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Lodging a customer service complaint — reader mistake story

Nov. 01, 2019
5 min read
Lodging a customer service complaint — reader mistake story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Lana, who sent Delta feedback about an overnight delay on a recent trip to Hawaii:

Last October, my sister-in-law and I planned a trip from Indiana to Kauai. We booked Delta economy flights from Fort Wayne (FWA) to Lihue (LIH) with stops in Minneapolis and Los Angeles. This was her first trip to the Aloha State, but I fly the route about six times a year, and this particular trip was bad from start to finish!

Nothing was caused by bad weather or mechanical issues, but rather a collection of strange errors by Delta that fell like dominoes. An empty Delta plane blocked our gate in Minneapolis, and because of that lengthy delay, our pilot had to be switched out because he would have been out of hours by the time we reached LAX. We ended up delayed in Minneapolis for six hours, and were finally forced to spend the night in San Francisco, where we would catch a United flight to Lihue the next day. Our one week stay in Hawaii was cut short by an entire day.

I reached out to Delta via their online complaint form with a letter highlighting all of the failures (there were many others). I actually received a call from a Delta rep who apologized and assured me it would be "taken up the chain to her superiors." Wow! I felt confident we would be compensated. After a month of hearing nothing, I contacted Delta again and was told they would take the matter under review. However, nothing materialized from my original complaint; evidently, the call from Delta was just hollow customer service. I had one remaining trip to Hawaii in 2018, and because of that experience, I chose United.

Here's the mistake part: The other day, I ran across my original Delta complaint email and laughed out loud! There was a long list of errors, and I had mistakenly chosen to list them all. Retrospectively, I think I should have focused on the most critical errors (two or three at most). I also should have made contact immediately instead of waiting until I got home, and followed up promptly when I didn't get a favorable answer. Finally, I should have tried contacting the airline through social media — I'm older, so this is out of my comfort zone, but it's time I bite that bullet and get comfortable with it!

I empathize with Lana's impulse to be thorough, but sharing too many details in a customer service complaint can muddle your message and make getting help more difficult. No matter how frustrated or beleaguered you are by travel mishaps, when you contact customer service (whether face to face, by phone or online), keep in mind you're interacting with real people who have limited time and finite attention spans. Your communications should be clear, concise, specific and (perhaps most importantly) polite — your goal is to voice your concerns so they can be addressed; if you just need to vent, call a friend.

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Feedback should include your name and contact information (with a frequent flyer number if you have one), flight number and travel date, and a brief summary of what went wrong (or right). You can mention multiple service issues if you think they're pertinent, but leave out the small stuff — when you're communicating dissatisfaction with a lengthy delay, for example, tossing in a complaint about slow Wi-Fi is just distracting. Omit other extraneous information, like that you were on your way to a wedding or that you had a splitting headache. Focus on what happened, and not how you felt about it.

Finally, offer a reasonable solution if you have one in mind, since letting the airline know how to help you makes doing so much easier. If you're not sure what to ask for, you can indicate the type of compensation you're after (like a refund, voucher or miles), without specifying an amount. Contacting customer service isn't an exact science and you won't always get the outcome you want, but this approach should help.

Related: What to do if your flight is delayed or canceled

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Lana a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image by Getty Images