You promised me compensation, LATAM — now where is it?

Robert Liu and Zhengan Wang expected to fly in business class when they traveled on LATAM Airlines last year. But the airline downgraded them to economy class. LATAM promised them compensation, but the airline paid them less than the promised amount. Liu feels cheated.

“We should get the difference between business class and economy class,” says Liu. “Or at least what we were promised.”

His story is a sad reminder that verbal promises are worthless when there’s no written documentation to back them up. Always get business promises in writing, especially when an airline like LATAM offers compensation. Unfortunately, LATAM didn’t keep its promise to Liu and Wang — and it stonewalled our advocate’s inquiry on their behalf.

An involuntary downgrade

Liu and Wang purchased business class tickets on LATAM from Washington, D.C., to Lima, Peru, for a flight last October. When they checked in at Dulles International Airport, there were two broken business class seats on their aircraft. LATAM downgraded their seats to economy class.

LATAM’s agent said that the airline would issue them $500 each in cash or a flight credit as downgrade compensation. Liu and Wang initially refused to accept the offer. But when they discovered that there was no other option for traveling to Lima, they felt they had no choice.

Liu and Wang accepted LATAM’s offer. But LATAM’s agent refused their request for written confirmation of the offer. He told them that LATAM would email it to them. Liu and Wang questioned whether they would receive the emails before boarding their flight. The agent promised to send the emails before they departed.

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A promise not kept

When Liu and Wang arrived at their boarding gate, they again approached the agent. Unfortunately, the agent was not helpful. He told them that they would receive the emails the next day. Liu and Wang insisted on receiving them before their flight took off, and the agent threatened to call the airport police. Liu and Wang boarded their plane and sat in economy class with no confirmation of the offer.

They finally received the emails about LATAM confirmation a month later. At that time, LATAM asked them whether they wanted cash or a flight credit. But LATAM offered them significantly less than the agent at Dulles Airport had promised them. Instead of $500 each, it downgraded its offer to $255 each.

Liu and Wang want LATAM to honor the offer they received from the agent at Dulles Airport. Alternatively, they want LATAM compensation in cash for the price difference between business and economy class tickets.

Not the LATAM compensation they were offered

Unfortunately for Liu and Wang, LATAM’s contract of carriage contains no language guaranteeing passengers refunds for involuntary downgrades. But the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to compensate involuntarily downgraded passengers for the price differences of their seats.

Even without specific provisions of compensation in its contract of carriage, LATAM should have honored its agent’s promise of $500. If LATAM didn’t do that, then it owed Liu and Wang the price difference between business and economy class seats. Nor should that agent have threatened to call the police. That’s Customer Service 101 — and LATAM failed it.

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But because the agent didn’t send Liu and Wang the email confirmation, they don’t have supporting documentation of the offer. Without that confirmation, Liu and Wang’s case is stuck on the ground. It doesn’t help that Liu threatened to sue LATAM if it didn’t honor the original offer.

Liu might have escalated his complaint using our LATAM Airlines executive contacts. Instead, he turned to our advocates for help.

LATAM ignores our advocates

Our advocate, Michelle Couch-Friedman, asked LATAM to look into Liu’s case. But LATAM, unfortunately, has a history of ignoring our advocates — and it gave Friedman’s request the silent treatment. Nor has Liu heard anything from LATAM.

So all we can do is warn our readers to obtain all offers of compensation in writing. Otherwise, as in Liu’s case, your airline’s verbal promises will fly up, up and away without you.

Should Robert Liu keep trying to get LATAM to honor its original offer of compensation?

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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 Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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