Should I shame, sue – or take it straight to the top?

Kuzma/Shutterstock
Kuzma/Shutterstock
Ever want to see how customers screw up? Then spend a few hours looking over the shoulder of a consumer advocate.

Watch the emails come in — and learn.

“Need help getting a refund on a non-refundable airline ticket,” the subject line reads on a message I received a few minutes ago.

I get a lot of travel complaints.

“Yesterday, I went to ER due to heart palpitation and chest pain,” the passenger explained. He phoned his airline to ask for a refund due to his medical condition — an understandable request, coming from someone who’s an infrequent flier.
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Blocking this airline mega-merger is good for travelers

Christopher Parypa / Shutterstock.com
Christopher Parypa / Shutterstock.com
The Justice Department’s surprise lawsuit to block the proposed $11 billion consolidation of American Airlines and US Airways appears to doom the latest airline mega-merger, at least in its current form. But for airline passengers, the prospect of two stand-alone airlines is mostly good news.

Stopping the transaction will keep airfares affordable and fees in check by maintaining the present level of competition, according to the federal government. It will also give consumers more choices in air travel. “By challenging this merger, the Department of Justice is saying that the American people deserve better,” said Attorney General Eric Holder in a prepared statement. Six states — including Arizona and Texas, where US Airways and American, respectively, are based — and the District of Columbia joined the DOJ in the antitrust lawsuit.
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The smarter consumer: When to sue a company — and when to shame it

Don’t have a tantrum.

You might feel like it after a company says “no” to your polite email asking for a refund, product replacement or an extension on your warranty. But you should understand that “no” is often a default answer, a kneejerk response to a customer question.

Yes, even on the third or fourth try. Even after you’ve filed a credit-card dispute – and lost.
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TSA backtracks on private screeners amid lawsuits

TSA backtracks on private screeners amid lawsuits

It’s not hard to image how much louder the public outcry would have been during the pat-down controversy last year if the Transportation Security Administration had also shut down it Screening Partnership Program, which allowed airports to privatize their security.

After all, private screeners were seen as a loophole to avoid increasingly aggressive federal transportation security officers. Several airports were reportedly considering “firing” their TSA screeners after the new body-scanners began appearing, accompanied by more intrusive physical searches.

In short, the program was an escape valve through which the traveling public let out a steam of rage. Had it not been there, who knows what would have happened?

But here’s more evidence that the federal agency charged with protecting our transportation systems understands the importance of timing. It waited until yesterday — two months after the enhanced-screening media circus — to freeze the program. I wonder how long they’ve been meaning to do that.

So what does that mean to us?
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Troubled TSA heads into holidays with egg on its face

Troubled TSA heads into holidays with egg on its face
Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse for the beleaguered Transportation Security Administration, they have.

This morning I reported on a new poll that says travelers feel the federal agency charged with protecting our transportation systems offered the travel industry’s worst customer service in 2010 — worse, even, than the nation’s airlines. But that is likely the least of its worries; after all, the agency apparently doesn’t care about its public image.

The latest incident involves a passenger who passed through a checkpoint with a handgun. Airport security is known to be porous, but this latest example, in which a loaded snub nose “baby” Glock pistol managed to get carried through a Houston TSA screening area without being detected, is shocking by any standard.

It gets worse. Last week, respected security expert Bruce Schneier confirmed what we’d suspected for several weeks: The TSA turned off most of its full-body scanners on Opt-Out Day, and oh, by the way, the current security procedures at the airport don’t work. At all.

But there’s more.
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