Should companies break their own rules? Yes, and here’s when …


Last week, when I suggested that consumers should sometimes apologize to a company, a few of you thought I had completely lost it.

You believed I’d gone soft or turned into a corporate shill — or both — for suggesting that sometimes you should apologize to a business.

So today, in the interest of fairness, I’ll look at the flip side: when companies should offer a no-questions-asked refund on a product, even though they aren’t required to.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of Iowa found that retailers with restrictive exchange policies may be losing potential business, a finding that should find some traction among highly competitive businesses.

Sadly, it’s less relevant in the industries where I do most of my work, which are dominated by a few large companies that don’t have to worry about you taking your business elsewhere.

This exercise probably won’t score any points with those of you who think rules are rules and must always be followed, no matter how inane or customer-hostile they are.

If you’re one of those by-the-book consumers, I will gladly take your comments at the end of this story.

The product didn’t live up to its implied warranty.

The word “nonrefundable” gets thrown around a lot in my line of work, but businesses are also fond of referring you to their restrictive contracts, which spell out exactly what you are and are not entitled to.

But there’s a space in between.

For example, the contract may offer an all-inclusive hotel, but the ad promises a vacation of a lifetime. A hotel can meet its obligations but fail to deliver on its implied warranty, what its splashy TV ads want you to believe you’re getting. Too often, I’ve seen companies weasel out of obligations that everyone understood, but which weren’t articulated in their contract — and that’s wrong.

In many cases, I’ve advocated for and received a full refund on behalf of customers.

When events beyond your control make it impossible to use the product.

Businesses often use “circumstances beyond our control” as an excuse to not perform a service.

Among my favorites: The mountain in the way of a cell phone tower or the flight delayed by air traffic.

Generally, consumers understand and are willing to give them a break. It’s not that they have a choice — chances are, the companies have given themselves permission to do pretty much whatever they want in their terms and conditions. How clever.

But shouldn’t it go the other way, too?

For example, when you get a flat tire on the way to the airport, shouldn’t an airline rebook you on the next flight without charging you for a new ticket? If the State Department issues a warning for your destination, shouldn’t the cruise line offer a refund?

In some cases, the answer is “yes” — and again, I’m not afraid to ask for an exception. Sometimes, customers deserve it.

When your personal circumstances warrant it.

Sometimes, compassion is just good business.

I’ve asked lots of companies to bend a rule when a customer had a death in the family or even a painful breakup (how do you get a refund on a honeymoon when the bride or groom walks away?). Life happens, and when it does, a company should be willing to make some concessions, even when it isn’t required to.

I’ll never forget the Southern California furniture store from which I bought a living room set. The sofa and dining room table were gorgeous. I was very happy with the purchase, and I also understood that I had 30 days to ask for a refund. But 32 days later, my personal circumstances changed in a dramatic way, and I had to suddenly relocate to the East Coast.

The store didn’t have to take my furniture back, but it did. I’m grateful that it bent a rule for me, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to a friend or patronize it in the future.

That’s good service.

There’s a lot of wiggle room in here, of course. What’s the implied warranty, for example? That’s subject to your interpretation. What kind of circumstances should qualify for a waiver? Which ones shouldn’t? That’s always an interesting debate, and that’s also why you need me.

I’m happy to make that call — and then call the company, if necessary.

Do companies break their own rules enough to help customers?

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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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  • polexia_rogue

    they will break the rules if you have
    1. a strong case/ a case that goes viral

    meaning “my 5,000 fridge broke! I did not buy any kind of extended warranty- after all a fridge that costs 5,000 should last for more then 5 years!- i expect them to fix it for free!”
    – no

    BUT “my fridge broke and my poor disabled child has certain medications that need to be refrigerated! AND I’m on food stamps, so what ever food i loose i cannot afford to replace! my family is helping out my lending me space in their fridges but my situation is sooooo bad i’m not sure what to do! that the evil fridge company will not fix my fridge because it’s pass the warrenty!”

    – that story might get you an exception to the rule.

