How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane, keep calm and slow your roll

First off, please bear in mind that this article is a work of opinion. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. The advice contained herein is my opinion and only my opinion and does not represent any specific airline.

In the United States alone, there are more than 76,000 flights a day across all airlines. The United States comprises one third of all air traffic in the world. When you factor in all flights, worldwide, that number goes up to about 300,000 and there are a minimum of 10,000 planes in the air at any given moment. In the video below you can see 24 hours of air traffic compressed into a one minute video.

 

The video above is from April 1, 2016. It isn’t hurricane season, or winter storm season. It isn’t a holiday or the middle of peak summer season. As far as aviation is concerned, it’s a calm day. Notice how many of the flights are both arriving and leaving United States airspace. That’s because each time a plane lands it came from somewhere, and it’s leaving to go someplace else (you’d be amazed how many people don’t realize that).

It takes more than a lot of moving parts to get one giant metal tube 30,000 feet in the air. You’ve got maintenance, baggage, pilots, inflight, operations, corporate, schedulers, recovery, controllers, reservations and more that weave an intricate and complex network to ensure one single aircraft gets from Point A to Point B.

Then come in the FAA and the ATC. The FAA, or The Federal Aviation Administration of the United States regulates all aspects of civil aviation. The FAA oversees airports, air traffic, and safety in relation to commercial air space, pilots and crew. ATC, or Air Traffic Control directs aircraft on the ground and through airspace. ATC gives the ok to depart and land, but aircraft cannot depart unless they are also cleared to land at the given time in the city to which they are traveling. And to further complicate matters, though ATC controls worldwide airspace, each country maintains its own laws within their airspace.  

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane

Each airline also has to work with these guys and comply with their directives. There are no exceptions. And sure, it’s our job. But can you see now how inevitably things are bound to go wrong once in a while?

So…

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media
to Get What you Want

When Should I Complain to an Airline?

Or rather, when should I complain to an airline and be taken seriously?  The simple answer is when it’s the airline’s fault.

Summer is a hard time for flying. Winter is a hard time for flying. Holidays are a hard time for flying. That may sound like an excuse, but the miracle of aviation is pretty spectacular. Here you are sitting in a chair hurtling through space to arrive in a destination a mere moment from when you boarded the plane. Sometimes it takes longer to get through security than it does to cross two state lines.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane

What Airlines Can’t Control

The fact of the matter is that airlines can only control so much. They cannot control the weather. They cannot control Air Traffic Control directives. They cannot control the unruly person sitting next to you.

When Mt. Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 all flights were grounded to/from Europe due to ash. Not only in terms of visibility, but also due to threat of engine failure. Similar eruptions, but on a much smaller scale have occured around the world, most recently in Mexico and Costa Rica. Any aircraft flying in proximity to a weather event has to take that weather event into consideration. Consider Hurricane Maria that devastated several Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico. Weather can even shut an airport down, limiting where aircraft can land or depart from. Sometimes, other airports can take on the burden but only so far as their infrastructure can handle it. Believe it or not, this actually happens at least once every winter. In this case, many flight cancellations are mandatory, or simply we can’t get the aircraft or the crew in the right position.

The most common airline complaint we get in this instance is why don’t we have an extra airplane? Because an airplane costs upwards of 60 million dollars. Airplanes that aren’t in the sky aren’t making money.

Air Traffic Control doesn’t just control the airspace to prevent aircraft from crashing into one another. They control every aspect of air travel from boarding to deplaning. Heavy fog and rains often impair conditions in San Francisco making it nearly impossible to catch a flight on time during certain times of year. Part of ATC’s responsibilities include monitoring said weather and issuing a ground stop when it is not safe to fly. A ground stop is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when all aircraft is grounded. When ATC sees a break in weather that is flanked on both sides by terrible storms they may attempt to get a few flights out during this time by giving the go ahead to the airport to board the aircraft. Because of the previous ground stop, it’s like a traffic jam. There are already aircraft waiting on the tarmac, but then new aircraft gets the go ahead to also wait on the tarmac. Then to make matters worse, that uncontrollable weather creates rain that came far earlier than expected.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane


The most common airline complaint we get in this circumstance is why did you let us board if we are just going to sit on the tarmac. Because ATC told us too. Everyone from the ATC to the person at the gate wants to get you on your flight, and we’re all doing everything we can to get you to your destination.

