A painful truth and what we’re doing about it

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By Christopher Elliott

Painful truths. That’s what Heather Dratler delivered in her epic story on the things airlines insiders wish you knew, but are afraid to tell you.

It was this week’s most-read post, and it attempted to explain everything from odd seat pricing to high change fees. Heather knows people in the biz, and they did their best to justify the often bizarre airline industry practices.

It made for some fascinating reading. And while some readers loved the explanation, others loathed it.

“There’s nothing in it that even remotely suggests that those practices are, in fact, justifiable,” Peter Altschuler comments. “If retailers did business this way — charging different prices on different days or when foot traffic is higher or when demand for a particular item goes up — the public enmity would be palpable, and sales would suffer.”

Yet Heather’s explanations are the truth, at least how the airline industry sees it.

And that truth hurts.

Every day on this site, our advocacy team has to deliver hard truths to people who come to us for help, too.

I’m sorry, your ticket is nonrefundable.

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I’m sorry, you didn’t have insurance.

I’m sorry, your product is out of warranty.

We try to say it as infrequently as possible, but there it is on our help forums. You can see the reactions, too. Last week, for example, one reader was so upset at Amazon that he began lashing out at our own advocates, who were just trying to assist him.

We understand our role

It isn’t to defend any industry’s policies or rules. It isn’t to tell people that they should have known better. No, it is to make the truth a little more bearable and, wherever possible, to turn a “no” into a “yes” — even when someone doesn’t technically deserve it.

That’s why we do this. My advocates are the morphine of the consumer world. We try to take away some of the pain, even when it’s self-inflicted.

We’re also a little addictive. I know. This week, we hosted dozens of fascinating discussions. We posted numerous unsanctioned new company contacts for Lindblad Expeditions, Travel Guard, the Wall Street Journal (oh, that one’s gonna get us into trouble with the journalism gods).

Just this morning, I also published my frequently asked questions about tours. As always, it’s sure to enrage the travel agents who sell tours. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

Among the questions I answer:

• How can I be sure I’m getting the best deal?
• What’s a dynamic package?
• What are the risks of buying a package?

Challenging corporate realities and the truth

It’s the truth — as I see it.

The interesting thing about the truth, one way or the other, is that if you don’t like it, you can say something. Start your own consumer site. Or better yet, do something. If you have a problem with airline logic and airline facts — or any other vision corporate America may have — then for heaven’s sake, stop buying the products. Lobby the government for smarter regulation. (Related: Here’s the secret to boarding a plane the right way.)

The truth is like a blade: It cuts both ways. If we refuse to play along with the airline world’s bizarre logic, they will have to see things your way, eventually.

Wouldn’t that be something?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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