The DOT’s Initial Response To My Complaint

Filed Under: Swiss

Yesterday I wrote about how I filed a complaint with the DOT regarding the Aeroplan issued award tickets for travel in Swiss first class that were made available over a week ago. Based on statements from Aeroplan, it appears that Swiss has no intention of honoring these confirmed award tickets.

While I won’t go so far as to sue any party here, it only seemed reasonable to file a complaint, if for no other reason than to see how the DOT rules here. I filed my complaint yesterday, and 24 hours later received the following email from the DOT, which I figured I’d share, in case anyone else is wondering what the process looks like:

Dear Mr. Schlappig:

This responds to your communication regarding Air Canada and Swiss Air. The U.S. Department of Transportation seeks to ensure that all airline passengers are treated fairly. Complaints from consumers are helpful to us in determining whether the airlines are in compliance with our rules and to track trends or spot areas of concern that warrant further action.

I will forward your complaint to the airline and ask the company to respond directly to you with a copy to us. Airlines are required to acknowledge receipt of a consumer complaint within 30 days and provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days. I will review the airline’s response. If you need to contact me please email me at [email protected] Please include your name and case number (see above).

If my review of your complaint and the response from the company discloses a potential violation of our rules, our office may pursue enforcement action. Generally, our office pursues enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints which may indicate a pattern or practice of violating our rules. Your complaint may be among those considered and may lead to appropriate enforcement action including the assessment of civil penalties. However, our office has no authority to order compensation for individual complainants.

I have entered your complaint in our computerized industry monitoring system, and it will be counted among the number of complaints filed against this airline in our monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. This report allows consumers and air travel companies to compare the complaint records of individual airlines and tour operators. The data in this report also serve as a basis for rulemaking, legislation and research. Consumer information for air travelers, including the Air Travel Consumer Report and our pamphlet Fly-Rights, a Consumer’s Guide to Air Travel, can be found on our website: www.transportation.gov/airconsumer. Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Sincerely,

_______________
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings

As expected, there’s not going to be any overnight resolution here, but rather this is just the start of a process. The airlines (it seems they’re contacting Air Canada and Swiss here) have a month to acknowledge the complaint, and then two months to respond. So I don’t expect action will be taken overnight, though if there are a large number of complaints, it certainly may cause the DOT to get more involved.

I’m at least impressed that I already got more than just an automated response. Not only do I have the direct email address of someone at the DOT, but they also clearly read the complaint, since I selected Swiss as the airline I was filing the complaint against in the dropdown menu, yet they mention both Air Canada and Swiss. I’m curious whether Aeroplan or Air Canada is the party responsible on the issuing side, since Aeroplan is the loyalty program, while Air Canada is the airline that issued the ticket (due to their relationship).

I’ll be curious to see how this plays out, though I expect this is the last I’ll be hearing from the DOT or either airline regarding my complaint in the next two months (hopefully Aeroplan reaches out as promised to provide alternatives, though I still haven’t heard from them).

Comments
  1. Yah that’s a form letter response with their email address, it’s the exact one I get each time. Only thing that is hit or miss is whether or not they feel it falls under department rules. Either way it’s forwarded to the carrier.

  2. Haha. You’re wasting your time. The US DOT holds no real authority over a Canadian and/or Swiss airline—especially for flights that did not start or end in the USA. Even if it did, the DOT rarely has interfered in such matters in its history with paid mistake fare tickets, let alone award tickets.

    This is a case of something obviously being too good to be true…and yet people trying to take advantage of an obvious mistake. When that mistake is realized and rectified, only the true bastards really are the ones still pressing, I am sorry to say that that group happens to include you in this instance.

    Any travel blogger worth his or her salt knew Swiss doesn’t allow First Class awards for other airline frequent flyer programs. Any travel blogger who saw that availability for Swiss First Class awards through Aeroplan knew it was a mistake. Booking those awards was perfectly prudent in case the airlines allowed those mistakes to stand. Complaining about the airline rectifying the mistake and thereby canceling the award tickets is where you look like a blowhard, however.

