. Airline complaints: an open letter to US airlines : Budget Travel Adventures

Airline complaints: an open letter to US airlines

airline complaints letter to US airlines airport

I wonder what these people think about flying?

Dear US airlines,

For years, I’ve respected you and liked you.  However, things have been bothering me lately.  So I need to share these airline complaints with you.

When we first met, I thought you were polite, accommodating, and helpful.  I really enjoyed traveling with you.  However, you have changed.

You are now greedy, stressed, overworked, and care more about my money than you do me.

To be fair, you have some positive qualities.  People may not dress up to fly any more but at least you offer some cheap flights We no longer have to deal with smoking on the plane.  Your food tastes a lot better too (even though we pay for it now – more on that one later).

You’ve allowed me to see some great places in this world and have given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  I’ve seen you do some great things.

There is that time you allowed a passenger to give his first class seat to a solider on Memorial Day while you served other soldiers on the flight for free.  You’ve served others with a smile and make sure people arrive safely to their destinations.

I don’t want to dismiss all the great things you have done.  However, you are not who you were when we first met. You’ve changed – for better and for worse.

My long list of airline complaints

Sadly, after all our years together the time has come to air our dirty laundry.

Airline fees

Service with a smile now requires some money in the pocket to get any service at all.  Some things used to be standard and complimentary – a pillow and blanket, checked bags, and a meal.

Now we have to pack light to avoid excessive baggage fees.  Never mind that you need the weight of our bags to help balance the plane anyways.  Now we have to pay for something you used to do for free.

One of you even charges a fee for carry on bags (which may cost more than the flight).

I wish I could charge people to do the same things I’ve always done.  However, let’s move on to more of your excess baggage.

There’s a fee for everything now.  You were once that friend that was helpful and kind.  Now you are pinching every penny and asking for money every time you offer help.  You’re greedy, self-centered, and extort rather than assist.

A few of your fees I can even understand.  After all, you are providing a service and want money for things others charge (food, blanket, pillows).  However, your latest fee has gone too far.

Family airline fee – the worst fee of all

Paying for a seat on a plane isn’t enough anymore.  Now people must pay to sit together in certain seats.  Welcome to the family airline fee!

Parents now have to pay more to sit next to their own child.  This fee also applies to anyone who wants to travel together – couples, friends, and relatives.

You say it’s OK for people to switch seats with a parent (or friend or relative) so they can sit beside their child.  However, what person is going to switch seats with a parent after paying more for that seat?

Not only is your greed showing – so is your stupidity.  I think you’ve gotten dumber over the years too.  Expect many airline complaints and maybe even a few lawsuits over this one.

Who is going to take care of that screaming child when he misses his mommy or needs something?  The stranger beside him in 6A?  What if the kid has allergies his fellow passengers don’t know about?

What if there is an emergency on the plane and a parent can’t get to their child?  Is that parent going to exit the plane quickly when their child is seated 10 rows in front of them?

Is that business traveler going to entertain a kid or put on the oxygen mask if needed?  What if the child needs to go to the bathroom or starts crying?  At least if a child sat with a parent, the parent could help control or console the child.

I could go on but that’s just a few examples of this family airline fee stupidity (even though the family airline fee isn’t the name, that’s what I am calling it).  Just another fine example of your desire to extort…I mean…make money.

Blame it on the rain

I’ve read the books and the blogs so I am not fooled like I was before.  I understand things happen that you can’t control.  However, sometimes things are your fault but you lie about it.

A weather delay may actually be a mechanical delay.  Then again, a weather delay may mean the pilots are late.  With the new passenger bill of rights, any delay that is your fault means compensating passengers.  So you lie or stretch the truth.

I’ve seen airlines intentionally leave passengers behind by not announcing final boarding, closing the gate, and not allowing passengers on the plane (even though the plane was at the gate).

You said that everyone was called to board the plane.  However, I know you lied.  This was during the holidays and you were overbooked.  Yet you didn’t want to compensate me because of your mistake.

I used to believe you when you said something.  I don’t any more.  Thankfully, there are those trying to stand up for our rights as passengers.  However, there are still many things you do which make airline passengers angry.

Bad customer service by the airlines

If all the fees, hassles, frustrations, and delays weren’t enough, poor customer service is on the rise.  Just add it to the list of airline complaints that I have.

I understand that flight attendants get frustrated and even quit their jobs because of the stress of dealing with passengers.  However, part of this is your fault.  You are making the flight a bad experience for passengers and employees.

