Can this trip be saved? Flight attendant spills boiling water on my hand

Tea time didn’t go as planned for Star Rivera.

On a recent Virgin America flight, an attendant accidentally spilled hot water on her hand, she says. Accidents like this happen all the time — in fact, I’m surprised they don’t happen more often, with all the turbulence planes encounter — but she needs to know what to do next.

I’ll get to the specifics of her case in a moment. But first, a few words about mishaps that occur when you travel by air. There’s no easy way to know where to turn when something goes wrong, and it all depends on what phase of your trip you’re in. If you’re at a screening area, and you slip and fall, it could be the TSA’s jurisdiction. At the gate? That’s the airport. On the plane? Start with the airline.

Every airline has a special department for claims. In Virgin America’s case, it’s referred to as “guest care.” Details are in its contract of carriage (PDF).
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From the front lines of the carry-on crisis: “I have been experiencing severe pain and dizziness for days”

Next time you fly, look up. Before you open that overhead bin, think about Shari Altarache and the injuries she says she sustained on a recent flight.

Luggage falling out of overhead bins isn’t a new problem. Back in 2000, when I wrote this story, an average of 12 people a day were getting hurt from bags that dropped on them.

With the major domestic airlines now charging for the first checked bag — and some even adding fees for carry-on luggage — is it any wonder more people are trying to cram everything into the overhead space?

Or that more people are getting hurt?

The question is: How do you fix this carry-on crisis? I’ll get to the solution in just a minute. But first, let’s hear from Altarache, who was flying from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Phoenix last week on US Airways.
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Where are my airline vouchers?

Question: I need your help getting a voucher that US Airways promised us, but has yet to be delivered. While my wife and I were on a Mediterranean cruise last year, my wife fell and was severely injured. As a result, we couldn’t make our return flight from Venice to Philadelphia.

I called US Airways, explained what happened, and requested a refund for the return flight. The agent promised us a $960 voucher.

We were able to use part of the credit on a flight to Miami several months later, but only after explaining everything again to a US Airways representative again. In fact, I had to give him the names of the hospital and doctors who treated my wife.

Our Miami tickets cost $124 per person each way, which should have left us a credit of about $400. It’s been several months, and there’s no sign of the voucher. We are getting ready to book another trip and would like to use the rest of our credit, but we need the voucher. Is there anything you can do?

— Myron Sigal, Marlton, N.J.

Answer: If US Airways said it would give you a voucher, it should have sent it to you quickly. It never ceases to amaze me that an airline — or any travel company, for that matter — can take your money within seconds but then force you to wait months before giving you a refund or a credit.

Here’s the thing, though. As I read US Airways’ terms of transportation — the legal agreement between you and the airline — it’s clear that you were not owed a refund and possibly not even a credit. Section 8 of the contract says that no refunds will be made for nonrefundable tickets, and that special rules apply to international tickets.

As I review your correspondence, I think it’s possible US Airways made an exception for you and your wife because of her medical condition. I think that’s commendable. Making you wait months for the voucher — that’s not so commendable.

You might have avoided this difficulty by starting a paper trail. Some grievances are best handled by phone, but others should be done electronically. Calling US Airways initially was a good idea, because you needed to let the airline know about your circumstances right away. If you had waited until after your flight, US Airways might have offered you nothing.

After that, you should have begun e-mailing the carrier; a written correspondence would have allowed both sides to keep track of what was said, and more importantly, what was not said. You needed some kind of confirmation that the airline was going to offer a voucher for $960 — and later, for$400. Verbal assurances aren’t enough.

Having that documentation would have saved you from having to recount the painful story of your wife’s accident, and it might have (maybe) speeded up the processing of your second voucher. In any case, you shouldn’t have had to wait months for your voucher. When you think you’re being stonewalled by an airline, try escalating your complaint to a supervisor. I list their names on my Web site.

I contacted US Airways on your behalf, and the airline sent you the promised vouchers and an apology.