    You knew it was a mistake. You booked it anyway. Now you’re whining unnecessarily because it was retracted. Please. Stop. You took a shot..and it didn’t work out. Move on. Swiss didn’t do anything that Swiss shouldn’t be expected to do.

  3. Do you really think that you got “more than just an automated response”? FYI, that’s an automated response.

  4. Bill don’t be rude! Lucky is as mentioned “if for no other reason than to see how the DOT rules here” only trying to educate himself and his audience.

  5. @Bill – uhh yes they did. They cancelled tickets unilaterally after they were confirmed and ticketed.

  6. @Bill On the contrary, the DoT has authority over any flight ticket whose origin or destination is in the US. The nationality of the airline is irrelevant. If you’ve been following, the ticket was from lax.

  7. Just wondering, has the DOT actually ever helped someone who complained? Not trying to be a SA, but I’m serious. Has there ever been a case when the DOT dropped the hammer on a carrier?
    Has anyone had their first class seat reinstated? Received a check? More miles? Anything?

  8. @Bill

    You’re sounding like a bitter old bitch. Jeez, your whole tirade read like it was composed by The Simpsons writers as dialogue for the Comic Book Guy.

    An “obvious mistake”? No. There is precedent for Swiss allowing award redemptions for its first class seats. In fact, this whole transaction seemed completely legit.

    I so hope Ben’s friend & colleague, Matthew, does end up suing Aeroplan. It would be a fascinating case to follow.

  9. @Lucky — I was talking to someone at Aeroplan yesterday about an unrelated Swiss award and this situation came up. The representative mentioned that the current contract between Swiss and Aeroplan specifically prohibits Aeroplan from offering LX F inventory for award bookings. Haven’t seen this specific detail mentioned anywhere so I thought I would share.

  10. Are you still going to review premium cabins on various airlines or will this site just be dedicated to the Swiss Affair?

  11. @Geoff Yes, I received a full refund after a DOT complaint. I’m in Australia and had a Virgin America flight booked in first class from SFO to ORD. Virgin changed the flight times which would have resulted in a missed connection. Virgin would only offer a credit if I didn’t accept the change and I wanted (and believe I deserved according to their T&Cs) a full refund so I could book through another carrier. My ‘discussions’ with Virgin were appalling and in the end I wrote to the DOT. They agreed that I was entitled to a full refund and wrote to Virgin accordingly. A refund was received a month later.

    The letter Lucky posted above is very similar to the first one I received, but other correspondence was regular and personalised.

  12. I got the same canned response my complained about British Airways canceling my confirmed first class ticket.

    I still have not yet heard back from the DOT.

    Or the airline.

  13. @ Bill

    I have really wondered about the same. Why would a Canadian or Swiss company be bothered by a couple of guys sitting in some office located in US calling themselves DOT?
    For local complaints regarding local flights and/or local airlines I get it. Several countries have similar local bodies regulating local issues. And its a good thing they exist.

    I really don’t see any role for DOT here. Even in the case they would think they hold jurisdiction, it would be nothing more than a local perception on something outside the borders of US. I really dont see why Swiss or Aeroplan should even bother.

  14. @ron

    Why would they be bothered? Lets see: Maybe because they want business from one of the wealthiest nation in the world? Any airline would be significantly hampered if the US didn’t allow them to do business in the US market. If you want to access the US market, you better play by US rules.

    If you land or take off from the US, then DOT absolutely has jurisdiction.

    @Bill
    It’s fine if you feel this is a pointless fight. But telling others who are doing something constructive (having DOT clearly define what is and isn’t acceptable) to just stop sounds pretty arrogant. Do we all need permission and your blessing?

  15. it’s a bit amusing to see fanbois attacking anyone who has an opinion that’s not in line with the author’s.