However, poor customer service happens well before we board the plane.

For a long time, your airfare sales were a lie.  You advertised base fares but didn’t include the total price.  Now airline taxes and fees are part of the airfare price.  Now passengers feel overtaxed by the airlines.

However, airlines will still do a bait and switch on customers.  Airfare sales allow customers to get a good deal on flights but at what cost?  Many times, the results are poor customer service and changing airfares.

To be fair, Southwest Airlines deserves some credit.  Their fares are low (but airfare prices are increasing), they don’t charge baggage fees, and they make flying fun.

However, they aren’t perfect either and there a few ways Southwest Airlines needs to improve.  Overall, my experiences have been positive even though the Southwest 40th anniversary sale was a failure.

We’re both different now as we look ahead to the future

We’ve both changed over the years.  I am not as naive and young as I was.  You aren’t as friendly, helpful, or as much fun.

Some things get better with age.  Unfortunately, flying hasn’t been one of those.  I do see a lot of positive things.  Yet you aren’t what I remember either.

And that’s a shame.

Greed, poor attitudes, lies, and excuses are part of who you are now.  I do appreciate the low airfares, no smoking, and food.  However, I can’t say you’ve improved with age.

Can you change?  Can things get better?  I am not sure.  Call me pessimistic but even your airline mergers seem like bad news for passengers these days.

I know I am not the only one who has seen you change.  Maybe we can be good friends again.  However, finding new friends may be better than waiting on you to change.


Jeremy Branham

Budget traveler and frustrated flier

What other things would you include in this list of airline complaints?

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Filed Under: Featuredflights, airlines, airportsTravel Tips


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  1. Abby says:

    Over all the things that make me so mad, the absolute worst for me is the customer service. I feel like I’m begging them to take my money. I’ve seen such rudeness these past few months. Like it’s MY fault you’re charging me for or you just delayed my flight 12 hours? (Or 24, which just happened to me last week.) Sigh.

    • Wow, a 24 hour delay? That’s ridiculous! Hopefully they at least paid for a place for you to stay and provide compensation. Honestly, it can’t be fun to be an airline employee. It has to be a thankless job. And with fees, service, and lots of passengers, a lot of people are getting angry with all the things that go wrong.

    • Maureen Pater says:

      Abby did you ever get compensation?

      I had a layover of Delta Airlines of 25 hours I am still complaining, months ago!

  2. Gray says:

    Sing it, Jeremy! I don’t even have kids, and I think the family airline fee is ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to pay extra to sit next to your kids. The first time some pervert sitting next to a child whose parent isn’t there to keep an eye on things “inappropriately touches” said kid, you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a massive lawsuit. Are airlines prepared for that? I doubt it. They cannot see past their own greed.

    • Oh man, thanks for putting even a worse example of what could go wrong with this out there! :) After reading about your complaints, flying just isn’t fun any more. The one thing with this fee is that no one likes it – families, regular passengers, Congressman. I hate all the fees because many don’t even provide a service. The airline industry is a mess.

      • Gray says:

        Sorry for putting that image in your head, but I have a tendency to consider “worst case scenario” situations. The trouble with this fee is that it smacks of extortion: “If you don’t want something bad to happen to your child, you must pay this fee.” I mean, really, what are they thinking???

  3. Lynne says:

    Love it, Jeremy! You nailed it. I too am sick of the added on fees and do feel service is not always great, though I have had some really great service on many different carriers. I hope that the airlines will take note of this…especially the paying to sit together…how silly is that?

    • I definitely agree. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some good airlines out there or that they haven’t done some good things. I read something today about the breakdown of costs and how much it costs an airline to run a flight. Revenues help make up some revenue and allow them to make a profit. However, I would prefer slightly higher airfares and less fees. I tend to avoid most fees though but it is a big cause of frustration.

  4. jade says:

    Having a flight attendent in our family- I understand your woos and know that many of them are just as frustrated with the current practices. Unfortunately, when flying became cheap and the norm (although it’s not even cheap anymore), airlines started cutting corners to save money and it came at the passengers comfort cost. And every single airline does it in one way or another. If they don’t charge baggage fees then they don’t have inflight entertainment. If they don’t charge a fee to pick your seat, then they charge you for drinks- even water! Blah!

    • I just had this conversation about airfare prices versus fees. I tend to avoid most fees but the comfort and a lack of stress would be really nice. Maybe the airfare prices would be a little higher with less fees. It has to be stressful for flight attendants to deal with bags, services that cost more, and the frustrations of passengers. I think the airline industry needs an overhaul but I think that is a huge undertaking. Need to start small and make some changes that help passengers and employees.

