appropriate” or otherwise, ever came.
She might have escalated her complaints to executives of Air India using our contact information, but she contacted our advocates instead.
Unfortunately for Neff, while functioning media systems, call buttons, and the right to place items under the seat in front of you are standard amenities on nearly all flights, there is no language in Air India’s conditions of carriage or elsewhere on its site guaranteeing that its passengers are entitled to any of them.
And threatening a company you are asking for help with legal action or social media posts, especially in boldface (like all caps, an online equivalent of shouting) is never an appropriate way to ask for help.
Although our advocates reached out to Air India on Neff’s behalf, nobody at Air India responded to us either.
So we are unable to do more for Neff. We are sharing her story as a warning to customers: Limit your complaints to a few core issues rather than a long list, and don’t shout or make threats. Otherwise, you are unlikely to resolve your case any more successfully than Neff did. Your company may treat your problem as a Case Dismissed, just as Air India — and our advocates — have done with Neff’s.