Everyone and anyone might be on your flight. From accountants to veterinarians and we can’t control if they want to take off their shoes, or eat tuna fish during the lunch hour. Flying, as incredible a feat of wonder as it is, is still public transportation. If you can afford a ticket then you can fly; same as a bus, or a train, or a ferry. We all get to live in this beautiful world together.

The most common airline complaint we get in regards to other passengers is that someone was made to feel uncomfortable. Despite being squished into smaller and smaller seats, we actually do care about your comfort on a flight. Your Inflight crew will do everything they can to ensure you have a comfortable flight, but really it’s up to you to live and get along with other members of the human race. It’s best to always keep calm and bring headphones.  

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane

What Airlines Can Control

When considering the labyrinth that is operating an airline, the things that airlines quantify as controllable revolve around staffing, tech, and maintenance. Maintenance being the number one factor that airlines consider within their control. This is also a misnomer because maintenance can be entirely out of our control as much as it is within.

Factors that are maintenance related range all the way from maintenance on the aircraft itself to your inflight entertainment didn’t work. Many of these issues can be resolved simply by reaching out to your Inflight team – so use your call button. And chances are, if it’s maintenance related the airline is already planning on compensating you accordingly depending on the length of the delay, and you’ll get a notification a few hours after departure.

The most common airline complaint we get in regards to maintenance is why didn’t you plan for it? We did. We inspect the aircraft after each flight and a more thorough investigation happens at the end of the route usually at the end of the day or after a red-eye. Safety is every airlines first priority, for extremely obvious reasons. However, on occasion a proverbial light on the dashboard comes on.

What is Left to Complain to an Airline About

Simply put, human error. Things are going to go wrong, and it won’t always be an easy fix. The most common airline complaint I help people with on a daily basis is when a connection was missed and consequently an important event. The most important thing is please, please, please when you are attending a wedding, setting sail on a cruise, or going to a funeral book your flight for the day prior to the big event. Weather, maintenance and human error may all come into play and if there is one thing we can’t do it is make time reverse itself.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane

A Few Pointers Before Complaining to an Airline

Check FlightAware. FlightAware lists all cancellations and delays around the world, in real time as they happen. They also provide the reasons why including average delays for both departures and arrivals. Just remember that average means somewhere in the middle. Due to a number of circumstances you might be on the flight that is an hour over the average, or an hour under.

One of the most common airline complaints we get are that their flight was cancelled because not enough seats were sold. Flights are never cancelled because they have empty seats. Zach Honig, Editor at Large for The Points Guy even posted about his recent trip on a nearly empty flight due to weather and cancellations. Every single plane is on a schedule. It has to operate the current route so that it will be in the next city to operate the next flight along the route path.

Though many airlines have merged or have partnerships with smaller entities to operate their less popular routes, generally speaking, there isn’t a master codeshare where the customer can be accommodated on any flight they desire. We can’t accommodate you on another airline, just like you can’t buy something at Home Depot and return it to Lowe’s.

When you are delayed, no matter who you ask, you are going to get the same reason. However it might sound different. The person at the gate may tell you that an inflight crewmember isn’t there to operate your flight, while the person on the 1-800 line may tell you the flight is delayed because of the weather. It’s the same reason; the inflight crew isn’t there because they were delayed in a previous city due to weather. The most common airline complaint in this instance is why don’t you have reserve crew? We do, but they have to be called in. Just like you don’t want to sit around your job, unpaid, just in case you are needed.

Finally, and most importantly, airlines want to make you happy. We want to retain you as a customer, and we are here to help you.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane, keep calm and slow your roll

Just take a breath. Slow your roll and let the fire burn out before you start complaining. No one is happy the flight is delayed. Not the pilot, not the gate agent, and not the person that you are talking to on social media. It’s costing everyone money, and the person you want to complain to isn’t pushing the buttons. No one can make the plane move faster, Air Traffic Control to clear the runway, or the flight attendants to never need to sleep because if we could, we would; faster than you could stow your bag underneath the seat in front of you.  

