Thanksgiving air travel a nightmare? Here’s how to file a formal complaint.

Travelers move through 30th Street Station ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday in Philadelphia, Tuesda
Instead of grumbling about problems over you Thanksgiving meal, here are some tips for navigating the rights of travelers to lodge formal complaints.
(Matt Rourke / AP)
The Baltimore Sun

With bumped flights, crowded airports and lost baggage, travelling during fall and winter holidays like Thanksgiving can cause a serious headache.

In 2017, 181 consumer complaints were filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation between Nov. 21 and Nov. 27, according to a department representative.

Instead of grumbling about problems over you Thanksgiving meal, here are some tips for navigating the rights of travelers to lodge formal complaints.

What should I do if I have a problem?

The U.S. Department of Transportation recommends beginning any dispute with an airline by giving them a chance to resolve the problem. Airlines typically have customer service representatives who can arrange for meals or hotel rooms for stranded passengers, locate lost baggage or reimburse passengers for bumped flights, the department website states.


Still, there are options in place for consumers who feel an airline has not properly resolved a problem. In fact, the Department of Transportation states that complaints from consumers help identify problem areas and trends in the airline industry.

“Complaints can lead to enforcement action against an airline when a serious violation of the law has occurred,” the website states. “Complaints may also be the basis for rulemaking actions.”

What are my rights if the airline does not resolve the issue?

The U.S. Department of Transportation has published a full list of “fly rights” for passengers on its website. Notably, airlines are not required to guarantee their schedules, nor is it illegal for airlines to overbook their flights. In fact, most airlines do so intentionally to compensate for passengers who do not show up. However, the Department of Transportation does require airlines to offer passengers financial compensation, with a handful of exceptions, for being “bumped” from a flight.


Airlines are also required to provide a way for passengers to file a complaint, according to the Department of Transportation website. Airlines must acknowledge consumer complaints within 30 days of receiving them and send written responses addressing the complaint within 60 days of receiving one.

Here’s how to file a complaint with each airline that flies out of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport:

» Air Canada

» Alaska Airlines

» Allegiant Air

» American Airlines

» British Airways

» Condor


» Contour

» Delta

» Icelandair

» jetBlue Airways

» Southern Airways Express

» Southwest

» Spirit

» United Airlines


» Wow Air

» Apple Vacations

» Vacation Express

When should I file a complaint directly with the Department of Transportation?

If a traveler has filed a complaint with the airline and feels their problem was not resolved properly, they can file a complaint directly with the Department of Transportation — especially if there’s reason to believe there was unlawful discriminatory treatment on the basis of disability, race, color, national origin, sex, religion or ancestry. These grievances can be filed by calling 1-202-366-2220 or by mailing the complaint to the following address:

Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE

Washington D.C. 20590

However, safety and security complaints should be directed elsewhere. Travelers can report safety concerns about their flight, airplane, pilot or airline with the Federal Aviation Administration by calling 1-866-835-5322 or filing a report online. Security concerns about passenger screenings, the “no-fly” list or the baggage screening process should be filed with the Transportation Security Administration by calling 1-866-289-9673 or filing a report online.

Baltimore Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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