An airline seat dispute quickly spirals out of control

Economy class airline seats are small and getting smaller — of that there is no doubt. But if you do have doubts, consider what happened to Deana Worth on a recent American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Miami.

Worth purchased her economy class seat, believing she’d have an adequate amount of legroom, as she has in the past. But times change. She found herself on a Boeing 777 with about 31 inches of seat “pitch” — a rough measure of leg room.
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How can JetBlue be so wrong — and so right?

What happens when there’s a fundamental disconnect between a customer and a company? You end up with a case like Maria Mendoza’s, where everyone is right — and everyone is also wrong.

Mendoza and her family recently flew from Newark to Orlando so her husband could compete in a marathon. It was a terrific trip until the end, when they arrived at the airport for their return flight.

“We reached the check-in desk at around 6:45 a.m. and a representative informed us that Flight 28 was canceled,” she says. “We were surprised because we never received any emails or texts. He said that all he could do for us was to send us to JFK airport in NY or to Boston and then wait there from around 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. for a connecting flight to Newark. Or we could fly the next day. ”

This column is called Should I Take The Case, and it takes a completely unvetted consumer question and asks you if I ought to get involved. As a reminder, I haven’t asked JetBlue about this one yet, but I will if you tell me to do so.

Mendoza’s problem isn’t really about the delayed flights. It’s about how JetBlue treated her.

None of the solutions JetBlue offered worked. Their car was parked at Newark Airport. Also, their daughter has a chronic ear problem and couldn’t be on two flights in a day. What’s more, her husband had a 1:30 p.m. appointment in court. They had to get to Newark that day.

That didn’t go over well with the JetBlue staff, apparently.

“The representative became noticeably irritated and in a very rude, loud, and demanding tone he told my husband he needed to decide which of his excuses he wanted him to believe,” she says, “my daughter taking two flights or his court case.”

To which her husband, Edward, replied: “Both.”

That really set him off.

He walked away saying he had enough with us and he was getting a supervisor.

The supervisor never acknowledged us, looked at us, or even identified himself to us. He started typing away and listened to the representative’s story. My husband attempted to speak to the supervisor but as soon as my husband started to speak, the supervisor said he was being disrespectful for interrupting his conversation with the representative and even rolled his eyes at us.

We were shocked!

The supervisor also said that he had enough of us, and that we were not going anywhere because he was canceling our reservation, as he slammed his hand against the keyboard. He then walked away from us.

My children were terrified and kept asking why were the guys treating us so mean, and did not want to get on the plane. At this point, all the representatives had accomplished was to frighten my children who are only 7 and 8 years old, and the other customers around us who came up to us to ask us what was going on with those two.

Finally, another supervisor appeared. He offered to pay for Mendoza’s ground transportation from JFK to Newark. That worked, and the family was on their way.

But the Mendozas felt traumatized by the JetBlue employees. They decided to send a complaint letter to the airline, and in it they named names (I’ve redacted them in this post, since I haven’t yet asked JetBlue for its side of the story).

Here’s how JetBlue responded:

We take all our customer complaints seriously. We have sent your letter to our Orlando Leadership for review. They will remind our crewmembers of the importance of providing kind, helpful service to our customers, especially families with special needs. Any necessary training or disciplinary action will be addressed.

Airlines don’t guarantee their schedules, and you should realize this when planning your trip. There are many things that can and often do make it impossible for flights to arrive on time.

Some of these problems, like bad weather, air traffic delays, and mechanical repairs, are hard to predict and beyond the airlines’ control.

Although we strive for the highest level of customer service, that does not always constitute a refund, compensation, or fare adjustment. In fairness to all of our customers, we must respectfully deny your request for additional compensation due to the delay in your flight.

Nothing highlights the Great Divide between companies and their customers like this JetBlue exchange. Mendoza expected to be transported from Orlando to Newark without a hassle — a completely reasonable expectation on the face of it. JetBlue, and all of you reading this who understand anything about the airline business, will say it’s not reasonable to expect a carrier to keep its schedule.

Now, normally, an airline does a fairly good job of explaining that; you know its schedules are just a suggestion. Then along comes a work stoppage, a broken windshield wiper or, God forbid, a force majeure, and all bets are off. But sometimes it doesn’t, and when that happens, this happens.

Mendoza was wrong to expect JetBlue to guarantee her family would get to Newark on schedule. But she is also right. JetBlue was wrong to expect Mendoza to have read all the fine print associated with its tickets. But it is also right.

And that pretty much describes the ongoing issues not just between airline passengers and airlines, but also between customers and corporations.

Both are right. Both are wrong.

So now what? Should I go after JetBlue for compensation or assurances that it disciplined these gate agents in Orlando? Or should I let this one slide and pretend the divide doesn’t exist?