  5. Leah Travels says:

    What an excellent, thoughtful piece, Jeremy. You were clear, concise, and tough to argue with. The best-case scenario would be that your voice is heard. Your words echo the anger of so many air travelers. Kudos to you.

    • I doubt my voice is enough to make a difference. Airlines hear complaints every day and nothing has changed. There needs to be a revolution or at least some changes on the part of the airlines. How this is going to happen, I have no idea.

  6. I notice that your letter is addressed to U.S. based airlines. The last two airlines I’ve flown have been Mexican (Volaris, an exceptional experience) and Canadian (Air Canada, better than I expected). Our next flight is also Canadian (Sunwing, a charter service).

    Being Canadians, we gloss over any disappointments in possible poor service because we’re already so taken aback by the taxes we paid! Our one way Sunwing flight from Toronto to London cost $75 each…plus $252 in taxes.

    In all, we’re pretty easy to get along with. On recent flights, our only complaint was regarding the airport itself, which had nothing to do with the airline.

    • A while back, I wrote a post about how to understand taxes and fees as part of your ticket. Many people see the total price now but don’t understand how flying into certain airports, flying into multiple airports, and crossing borders adds a lot in taxes. That’s why understanding how flights work can also help you save money. A cheap airfare doesn’t mean much if you end up paying half or the price or more in taxes and fees.

      If you look at the rankings of best airlines, it’s no surprise there are rarely US airlines in the list. Foreign airlines do a much better job than US airlines in terms of service and what you get for your money.

  7. You pretty much covered it all. I used to love flying and now I dread it. I would not do it anymore except I love to travel and it is a necessary evil.

    Here are a couple of things I would add to the letter.

    Flight Times – I have noticed in that in the last 10 years airlines padded their flight times so that they have less late arrivals in their statistics. It used to be that a flight from PHX-DFW was 2:15 hours now it is closer to 3 hours.

    Trying to act like Southwest – It drives me crazy when the flight attendants try to joke around and have fun like they do on Southwest. It is almost never genuine or funny. Southwest can do it because it is part of the culture.

    Commercials for the Airline Credit Card on the Plane – The flight attendants have been trying to get people to sign up for their credit card by telling them they will have enough miles to get a free flight. The mileage that they give you will probably never get you a free flight because the low mileage awards are never available.

    • Flying is no longer fun now. I used to love getting on airplanes. I still do look forward to it. However, now it’s just a matter of waiting for something to go wrong.

      I like your suggestions. Flight times have definitely increased to improve the on-time performance. To me, that is another example of the lies by airlines. Same thing with the credit cards. As for the Southwest thing, either you have it or don’t. I think Southwest trains their staff to do this and looks for the right personalities. I don’t think that is the culture of most US airlines.

  8. Simon says:

    A very great post! I know a lot of people will be patting your back for saying all these things. I hope that this article will be the spark that is needed for those airline companies to clean up their act.

    • I wish my letter could have that spark. However, people complain every day and it doesn’t seem to do any good. There needs to be changes but we need a lot of voices to add to mine for it to happen. I am not even sure that will be enough.

  9. Michela says:

    Because of the poor service I have received from US Airways over the past few years I refuse to fly them. And boy can I add to your list of grievances – most of which deal with consistently cancelled flights from CMH to PHL to SWF. They have left me stranded with no apology and forced me to rent a car (at my own expense) to get to my destination, and inconvenienced family members who have had to drive 2 hours to an alternate airport to pick me up/drop me off. I have missed at least 6 days of work and almost missed my grandmother’s 90th birthday party. I have emailed, written and tweeted my complaints and have NEVER received a response – even to my letter to the CEO. I’ve given up on trying to get frequent flier credit for a flight I took last October. I’ve faxed them the required information (because the online request would not be accepted) 4 times. No response from them on that one either. They’ve reprimanded me at boarding (and held it up) at least twice because I was carrying on a laptop (no bag, just the laptop). Apparently it was my 3rd carry-on. Despite my explaining I needed to work on the flight and would just hold up boarding on the plane if I had to unpack it while in the aisle, they refused to let me board until I “consolidated” my carry-on.

    My choice to never fly them again is a tough one because they offer convenient service to an airport close to home. I now choose to fly United in to Newark and rent a car (again at an additional expense) to travel the 2 hours north and ensure that I get home on time. Flying for work is also more challenging – details I won’t go in to.

