Get out of my store! What to do when you’re denied service

When Arlene Morzinsky tried to check in for her recent JetBlue Airways flight to New Orleans, the airline told her that her business wasn’t welcome.

“I got to the airport in time,” she recalls. “Their kiosk could not issue my boarding pass. I was directed to stand on a long, slow-moving line. By the time my turn came I was denied a boarding pass saying I was too late.”

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance. The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Morzinsky is one of thousands of Americans turned away by a company, their business no longer welcome. In extreme cases, the companies even keep their money. But usually, the company just sends the customer packing without any recourse.

This summer, when signs like “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service” warn patrons at your favorite restaurant or gift shop, and in the wake of the United Airlines-David Dao dragging incident, maybe it’s time to review your rights and remedies when a business says “no.” As it turns out, you have a few possible solutions at your disposal.

Service denials happen more often than you think, and not just at airports. For example, when Thea Chassin asked for a haircut at a boutique salon in New Orleans that catered mostly to men, she was turned down.

“I was refused because I am a woman,” she says.

Also, because her request was a little unusual: Chassin, who runs a nonprofit organization in New York, has alopecia areata, a condition that makes it difficult to grow hair. She says she had “a little fuzz here and there.”

An employee claimed that the chairs were needed for other customers.

“But she had no customers,” she recalls. “Inexplicably, she chose to deny me service.”

There are two laws she could have cited that might have landed her in the barber’s chair: the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination by private businesses based on disability.

As a practical matter, invoking these laws would probably create a confrontation and an uncomfortable haircut. Would you want someone holding a razor close to your head who you’d just threatened with two federal laws? Neither would I. Maybe a gentle reminder that you’re protected by the law would have edged the employee in the right direction, but you have to be careful, especially when it comes to sharp objects.

No one knows about this balance between doing the legal thing and the right thing better than Bruce Cameron, a retired federal agent and licensed counselor based in Dallas. He, too, has been denied service, and he says there are steps you can take that don’t involve a legal threat.

“You can ask for compensation for the denial of service from the person denying the service,” he says. “If that doesn’t work, ask to speak to a supervisor about what they can do to compensate.”

And if that doesn’t do the trick? A little shaming may be in order, which is to say, leveraging social media or a review site like Yelp to “post about the injury or situation in a clear cogent manner.” Cameron also recommends notifying the media if it’s a serious infraction of your rights, which (ahem) is my department.

Others recommend a more conciliatory approach. April Masini, of “Ask April” fame, prefers working collaboratively to find a resolution.

“Always try to work things out with the company you’re dealing with first,” she says. “Once you start going to third parties, it’s hard to return to the original vendor without the risk of communication issues.”

You’re probably wondering how these confrontations ended. Not well, unfortunately. Chassin told the salon employee she was doing something illegal, but the worker stood her ground. An owner wasn’t available, so she filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which went nowhere.

Morzinsky’s service denial ended the same way most of them do: with JetBlue keeping her money. While she arrived at the airport in time, she didn’t meet the minimum check-in time requirement in Miami. Last time I checked, she was working with my team of advocates to figure out a way to at least get a ticket credit.

Businesses should not be allowed to deny you a service for which you’re willing to pay. But then, that’s the consumer advocate in me talking. From a company’s perspective, it should have to freedom to choose who it works with. I get that.

At the very least, then, can we agree that you should receive a service you’ve paid for? Again, that seems reasonable to you and me, but a business like an airline may disagree. It’ll probably try to explain the concept of a perishable commodity — if a plane takes off with an empty seat, there is no way for the airline to recover the lost revenue that seat represents.

But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. It feels unfair, and it is. Strategies like these can help you level the playing field, even if just a little.

60 thoughts on “Get out of my store! What to do when you’re denied service

  1. I have a feeling that Delta is going to “fire” Ann Coulter as a customer, and they should.

    I can’t stand that woman or her rhetoric, but I do sympathize with losing a booked seat. And, while the tweet storm has been entertaining in a cringe-worthy sort of way…totally the wrong way to handle this, but that seems to her MO…the more obnoxious/rude she can be, the more attention she gets.

