How to File a Complaint Against an Airline
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed June 20, 2016
This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy, clarity, and style by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and attorneys and in accordance with our editorial standards.
The last updated date refers to the last time this article was reviewed by FindLaw or one of our contributing authors. We make every effort to keep our articles updated. For information regarding a specific legal issue affecting you, please contact an attorney in your area.
Most of us are all too aware of what can go wrong when we fly. Bad weather, mechanical issues, airport delays, and booking problems can make for an unpleasant experience. Airlines may overbook flights to squeeze in every last passenger and need to bump some flyers to later flights. Then there’s the prospect of lost, damaged, or misrouted baggage and poor customer service.
Scheduling snafus and long delays passing through security can cause you to miss flights as well. Missed flights can lead to missed connections, and missed connections can cause you to miss an important meeting, wedding, reunion, or other function. These are all common airline complaints. We fly to get where we are going – few people fly because they enjoy the experience. Read on to learn how to file a complaint with an airline.
First Step: Work with the Airline
When things go wrong, your first point of contact should be the airline itself. Customer satisfaction is as important to an airline as it is to most other businesses, and airlines staff their ticket desks, lounges, terminals, and baggage claim sections to help customers. If you’re going to miss your flight, miss a connection, or want a refund, the ticket desk or a help line should be your first step.
If your baggage is damaged or missing, try to work with customer service representatives in the baggage claim area. Often there may be a simple, if still aggravating, way to address your problem. When that doesn’t work, or when an experience is simply that bad, you can also file a complaint against an airline.
Reasons to File a Complaint
Making a complaint can feel pretty good. But it can also serve a practical purpose. Filing a complaint creates a record of a problem. Airlines often become aware of recurrent issues at specific airports or problems with particularly personnel through passenger complaints. Passengers who suffer some sort of loss – whether a bag, an injury, or a financial loss – can benefit from making a written complaint at the time. This can later serve as proof that there was a problem and that you brought it to the airline’s attention.
A complaint against an airline can pack a real punch. Passenger complaints filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation are recorded. These complaints are then used to evaluate individual airlines and the wider airline industry. For example, the Department of Transportation publishes a monthly Air Travel Consumer Report that relies on customer complaints.
There’s also the annual Airline Quality Rating put out by Wichita State University. The AQR ranks airlines using data for on-time performance, denied boardings, mishandled baggage, and customer complaints. This publication attracts considerable media attention and airlines take it seriously. Results and reputation matter to businesses, and an airline cited for poor performance and negative customer satisfaction can suffer the consequences.
How to File a Complaint Against An Airline
It’s worth thinking about where to file your complaint. The most obvious target, of course, is the airline. Airlines manage your travel arrangements, handle your checked luggage, and can arrange new travel arrangements. They can also be responsible for any in-flight injuries that might occur. Filing a complaint with the airline is often the best way to achieve results. All major airlines provide a means for customers to complain. Typing the name of your airline and the word “complaint” into a search engine should turn up the necessary information.
Filing a Complaint with a Government Agency
You can also file complaints with the government agencies that oversee air travel. Be aware that different agencies handle different aspects of air travel and the airline industry. Make sure you direct a complaint to the appropriate agency:
- Flight Safety - Complaints that involve flight safety concerns should be directed to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
- Security Concerns - Complaints that involve airport or air travel security (or a problem with airport screening that doesn’t involve the airline) should go to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
- Consumer Complaints – Complaints related to consumer issues such as delays, cancellations, lost luggage, and customer service should be sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division.
You can expect to hear back from the airline or agency involved. This may take the form of a request for more information or simply an acknowledgement. There are also less official resources for publicizing your complaint against an airline, such as contacting a travel website that reviews airlines, using social media, and spreading the word to your friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances.
Talking to an Aviation Lawyer
If you or someone you know has suffered an injury, whether physical or financial, due to an airplane crash, consider contacting an aviation attorney to discuss your case.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with protecting your rights with regard to travel rules and contracts.