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

Chris Parypa Photography /
Chris Parypa Photography /
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.


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 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

[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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  • LadyLightTravel

    Alaska doesn’t fly to Charleston WV or it would truly be unforgiveable.

  • Anthrochick

    This is bad customer service no matter who you are. They should be taking care of him because he is a customer and his issue was handled inappropriately not because of who he is. I find it disappointing that this is being handled as a “do you know who he is?” Scenario rather than on the merits of the case. If this happened to Bob down the street, he would deserve a different compensation because he isn’t Chuck Yeager? Not true.
    At least it isn’t Chuck Yeager who is playing the Chuck Yeager card. :/


    Alaska Airlines fell down on this one. It is very easy to check and see where his travel was to originate. Since his ticket showed his trip started in Seattle and not Sacramento then Alaska is wrong and should have given the cash compensation. This is bad customer service across the board. And it does not matter than the passengers were Chuck and Victoria Yeager. They are not entitled to better customer service because of who they are. Maybe if the people handling the flight recognized the name this would not have happened, but once it did they should have received better customer service—like all passengers should. I am surprised, Chris, that you who advocates better treatment for those of us flying in peasant class, are seeming to say that the Yeagers deserved better treatment because of who they are.

  • Christopher Elliott

    I’m not saying that.

  • rn74

    I think what he’s saying is that he’s surprised they treated a man like Chuck Yeager like that. Most airlines treat VIPs like royalty. If they’d treat General Yeager like that, what chance to we have?

  • Anthrochick

    My take away from the article was that this shouldn’t have happened to Chuck Yeager not that this shouldn’t have happened to ANY customer. You/your staff fear they dont know who he is. Why does that matter? He either has a case or he doesn’t. The article comes across as starstruck not necessarily merit based though the complaint has more than enough behind it with out it happening to OMG Chuck Yeager.
    (Corrected statement to read you fear the airline doesn’t know who he is instead of stating you called them asking do they know who he is. My point remains the same.)

  • Anthrochick

    And if that were said in the article, I would agree with you. That may be the point that the article is trying to be made, but it is not stated. What is stated multiple times is “do you know who he is?”
    If your above statement was mentioned even once, I would interpret this article differently. Otherwise, the most generous takeaway that I have is starstruck.

  • John Baker

    Taking the who out of this… Its another case of the airlines not following the law and not knowing how to respond when someone else does and calls them on it. Looks like its time for the DOT to get involved so Alaskan can pay the compensation and the fine….

    On another note, have you got the CEO’s address so I can send him a copy of “The Right Stuff” and a history book. It’s not like Gen. Yeager didn’t do something significant in world history or anything…. and they say history classes aren’t important…

  • frostysnowman

    That was my thought as well.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Terrible customer service, no matter who the customer is! Alaska should be ashamed of itself.
    I voted take this up the chain…

    Keep us posted on what happens.

  • Alan Gore

    The important point here is that Yeager himself was not pulling DYKWIA. Where he can use his reputation and position to advantage is in getting his complaint heard up the chain. This is that one rare case where a phone call to the CEO might be the most effective complaint.

  • William_Leeper

    You are correct, Gen. Yeager made it a point not to pull the “do you know who I am” card at all. Unfortunately, even when we tried that tactic, it didn’t show results.

  • sirwired

    Well, assuming all the facts are straight (namely arriving 1 hr before the flight), this is a pretty obvious violation of the denied boarding compensation rules, and the DOT gets very testy when airlines screw those up.

  • William_Leeper

    We didn’t call the airline. We actually called the Yeagers to verify that they were who they were claiming to be.

  • Cathy_Disqus

    The article says “The Yeagers’ polite, written complaints … to the Department of Transportation, got them nowhere.” so apparently the government chose not to enforce the law in this case.

    I don’t know … maybe a private citizen can sue Alaska Airlines in small claims court?

  • Cathy_Disqus

    The article says they complained to the DOT and that did not help.

  • Cam

    It really doesn’t matter who Chuck Yeager is. AS should value and respect all passengers/customers equally.

  • Cam

    You really are. Otherwise you wouldn’t be swooning.

  • emanon256

    I voted to take it up the chain, and not because its Chuck Yeager, but this is a case that needs more help. I always thought Alaska Airlines was supposed to have some of the best customer service. BTW, Chuck Yeager has always been one of my heroes!

  • emanon256

    I think Chris would use the same amount effort, and treat the case exactly the same for anyone. He is just a little starstruck and proud of a great American hero, and is putting that into his writing. No harm in that.

  • emanon256

    Good point. I was at LAX yesterday watching a flight to Shanghai prepare to board. They started paging “Chairman something or other” I don’t recall the name. They announced that he should come to the gate to board first before they begin boarding other passengers. And this was not US Air, so it’s not one of their “Chairman” elites. I was quite curious who he was. I have seen the same thing in IAD a few times where they page government officials to pre-board.

  • $16635417

    Did they ask if Alaska have an extra plane sitting around? Maybe he could have borrowed it and flown himself! :)

    Seriously, I voted to take it up the chain. Continue using his stardom to illustrate the problems that us regular folks encounter as well. As others have said, it’s not HIM pulling the card. All he’s asking for is what anyone is entitled to.

  • DonTheGeek

    It shouldn’t happen to any passenger.

    As a side note: I would be swooning as well. Chuck Yeager is the man I wanted to be when I was in High School. General Yeager is the man I wanted to be when I was a young Airman.

  • Cam

    So we agree on point one.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Which is the part I don’t understand. Seemed pretty clear cut. Did the DOT just blindly take Alaska’s word for it, or is there some detail missing from the story that caused Alaska to be allowed to do this?

