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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  • pdl40

    At one time Yeager was an American
    hero, once he started selling his autograph on his website, he became
    another celebrity.

    Just go to his website and see what he
    charges for a signature, that should tell you what is
    important to him.

    You want a real American hero, check
    out Joe Kittinger, maybe he also get paid to sign his signature. But
    at least its not on his webpage.

  • EirBryn

    I’m a pretty loyal – okay VERY loyal – Alaska Air customer and even I think they messed up on this one. As other folks have noted it doesn’t matter who this was the fact is it shouldn’t have happened at all. Period. End of Story. And the response? Really pitiful. I vote take it up the chain.

  • Joe Farrell

    If they are entitled to cash compensation they should get every dime of it. end of story.

    If they accepted funny money and it did not work as originally oversold, people should know that these days . . .

    Last night Southwest in Sacramento had a several huge problems – mechanical delays, almost every flight over sold. . . etc etc etc. They had a flight to San Diego oversold by 11 people who had checked in. They offered people $300 in funny money plus the cost of their ticket, in funny money, to fly to Orange County instead of San Diego. But they offered them nothing to get them to San Diego. If they offered people a voucher for a van ride anywhere in San Diego or Orange County plus a free ticket, I bet they would have gotten takers – if airlines actually thought about addressing the actual inconvenience to travelers from their own irregular operations rather than simply using funny money as a panacea, people would be more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. . . .

    In fact, last night Southwest had a long mechanical delay [3 hours] on a flight to Burbank – did they tell people timely what was going on? No – 15 min AFTER the scheduled departure they said: “aircraft on its way from Vegas.” Patently false since the plane had not left Vegas and Southwest’s own website showed the LAS-SMF flight as not leaving for another 90 min.

    Reason? There was a Skywest flight leaving in 45 min from down the concourse . . . don’t want to loose all those high yield, fare flexible business select passengers.

  • Joe Farrell

    I could have flown home in my slow poke from Sacramento yesterday in about 1/3 the time it took me to fly Southwest . . . and it would have cost less too. Flying is not as expensive as many think it is – I don’t own a jet.

  • y_p_w

    About 1400 nautical miles.

    I looked up an Alaska Air flight from Seattle to Anchorage, and advance fare is anywhere from $220 to $300. I’m guessing aviation gasoline (and airport fees) are going to cost a lot more than that, in addition to the fare already being a sunk cost.

    I’m also sure he’d rather be doing this in less than 3 hours compared to several hours including refueling stops.

  • Guest

    You missed the facts: General Yeager was NOT late checking in. And it’s not about celebrity. General Yeager is one of several (but fewer and fewer still alive) who risked his life protecting our Constitution, our country, and several other countries (World War II). And it is sad that you say most wouldn’t know or care. It’s shameful that people don’t honor those who have risked their neck to protect the rest of us. Australia could have been toast in WWII without the Allies.

  • Jenna

    Again, missing the facts

  • Jenna

    As someone else said: General Yeager isn’t a “celebrity”. He is an American war hero who repeatedly risked his life to protect the rest of us and our way of life, our freedoms. And we should all be grateful. Check him out: http://www.chuckyeager.com

  • Jenna

    Cam, it’s interesting how people interpret writing. My take-away was Alaska Airlines, if they treat an American hero (not a “celebrity”) this way, then they clearly have no respect for veterans and if no respect for those who risked their lives to protect your right to free speech among other freedoms, then they would not have any respect for anyone.
    Even more: if they don’t even care about possible bad p.r., as in their financial pocketbook, then there is no hope for Alaska Airlines

  • JenniferFinger

    I’d take it up the chain…not because of who Chuck Yeager is, but because I’d do the same for any other passenger treated this way.

  • omgstfualready

    I know history too. He shouldn’t be star struck. It is inappropriate, unprofessional, and troubling. I am disappointed I had to name drop to get an advocate’s attention.

  • sunshipballoons

    This all seems pretty absurd, but I don’t see why it matters that it happened to Chuck Yeager.

  • Jenna

    Dumb statement. You miss the point. You probably have never served your country or risked your neck for anyone else.

  • Guest

    Sounds like you didn’t get what you wanted from him or his wife.

  • $5453463

    Unlike 99.9% of the people who are commenting here I have ongoing contact with them both and they are not nice people. Don’t take my word for it. Ask around but ask people who actually know them.

  • TonyA_says

    What does this have to do with the article?

    What does nice people mean? Someone who always gives in to your wishes and demands?

  • $5453463

    Absolutely nothing, just like Chuck Yeager’s identity has nothing to do with being outraged at getting bumped off an airline flight.

    He is an american hero, no argument. He is also an extremely unpleasant person. Just an observation. Again – feel free not to take my word for it. Ask around. Better yet, google it.

    Since you (incorrectly) assume I am basing this opinion on not getting something I want, it leads me to wonder what informs the opinions of all the internet people who’ve never met either of them and defend them so passionately. Maybe you can address that one while you’re at it.

  • Jenna

    I think we should all be “star struck” and grateful for all those who have risked their lives so you can have the freedom of speech to say ungrateful things. Gen Yeager, too, is grateful to the men and women in the Air Force. He often thanks them publicly and privately. And he has quietly given up his seat to several but you won’t hear that from him – just the people who have seen it

  • omgstfualready

    As I said. I know my history quite well. Chris is simply being inappropriate and unprofessional.

  • Jenna

    How do you have ongoing contact? And where? We don’t believe you.

  • omgstfualready

    You may think as you wish. We shall not agree whether Chris’ reaction was appropriate.

  • Guest

    I don’t care. Who’s “we?”

  • Guest

    Totally disagree. He is being very professional and appreciating our veterans

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    You know, I was taken aback by your original comment, so I did a little Google-Fu to see if your statement was echoed anywhere else out there. I guess there are a number of places where one can find much criticism of Chuck Yeager and his wife, Victoria. I saw one article that mentioned that she had/has a history of making claims against airlines. Many articles were not complimentary to the 2nd Mrs. Yeager – not blogs, articles in the LA Times and the like. Aviation insider forums don’t like Gen. Yeager at all. I guess there may be some truth to your statement. Very sad.

  • bodega3

    Perhaps one of the gate agents who participate here could help explain something. According to Ms. Yeager, her husband wasn’t booked from SMF to SEA to ANC. His ticket was only for SEA to ANC. That would mean the two of them were on separate PNR’s. If she checked in at SMF, she must have been checked all the way through to ANC, so she would have had her boarding pass. Or maybe she had two separate tickets, one from SMF to SEA and the other SEA to ANC? Something just isn’t adding up for me here. I could get why he could have been bumped, but not her. Something Chris never mentions but is important to mention, is that if you are a member of a carrier’s frequent flyer program, you will have more priority in an overbooked situation than a nonmember.

  • $5453463

    I bet I can guess what two search terms you used. :) I agree, it’s unfortunate.

  • omgstfualready

    And you may disagree ‘totally’. We shall not agree.

  • Guest

    You still make empty accusations polarbob – where and when do you see them so often?

  • Guest

    Polarbob – still haven’t answered the question of where and when you claim you see them

  • Guest

    Don’t you mean “us” Jenna C?

  • Bill___A

    Not quite certain what happened here. Were they just delayed a couple of hours? If so, what’s the big deal? Most of the time when I fly, things go pretty well. When there have been delays or problems, I have just accepted them. They put me on another flight. It works out quite well. I don’t know why people seem to think they want to punish the airline every time something happens. Be reasonable with them and expect them to be reasonable with you. If they are not that way, go to another airline.