    1. If it’s true that a rogue Delta employee put someone else in her prepaid seat because of dudgeon over Coulter’s opinions, that employee needs to be fired. Good on Coulter for using her bully pulpit to shame Delta. A little more pulpit bullying is exactly what the industry needs right now.

      1. Coulter loses any credibility when she mocked on twitter the physical appearance of the person who got the assigned seat-

        Delta has a credible response. This does not seem to be political at all. Coulter had first booked a window then changed to an aisle and she was put back in the window seat.

        1. IF she changed before they issued the seat to someone else, the airline is WRONG.
          In any case, they got bad publicity out of it for their $30.

          1. Airlines can change seat assignments. She was kept in the same row and same amenities. This is relatively minor in the complaint department and clearly Delta reps chose to stand up to her on twitter.

          2. US flag Airlines can kiss my anterior, for I’ll drive in CONUS if I have to go anywhere. If overseas, I go on a nice Asian airline with CUTE YOUNG SWEET FRIENDLY CUSTOMER-ORIENTED FAs. [ I could tell you some INCREDIBLE stories about how they went the EXTRA TEN MILES for me numerous times, as opposed to the crass treatment I have gotten by US flag airlines, which I try to avoid like the plague, but I won’t bother, because you won’t listen. ]

            They moved her not because of any real reason except that the stupids messed up and re-assigned her seat to someone else. And then other people side with them and say that it’s their right to do that without explanation or any rational reason. All you toads who bleat that the airlines can do this and that to you – remind me never to do business with bottom-feeders such as you. I am sure I couldn’t rely on people like you to make things right if the airlines or any other provider give me the shaft.

        2. Delta was snippy to her, and she was in a position to give them double their snip back. Pictorial evidence that her seat was now occupied by a totally able-bodied person who got it for no reason given is not ‘mocking’. Brava!

          1. So referring to someone as “dachshund legged” isn’t mocking? I don’t care about your politics, but even those who are her big supporters seem to recognize that’s it’s an insult directed at another passenger.

          2. Coulter and you have no idea what sort of issues the passenger who was seated in the desired seat may have had. Not all health problems and disabilities are visible. The passenger that Coulter mocked did not take away the seat and did not poach it and likely had no idea what happened. Why should the passenger be mocked for having short legs? Calling the passenger “dachshund legged” is not mocking? So you really condone this behavior and you say “Brava” to this?

        1. Sure it does. Another case of airline arrogance, stupidity and lack of customer service. Delta got some nice publicity out of this “blip”.

          1. except, Delta comes out looking better than the “customer”

            Sure, Delta screwed up, but Coulter didn’t win the perception battle. Seriously, look at the cases that the Elliott team advocates. This is minor.

          2. With her money, do you really think Ann Coulter cares about what Delta thinks or us, for that matter? Just sayin.

          3. So if she has money (one would think she does), why was she in premium economy instead of first/business? She strikes me as someone who doesn’t want to mix with the bourgeoisie.

          4. I looked over what it was, and it wasn’t even Delta’s “Comfort+”. My guess is that she was in row 15 of an Airbus A319, which is an exit row.

            On some planes there isn’t even a window seat in an exit row, and there’s a huge amount of legroom in the next row’s window seat.

          5. I asked the same question when I saw the story on the news. And Delta offered to refund her $30.

          6. If she didn’t care, why would she be firing all those missives as well as responding to Delta’s comments? She does care of she wouldn’t be investing this much time and effort.

            With her money I would have thought that she could pay for First or st least Comfort+. She claims that she spent about $10,000 of her time (I guess claiming her free time is worth her speaking fees) researching and selecting her seat, and pays a $30 premium to select an exit seat (which was originally window anyways). A Comfort+ or First class seat would give her ample legroom for way less than $10,000 and she wouldn’t have to waste time researching a seat. Or just have an assistant book it. I’ve seen a minor celebrity with a personal assistant. She can’t afford one?

          7. And who spends much time selecting a seat for a relatively short flight? Much ado about nothing–until she made it so. Maybe her high dudgeon will earn her a stroke.