  • sirwired

    I just looked at that article, and there wasn’t a single person that disagreed with you in the comments (there weren’t many comments at all; I guess it didn’t really get many people riled up.)

    I wonder why every single one of these aggressive letter-writers used e-mail? (it’s not as if you can’t comment anonymously on Disqus…)

  • sirwired

    ” If the State Department issues a warning for your destination, shouldn’t the cruise line offer a refund?”

    On a minor, unrelated note, I know you’ve moderated two cases (one to an unpleasant part of Mexico and another to Sudan) where there was indeed a State Dept. Warning, but it was for travel to a horrible place where the warning you cited was merely a continuation of a warning that had been in effect for some time.

    In those cases, I think the answer is clearly: “no.”

  • NoJets

    Having worked a fair amount of hours for an airline, I personally have never denied rebooking, with no additional fee and using available seats on a future flight, to anyone who showed up late for a flight (the elusive unwritten flat tire rule). I HAVE however had to inform people that they have missed the last or only flight of the day to their destination, and the only rebooking option was the next day…or later.

    In those cases, a few suggestions offered by the affected passengers were a.) bump someone off the next flight b.) see if the plane can come back and get them c.) book them on a different airline and d.) charter a plane for them. The “flat tire rule” only works when there is an acceptable alternate flight as well as seats available on that flight!

    Interestingly, I’ve also HAD a flat tire on my way to catch a flight. I simply pulled off the road, changed it, and continued onto the airport with time to spare. (One of my dad’s rules of life was to always leave enough time to change a flat tire when you have to be somewhere at a certain time. He also taught me how to change tires. Thanks Dad!)

  • Kevin Mathews

    The only thing I will say is that the poll question varies company to company. And even though they may bend a rule, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to jump through hoops to make it happen.
    Some companies have a high focus on Customer Service and the customer experience. This generally leads to higher prices, but a more satisfied customer experience and loyalty. A great example of this is Apple. By in large, they have pretty good customer service. Granted, they make a quality product, but it is extremely overpriced for the actual hardware that is contained within the devices. But, by putting together a reliable product, that is simple to use, with good customer support behind it, they’ve got an amazing retention rate amongst their customer base.
    Costco is another example of a company that has a pretty good grasp on what customers want. Their return policy is just about second to none on major purchases. Due to the low number of SKU’s in there stores, most of their employees know where everything is, or have a pretty good idea.
    Some companies focus completely on the bottom line and assume that their prices and product will speak for themselves. Think Walmart. Prices are generally as low as they can possibly be, but finding someone to help you out in the store is hit or miss, let alone someone that will give you the time of day. That’s not to say all Walmart employees are bad, some are actually quite good, but most seem to not go out of their way to help customers out.
    All in all, everyone needs to judge the individual company by their actions, not an industry as a whole…

  • Christopher Elliott

    They didn’t. That particular post is syndicated and runs in other news outlets as well. (That’s why I don’t mention company names on Wednesday — long story!)

  • sirwired

    Ah, that makes more sense then.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Gonna toss this in here…
    My GF is a former Disney CM. She still keeps up with the company and friends from it. This week, all over the interwebbs, people have been cranking about this new disability policy. No longer do people who go say their kids have autism get to use unlimited fast pass. Now, it is the same system that Universal uses–they get a time to come back equal to the stand by time. They are not waiting in line, they are free to ride other rides or eat or go shopping or walk around or whatever. The reason for the switch? Not only abuse, but USE…suddenly everyone had a reason to get a GAC (guest assistance card) so they could use the FP lane all the time. It was totally unsustainable. Read about the problems when Cars Land opened in CA.

    Anyway, I think Disney has done the right thing, and we all know how I dislike Di$ney. Now, the nutters are taking the blogosphere to claim that Disney “hates” people with disabilities. That’s a big jump from A to B. There’s talk of a protest at DL this weekend. It’s ridiculous.

    And, as my GF says, “Sometimes, I just want to ask these people if they think a loud, hot, smelly, busy theme park is the best vacation for some of these kids.”