  16. This is very interesting. I hope everyone affected by that submits to the DOT, It could set a precetent which would prevent companies from being this stupid and disrespectful about awards.

  17. @David – “Any airline would be significantly hampered if the US didn’t allow them to do business in the US market.”

    Putting aside the morals/legalities of this, you can’t possibly think that LX is going to lose the ability to fly to the US over this. If you do, you’re delusional. And Aeroplan won’t be doing business in ANY market in a couple of years, since they’ll likely go bust when AC starts their own program.

  18. Looking at the pictures of Swiss F, I’m thinking you’d get the feeling you’re sitting in some cheap Asian call center rather than a plushy F cabin!
    Good luck with DOT~ I suspect their primary aim is to collect statistics, and only moved into any sort of action when an overwhelming number of complaints are received, which is almost never.

  19. @Curious George

    there were other articles out today as well. No need to read this one when this issue is of no interest to you.

    Other people (especially pax affected by this “glitch”) want to know how this issue will be resolved.

  20. @glenn t

    ever flown Swiss First Class? Thought so! Try to “youtube” some videos even, then we can talk…

  21. Why the difference in this time and the last couple of times it was bookable using miles? Were there simply more booked this time?

  22. “Just wondering, has the DOT actually ever helped someone who complained?”

    Yep. 2+ years ago when I complained to DOT about Lufthansa being completely unresponsive I was astounded that one of their top U.S. PR people phoned me to discuss the matter a few days after my complaint was filed. Not surprisingly Lufthansa agreed their customer service was woefully unacceptable during their pilots’ wildcat strike, and they offered me 5,000 miles as compensation for being involuntary rebooked and rerouted on another airline. I laughed at the rep and told her 5,000 miles is what we call “lächerlich” in German. Of course she didn’t speak German, so I told her it means laughable.

  23. @David

    Yes agree regarding business on US soil. But Aeroplan is not incorporated in the US. Swiss maybe, if they are hugely dependent on US traffic they would pay attention – for the time being at best.
    Look at what happened in the financial sector. There was also a body trying to rule beyond the borders. Ever tried opening a bank account somewhere outside US? They show you the door. As a result you are stuck with local banking which is expensive, underdeveloped and unsafe compared to virtually anywhere in the world.

    So on this particular case maybe Swiss may pay attention to DOT, I do not know that. But if DOT is going to bully around foreign airlines do not be surprised if sooner or later they will seek how to ban US citizens flying from US. Worst case in future you need to hop over the border first to get on a non US airline.
    Sounds ridiculous right? Well, it is still better than what you now have access to in banking. The banking sector worldwide doesn’t need you anymore.
    Regardless your self perceived ‘wealth’.

  24. “So on this particular case maybe Swiss may pay attention to DOT, I do not know that. But if DOT is going to bully around foreign airlines do not be surprised if sooner or later they will seek how to ban US citizens flying from US. Worst case in future you need to hop over the border first to get on a non US airline.”

    Um, no… Does anyone seriously believe that Swiss will stop serving the USA? Because, that’s what your sentences above clearly imply. Nope, the US is a lucrative market. It’s not Swiss’ only market, clearly, but it is a relatively important one. If the DOT does order Swiss to take some action (refunds, rebookings, etc.) then there is no way that Swiss would move it’s US operations “over the border” to Canada or Mexico. Seriously? My buddy flew Swiss out of LAX this past summer. Does anyone honestly believe that he would trot down to Mexico City to grab a Swiss 777 there? Heck no.

    This also isn’t bullying. A customer has made a complaint. The DOT will investigate to see first if it possesses jurisdiction over the dispute. Maybe it does and its investigation will continue. Maybe it doesn’t, in which case it will halt any work on it. Time will tell. But bullying? Really? Hardly.