    Thanks for publicly sharing in my pain. (Boy this felt good to write!)

    • Because of where US Airways flies, I don’t have to travel with them too much. Last year, I did fly to and from Baltimore and I had no complaints. Did a lot of sleeping. I think part of the problem with US Air is where they fly – potential for lots of weather issues with them. However, there is no excuse for the poor customer service. There’s not much you can do about delays and cancellations but it’s how you handle it. Obviously, they haven’t done a good job.

      Sorry for all of your frustrations. With all of your travels, I am sure you have a lot more you can share about your flying nightmares. I hope all of this at least made you feel better :)

  10. Good on you for putting your frustration into words and publishing it on your site.
    As recent travellers to the USA, we found ourselves flying with an American airline for the first time in many years.
    We were absolutely appauled at every stage of our journey. The poor level of service, the bad attitudes of the airline staff both on the ground & in the air was just incredible. We’d never seen anything like it.
    At one point we were on a flight about to take off from La Guardia and the cabin crew had counted an extra person and they had no idea who this additional passenger was. To say that passengers were ‘concerned’ was an understatement.
    We won’t fly with an American airline again (if we can help it). We really feel sorry for American passengers who have no choice and even more sorry for the employees of these airlines who really have no enthusiasm for their jobs anymore.

    • Here we are with supposedly one of the best airport security systems in the world and an unaccounted passenger makes it on a plane? Honestly, the security here in the US may help a little and may make people feel better. However, anyone who really wants to attack us using planes will find a way.

      Security aside, that’s just one of the frustrations. Heck, I didn’t even mention the pain of going through the security check points. You should try flying through the US during the holidays. Plan to stand in some really long lines!

      However, that isn’t my biggest issue. You make a good point that all of this stuff has had an impact on the employees as well – even many of them don’t enjoy this as much. Some still do but it’s a lot more stressful than it used to be. Southwest Airlines still tries to have fun when the fly so the culture there is a little different. They aren’t a perfect airline by any means but they do some things the other major airlines don’t.

      So I wouldn’t give up on all American airlines. Some are better than others. However, there’s a lot of reasons why we rarely make any lists for top airlines.

  11. The family airline fee? Now I heard it all!
    I did a post last year on fees. So far, the only thing not taxed is the bathrooms. But I shouldn’t talk too loud — it could very well be next. Holy smokes!

    • Well to be honest, this isn’t a family airline fee per se. It’s what I’ve called it because that is who might be the most affected by this. However, anyone traveling together (couples, friends, relatives) that want to sit together on a plane could be affected by this. Obviously, the biggest impact could be parents and kids so this fee seems to single them out.

      As for airline fees for bathrooms, google “Ryan Air bathroom fee”. As you can see, this idea has already been explored! Thankfully, we haven’t seen it in the US or other airlines around the world (that I am aware of).

  12. I think the family fee is the greatest thing ever invented. We are flying with 3 kids 17, 15 and 11. To not have to sit with them on our recent EVA Air flight was pure bliss!! We saved $80 by refusing to pay the fee and took pot luck with our seating. The older kids loved being away from the “boring” parents and we didn’t once have to tell kids to stop pushing the seat in front or singing with their iPods on!! We had a good laugh pittying the poor woman who sat next to our 11 year old and had to hear about hydrogen atoms and dinosaurs for 11 hours!!! Our next flight is JFK to Munich In July with Air Berlin and we’ve again not paid the fee. Fingers crossed for a kid free flight reading my book in peace!!! This fee surely cannot last – those without kids will scream longer and louder than those flying with them!!! Thanks for this great post – if only it could be the start of some big changes!! (I really do love my kids but since they’re older i have the luxury to think its hysterical that they can now sit elsewhere on the plane – I’m sure I wouldn’t be as amused if it were 10 years ago!)

    • I can imagine as kids get older that this would indeed be awesome! The airline fee forces you not to sit together – and your entire family benefits. So there is definitely a good side to this from the perspective of a parent with older kids! :)

      I can’t believe on a flight from JFK to Munich on Air Berlin they tried to make you pay to sit together! I thought that was only on US airlines? I can’t imagine foreign airlines doing this as well so I would love to hear more about your experience with this on other airlines.

      As for the fee, here’s another scenario – what if you and your spouse were split up because you didn’t pay the fee? That’s definitely another possibility so it isn’t just kids. I think that is why there are others upset about this as well and not just the kids. Imagine you are young, in love, and on your honeymoon. Yet the airline wants you to pay a fee to sit together? Such a horrible idea! Really exploits EVERYONE who is traveling together. I will be interested to see what happens with this.

