No, your insults won’t make European law apply to Southwest Airlines

Kathleen DeRosa’s Southwest Airlines domestic flight from Texas to Florida didn’t take off on schedule because of a de-icing problem. So why is DeRosa invoking European laws to persuade the airline to compensate her?

And why is she doing it like this?

I’ll get to the “this” in a minute. But first, let’s have a look at the particulars of her flight. DeRosa was en route from Los Angeles to Belize, with stops in Houston and Florida. When inclement weather delayed her connection in Texas, the slowdown had a ripple effect, forcing her to spend an extra night in Florida and missing two nights of her vacation in Belize.

An expensive delay

Total bill: $586.

Her case is an important reminder that a little knowledge — in this case, of airline regulations — can be a dangerous thing. Perhaps even more dangerous: An attitude that isn’t conducive to a successful resolution. Had she taken a different tact, DeRosa wouldn’t be today’s poster girl for an unhappy passenger.

DeRosa says the event was within Southwest’s control.

“The airline didn’t have enough de-icing fluid at Houston Hobby,” she explains.

That may be true, but certain events were also within her control. Like, how to ask for help.

First, DeRosa invoked “court judgments” in Europe to support her claim for full reimbursement. There may indeed be court judgments in Europe, but the last time I checked, Texas and Florida were in the United States. And there, we have no such judgments. Airlines are free to delay their flights and are under no obligation to compensate their customers for missed vacations.

Related story:   How stupid do they think you are?
Tactics that never work

All of which brings us to DeRosa’s attitude.

Here’s a sample of her correspondence with Southwest:

Really, Southwest?

You knew this storm was coming and you accept no liability for all the extra expenses before getting us to our destination.

Shall we talk?

And insults for the consumer advocate, too

Now, that kind of email, plus her questionable legal citation, put her case on thin ice. Our advocacy team tried to break the news to her gently.

In a forum post, we noted that there were no provisions for compensation under federal law. Even the so-called passenger bill of rights doesn’t promise what DeRosa believes it does. And then she sent a final email to our advocacy team.

“Thanks,” DeRosa replied. “Thought you were a consumer advocate and not a shill for Southwest.”

OK, then.

Advocacy tip: Insults are never productive

It’s unclear whether DeRosa took our forum advocates’ advice and contacted Southwest in a more constructive way. If so, I hope she was polite and reasonable. Insults are rarely productive when consumers are trying to resolve disputes with companies.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s not possible for us to blindly advocate for every consumer who contacts us. Sometimes the answer is “no.” In this case, DeRosa was citing European law and popping off about “passenger rights” that did not apply to her situation.

Should we have advocated for DeRosa?

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Michael Hinkelman

Michael Hinkelman is an award-winning journalist with more than 35 years experience. He has worked for daily newspapers in Atlanta and Philadelphia, most recently as a small-business columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, before retiring in 2016. In 1993, Hinkelman won a prestigious Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism for an investigation into the finances of the Atlanta Public Schools. In 2016, he was a lecturer in media relations at the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government. Read more of Michael's stories here.

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