Alaska Airlines bumped a real American hero – should I get involved?


Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com
It’s not every day that you hear from a real American hero like Chuck Yeager. Yes, the Chuck Yeager. It turns out he and his wife, Victoria, catch my syndicated column in The Sacramento Bee.

They contacted me after running into some trouble on two separate itineraries to Anchorage, and despite every effort to get things sorted out with Alaska Airlines, they couldn’t.

By the way, if you don’t know who Chuck Yeager is, look up the word “hero” in the dictionary. You see that guy? That’s Gen. Yeager.

Here’s what happened to the Yeagers: Victoria was booked from Sacramento to Anchorage with a stop in Seattle. Chuck was flying from Seattle to Anchorage on the same day. IThe couple planned to meet in Seattle and travel together to Alaska.

“When I arrived in Seattle, my husband was a little late, but still an hour ahead of the flight,” Victoria Yeager explained. “Alaska Airlines bumped us from the flight because they were overbooked.”

Alaska placed the Yeagers on the next available flight and offered them two $125 coupons. But it denied them the cash compensation they would have received if they’d been involuntarily denied boarding. Alaska says Gen. Yeager was a no-show on a flight from Sacramento to Seattle.

“He was never booked from Sacramento to Seattle,” says Victoria Yeager.

The Yeagers’ polite, written complaints to Alaska and later, to the Department of Transportation, got them nowhere. Under federal denied boarding compensation rules, they would have been entitled to cash compensation, depending on the circumstances.

Specifically:

If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $650 maximum.

The Yeagers didn’t get that.

“They took $15 from each coupon because in order to use them, we had to purchase the tickets by phone, not on Alaska Airlines website,” Chuck Yeager noted in an email.

When the Yeagers finally got around to using the airline scrip, they found the terms to be less than desirable. They initially tried to use them to visit a friend, but had to cancel the trip because he was having health problems.

“So this year, we tried to make reservations using the canceled tickets,” wrote Gen. Yeager. “We got the runaround. Finally, we were told there is no way to do this on the website. So now, they will take $15 for the reservation by phone and to do the reservation by phone, a change fee of $100 applies, as opposed to a change fee of $75 on the web.”

I know what you’re thinking. They did this to Chuck Yeager? Really?

By the time the Yeagers contacted me and my team of volunteers, this circus had gone on for a while. Frankly, we couldn’t believe it.

One team member reached out to Alaska’s social media team. I forwarded the email thread to my Alaska contact. And our research director, Nancy Dickinson, phoned the Yeagers to make sure they were, well, who they said they were. They are.

The response from Alaska was a little puzzling.

I appreciated receiving your email regarding your flight experience to Anchorage, AK on August 15, 2013.

As a service-oriented business serving millions of passengers every year across three countries, we have implemented certain guidelines and procedures to ensure the service each customer receives is consistent and fair. I am deeply sorry for the troubles you experienced and will share your feedback with our Customer Service Manager at Sea-Tac International Airport to work diligently in an effort to prevent a similar situation from occurring again in the future.

Mr. Yeager, as a customer service gesture, I am including two Discount Codes. The discount is available for your use for one year from the date of issue. Please reference the appropriate code below at the time of booking on alaskaair.com. Discount Codes do not require a pin and need to be entered in the Discount Code box at the beginning of your reservation. Complete rules and restrictions can be found online at alaskaair.com.

[Enclosed two codes for $100.]

I hope that you and your family will accept my invitation to join us on another flight. I’m confident that we will once again live up to your expectations.

Hang on. The original complaint wasn’t from 2013. It appears Alaska was just responding to our initial query, and without having reviewed the entire complaint.

The Yeagers are understandably exasperated, and to be honest, so are we. More funny money? With all those restrictions in place, the vouchers aren’t worth much, and they don’t really say “I’m sorry” as much as they say, “I’m sorry for the way you feel.”

And then there’s this: You did it to Chuck Yeager? What were you thinking?

Several resolution team members fear that Alaska doesn’t know who Chuck Yeager is, which, if true, would be troubling on several levels.

So, now what? Do the general and his wife take the money? Should I get involved, beyond sending a polite query to my contact? In other words, should I take this up the chain and ask DOT and someone higher up at Alaska to give this case a more thorough review?

What should Gen. Yeager do?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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