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want

Is Social Media the best way to complain to an airline? Is utilizing social media better than calling or writing the airline? Yes. It will offer the most immediate solution from someone who has the most resources at their fingertips. Social Media can provide an answer 24 hours a day, on your timeline, and they can assist you while you are busy doing something else. This works for Comcast too, by the way. When utilizing social media to speak to a company, it doesn’t take time out of your day like it does to be on a phone call, waiting on hold or to be transferred to someone high enough up, which chances are you’ll never reach by way of the 1-800 number anyway. It also doesn’t take nearly the amount of time it would to draft up a lengthy letter cataloging all the wrongs committed against you. Twitter is better than Facebook for the sheer fact that you can spit out all your woes in 280 characters or less, saving everybody time.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane


When you reach out to a company via social media, it’s a given that you’ll be asked to send a direct message. This isn’t necessarily to make it so your complaint isn’t public, though that is definitely a perk for the airline. There are two reasons. The first is honestly because we are trying to help you keep your personal information private. Personal information that you don’t want all over the internet. We aren’t talking about your experience, we’re talking about your full name, birthdate, email address, etc. All the things that can be found via your confirmation code is all a hacker needs to steal your life.  

The second reason is that it’s a lot easier to reach an amicable resolution when just two parties are negotiating, reading and watching.  

And definitely, keep your expectations realistic. When you complain to an airline, no matter what happened, you should never expect carte blanche. Remember all the moving parts? Remember the things that can and can’t be controlled? Remember human error? Don’t expect cash for the distress, don’t expect frequent flier miles, and don’t even expect a refund. In the end, the best solution is one where the airline get to retain you as a customer. 

Things Not to Say When you Complain to an Airline

“How can you make this right?”

This is the most common airline demand we get. It’s redundant and superfluous. You wouldn’t be reaching out if you didn’t expect us to make it right.

“I expect a free round trip ticket anywhere I want.”

This is the second most common airline demand we get, and there is scarcely a situation where this might be warranted. Again, remember to keep your expectations realistic.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane, keep calm and ABIDE

“I expect a good answer.”

We already know you do. We already know that’s the very definition of why you are complaining. It’s not in our best interest to give you an answer that you won’t be satisfied with.

“I will make you pay and tell everyone on social media what happened.”

If what happened to you is newsworthy, everyone on social media will already know. If it’s not, then it won’t go viral. That’s just how the internet works. A threat like this is empty.

“I will never use you again.”

This is the most common airline threat we get. 9 times out of 10 it’s just that, it’s just a threat. The funny part of this is that social media keeps a history of our conversations. We already know that you’ve threatened this before, and that you’ve taken several flights with us since your last threat.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane

“You just lost a customer.”

This goes along with, “I will never use you again.” We don’t want to lose you as a customer, that is the genuine truth, and we also genuinely want to make things right (see above). The incentive to help you in anyway we can is already there. Threats, promises and demands are negligible when you are complaining to an airline because our job is to help you and keep you as a customer regardless of what you might do as a consequence.

Imagine being on the receiving end of any of these demands. Would you want to help yourself? The majority of the airline employees who you are going to be asking for help have been in your very shoes. Airline employees only fly standby, so they’ve been kicked off a flight, stranded in a strange city, delayed or diverted by weather, had to give up their seat or not gotten one altogether, been separated from their families, not been able to sit with their kids, and sat waiting in airports for hours or sometimes days – especially flying out of Barcelona.

If anyone knows how you feel, it’s them. The secret is, they want to help you. But they don’t want to be abused, yelled at, ridiculed, told they are stupid, lying, or ruining your life. They aren’t doing any of the above, and saying that they are is not going to compel them to be on your side.

Things to Say When you Complain to an Airline

“I love your airline, but I had a disappointing experience.”

Ever heard the saying you catch more flies with honey? Everyone loves to be complimented. When you start your complaint to an airline with a compliment you catch our attention. Our natural response is, “Yes! We’ve all been there. What’s going on, maybe we can help?”

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want, traveling with kids, family travel, diapers on a plane, keep calm we're on your side

“I know you can’t do anything about the weather/maintenance, any chance you could let me know if there is a different flight available?”

Coming up with a solution that would work for you, along with an understanding of the situation offers compelling reasons to respond positively. The answer we’d love to give every single complaint is, “Absolutely, we’d love to alleviate the misery of just one customer!”

“I need a little more assistance than what has been provided. Are there any other options?”

We don’t know what you need unless you speak up. Everyone’s situation, everyone’s needs, everyone’s options are different. If you need something, just ask. Give us the details and we’ll see if there is a way we can make it happen.

“My name is John, I am flying today and need help. Here is a direct message with my confirmation code, and what I need.”

Just state the facts. Don’t use superlatives, sarcasm or exaggeration. Don’t blame anyone. Everyone makes mistakes.

How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media
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There you have it: How to Complain to an Airline on Social Media to Get What you Want. Have you ever had a situation where you reached out to an airline via social media? Let us know in the comments!

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