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I’m chuckling and asking myself: Why doesn’t Chuck just fly himself there?

  • Joe_D_Messina

    But they didn’t get testy in this case. Contacting the DOT did nothing. It’s not clear from the article if the DOT failed to respond at all or if they took the airline’s side, but they were of no help.

  • Tygar

    Even though between my wife & myself we had 1/2 mil miles on AK we have only flown them once or twice in the past 10 or 12 yrs due to their poor service, hi prices, uncomfortable seats & lack of destinations. I will tell you this is not unusual behavior for them, notwithstanding it’s Chuck Yeager. I haven’t been able to find a flight on AK that I couldn’t beat on other airlines, usually by a bunch. It’s impossible to get a “saver” mileage fare or saver $ fares.
    As far as not knowing who Gen Yeager is; what do you expect from the current NEA/Opukeama educational system.

  • gracekelley

    Chuck Yeager deserves to have had them charter a plane to get him and his wife to their destination.
    All customers deserve the same treatment is a true statement but, come on guys it’s General Yeager here. He did so much not only for this country but also for aviation in general. Alaska should be ashamed for not only what happened but that they are so busy, apparently, they haven’t figured out who they’ve shafted.
    How embarrassing!

  • TonyA_says

    I had the same weird reaction when I first read this. I thought this was a celeb case. But as the fog dissipated, this case really shows how dysfunctional the BUMP passenger protection rules in the country is. So this case is NOT about an American Hero, it is about how we should really be fixing our air travel system.

  • LadyLightTravel

    I think the point is that most pilots would be fighting to have Gen Yeager to fly as their passenger. So it’s not so much “do you know who he is?” so much as “do you know what amazing opportunity you’ve missed?”

  • Carchar

    What’s the difference who you are? Everyone should get good customer service.

  • Trudi

    It really doesn’t matter whose name was on the original tickets. Alaska Airlines dropped the customer service ball. Their lack of communications with their own agents is clear, using the telephone rather than the Internet indicates they have a different department handling this kind of customer problem. Therefore, the original complaint was passed like a perverbial buck to someone who was totally unaware that the people were bounced for an irrelevant reason. The passenger was NOT late, and the compensation offered was less than offered other people who were bumped for overbooking. I believe Alaska Airlines should offer the same compensation they offer when they ask people to give up their tickets for overbooking. I hope that is how this resolves.

  • Trudi

    Please don ‘t pursue this in Congress – those people would jump on this opportunity. Next thing we know, the whole country would be up in arms, and Congress would be sneaking more important issues by us faster than you could break the sound barrier!

  • Nancy Marine

    In talking to Mrs. Yeager, it seems the CSRs trying to help them didn’t even know the name was of any significance at all. No, this shouldn’t be handled as a “Do you know who I am?” thing, and it’s not been handled that way. It’s just disappointing that Chuck Yeager isn’t recognized anymore.

    The Right Stuff should be required viewing for every high school student.

    And, no, they didn’t pull the DYKWIA card at all. He flies coach just like everyone else does.

  • John Baker

    The smart alec in me almost sent the CEO, President & VP of Customer Service a copy of it this morning with a note pointing back to Chris’s blog…

  • Nancy Marine

    I almost did that, too. But cooler heads prevailed.

  • omgstfualready

    Never figured Chris for a star f’er. SUPER disappointing.

  • omgstfualready

    There is a lot of harm in that.

  • omgstfualready

    Uh, yea, you are. How else would any reasonable person read “I know what you’re thinking. They did this to Chuck Yeager? Really?”

  • Mark Cuban

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

    Your fan-lust for Chuck is what’s troubling…. His money spends just like everyone else’s. It’s worse somehow because he’s a celebrity? Come on.

  • Bruce Linton

    We stopped using Alaska when they over booked both of my wife’s flights into and 2 months later out of SEATAC. It was pretty obvious to us that this was something they did on a regular basis.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    so the original thing was, he was late checking in (or last) & they put him on the next flight. All this silly nonscience of compensation.

    Who cares who he was. Most Australians wouldn’t know or care. Celebrity lasts about 5 seconds.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    if it was someone really important, like Australia’s greatest golfer, Greg Norman … but he doesn’t fly commercial.

  • y_p_w

    The movie version of The Right Stuff took a lot of liberties regarding Chuck Yeager. The one that was the most off was him walking into a hangar and deciding on the spot that he wanted to take out their NF-104 and see if he could break the altitude record with the tower apparently wondering if there was any authorization (“It’s Yeager”). That flight (as portrayed in the book by Tom Wolfe) was extremely planned. And some random passerby on the highway saw him landing and came to aid him. He found Yeager with a bloodied head after he’d parachuted in and tried taking off his helmet, and that guy’s first response was “You look awful”.

    I’ve seen him in person once, at Edwards AFB on the 50th anniversary of his flight that broke the sound barrier. He was surrounded by autograph seekers.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    rule #1 don’t check in late or last for any flight

    rule #2 don’t act like a wanker – don’t you know who I am – far too many wankers in the world already

  • Michael Roy

    When was the original date of the incident?

  • y_p_w

    He’s 91. He may still have an active license, but at that age I’m not sure he really wants to fly from Seattle to Anchorage. I’m also guessing the cost of a private flight is rather expensive and probably slower unless it’s something like a corporate jet.

  • gracekelley

    Well he’s not a celebrity he’s an war hero and a former test pilot for the usair force that did a lot for this country as well as aviation in general. I wouldn’t call it fan lust he’s just pointing out that he’s an american hero because, well, he is.

  • Estaven57

    Thanks to the TSA and their incompetence all the airlines have a built in excuse for delivering bad service and they take full advantage of it.

  • 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:

  • 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.