      2. Maybe I’ve got my facts wrong, but from what I’ve read, it appears Coulter got another seat in the same row. So she still got an exit row seat with the additional legroom that entails. And she was not moved from a window or aisle into a middle seat. Why, then, is she owed any compensation for the $30 premium seat fee she paid? Even a middle seat in the exit row would have cost her this much.

        Yes, it’s annoying to spend time carefully choosing seats (and, in Coulter’s case, re-choosing seats), only to be moved, but all airline sites I am familiar with have prominent disclaimers warning you that regardless of which seat you choose, you may be re-seated at their airline’s discretion. One doesn’t usually lose an exit row seat to someone with disabilities, as can happen with bulkhead and aisle seats close to the front of the main cabin, and I believe (and I’m sure most of us would agree) that any premium seat fee, in cash or miles, should be refunded if a passenger gets re-seated into a non-premium seat, but stuff happens. Like equipment changes and computer glitches.

        Making a huge deal out of a minor seat change on a 90 minute flight makes Ann Coulter the poster child for First World problems. Her plane should have been met by the Waahmbulance.

    2. …. because if a customer is going to blow a gasket over such a relatively minor incident, that they would resort to a rude, unprofessional and mean twitter response, why would a business want such a customer? It works both ways. A customer does not have a right be a flaming ********. What does this site always say? A polite, professional response.

      1. Minor? Horst Shirt! She paid for that seat; they gave it away. Just because it’s $30 doesn’t make it any less important.

        1. It was far more complex than that. When you choose a seat it’s not guaranteed and typically the only recourse is to get a fee refund, which Delta gave her.

          However, the big thing is perspective. What kind of person goes so crazy over this and goes to those lengths? The response was rude and insulting to their employees and the passengers who had little say in how it went down.

        2. No one is guaranteed the seat he or she selects. And all that ridiculous fuss? She’s only demeaning herself, if that’s possible.

          1. #1: That’s because they LIE and tell you this is your seat, but the fine print says they can scroo you.
            #2: You simply don’t like AC, so your perspective is skewed away from rational thought. I like her because she’s nasty to stupids……
            #3: The USA flagged airlines are, with few exceptions, a gang of greedy, back-stabbing dirtbags. Look at all the scandal with Untied. They mostly all stink on ice.
            #4: Why are you so avid to take the side of those scumbags against the passenger? [ Oh, see #2 above. My bad…… ] Remind me never to do business with you, as you have no loyalty to the customer, as is true of the USA flag airlines in most instances.

          2. Oh, a snarky denigrating response. Truth hurts, hah? Many toads posting to this site will invariably take the side of the dirtbag company against the customer. Why don’t you all do everyone a favor and post the names of your firms so that they can be avoided?

      2. yes, it is minor….
        I’ve had my seat taken away before, and even been “walked” from a hotel. Throwing your weight and making rude comments about another passenger who is in “your” seat who may have nothing to do with the situation is speaks volumes to CHARACTER.
        If you think this is not minor, how do you navigate more serious adversity in life?

  2. This site opts not to help people all the time… Why should a business be any different?

    Beyond that… If you’re asserting that Chassin was denied service because of her sex. The civil rights act doesn’t apply. As you stated, it only covers “race, color, religion or national origin.” ( ADA might apply if she was denied service due to her disability but its sounds like that wasn’t the reason.

    Do I think they should have denied her service? No, but that’s different than can they legally deny her service. Interestingly, there are a number of state or local laws that add sex and orientation (see fall Supreme Court docket). The barber shop may have run afoul of one of those and in that case, she’d have standing under those laws.

    Arlene was late… there’s reasons why airlines have cutoffs… She missed the cutoff.

    1. Where are you getting that? Sec. 703 covers discrimination in the basis of sex. So do many state, county, and city public accommodation laws.

      1. 1. That’s what’s in the story and Title II Section 201.
        2. Sec 703 covers employment – “SEC. 703. (a) It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer…” So, you can decline to server her but you can’t decline to hire her.

