Saturday, January 06, 2007

I Am Not a Happy Camper

Two weeks ago, I traveled back to Illinois to attend my grandpa's funeral. I had to buy my plane ticket at the last minute and I paid nearly $700 for it. As I boarded the plane I found a man sitting in my seat. Normally this isn't too unusual. You simply point out the error and the person moves. This wasn't your normal case. In this case, the man was sitting in his seat AS WELL AS my seat. My heart dropped (I think my jaw might have as well). He was a very large fellow.

I indicated that the middle seat was mine and he let me into the row. I sat down, scootched as far to the right as I possibly could and braced myself. He slid in and scootched as far as he could to his left, and he still took up half of my seat. He was pressed up against me and practically sitting on me. It was more than a little awkward.

In a vain attempt to break the ice, he says, "Why do these flights always have to be full!" Like he's being inconvenienced.

A host of answers fill my mind. Well, first of all, this is a business, nimrod. They WANT their flights to be full. That's how they make their money. That's what I wanted to say, but I didn't. Instead, I merely countered, "It's Christmas." We didn't talk the rest of the flight.

The window seat was occupied by a ten year-old boy traveling alone. This was somewhat of a life-saver except for the fact that he was sick and spent the entire flight hacking up a lung. I could envision all of the spit particles infecting the entire plane with every cough and sneeze. I was the only filter. Just thinking about it makes me want to take a shower.

I should have gotten off the plane and filed a complaint, but I was on a schedule with the funeral and I didn't want to cause a ruckus on the plane. Instead, I decided to suck it up, make my trip to Illinois, and file a complaint with the airline upon my return, which I did. The airline will remain anonymous for now, depending on how this situation is resolved.

I filed the complaint where I explained that I shouldn't have to pay for a seat that I had to share and that the very least they could do is reimburse me or provide a voucher covering the leg of the flight to Chicago. This morning I received their reply:

Thanks for contacting Customer Relations. Our aim is not simply to provide transportation but to help our customers enjoy a pleasant and satisfying journey along the way. We are very sorry that your experience was disappointing, and I can appreciate how uncomfortable you were as a result of the situation you described.

As more tangible evidence of our concern, we've credited your [frequent flier] account with 5,000 bonus miles. This adjustment should be reflected in your account very soon. You can use the mileage in your account to claim travel awards. We are eager to have another chance to serve you.

In addition to our apology, please be assured that we have conscientiously followed through on your comments in an effort to share your feedback and, where possible, to improve our service. We are working hard to earn your satisfaction.

Wow. 5,000 whole bonus miles. That's worth, what, about $40? That's if you can actually ever use them. I have nearly 50,000 bonus miles, and I've never been able to redeem them on a flight. Needless to say, I was not happy. So I penned a response:

I am incredibly disappointed that you feel 5,000 bonus miles is “more tangible evidence of our concern”. My experience was not merely disappointing, it was unacceptable. I spent a 3 ½ flight with an armrest jammed into my right side and nearly the entire left side of my body pressed up against a complete stranger. I spent nearly $700 of my hard earned money for this experience. What you are offering me in return is roughly $40 in compensation that is extremely difficult to redeem in terms of airfare.

What is at issue here is [your] policy on accommodating overweight passengers. I can understand if your policy is not to discriminate against obese passengers by requiring them to purchase multiple tickets in order to accommodate their size. The question is who is going to offset that cost? If you as a company are not going to charge overweight people for an extra seat, then you should be willing to offset the cost for that extra seat. Instead, it seems that you as a company are content to allow me (or other passengers) to offset the cost by sharing my (our) seat. This is not right and I do not feel like I should have to pay for it.

I am not a nasty person, nor am I an opportunist looking for a chance to get ahead at your expense. But I do believe that I should not be responsible for a seat that I had to share with another passenger. You had an opportunity to make things right, and you missed the mark. Please try again.

I've got one more letter brewing if I don't get my way. It's the one where I DO get nasty and inform them that I work for a television station. Stay tuned.

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