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I think “dislike” is too mild of a word to describe your attitude toward Di$ney. :-D

  • frostysnowman

    My daughter got a Nook for her birthday a couple of years ago. We’d had it for about year and two weeks when it stopped working to the point where it was not repairable and of course the warranty had just expired. I called Barnes and Noble and explained the situation, asked if they could help, and they sent us a new one at no charge. I did not ask for a new one, BTW. That was some good customer service.

    Then there was the time I called ADT to remove the security contact points from my doors because we were getting new doors. They said I would be charged a ridiculous amount of money for them to unhook the contact points, and charge us a second time to re-hook them up. Also, there would be a $15 additional fee for fuel, which absolutely made me furious. I complained to the people on the phone to no avail, so I decided to do something new for me and post my story on their Facebook page. I was immediately contacted by someone higher up in customer service, and when he got me on the phone and I explained why I thought their charges were extreme, they agreed to waive some fees for me, including the fuel charge.

    But for every one of these good experiences, I’ve got about three bad ones, mostly from airlines from when I used to travel for business. I think it really depends on the business, who you are talking to, and your attitude as you talk with them.

  • MarkKelling

    I appreciate companies that will bend their rules on occasion or have flexible rules to start with. Unfortunately many are changing to be less flexible because, like the Disney example, people abuse the company to the point they cannot remain successful without change. And many are also focusing on short term profits over long term repeat customers.

    The main issue with air travel is it has become a commodity service in the US. The push to make it more affordable to more people has turned it into nothing more than the city bus service in terms of customer service and satisfaction. Just like with the city bus, airlines are sometimes on time and sometimes get you where you want to be at the time you want to be there. Just like the city bus, airlines are overloaded at peak times of the day and have their buses, I mean planes, break down at times that are inconvenient to you. They don’t care if you get angry with them and swear to never fly with them again because there are hundreds more people waiting for your seat. And just like the city bus, if you pay your fare and don’t get to ride for whatever reason, oh well too bad you don’t get your money back. So just like with any commodity, when you purchase it you get a serviceable product that fits the basic need and nothing more. Unfortunately, not many consumers of air travel want it to be anything more if it means they pay more. I think they would rather have their stories of pain and suffering to share rather than a comfortable experience.


    I think businesses should, as much as possible, evaluate each complaint/inquiry on a case-by-case basis. I also realize that this is impossible and that customer service representatives should be trained to evaluate based on certain criteria. But it is also too bad that we cannot make the customers be honest in their letters or calls to a company. I taught high school for quite a while and learned to question many excuses for late work, absences, etc. Some were strange, but valid. Others were completely out in left field and had very little connection to reality and honesty. (For instance a student needed two weeks off for a religious ceremony and meeting integral to her religion. She presented the proper paperwork without realizing that I attended the same Catholic church that she did and knew quite well that Catholics do not have two week mandatory meetings at a Florida beach in September.)
    I think that some requests stand out and not because of someone’s purported financial situation. Those requests are usually simple and to the point. They state the problem, situation, etc., without embellishment and those are the ones that a business needs to look at more carefully. The more embellishment, to me, the more likely that the customer is likely to be stretching the truth to get what they want.

  • NakinaAce

    What is missing in all this is the role of the Federal government. The airlines hide behind Federal regulations and laws and if they were subjected to the law of the marketplace (no matter how large they are) you would see changes. In most States their are consumer protection laws in place that should apply to airlines but unfortunately they usually don’t.

    A good start would be to adopt a law that subjects the airlines to the laws of any state or jurisdiction they operate in where it comes to disputes with customers. Most State courts would simply invalidate those contracts of adhesion as against public policy and subject the airlines to the remedies available in State courts. You would see a rapid and positive impact on customer service. If any airline repeatedly ignored those laws I can assure you some unemployed lawyer would figure out a way to get class action status and that would end the problem of airlines mistreating customers.

    By doing this I don’t mean to let a bunch of freeloaders or yokels abuse the airlines for their own benefit but that is the reason we have juries. Let a jury decide and see what happens.