        My second to last paragraph covers the local laws that may have been violated. The story only covered federal law

        1. Read too quickly. However, the local or state laws might have more teeth because they can be brought into court rather through more of a tribunal procedure.

        2. You did not mention the exemptions, which may have applied in this circumstance. A business may decline service if it is undermines the provision of that service. Think an accountant declining service to someone wanting a medical exam. I’m sure this barber provides service to folks in wheel chairs and women. However if someone seeks a beauty service from someone who feels unable/unskilled enough to provide it, it did her a favor sending her elsewhere. Anyone who has had a bad haircut gets this.

    2. How do you know she was late? She said she was on time. If the line is LONG, the airline should accommodate.

  3. Is it just me, or does it not really make much sense to be lumping a missed check-in because of a long line at the airport right next to cases of alleged discrimination?

  4. Ms. Morzinsky says she arrived in plenty of time for her flight. How early was she for the flight? One hour? Two hours? Not enough information there to say if JetBlue was in the wrong or if she cut it too short by arriving only an hour before her flight.

    1. I think Jetblue cuts off kiosk check in times 30 mins prior to departure for domestic and 60 for international. I do wish airlines would leave it open until 15 mins though. If it is a quiet day at security, you could make it, or if you are past security and change flights or something. Why artificially restrict someone? I get eliminating option to check bags and stuff, and I’m fine with closing door or giving seats away if not at gate, but why not let me have a chance at making the flight?

      1. I do agree with you about check in times. But she could not check in at the kiosk for a reason that is not mentioned and at that point arrival time at the airport becomes more important.

        1. true. As others have stated – always try to use app or online check in, preferably the day before travel. Let’s you find the problem in advance and call/tweet/arrive early to fix it.

      2. It would be ideal if every pax could check in before arriving at the airport, but especially in the middle of a trip this isn’t always possible. Your jerkwater hotel may not have a printer for boarding passes, or it may not be working. There is a gradual trend toward boarding passes you can display on your phone, but we keep being warned in this very forum that your displayed pass might not be scannable, and like everything else in travel that’s YOUR fault. We’re supposed to have a printed backup with us.

  5. What happened to Ms. Morzinsky can be avoided by checking in online for a flight. If there is a boarding pass problem, it will be discovered early and can be resolved over the phone. The last thing that anyone wants to happen is being diverted to a slow moving line and missing the scheduled flight.

    1. This is good advice as there is less staffing at the counters and if there is a problem one will know in advance and should arrive extra early

  6. One of the problems in today’s day and age, is that complaining customers lose perspective and cannot differentiate between something minor versus something serious. It seems that social media has created a crop of SJWs who feel that shaming a company on social media gets compensation. Sadly, it works. Missing a flight because you missed a cutoff time is completely different from a business discriminating based on race, gender, religion, etc.

    It also amazes me how many people complain about companies, yet, continue to patronize the company despite being treated poorly. I’m not talking about airlines where there is a pseudo-monopoly either. After all, if you don’t like the way you are treated as a customer, take your business elsewhere. Lost revenue and sales is sometimes the only metric that businesses listen to.

  7. We don’t know when she arrived at the airport, so we don’t really know if she arrived on time. She could have checked in from her home computer and printed her boarding pass there (most people do that nowadays), and if for some reason that wasn’t available to her, one can never assume that kiosks will be able to issue the boarding pass. I had the same problem with a kiosk once, and fortunately there was a very short line. This might not have been her fault, but she wasn’t denied service. She simply got to the front of the line too late.

    1. Most folks have their boarding pass on their phone. What if the kiosk worked but that line was an hour, she still would’ve missed the flight.

      1. Never trust the boarding pass on the phone! The rule of thumb is “if anything can go wrong, it will!” Lesson–always have a paper backup. Best thing–check in and print your boarding pass online as soon as possible (24 hours prior to the flight). No matter where I travel, there’s always a way to do it.

  8. What happened to Ann Coulter goes in the category of “annoying.” She ended up with an exit row window rather than an exit row aisle. Delta should have refunded her $30, and maybe tossed in 5k miles for the inconvenience.

