Do you ever strike out?” readers of my syndicated newspaper column often ask me. They see my Q&A feature in their travel section, and every week the good guys win.
To which I reply: “All the time.” Just read my site.
Case-in-point is the email I received from Susan Mintz a few days ago. She’d been trying to secure a refund from Continental Airlines after being rushed to the hospital with a cardiac condition before her scheduled flight.
“I need advice please,” she wrote. “I’ve sent all my documentation to Continental and received a request ID on Feb. 15. Its refund policy states 20 business days. We’re way, way past this. I have sent five letters and three faxes. Nothing!”
I get hundreds of emails like this in a week, and I usually try to get to a resolution by asking and short series of questions.
Me: I’m sorry to hear about this. Could you send me some of the correspondence? I’d like to review it.
Mintz: Attached is the original letter.
Me: (After reading the email). Did they agree to a refund? Normally they only issue a ticket credit for these situations.
Mintz: I have only received a “request number” and nothing else since February.
Me: You might want to get United to clarify. Have you tried calling?
Mintz: Are you serious! Of course, I tried calling. Have you read the refund policy? There is no need for clarity. It is very simple. I am entitled to refund.
A ticket credit is acceptable as well. Anything. But my request is being ignored.
I contacted you because your web site states to do such when reaching a dead end. I sent you a copy of my letter asking for advice and you ask if I called them. This is advocacy for travelers?
I tried to explain that Continental (now United) would probably only issue a ticket credit, but that a refund would be unlikely – and yes, I am trying to help.
I haven’t heard back from her.
Something tells me I’m not going to make her holiday card list this year.
My exchange with Mintz is a useful exercise, and it comes at an interesting time.
Earlier this week, I learned that a well-known investigative reporter is working on a story about the “best” consumer advocate in travel. Several commenters who belong to a certain newspaper’s reader panel forwarded the email questionnaire.
My first thought was that ranking consumer advocates makes about as much sense as rating your priest or rabbi.
How can you assign a value to someone who is there to help?
And my second thought was, who cares? I haven’t been a pure-play travel advocate since 2010, although I did help start a nonprofit called the Consumer Travel Alliance, which advocates for travelers (I currently serve as its volunteer ombudsman).