  • Alan Gore

    Since we live in a rural area about a hundred miles from the big-city airport, we solve that problem by always driving in the previous day and staying at the airport hotel. We consider it cheap insurance against no-showing. There is a convenient van service in our town that for about the same total cost would pick us up at home, but we prefer our system because it’s safer.

  • emanon256

    If I could, I would vote for “It Depends”. Some companies do, others don’t. I voted yes, because most of the companies I deal with do provide above and beyond customer service. But then again, I try to only deal with local family owned businesses.

    I ordered a diaper wet bag from a small family run company and the fabric around the opening frayed and the support fell out making the bag difficult to use (after the 30 day warranty). I called the company and they apologized and sent me a new one. The same thing happened, and I called again, and they said they found a flaw causing this and are redesigning it. They said they will keep sending us replacements as ours breaks until the new one comes out, and then they will send us a new one. I was shocked! I told them I will deal with it until the new one comes out and they insisted. They said they are also contacting every customer and offering them the same deal.

    I also bought a hand embroidered bib at a farmers market (No warranty). The snap on it stopped working, I called and asked her if I could buy a new snap, she told me to mail it in and she will repair it for free. She repaired it, mailed it back, and sent $10 to cover my postage with a note saying she knows it was more than I spent on postage and to keep it for my trouble.

  • Alan Gore

    Airlines and other major companies (pharma is notorious for this) don’t just “hide behind” federal regulations – they lobby for new regulations that hand them monopoly powers by having their company policies cemented into federal law. That’s how the $300 charge for a misspelled name on a ticket came to be.

  • emanon256

    I got a flat once too, it was snowing and very cold and and the wheel rusted to the lugs, so I couldn’t even pry it off. I was able to get to a gas station, buy a can of fix-o-flat, and it worked well enough that I made it to the airport. I sprayed a bunch of WD40 on the lugs, made my flight, and when I got back the WD40 had worked and I got the tire off. I am so with you on leaving enough time.

    This cracks me up!!! see if the plane can come back and get them

  • emanon256

    I still am shocked that rich people were renting people with disabilities in order to skip the lines. One of the rich people interviewed in it actually stated, “This is how the 1% does Di$ney.” I actually think Di$neys change was a good one, seems very reasonable.

    It still cracks me up that they call their employees Cast Members. Although, its better then when I worked for a large mega corp who refereed to us as Resources.

  • Mark Cuban

    It’s so irritating when a company does bad things and there is no name mentioned. It’s like saying, “Watch out there’s danger, but I’m not going to tell you where.” So pointless and done so often by “consumer advocates”

  • omgstfualready

    Interesting about ADT. I had one of my signs stolen because I did something stupid. My house was almost done being built and I left one inside, so it was stolen. I emailed them asking how I could order another one and they didn’t reply but a few days later in the mail I got a new sign and bunch of window stickers too. I don’t know their policy but I was impressed.
    Though I did lose my key fob and to shut it off is almost the same price to have a new one issued because they said the technician still has to come to the house. Not sure about the truthfulness of that and I do have better uses for $150 (the fob isn’t labeled and I am reasonably sure where I lost it, so the odds of someone finding it and finding my home are slim).

  • omgstfualready

    I don’t see the new policy as unreasonable at all; in fact it is quite gracious to have it. And
    to say I don’t like Disney is an understatement, the idea of that place makes
    me nauseated. I’m not thrilled with the way the wealthy broke the spirit of the
    old policy but people doing the hating on them makes me wonder if they had the
    money would they have done the same? Yesterday two walmart stores in the south
    literally had the grocery shelves cleaned out b/c the welfare debit cards had
    no limit imposed (wouldn’t be declined for any amount) for a two hour window. Other stores didn’t accept the cards while the IT work was being done but these decided to service their customers. Well, when people found out they stole because they couldn’t get caught, some people had 6 or more shopping carts filled. It isn’t being a poor person or a wealthy person; it is about having enough respect for yourself to do the right thing when nobody is looking.

  • omgstfualready

    really? You are shocked? That shocks me. Very little people do when it comes to money will ever shock me.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I actually like the “cast member” term. I’m sure it gets old if you work there, but the idea behind it, that every employee plays a part in the elaborate show they put on, is a very good one.