  25. @Bob

    Of course such will not happen because of this paticular case. And if this affects a few you might even get something out of complaining.
    My point is that when cost of compliance becomes too high, then business will move in such way that compliance is no longer an issue – either by relocating, or by no longer accepting US citizens.
    Im not implying Swiss will immediately stop flying to LAX. I was merely responding to ‘they need us because we are the wealthiest nation on earth’. Such will not be a major consideration as it is perfectly possible, and sometimes even more lucrative doing business outside the US.

  26. @ron
    Cost of complying to KYC banking regulations are very different from complying to consumer protection rules when it comes to mistake fares. I can’t see any airline leaving the US market simply because they’re asked to have some level of responsibility when it comes to mistake fares. (I don’t think airlines should be asked to honour all mistakes, I do think airlines have a responsibility to inform customers within 24-48 hours)

    EU has pretty aggressive consumer protection and I don’t see airlines leaving that market.

  27. “I am not a lawyer, but [enter legal analysis].”

    E.g. “I’m not a lawyer, but if you think a foreign airline is going to accept US DOT jurisdiction simply because they fly to and from the US, you’re delusional.”

    Well, that’s the problem: you’re not a lawyer. If a carrier operates from a given country, they have to comply with their regulations. If they don’t, litigation ensues. And if they lose, there’s plenty of ways enforcement can take place other than cancelling the offending airline’s slots altogether, like, for instance, issuing a fine and seizing bank accounts or other assets if they don’t cough up.

    Exactly how it works in the EU, btw: Regulation 261/2004 imposes broad consumer rights under strict liability on all carriers (regardless of nationality) flying into or out of the EU – if there’s a cancellation/delay caused by anything other than a natural disaster or a severe weather event that couldn’t have been reasonably foreseen, they are required to handsomely compensate passengers.

  28. DOT cannot force airline to honor, they could impose a fine, which looking at the past is slap on the wrist level. Swiss could just opt to pay the small fine and move on

  29. DOT has levied huge fines recently. Anyone who thinks it is powerless is naive. They regulate all travel to and from the U.S. Swiss/Air Canada needs the US Market way more than the US Market needs Swiss/Air Canada.

  30. Form letter, but it may have gotten filed into this common case so you got one customized a bit for this case. I have never had DOT loop back to me on a complaint. It was always the airline and then that was it. You may never hear from them again.

  31. I think it’s great that you wrote them. Such letters need to be written and I commend you for doing so. While you are at it, have you/will you write the Swiss CEO and or Chief Pilot? Swiss needs to understand that their failure to honor a contract which involves you the flying passenger and member of the mileage plan, and Aeroplan who they contract with — is NOT OK.

  32. @ron,

    “Im not implying Swiss will immediately stop flying to LAX. I was merely responding to ‘they need us because we are the wealthiest nation on earth’.”

    I honestly didn’t read that anywhere in the comments. I truly don’t think that anyone said that, nor even seriously implied that.

    Regardless, whatever fines the US DOT may – key word “may” – order them to pay will be a pittance in the great corporate scheme of things. What it would do is make those affected whole. US governmental agencies typically don’t attempt to fine a company into submission, let alone out of a market unless their is a pattern of abuse. Companies often get minor yet public slaps on the wrist, the object being getting the offending company to comply with the law, not to drive them out of business or from a market. Keeping businesses operating and employing people is often seen as the greater good. If the DOT possesses jurisdiction and if it chooses to pursue the matter, then that’s the likely outcome – making Swiss honor the tickets and/or refunding all monies and miles, plus a small slap on the proverbial wrist to remind them not to break the law in the future.

