How to complain about an airline to get the best results

On the Spot
(Robert Neubecker / For The Times)

Sooner or later, nearly everyone ends up complaining about an airline — usually aloud, but sometimes in a missive that goes to the airline. After all, you’ve paid your hard-earned money and you expect something in return, something you paid for.

Lodging your complaint effectively is key to getting results, whether you’re doing it in person or by email or snail mail.

On a recent flight from Los Angeles to New York, something went amiss. I used miles for a first-class ticket, and although I had booked my seat months in advance, when I tried to check in online 24 hours ahead, it told me to do so at the airport, always a bad sign.

There was no seat for me. I asked what happened, but the ticket agent could offer no explanation. Instead of ranting and raving, I remained calm, went to the lounge and asked the front desk what could be done. I was put on a flight leaving 59 minutes after my original flight, same seat.


Because the delay was less than an hour, the airline didn’t owe me denied boarding compensation. Because I was polite about the situation, the lounge agent found me and handed me a $400 travel voucher anyway. Maybe I would have gotten the voucher even if I had ranted and raved. I suspect not.

If you have an airline complaint, whether lost bags, a delayed flight, or poor service, always try to resolve it politely at the airport. If that doesn’t work, send a letter or email to the airline.

• Be polite, specific and as brief as possible, citing flight numbers, seat location, employee names if known, cost of fare, etc.

• Include your frequent-flier number.


• It’s always a good idea to sit on your letter for a few days so you can cool down and rephrase things.

• Never say, “I will never fly your airline again!” That gives the airline no incentive to help.

• Ask for a specific remedy, whether it is extra frequent-flier miles, a refund or a voucher. Be reasonable.

• Remember, even airlines with stellar reputations err from time to time.

The accompanying sidebar contains the corporate mailing addresses and websites for U.S.-based airlines. Although many people like to email, a well-written snail mail letter can be more effective because there are so fewer of them. It’s also easier to include photocopies of relevant documents. Plus you can also pay the post office for a confirmation that the mail has been received.

By the way, you can also use these methods for saying something nice about your flight or an employee’s extra care.


Complaints? Here’s where to send them


AirTran (merging with Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines

P.O. Box 36647-1CR

Dallas, TX 75235


P.O. Box 68900

Seattle, WA 98168



4333 Amon Carter Blvd.

Fort Worth, TX 76155


Customer Relations

P.O. Box 20706

Atlanta, GA 30320-6001


Customer Relations

7001 Tower Road

Denver, CO 80249


3375 Koapaka St.

Suite G350

Honolulu, HI 96819


27-01 Queens Plaza North

Long Island City, NY 11101


2702 Love Field Drive

Dallas, TX 75235


P.O Box 66100

Chicago, IL 60666

US Airways (merging with American)

4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.

Phoenix, AZ 85034

Virgin America

555 Airport Blvd.

Floor 2

Burlingame, CA 94010

Airlines are also using Twitter to resolve complaints; some are better at this than others. Their Twitter handles:











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