    On our last trip to Epcot, we were killing some time in the England showcase on a hot day. My son was very liberally using the display sample of one of those spray water bottles that has a fan on it. The cast member running the stand thought it was a hoot. So much so he was playing around with him and had quite a conversation with him. My son thought his English accent was cool, had all sorts of questions, etc. When their little interaction was done, the guy hands us a ticket entitling us to go straight into the Fast Pass line of any attraction we wanted. That totally made our day. That young guy running a tiny kiosk had a hugely positive impact on our entertainment.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I read the articles about the Wal-Mart thieves and it disgusted me. I think everyone involved should lose ALL of their bennies.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I’ve always heard that those signs are stolen pretty frequently. Where I live Lowes sells some signs for a generic, made-up company, but I bet a real ADT sign would be much more effective.

  • bodega3

    The charge for a misspelled name? There isn’t one. There is a fee for changes to a ticketed reservation.

  • bodega3

    If they went over their limit, then it should just deducted from their next allowance until it is paid for.

  • emanon256

    I saw them on eBay, I wonder if they were stolen.

  • emanon256

    F9 charges $25 to fix a misspelled name.

  • emanon256

    I still always expect people to do the right thing. Sadly from this, and your example below, they do not. But I still have hope for humanity.

  • emanon256

    I went to the “Di$ney Institute: Di$ney’s Approach to Business Excellence.” It was actually an amazing class, I learned a lot, and I really like they way Di$ney empowers their cast members. What that cast member did with your son is exactly what they are trained to do, and it really strengthens their brand, builds loyalty, and leaves people with good experiences. Its actually really cool! And, based on your comment, it worked. They don’t model their business on making money, they model it on quality for the customers and the employes, with the believe that the money will follow. And they openly admit that they make a lot of money and charge a lot more than they need to, but they can, because of the quality they provide and image they build. After attending the institute, I really wanted to work there. They know what they are doing, and they spend a lot of time and money figuring out what we want, before we even know we want it. Its truly genius!

  • Raven_Altosk

    Maybe you should add, “Companies also will shut people up.” Remember the woman who was kicked off the cruise because her mentally-challenged husband exposed himself at the pool? Yeah. She didn’t deserve squat, but her insane ramblings all over facebook pretty much made HAL give her a refund to make her go away.
    So, unfortunately…companies do reward bad behavior.

  • Vec14

    I think a smart company realizes that eating or covering a cost now might mean a short-term loss in the present, but the long-term payoff can more than cover it. My example – a couple years ago a friend and I were driving back to Bellingham, WA from Vancouver Canada to catch our flights (crossing the border and flying out was cheaper and easier than dealing with YVR). It’s about an hour from Vancouver to Bellingham and we left a little over 3 hours before our flight, so we had a cushion for a line at the border. That morning there was an incident (murphy’s law) and it took 2 hours to cross – we weren’t going to make our flights – I called the Alaska, explained the situation and they re-booked our flights, charging a reasonable $25 to do it (I was expecting a much higher fee). As a result, I fly Alaska when I can, and I’ve told more than a few people about what happened and how great their customer service was.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    My wife has attended Disney Institute classes and was also impressed. They very much take the long-term view when it comes to customers. They assign a number (at one time a few years back it was something like $250,000) that each visitor is worth over their lifetime, which includes repeat visits, taking the kids and the grandkids, etc. That puts their focus on keeping people coming back time and time again.

    We have a Six Flags park near us and while it has improved a bit over the years, it’s still almost comical how that park is operated compared to a Disney park. They struggle to keep it clean, employees are in short supply and don’t want to be there, etc. You can look around and basically do a tally in your head of places they cut back to increase the profit margin. Their entry cost is probably 50% of what a Disney park is but they only provide probably 25% of the experience.

  • emanon256

    If only the airlines were run like Disney, they would provide a much nicer experience.

  • bodega3

    AS has always been very customer friendly. They are a good airline to work with on my end.