    As soon as she started in on her racist rants abusing Delta’s staff and other passengers, they should have told her that she was receiving a full refund for all future tickets booked with Delta, the amount of the refund will be arriving tomorrow in the form of a certified check, and that she should find another airline to use in the future.

    1. Although I happen to like Ann Coulter [please don’t sic those fascist Antifa folks on me], I have to agree with everything you said here. Delta, IMHO, however would have been better off from a PR standpoint to have not gotten into a Tweet war with her. If this was some liberal college professor, I doubt Delta would have made a sound. But again, if I was Delta, I would have quietly done exactly as you suggest.

      1. If anything this was a high profile person of any political persuasion hurling insults at Delta employees and passengers, I think they might have responded. What Coulter did was beyond normal behavior, including posting a photo of a family that did nothing wrong and insulting a woman by calling her “dachshund legged”.

        1. No more beyond “normal” behavior than the ongoing postings [videos, editorials etc] and phony “moral outrage” at what has happened to other PAX recently at the hands of the airlines and/or airport police. Yet in those cases, no matter how badly the airlines were portrayed all they could find themselves doing was bend over backwards to apologize, and take the beatings from the media and others. However since Ms. Coulter is a magnet for controversy, Delta decided it was ok to go toe to toe with her figuring the majority of their customers would most likely support anyone bashing someone that supports a conservative point of view.

          1. However, there was no confrontation on the plane. There was no violation of any FAA regulation. This was just Coulter just going off on Delta and a fellow passenger. On top of that, I think Delta correctly saw that a passenger moved from one exit row seat to another hardly registers as an outrage with most people. The exit row has more legroom than even first class, so getting out to go to the lavatory is easy.

            Even the mom who was told to hold her 2 year-old didn’t see fit to post anything other than a photo of her kid. She didn’t post a photo of the guy who claimed the seat in order to shame him. He did nothing wrong other than accept a seat that the airline thought was a no show. And this family did nothing wrong other than accept a seat that Delta told them was available.

            I’ve certainly been there with a child flying Delta. I got there and was asked why I didn’t ask for seating help earlier, which answer was that we just got there. My seat was switched to one next to my kid’s. I don’t know if maybe that seat was held back, just became available, or they moved someone else. I just know any anger or insults directed towards myself or my child would have been misdirected. And Coulter’s anger, name calling, and invasion of privacy towards another passenger were uncalled for.

          2. Not sure why people seem to have any disagreement with me. I said in my original reply comment that I agreed with the commenters characterization of what happened to Ms. Coulter as hardly worthy of her over-reaction. My only “point” was that I believed that Delta did more of a disservice to itself from a PR perspective by engaging in the same low level name calling Twitter war as Ms. Coulter did, and would have been better served by taking the high ground and simply thanking her for her past patronage, and informing her she was no longer welcome as a customer. But then again, as I said, since she is a conservative and I said I like Ms. Coulter, that seems reason enough for folks attacking my comments even though I actually disagreed with Ms. Coulters actions.

          3. I think Delta’s response here is complicated. I get that sometimes being critical of a political figure is perilous because so many will see it through politically tinged lenses. However, it seems that their PR team looked at the relative insignificance of her grievance as well as the nastiness of her criticism towards Delta employees and towards one of their customers. Perhaps after insulting their employees they would take it on the chin and issue some bland statement about being “disappointed that we didn’t meet Ms. Coulter’s expectations”, but once she went after an innocent customer it seems like the gloves were off. Even then, the response was measured.

            Right now I just hope this young woman is OK. It’s only a matter of time before she’s identified (or someone similar looking is misidentified) and a legion of Coulter supporters will harass her to no end. And over what? Seat 15A instead of 15D.

  9. Re the suggestion to post on Yelp, they require that you were actually served at the establishment, i.e. you can’t review a restaurant you didn’t eat at. They will remove your review.

  10. I didn’t get the impression that is what she wanted. If that’s all, then you are right. I thought she wanted something done with the patches. A responsible hair stylist will also refuse to do a hair straightening treatment on colored hair bc if it all falls out, you could blame them. I think this fits more into that category and not bc she was a woman or had an unusual confusion , which they may not have been been aware of.

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