How you can get airlines to help you as travel complaints soar

Delta gate agent Juliana Leituala checks a bag for Brooke Eveganie and Jake Pelger during the first phase opening of the new Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Travel complaints have exploded in 2021, so what can travelers do if their travel plans don't go as scheduled. (Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL)

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Many people have travel horror stories — they are a common component of travel. But this summer, travel complaints have exploded.

Travelers said they're mad having to deal with changed itineraries, canceled flights and worse — including hours upon hours of sitting on hold, just to get through the airline.

Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation shows complaints have spiked and the airlines know it.

Delta Air Lines' CEO put out a statement headlined, "We Know You Expect More, which regretfully acknowledges Delta's failures and promises that it will do better.

"I do think it's a tip of the iceberg," said travel expert Doug Wren of Wren International.

He said the number of logged complaints is surely a smidgen of travelers who feel jilted this summer, as the airline business comes flying back — clearly, too quickly.

"For some people that probably aren't sophisticated travelers and want to deal with confrontation or other things, they probably won't say anything," said Wren. "And I'm sure that they're (airlines) betting on that a little bit."

Wren said it helps to know your rights as an airline traveler.

"One thing you are entitled to if they do a schedule change — you can get a refund," he explained. "'I don't want to refund, I want to go where I said I was going to go.'"

Alas, when you are put out, what you're actually legally guaranteed is pretty thin with this industry.

Wren said determine what you think is fair, then ask for it.

"You could ask for mileage, you could ask for tickets, you could ask for credits," he said. "And it really depends on who you talk to. There's not something that is written here that this is what you're going to get."

Wren said airlines are being fairly generous right now as they compete to not lose your business down the line.

Unfortunately, asking means getting through to someone, which could mean sitting on hold for several hours.

"It's survival of the fittest — who can wait the longest on the telephone, or who's persistent enough?" said Wren.

The KSL Investigators spoke to Delta specifically about their long wait times. They said a lot of the issue comes down to people not realizing that what they need to accomplish can be done online.

They told KSL-TV they are bringing back an army of employees who retired in recent years, as independent contractors, to help, until the high call demand passes.

Matt Gephardt


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