  13. Separated from the kids AND the spouse?? Oh Jeremy stop teasing me!!! Lol. The first flight was with EVA – I think they are an Asian airline so it’s definitely not just US ones anymore. My friend had it in Australia too but they waived nearly $600 in fees (10 flights) as she was a gold frequent flyer. If I was on my honeymoon I must admit I would just pay.

    • Dang, I didn’t know foreign airlines were doing this as well. I guess the US has just been behind everyone else with this. That is horrible! I can’t wait until something goes wrong when two people are separated (couples, parents/kids) and that first lawsuit happens. This is the US so it’s just a matter of time!

      As for your spouse, so glad you would at least pay to sit next to him on your honeymoon! He must feel so special to know that :)

      I used to enjoy flying. Part of me still does. I guess it goes back to that feeling I had when I took my first flight as an 11 year old. However, it’s not what it used to be. And I don’t think it’s going to get better (even though there are still some good airlines out there).

  14. tc farnham says:

    You said it…you are a budget traveler. You expect perks, like people giving up their seats that they PAID extra for and are entitled to due to extensive travel? Moron. Honestly, there should be a place at the back of the plane for you and your brats. I would Gladly donate a higher fee to not have your idiot child kick or poke my chair continously. Get real.

    • A budget traveler doesn’t expect perks. A budget traveler finds the most affordable way to travel so they can get the best experience for the money they’ve spent. I’ve paid a lot of money for flights, events, activities, and other things because it is my choice to do so. It’s not about perks at all.

      Secondly, you COMPLETELY missed the point here so I will quote it again and try and explain it to you:

      “You say it’s OK for people to switch seats with a parent (or friend or relative) so they can sit beside their child. However, what person is going to switch seats with a parent after paying more for that seat?”

      In that statement, I was taking the position of the airline who said that if parents want to sit next to their kids, they should find someone to switch with. My question was why would anyone switch with a parent when they paid more for their seat. So if you actually paid attention, I am agreeing with you. Airlines can’t expect people to switch with a parent because the person that switches is not going to do so if they paid more. Understand my position on that?

      Also, this isn’t just a family thing. If you and your spouse, friend, or relative want to sit together, YOU will have to pay this fee also. This isn’t just a family thing – ANYONE who wants to sit together is subject to this fee.

      And finally, let me give you one more scenario. Let’s take the example of that kid kicking your seat behind you. Because the parent didn’t pay the fee, there is no parent sitting beside that child to tell them to stop. So rather than endure it a few times, you have to endure it the entire flight because a parent didn’t want to pay that fee. And if that kid happens to sit beside you? Now you may have to entertain that kid rather than enjoy your flight.

      So to recap – you called me a moron on a point I already agreed with you in my original post. Secondly, this is a fee that YOU might even have to pay if you travel with someone. And finally, this fee could also mean an even worse flight for you because now there may not be anyone with that child to tell them to stop kicking or entertain them.

      There are so many other scenarios I could give you that could explain why this is a bad idea. This is why this fee affects EVERYONE and is a bad idea.

  15. Leigh says:

    I understand the need to make money (and oil prices are higher, wages are higher, pensions…)and flights on American airlines are always cheaper than in Canada – sometimes much cheaper. But you get what you pay for and I cannot remember the last time I had a positive experience flying in the US. I would actually rather have a more expensive flight but no fees. I find them off-putting and the whole luggage thing is out of control. In Canada I never pay for booking a seat ahead of time but I am faithful to the 24 hour check-in time when fees are waived and I can almost always sit beside my husband.

    • As a budget traveler, I tend to avoid most of the fees. However, I am not able to escape some of them now. I think higher airfares with no fees would help. However, taxes are still a big issue. I did an entire post which just looked at how much taxes and fees impact the cost of a flight.

      One of the major problems I think we have here in the US is the lack of competition. If we had other transportation options here (high speed rail, bus), I think the airlines would definitely change. Granted they do exist but you don’t want to visit most bus stops here in the US and trains can be slow and expensive.

      Other than griping about all of the fees, I am not sure what else we can do. They have definitely made flying a less enjoyable experience.

  16. Amy says:

    I never have the time to write complaint letters. I just fill out a form on http://acletters.com/ and they write a letter of complaint for me.

    I have used the site sevral times and have never been disappointed. Their service is so efficient and I have been compensated every time.

    Hope you find them helpful!

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