On The Rewards Of An Effective Complaint

Here’s a fare you won’t see advertised anywhere: Hartford-to-Detroit, round-trip with fees and taxes, just $82 – and three hours.

 That’s what airfare for a two-night getaway is costing me. The $82 went on the credit card this week, the three hours got spent in a Bradley gate last June. And the moral is that once in a while, complaining pays. 
 
Most times when things go wrong on a trip, the sanest approach is a shrug and a sigh. The restaurant transformed your 6:45 reservations into 7:15’s, the hotel gave you a room facing the Dumpsters, the car-rental clerk handed you the keys to a PT Cruiser? As Irene Zinn says so eloquently, “Oh well.”
     
Even well-planned trips will hit a snag or two (or three); some of it you fix on the spot, some of it you just live with.
 
 But every so often, it’s worse than that. A company blunders so badly – and in such an avoidable way – that the trip gets seriously derailed. That’s when it’s time to invite the offending business to make it right.
 
Joe Brancatelli’s treatise on how to go about this is, I submit, the definitive guide
It’s his advice that I followed after Northwest’s ground staff made a memorable mess of things with Flight 273 one Saturday morning last June. What should have been an on-time departure – or, at worst, a one-hour wait – cascaded into a needless three-hour delay, all fueled by the operation staff’s bad decisions and the gate agent’s complete indifference.
Two key points: I could document the specific damage this caused (plans for a day at Cedar Point were scuttled), and the fault was unarguably Northwest’s. This wasn’t a case of blaming the airline for runway holds, bad weather or similar circumstances beyond its control.
 
 My remedy was to take the grievance to Northwest’s customer service staff, and their response was a well-crafted apology note (not a form letter) with a $75 voucher toward future travel. That was sufficient to win me back as a customer, and enough to turn Northwest’s already attractive $157 fare this month into an irresistible $82 bargain.
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