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7 tips for solving your airline customer service problems

Marketplace Contributor Jun 2, 2017
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Travelers wait in long lines to speak with airline ticket agents in the United terminal at San Francisco International Airport.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The relationship between some airlines and their passengers has been seriously damaged this year. While the United dragging incident is an extreme example of customer service gone terribly wrong, it’s a reminder that you need to know how to advocate for yourself with big companies in the travel industry. 

But getting the right kind of attention from a company can be a complicated process. So Mark Orlowski, a travel expert and the founder of a nonprofit called the Sustainable Endowments Institute, joined us to give tips on what to do when your travel plans go awry. 

1) Document the situation

Take note of whom you’re talking to and when you’re talking to them. If you have any damaged items, snap a pic and make sure there’s a time stamp in it.  

“I bring my iPad along and hold up the current Marketplace website side-by-side to show them the date and time,” Orlowski said.  

2) Ask yourself: What is a reasonable resolution?

For instance, if you’re dealing with a canceled flight, you probably just want to get to your next destination.

Talk with a customer service agent or representative, and make your request clear and concise.  

3) “Hang up, call again”

If you talk to a phone representative who gives you an answer that doesn’t seem quite right, or if they say your request isn’t feasible, give them another ring.

“Dozens of times over the years, maybe even hundreds of times over the years, I’ve been able to get exactly the resolution I was looking for by just calling up a second time or occasionally a third time if needed,” Orlowski said.

4) Take advantage of Twitter

And you don’t need to call out a company publicly. You can send a direct message to communicate with most airlines, major hotels and rental car companies.

Orlowski said that he’s gotten great results from DMs. Employees have sent responses in as short as 15 to 30 minutes, and have either fixed the issue or given advice on how to solve the problem.  

5) Speak to someone in a different role

Front-line representatives, unfortunately, often have limited options for how they can help.

If you’ve talked to several people and still haven’t resolved your problem, talking to a supervisor is another reasonable action. But it might help to explain that your issue is with your situation — not the employee you spoke to.

6) Reach out to an “executive customer care team.”

What happens when something really goes wrong? If you’ve tried all the above to no avail, reach out to this group, also known as an “executive customer service team.” Often based at the company’s headquarters, the team usually reports directly to the executive vice president — and sometimes the CEO.

If you Google the above team names, you can sometimes find a phone number or email address for the group. But if all else fails…

“I oftentimes will just look up on Google Finance or Yahoo Finance the corporate switchboard for the company,” Orlowski said. “Just call up the switchboard and explain you’re a loyal customer of that company, you have an issue that customer service has not been able to solve, and you’d like to speak to someone in the office of the president, or office of the CEO, or the executive customer service team. And probably five times out of six they’re happy to connect you.”  

7) Email your new friend, the CEO

If nothing has worked, you’ve reached the red-alert stage. It’s time to write a brief, friendly and polite letter to the head boss.

“That is another technique that has been talked about on message boards for years, called the ‘executive email carpet bomb,’ which is an idea where you email the CEO and many other top executives to explain your situation and ask for help,” Orlowski said. “But that’s sort of a very violent terminology, and so as a Quaker, I just prefer to call it, ‘Emailing your new friend, the CEO,’ and asking politely for help.” 

Yes, he’s been successful using this method.

“I’ve written to a handful of CEOs over the years, and a couple of them have responded. But most won’t actually respond directly, but within a day or two days, often you’ll have someone from their team, oftentimes from that executive customer service team,” Orlowski said. “And nearly every time, you’ll get an outcome that’s reasonable or hopefully even better than what you had hoped for.”

But note: Use sparingly. 

How We Survive
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