    Again, this is all a big, “if.” The DOT may not take the case. We shall see, but even if they do take the claim and rule against Swiss, it will hardly be enough to make the cost of doing business here untenable. Besides, Swiss’ own data indicates that the Americas, North and South, are their second largest market by number of passengers and revenue per seat mile. Having expanded across the pond, this hemisphere is now relatively important to them. Even if the DOT did fine them more severely, the Americas are important enough to their bottom line that Swiss wouldn’t just up and leave the market. The self-inflicted damage to their own bottom line in the short term would be far too great.

    https://www.swiss.com/CMSContent/corporate/EN/media/newsroom/traffic-reports/Documents/20171109-press-release-traffic-report-oct-2017.pdf

    The other documents on that page are interesting, as one can go back any number of months and see the slow but steady growth in traffic to the Americas. Translate that into profits and there’s no real way that a DOT fine over this would make them abandon the market.

  33. Here’s the response i received:

    Dear Mr. Davilla:
    This is in response to your experience you have communicated regarding Air Canada and Swiss Air. The U.S. Department of Transportation seeks to ensure that all airline passengers are treated fairly. Complaints from consumers are helpful to us in determining whether the airlines are in compliance with our rules and to track trends or spot areas of concern that warrant further action.
    I will forward your complaint to the airline and ask the company to respond directly to you with a copy to us. Airlines are required to acknowledge receipt of a consumer complaint within 30 days and provide a substantive response to the complainant within 60 days. I will review the airline’s response. If you need to contact me please email me at ************@dot.gov. Please include your name and case number (see above).
    If my review of your complaint and the response from the company discloses a potential violation of our rules, our office may pursue enforcement action. Generally, our office pursues enforcement action on the basis of a number of complaints which may indicate a pattern or practice of violating our rules. Your complaint may be among those considered and may lead to appropriate enforcement action including the assessment of civil penalties. However, our office has no authority to order compensation for individual complainants.
    I have entered your complaint in our computerized industry monitoring system, and it will be counted among the number of complaints filed against this airline in our monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. This report allows consumers and air travel companies to compare the complaint records of individual airlines and tour operators. The data in this report also serve as a basis for rulemaking, legislation and research. Consumer information for air travelers, including the Air Travel Consumer Report and our pamphlet Fly-Rights, a Consumer’s Guide to Air Travel, can be found on our website: http://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer. Thank you for taking the time to contact us.
    Sincerely,

    Aviation Consumer Protection Division
    Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings

  34. Firstly, I’m positively surprised by the rather quick and affirmative response from DOT. Authorities in other countries could take it as an example.

    As your contractual party is Aeroplan/AC I guess they’ll have to deal with it. Which is good in your case, because LX does not honor any legislation (e.g. EU 261/2004) unless imposed by supreme court in the individual case. Even when you cancel a paid flex ticket, they will only issue a voucher, no cash … There’s a whole thread in flyertalk about that. And in absence of a small claims court in Switzerland, it’s extremely costly to litigate … (although one of the flyertalkers now appears to do it … fingers crossed).

  35. Very interesting – but I got a very generic reply from Swiss earlier today! Called Aeroplan earlier and they said nothing they can do as it’s been decided by management above.

    *******************************************************************

    Dear XXXXX

    We are contacting you regarding your message, which has been registered under the reference *********.

    SWISS is committed to offering a high quality of service and your concern is therefore important to us. However, due to a high volume of requests, you may experience a delay in receiving a response. Your patience is greatly appreciated while we process your file. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

    Yours sincerely,

    Customer Feedback Services

    Swiss International Air Lines Ltd
    Postfach 2013
    8032 Zurich
    Switzerland
    SWISS.COM/CUSTOMERSERVICE

  36. Yep, you are a schmuck like the rest of us! You are happy you got a personalized response, you didn’t. You have the personal email address of someone in the Department of Transportation, you don’t. Don’t be curious how this turns out, it won’t! Been there, done that! Even Capitol One won’t issue a chargeback, because in all honesty, Air Canada won’t even give their money back, so they come up with their own form letter they keep spitting back at Me! Your “friend” at the DOT won’t answer any emails from you and likely will cave in to Air Canada and all the other foreign airlines. What is needed is a system where air travel is not paid in the present with sales on travel in the future. What other industry can get paid in full now on the promise that maybe they will provide the service in the future?

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