Should I take Maria Mendoza's case?

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It’s great to have Bank of America in my corner — seriously


Bank of America gets more than its fair share of complaints. But Ann Rieke just had a terrific experience with her B of A credit card, and wanted me to know about it.

Hers is a familiar story. She’d paid $1 to get her “free” credit score through a fly-by-night company online. “When we called, a representative said it was ‘plain as day’ I was signing up for a monthly report.”

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I couldn’t get a customs stamp — is a refund out of the question?

A stamp for you. / Photo by Sarah Parrott – Flickr Creative Commons

Note: You’ve probably noticed two things about today’s post. 1) It wasn’t available this morning; and 2) We’re back to Disqus 2012. The two are not related. We had server problems this morning. Disqus removed the ability to view comments on mobile from the “old” version, so we were forced to upgrade. (I am very unhappy with Disqus, but feel I have no choice.)

What’s an immigration stamp worth? If you said $61.55, you must know Nancy Bestor. She’s been fighting with her credit card over a tax refund after a recent trip to Italy, and she wants me to help.
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The smarter consumer: How to turn a “no” into a “yes”

You killed the bird,” the pet-store owner barked, pointing an accusatory finger at me.

“That’s not what the necropsy said,” I replied.

“Yes you did!”

“No I didn’t.”

Around and around we went in circles. But the pet store had my $900 and no intention of returning it. And my beloved African gray parrot named Scarlett, who I had adopted just a few days before, was gone.
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Enterprise pulls cars from Orbitz after dispute

Enterprise Holdings, which owns and operates the largest fleet of rental cars in the world under the Alamo Rent A Car, National Car Rental, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car brands, will announce tomorrow that it is ending its relationship with Orbitz.com and its sister site CheapTickets.com on April 1 after “months of difficult discussions.” I asked Pam Nicholson, the president and chief operating officer of Enterprise Holdings, to explain the decision and what it means to travelers.

Why are you removing your inventory from Orbitz?

With Alamo and National on the Orbitz site for the last 10 years, we thought it only made sense to work with them to add our flagship brand, Enterprise, as well. However, after several months of good-faith negotiations with Orbitz, we are discontinuing our efforts.
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Why the Cablevision vs. Fox dispute is good for customers

Maybe you’ve been following the cockfight between Cablevision and Fox. Maybe you’re one of the millions of customers affected by the outage as the two companies battle over rates.

Just yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission stepped into the fray, urging the companies to reach an agreement.

“I am deeply troubled that Cablevision and Fox are spending more time attacking each other through ads and lobbyists than sitting down at the negotiating table,” said Julius Genachowski, the FCC commissioner. “The time for petty gamesmanship is over.”

The FCC has issued a consumer alert and called on both companies to reach a deal, reminding them that they “share responsibility for consumer disruption, and that they shouldn’t punish consumers because of their unwillingness to reach a deal.”

But I think Cablevision and Fox are doing us a favor, actually.

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Luxury inn offers no out after guest’s father-in-law dies

The Crowne Pointe Historic Inn is described as a “classic 140 year old Cape Cod Sea Captain’s estate” in Provincetown, Mass., and Carolyn Boschi was looking forward to her stay at the upscale resort. Then her father-in-law died unexpectedly, and she asked the hotel’s owners if they could apply her deposit toward a future stay.

They turned her down.

Her story is a cautionary tale for anyone planning a vacation, particularly a special getaway that includes a stay at a small inn or bed and breakfast. Yes, travel insurance is a good idea, of course. But when small hotels warn that their rooms are nonrefundable, they mean it. And that’s something even the ombudsman can’t fix.
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5 tips for an effortless resolution of any customer service problem

One of the most common misconceptions about resolving a service problem is that it’s hard work. It doesn’t have to be.

A recent survey from search specialist Aurix found that 70 percent of complaints made to call centers are not being heard, and more than 96 percent of consumers said they would consider switching to a competitor as a result.

That’s a lot of customers working hard, for nothing.

Here are a few strategies for reducing — or even eliminating — the amount of work that goes into a grievance.
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“Your advice worked!”

When Barbara Baksa changed her United Airlines tickets, she assumed the upgrade to Economy Plus would transfer to the next flight. Wrong.

“I went round and round with the reservation agent, his supervisor, another customer service representative I was transferred to, and finally that representative’s supervisor,” she says. “I know, I know — I’ve read your column enough to know better than to bother with a phone call but I was really hoping to resolve the matter quickly.”

The representatives she spoke with were sympathetic, but unable to help. They said her only option was to request a refund of the original upgrade fee through United’s site. Her request was denied.

So now what?
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