Advice on writing letters/notes to the airlines

I’ve been meaning to make this post for a long time now, but never actually got around to it. Tons of people post complaint letters publicly, and quite frankly 90% of them crack me up. What makes me laugh? The fact that people write page-long diatribes when they’re just fishing for compensation.

Below I’ll offer a few tips about writing letters to the airlines, which apply mostly to complaint letters. Ultimately I know nothing that anyone else doesn’t, but I’ve seen ’em all and think some people need to take a different approach (and get some fresh air while they’re at it for all the anger they seem to build up). Heck, most of the people that I see with massive letters are usually disappointed with what they get as “compensation.”

First of all, let’s clearly identify the two types of complaint letters. There are those which address a serious problem that only a senior manager can fix and that are written in order to get a problem (usually an employee) “fixed.” Then there’s the type of complaint which is primarily written for compensation, since we all know there’s nothing that’s going to be done to fix it (mechanical delays, broken audio/video, etc.).

Serious complaints should never be written to the general customer service line. The job of those agents is only to appease those that write in (basically), and pick the form letter which most closely relates to the problem the customer has. Sure, maybe they’ll pile it in the mailbox of the appropriate department, but chances are they’ll never actually get to dealing with the problem.

A serious complaint about a person should be written directly to a vice president or above, since they’re the ones that are empowered to change things. Consider addressing more than one VP, basically making it a race to see who can address the problem first (of course for serious issues only, not because your AC vent was broken).

Now for the rest of the letters, those that are primarily written for compensation from a disservice, here are some tips:

  • Don’t let it get emotional. That means avoid dramatizing the event as if you almost died of thirst, fainted from overheating, or cried due to a downgrade. Just stick to the facts, the person reading the email gets hundreds of these a day and knows when someone’s being emotional.
  • Avoid using the term “you.” Don’t make it seem like the person you’re writing is at fault for what happened, like “I missed my connection flight because of you.” Trying to make a person in customer service guilty is pretty pointless, and won’t get you very far. I would even go so far as to avoid using “because of your airline.”
  • KEEP IT SHORT! This is the most important one, in my opinion. When I’m disserviced and my goal isn’t to get someone fired, my notes to customer service are always a few sentences at most. For example, I recently got downgraded on a transcontinental flight and misconnected, getting home a few hours late and in coach instead of business. My note literally read something like “I was confirmed in business for all of my flights but due to a mechanical I got downgraded and had to sit in a middle seat in economy instead. Beyond that I ended up getting home four hours late.” I ended up getting compensated pretty nicely there, and I didn’t even have to point fingers.
  • There’s no need to state your status five times in the course of the email. I only state my status at the bottom, right next to my Mileage Plus number. Trying to make yourself seem like an airline’s most important customer really won’t convince someone that likely deals with people of the same status level as you all day.
  • Perhaps slightly redundant (similar to keep it short), but stay on topic. Customer service agents are great at pinpointing a certain part of an email and just responding to that. For example, “I had a 72 hour mechanical delay, and then a further three hour delay due to weather” might net a response about how weather is entirely outside of the control of the airline. You’re only hurting yourself by adding non-essentials.
  • Again perhaps redundant, but keep it simple. Almost all CS agents for a certain Chicago based airline are located outside of the US. It’s important to remember that they’ve quite possibly never been on a plane before. If you use fancy terminology like “the APU was broken” or “there was a ground hold,” they might be confused.
  • Everyone has a different opinion on this, but I would suggest not asking for anything specific as compensation. The airlines will give what they want to regardless of what you say, and oftentimes if you make a reasonable request it’ll just be lowered because your request is viewed as a starting point for negotiation.

Those are just a few tips I had to get off of my chest. I would love to reference some past publicly posted letters I’ve read that crack me up and are a perfect example of how not to write the airlines, but that would just be too mean.

As always, your mileage may vary…

Filed Under: Advice
  1. Lucky, obviously you wrote this post because you are jealous of other people’s detailed and passionate complaint letters. It is clear that you feel small because you lack the ability to articulate your issues as well as others. 😉 Just kidding – great post and A+ advice!!!

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