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How to Write an Airline a Complaint Letter

Delta Boeing 777 – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

One of the “benefits” of running an airline website are all the emails that I receive from people complaining about their airline experience. Many have an expectation that we will run a BREAKING story about how a flight was delayed 30 minutes and the person should be compensated. Honestly, many of the emails are just that ridiculous. From time to time I get an email with a legitimate concern, but the way they go about it is all wrong.

BONUS:  Breaking News: OMG, Flight Delayed One Hour – Thoughts on the Airline Hate Mail I Receive

They will yell and scream at the airline and demanding things change and it just always rubs me the wrong way. Recently, I was sent an email by a concerned passenger who had contacted Delta, and I thought it was pretty right-on with the tone and explanation of what happened. I wanted to share it as a “how to” guide for writing an airline a letter.

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Scott, who wrote the letter, is a big fan of Delta. He told me that he grew up on Republic, then Northwest, and then transitioned to Delta post-merger. He likes Delta and thinks that the merger has gone well. He has always felt taken care of as an elite mileage member and he never complains when he doesn’t get an upgrade; he just feels satisfied when one comes through. Seems to be a really down to earth, airline-loving kind of guy. So during a recent negative experience he was surprised. Here is the letter that was written to Delta Air Lines and cc’d to me:


I normally am not too irritated regarding moderately delayed flights.  However, the hassle I experienced today trying to get home to Orlando from Moline, IL was just unacceptable.  I am not oblivious to the plight of airline operations.  There has been a cataclysmic combination of events since January 1 that continued to snowball into one big mess, snow, deep freeze and new crew rest rules to name a few.  With that being said, yesterday I volunteered to surrender my seat because you needed 10 volunteers for my flight.  I actually had fairly flexible travel plans so leaving the next day (today) didn’t really phase me.  The person who got my seat was very thankful as they were trying to get somewhere for a family event and that was worth it for me.  It seems that ExpressJet had cancelled a flight or two out of Moline yesterday.  So this morning when I awoke I decided to check and see how the flights were doing.  As it turns out the first two MLI-ATL flights of the day eventually cancelled.

As the day trudged on, I eventually got the dreaded phone call from DL saying my flight was delayed.  I immediately checked the Fly Delta App on my phone to find it was epically useless.  It wanted me to search for alternate flights or accept the flights that had been chosen for me.  Of which each time I tried to do either it ended with some sort of error.  I didn’t want to burden the reservations line, but I had no choice.  My first concern was to find out realistically or not if the airframe that was assigned to my flight was actually even going to make it to ATL to come to MLI.  I eventually got enough information to find it was in Mobile, Alabama running at least 2 hours late.  The earlier cancellations in the day were listed as “weather” related.  Researching other operating partners of Delta and overall airport operations it seems ExpressJet had the bulk of cancellations in your world today.  They can try to blame weather, but when you look at other operators flying from ATL, MOB and

other southern areas they were all on time.

Eventually my aircraft made it out of MOB to ATL and I decided it was likely safe to head to MLI.  My parents, who are both 74 years old, were driving me the 2 hours back to MLI to catch the flight.  I really had written this all off until I was passing through security in MLI behind a pilot for Delta Connection.  We made some small talk due to the line at security.  I made mention it’s been an interesting day with weather and crew rest.  He told me it was indeed a mess insomuch he sat almost an hour on hold with his own company today trying to get some information and was unable to talk to anyone.

While I realize that DL, ExpressJet, Endeavour Air, or any other operator didn’t institute the crew rest rules, you are still accountable for applying them to your system(s).  For that, it would seem that the people at ExpressJet epically failed.  They failed not only Delta and your employees, but your passengers and most importantly, their own employees.  By painting the cancellations with a wide brush stroke of “weather related” gets you out of compensation, it doesn’t slip past those who are smart enough to do some research.

I am not writing this to stomp my feet and say I will never fly you again, because I will.  But, if your partners can’t toe the line and manage to implement mandated changes, it gives me pause as to their capability to safely get me where I need to go.

Best wishes for 2014.

Scott A-Z

A Northwest Orient DC-10 – Photo: Bob Garrard

Scott was calm. Understanding. Acknowledging the complexities of air travel, but still able to communicate his frustration. Why can’t more complaint letters be like that?

After a while Delta responded:

Hello Scott,

Thanks so much for your email about your recent flight delay. It’s very upsetting when one of our Elite customers doesn’t receive the service they should’ve received.

I’m really sorry your ExpressJet Airlines flight to Atlanta was delayed due to late arrival of our aircraft. We know you’re eager to get to where you are going, and it’s difficult when you have to wait. I understand you were disappointed with the delay.

We Hear You!

I’ve passed your comments directly to the Moline Airport Customer Service leadership team, so they can consider your experience when making needed changes to improve our service. We thank you for taking the time to write.

We thank you again for your business as a Medallion member and look forward to your future flights with us….that operate on schedule.


Anthony XXX

You Share, We Care

Was that enough for Scott? He told me, “I feel that their reply to this one missed the point.  The employees at MLI were not the problem.   Had their email simply said, “we will pass your comments and concerns to our partners at ExpressJet…”  it would have made me feel they really paid attention.”

This experience won’t deter him from flying on Delta. “At the end of the day, I got home safely, which is all I ask, but their partner’s terrible management of several events likely left a black eye for many a would-be loyal travelers of Delta. I’ll close with this, even though I inherited Delta kicking and screaming as a NWA WorldPerks Elite I’ve grown to love them more than NWA.  I intend to stay loyal, even with all the recent changes that are directly aimed at the true hard scrabble butt-in-the-seat-planning- ahead mid-revenue business flier like me.”

I think we can all learn a thing or two from Scott — how to write a proper airline letter and have a proper attitude about dealing with airlines. What do you think?

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