  • bodega3

    You are correct, they do have it and it is based on fare basis booked for the pricing.

  • MarkKelling

    As long as they don’t make you sing “It’s a small World” I’m all for it!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Just snorted the Tostitos I was munching on . . . too funny!

  • omgstfualready

    I would think a fake one is way more inviting than no sign. It announces you don’t have an alarm whereas no sign is 50/50 chance!

  • omgstfualready

    I hate walmart more than anything I can think of at the moment but these two stores tried to help their customers and got screwed ironically by their customers. It is going to be very very easy to find these people and prosecute them for theft. I don’t know how anyone who would do that can sleep at night.

  • omgstfualready

    meh – I work in operational auditing (risk/control mitigation – not numbers),I am not pessimistic, just realistic. People at all economic levels and educational backgrounds think they are special and entitled. They are not. I like to refer to the worst ones as ‘snowflakes’ behind their back (usually) since they are so sure they are unique; just like every other snowflake.

  • Raven_Altosk

    FF…they were stupid to “rent” people. All you had to do was go into Guest Services and tell them that you had a condition/disability that required a “quieter, less busy place to wait.”

  • Nathan Witt

    It’d be great if companies acted with integrity and gave consumers the benefit of the doubt, but that would require that consumers behave in the same way in order to be sustainable. At one point in my distant past, I worked at a call center for a major wireless carrier, and each time a policy was implemented allowing us to waive fees or issue replacement devices at no cost, a thread would spring up on some forum somewhere outlining how to take advantage of it and get a free bill credit or phone, even if there was nothing wrong with your phone or service.
    That said, when businesses DO craft policies that are irrational, hostile, and designed to extract every last cent from their customers, it tends to create an adversarial relationship with the customers, who then do everything they can to avoid the fees, and everybody hates everybody.
    It seems like the solution is to create a policy that’s reasonable for everyone, and then adhere to it whether it hurts you or helps you.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    True story: while working with groups of kids on field trips from the same grade level, same school district, we encountered 3, count them, 3, “Uniques” in the same week, although I’m pretty sure none of the 3 had their name spelled exactly the same way. :)

  • Vec14

    I think you hit the nail on the head with bringing up being reasonable – and it’s important from both a company and a consumer standpoint. As a consumer, if I feel I’ve been wronged by a company, as much as I want to rant, coming up with a reasonable solution (as much as I hate to admit it) will get me to a more satisfactory position with a company sooner. For example, I pay for expedited shipping for a package and it still arrived late – refunding the shipping is a reasonable request. The other factor involved I think is that travel, especially flying has become pretty adversarial – a passenger versus the uncaring airline – and sometimes a simple, sincere “I’m sorry, let me see what I can do,” or a “I understand you must be frustrated right now,” can calm people down and diffuse a situation – emphasis on if it sounds sincere. That said, I don’t envy many people in customer service, although I’ve met a few with a real knack for it.

  • bodega3

    Yes, Walmart was taken advantage of by people they were trying to help. It should be easy for the government to figure this one out!

  • omgstfualready

    oh sure, lol, the government has a good grip on going after fraud and waste and abuse (their own and the public’s). That’s a good laugh, I needed it. ;-)

  • California_Dave

    Having flexible rules for some companies is easy and others, such as airlines are much more difficult. For instance, Zappo’s has a liberal return policy – no questions asked and their customers love and are loyal to them because of their policy. I booked a three leg flight from SLC to Berlin for my dad and I 10 months in advance. The airline revised their schedule which left us a 45 min layover in Chicago before the last transatlantic flight to Brussels. I didn’t feel comfortable with this change, so I called them to see if they could put us on the earlier flight out of SLC so we wouldn’t have the short layover that their schedule change caused. The agent said they would be happy to do that for a change fee of $300 per ticket! I was livid and ask for a supervisor that told me the same thing and to take it or leave it. I fumed for days, but decided to pay the fee for peace of mind alone. I called them back and politely asked for a change to the earlier flight because of the schedule change and the new agent pleasantly apologized and made the change at no charge within seconds and sent me a new confirmation via email. It is very difficult to empower employees to make sensible bending of rules consistently when the rule bending is subjective based on the person you happen to get on the line. Not sure how you manage that well.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The difficulty with making airlines generally accountable to state laws is practical. A plane leaves Los Angeles, lands in Dallas, then ends up in Raleigh Durham. Which laws should apply? California, Texas, or North Carolina. For good or bad, air traffic has to be primarily regulated by the federal government.

