When an airline does not provide service or if refunds are not provided, use DOT’s Web form.
During the pandemic, Travelers United fielded hundreds of complaints. I personally told travelers that if they wanted action they should complain to the Department of Transportation (DOT) . Plus, I noted that the DOT complaints strongly influence changes in the future. Unfortunately, too many government help/complaint lines don’t result in help. But, DOT has established one of the best complaint systems in DC. The system is backed up by regulations.
Far too many times I found myself arguing with travelers who were adamant about not filing a complaint with DOT. They did not want to irritate the airlines with which they were negotiating. In most cases they waited months for nothing. And, I told them to take any actions they wanted to do and that they thought would be correct for them.
Eventually, I heard from them after they complained to DOT. They were amazed at the action that their DOT complain created. For almost every complaint about pandemic refunds, these travelers eventually complained to DOT and the system responded within weeks.
There is no requirement to complain to DOT, but when travelers want change and a solution to their problem, DOT complaints get action. It is estimated that ten complaints are filed directly with airlines for every one sent to DOT. That is a shame from a passenger protection point of view.
DOT has detailed complaint regulations that Travelers United has assisted them in shaping. Airlines must acknowledge consumer complaints within 30 days of receiving them. Then they must send consumers written responses addressing these complaints within 60 days of receiving them (30 days for disability-related complaints).
Here is the exact wording from the DOT Air Travel Complaint process section:
Federal laws protect airline passengers by specifying airlines’ obligations, including when a flight is oversold, luggage is mishandled, a flight is delayed on the tarmac, and refunds are requested. Federal laws also prohibit airlines from discriminating against an air traveler on the basis of his or her disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry.
DOT’s aviation consumer protection website provides information on key topics of interest to air travelers organized by topic. For additional convenience, DOT maintains a “Fly Rights” guide, as an easy to use reference for air travelers.
Non-safety or security air service related issues: For the fastest resolution of many air service related issues, contact an Airline or Ticket Agents’ Customer Service Representative. You may also contact DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection.
Use DOT’s online complaint form.
(https://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm) CLICK HERE TO SEE THE FORM.
The DOT Complaint form will assist in making sure that all information needed to deal with your complaint is included.
Complaints can also be sent by mail.
When mailing a letter, please include your full address and phone number as well as complete and accurate information about your trip and the problem you had or are having.
Office of Aviation Consumer Protection
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Complain to DOT when faced with problems — it is like having your thumb on the scale of justice. Complaints filed with DOT will get action in a timely manner.
The first step DOT writes in their instructions says contact the airline or ticket agent. However, passengers should always file a complaint with DOT. File complaints with the airline or ticket agent and DOT.
DOT will then determine whether or not the issue is a policy issue or whether it’s a compliance issue for the airline or ticket agent to deal with. Plus, filing your copy ensures that your complaint moves right to the top of the stack of airline complaints. When I was in the Army, any time we received what was called a “Congressional,” we acted immediately. It works the same way when the airline receives a complaint via DOT.
Future aviation passenger service regulations are affected.
Travelers United worked with DOT for more than a decade. We learned that DOT makes many of its regulatory decisions and decides which problems require added focus by analyzing complaints filed. Therefore, file any aviation problem with DOT. Far too many times DOT proclaims that issues such as family seating and lack of personal space on planes do not generate enough complaints to require action.
So, make sure to use the complaint system to point out developing problems that you notice. Plus, make sure to keep the airlines honest about following regulations by filing complaints.
Statistics on the number of complaints filed with DOT are easy to find.
Every month, DOT publishes the Air Travel Consumer Report. It contains information about the number and type of air travel service complaints DOT receives about airlines and ticket agents. This report allows consumers and air travel companies to compare the complaint records of individual airlines, ticket agents, and tour operators.
In addition to complaints, the report also contains statistics that the airlines file with us on flight delays, cancellations, bumping, mishandled baggage, and other helpful information.
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Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 12 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.