Marian Wright Edelman is president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. She’s been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism. She was a Macarthur Fellow and a recipient of the Community of Christ International Peace Award.
Her nephew, Harvard Professor Ben Edelman, continues in this grand tradition.
He’s perhaps best known for ordering food from a Chinese restaurant that hadn’t updated its website properly with new prices.
Last week, Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of Chinese food from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.
Edelman soon came to the horrifying realization that he had been overcharged. By a total of $4.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Harvard Business School professor thinks a family-run Chinese restaurant screwed him out of $4, you’re about to find out.
(Hint: It involves invocation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and multiple threats of legal action.)
He’s also threated to take his complaints against a sushi restaurant to the state’s liquor control board since they wouldn’t honor his Groupon for their price fixe menu.
He joined Flyertalk three months before I did, in January 2001.
American discloses checked bag fees on their website. They disclose it with their ticket receipts. They even try to upsell you during the booking process to fares that have checked bags included. (The media covers checked bag fees, too, since consumers hate these fees so much.)
When you get an e-ticket confirmation email after you’ve purchased travel from American, the email contains this fine print:
He contends, though, that if you change your tickets then any subsequent email from American omits that crucial information about the checked bag policy that applies.
And, he argues,
Under DOT regulation 14 CFR 399.85(c), “all e-ticket confirmations … must include information regarding the passenger’s free baggage allowance and/or the applicable fee for a carry-on bag and the first and second checked bag”.
In the vast majority of cases consumers get more generous bag policies when their tickets are reissued. They aren’t being disadvantaged. They’re getting upgrades, where baggage allowances increase. The hypothetical customer not receiving disclosure of reduced baggage allowances is hard to even imagine.
Someone would have to change their travel to a ticket (such as an international one) where they won’t have to pay for bags to one where they do (such as a domestic one).
That person, it’s true, wouldn’t have received new fine print.
I would love to meet the person buying international airline tickets, canceling, rebooking a domestic flight instead and who doesn’t know airlines charge for checked bag fees. But would have read the fine print above and understood. I suspect this does not exist. Or if they do, they aren’t common enough that a regulation should address the situation.
We are talking about post purchase. Whether the fees are disclosed in the email or the consumer is informed at the airport it is the same fee. There’s not even a question of information that could have be used to make a decision about buying the ticket.
I am in no way an expert on 14 CFR 399.85(c) and will grant the Harvard Professor’s read for the purpose of this exercise. Let’s assume American is required to include this legalese in their emails. I’m not sympathetic to the argument that they should be.
The more information we have to sift through the harder it is to find what we need. Maybe American is supposed to include this snippet in every email, I don’t think anyone is really made better off by it. When you give everyone every piece of information they could possibly need, they see none of it.
Edelman appears to pretend he’s jousting at the windmills of consumer fairness, but could this possibly be the most important customer facing item to work on?