    There are any number of potential solutions, but ultimately you’d have the situation where the laws of 50 different states apply. Chaos would ensue.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    On that’s known as call back until you get the answer that you want :)

  • NakinaAce

    This is really not that difficult since we are essentially dealing with everything that results from the purchase of a ticket. Where the ticket is purchased should be the controlling fact with respect to which State has jurisdiction. You could also have the residence of the purchaser as the controlling fact. Venue could be in Federal court. Really this is not an insurmountable problem.
    I know you will say but they will just sell the ticket in the State that has the most favorable laws for the airline. That one is trickier but again not insurmountable as State of residence could also claim jurisdiction and as long as the airline operates in that State you could force them to defend themselves there.
    My suggestion has nothing to do with air traffic by the way. I agree that this must be done at a national or international level.

  • omgstfualready

    that is a training issue I think……all notifications I’ve gotten about a change in flight times allow for a fee-free change by the consumer…..your second experience should have been your first since the first person thought you were asking for a change b/c of the 45 minutes, not b/’c your flight times were changed on you by the airline. that’s too bad but i’m glad you didn’t pay anything in the end.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Making the residence of the passenger (presumably the plaintiff) the criteria for jurisdiction (not venue) would be a massive departure from US law. Jurisdiction is generally based upon either the defendant’s location, where the contract was entered, where the contract was supposed to be performed and wasn’t.

    But beyond the legal philosophy, the real problem is that gate agents cannot reasonably be asked to determine which law controls in any given situation, especially during the craziness of irregular ops, say a mechanical delay requiring an overnight delay. Imagine the chaos. The GA, “Mr. Passenger A, we’ll be issuing you a hotel and food voucher. Mr. Passenger B, I’m sorry, your state doesn’t require that we issue you a voucher. So sorry to be you.”

    But, you do have a good point, which makes sense if flushed out a bit more formally. Forget letting each state’s law control, but rather specifically grant the state courts the authority to enforce a uniform federal law, as well as allow normal jurisdictional rules to apply.

    The airlines would be subject to a uniform law, which just seems fair to me, but they wouldn’t be able to dodge litigation by demanding it be held in the federal courts of their respective home states.

  • NakinaAce

    I am sure you are right about the approach. It has been a long time for me since law school. I just don’t like federal laws about everything and I was thinking if the airline’s would act reasonably they could still treat everyone the same and provide good customer services. Perhaps a declaration by the airline in simple terms of what their responsibilities are in a given situation. Most people are not (of course some minority are) trying to screw the airlines but they do wanted to be treated fairly. Maybe approach similar to this would get them to stop this no change crap even if it meant charging a bit more for a ticket. If the environment for all the airlines is similar they act similarly.

  • Stereoknob

    A refrigerator that cost $5000 SHOULD last longer than 5 years… Also, what about if the consumer called the company 3 times, they missed the appointment 3 times, the 4th time they send a repairman who has to order a part that is 3 weeks backordered, they scratch the wall around the fridge in the process, and it takes 6 weeks to have everything corrected.

    What then?

  • Stereoknob

    When you post columns like that (syndicated), do you see different reactions based on where they’re posted? It’d be interesting to see if readers on this site are more level headed or rational, maybe due to having an actual interest and choosing to come here vs. coming across your column while reading other travel/consumer related stories on other sites.

  • Stereoknob

    Smart family! Isn’t it funny how things generally work out when you use a bit of rational thought and proper planning?

  • MCC Code

    all very nice, but consumer laws give consumer clear advantages in regards of their rights. So “breaking” or bending rules even for the sake of fairness will not avoid the potential penalties