Beware of the half-truths airlines – and passengers – like to tell

Kunertus / Shutterstock.com
Kunertus / Shutterstock.com
It would be inaccurate to say that American Airlines lied to Kori Conley’s friend when she tried to fix her airline ticket.

She needed to get home for Christmas with her kids, but someone else was paying for her ticket and they’d bungled the reservation, confusing the origin and destination airports on her itinerary.

“My friend called immediately — we’re talking right away — to let them know the error,” says Conley. “They in turn told her there would be a $200 per ticket fee — an extra $600 to fix three tickets.”

It would also be inaccurate to say the American Airline representative who Conley’s friend talked to told her the whole truth. See, under the Transportation Department’s 24-hour rule, she could have canceled her flight and made a new reservation at no charge.
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Total fee absurdity: when your luggage costs more than your airfare

Nico/Shutterstock
Nico/Shutterstock

Tom Ungar and his wife spent $128 to fly from Venice, Italy, to Naples, which is a ridiculously low fare. But when their checked luggage tipped the scales at just over 20 kilos, their airline demanded an additional $152.

A luggage fee that exceeds your airfare? Welcome to the wacky world of a la carte fees — a world filled with consumer “benefits” that airline apologists believe you’ll love.

Ungar’s case is something of an extreme example. He was flying on easyJet, an airline known for its preposterous luggage policies. But ignore his cautionary tale at your own peril, because this is the world the Big Three legacy airlines aspire to, if we, their captive customers, would just let them.

Ungar’s misadventure began when he checked in for his flight in Venice recently. After placing their baggage on the scales, an easyJet employee informed the couple that their luggage was “a bit” overweight and pointed them to another representative. That person said their luggage was free to fly for an additional fee of $152.
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It’s the end of the airline industry as we know it

Hope/Shutterstock
Hope/Shutterstock
Airlines don’t exist.

I came to that somewhat Magrittesque conclusion after hearing from Julie Eisenberg, a loyal United Airlines customer who last year spent $1,700 per ticket to fly her partner and herself from Washington to Sydney.

For just $600 more, plus 30,000 miles, United promised her a chance to upgrade into a slightly roomier seat. But the ticket agent she spoke with failed to mention that there were no guarantees and that the money and miles would be deducted from her account then and there, many months before her flight.

“The only way I can get the miles and money back is to cancel my upgrade request,” she says. “They will have possession of the money and the miles from the date I booked, on May 10, 2013.”
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How to stop the customer service apocalypse of 2014

Stokkete/Shutterstock
Stokkete/Shutterstock
When you spend most of your waking hours advocating for consumers, it’s easy to lose your sense of perspective. Complaints pour in, often hundreds per day. I can’t help but feel like the customer-service apocalypse is imminent.

My New Year’s resolution is simple: Stop Servicemaggendon by putting what really matters in my consumer advocacy crosshairs and keep the discourse civil and fair.

What matters? Well, from my point of view, it’s obvious that we’re halfway down a long slide into the customer-service toilet, with only a little pipe to go before we’re flushed out to the sewer. How we approach this precipitous decline matters. It requires a clear-headed, well-reasoned and polite discussion — otherwise the problem could get worse.
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How absurd can airline junk fees get in 2014? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet

Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
The intoxicating combination of junk fees and loyalty programs seems too powerful for even the most consumer-friendly airline to resist.

At least that’s what passengers like Peter DeForest are discovering when they try to change an award ticket.

He’d saved up enough frequent flier miles on Virgin America, an airline with a stellar reputation for taking care of its customers, to fly himself and a companion from San Francisco to Las Vegas. But shortly before the trip, his companion fell ill. He asked Virgin if he could cancel the trip and get his miles back.

Sure, a representative told him. If he paid the airline a $100 per reservation “redeposit fee.”

Seriously?
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