What Do People Complain to the DOT About? These 10 Government Complaints are Awesome!

I’ve had terrible customer service, awful flight delays, cancelled flights. Things happen in travel. I try to let it go, and appreciate what Louis C.K. reminds us is “the miracle of human flight.”

I have never submitted a complaint to the Department of Transportation. (Nor have I ever complained to the federal government about credit card marketing.)

Have you? I’ve often wondered what it would take to cause me to escalate an issue, make it federal.

Reader Paul H. points me to this piece on complaints filed with the DOT, based on a FOIA request for submissions referencing customer service and discrimination during a two month period in 2014.

Here are some truly special highlights…

  • Receiving a text from a JetBlue employee who apparently checked out the passenger while checking them in, and wanted to pursue the matter further. Inappropriate, of course — and likely a firing offense from JetBlue — though not sure this ought to be a federal issue.
  • An infectious disease specialist didn’t like the sanitary conditions of a regional jet’s lavatory. I can only recommend Emirates here, which has two designated attendants to clean their first class lavatories onboard the A380.
  • White people complain about being charged a change fee, when they saw other people that weren’t white having fees waived (no mention of the specific issues leading to such a fee waiver). So, racism.
  • In another ‘discrimination’ case, a complainant lost their seat on a flight when they left the gate area prior to departure. We learn this was because their daughter ‘pooped’.
  • Someone complained that they weren’t permitted to sit in an exit row because they displayed medical issues that could prevent them from carrying out the assigned duties to an exit row passenger, and because they demonstrated that they don’t follow flight attendant instructions.
  • Another passenger was “devastated emotionally and psychologically” after having their cup filled only halfway with water and having to insist on getting more. Apparently flight attendant eye rolls deserve federal complaints.
  • In the perfect instantiation of ‘DYKWIA’ someone complained to the federal government because they were not permitted — as a Gold frequent flyer — to deplane their aircraft before business class passengers.
  • Someone else complained — again, to the federal government — because gate agents announced that overhead bins were full and passengers would have to gate check.. when there was still space left in the bins. Put another way, it was like any other domestic flight.
  • One woman was removed from a plane for her behavior. In her complaint to the DOT she acknowledges that her husband says she was drunk. And the DOT is supposed to…?
  • Southwest only offered $50 compensation to someone that was given a drink with the metal tie from the ice bag in it. The federal government should intervene to get them $100.

These, people, are your fellow passengers!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Complaint #2 doesn’t seem that crazy, although the research as I understand it has found that tray tables and armrests are among the filthiest surfaces humans come into contact with on a regular basis. In an ordinary industry, failure to take reasonable efforts to disinfect commonly touched surfaces might give rise to negligence liability at some point. But given the Airline Deregulation Act’s preemption of many claims against airlines, perhaps complaining to DOT isn’t so crazy after all.

  2. I complained about United accepting payment for my trip, although I clearly had the wrong country in the billing address.

  3. Gary! The real problem here is the Louis C.K. video you keep referring to does not work! Didn’t work the last time either ;-(

  4. “Someone else complained because gate agents announced that overhead bins were full and passengers would have to gate check.. when there was still space left in the bins.”

    I don’t know that this is a silly or trivial complaint. As you say, it happens often. But it is literally false. It is to the passengers’ detriment (delay and risk of loss when bags are checked). Passengers cannot sue airlines for unfair/deceptive practices under state law, as federal law exempts airlines from these state laws. So as a practical matter, passengers’ sole recourse is to complain to DOT. I would be thrilled if something could be done about these widespread false statements, which have harmed me personally, but for which I have to date found no recourse.

  5. @Ben it’s annoying, but seriously federal? You’ve filed complaints before of course and I have not so we may just see this issue differently.

  6. I’m guessing that the infectious disease specialist complained because he/she is probably constantly thinking about such things and felt that if he/she didn’t complain, who would?

    The “metal tie in the drink thing” reminded me of an incident that happened to me last weekend. I was in an upscale restaurant, enjoying a bowl of seafood chowder, and I felt a crunch. I thought it was an inadvertent shell, but when I pulled the item out of my mouth, it was a large piece of plastic. Maybe from some kind of sorting bin? What do you do? It didn’t freak me out, and I didn’t want any kind of compensation, but does the restaurant — and other diners — need to know about this? I was just going to forget about it (it was plastic, not glass), but my wife casually mentioned it to the waiter when he cleared our dishes. It didn’t seem to make much of an impression on him, and I didn’t even get my soup comped. 🙂

  7. Major liberal mentality – studies have shown this entitlement disease to be caused by public school/university indoctrination and the recent implementation of Obamacare.

  8. I complain to the DOT because that way I can be sure of getting a response. In my experience as a non elite flier on UA, any complaints (about anything: delays, cancelations, lost bags, involuntary downgrades) to UA are simply ignored. If you complain to th DOT, I am guaranteed an answer, usually in a couple of days, and always receive compensation if warranted.

  9. Small, but annoying matter. The use of the non-word, “deplane”. I know it’s in the dictionary, but it’s still idiotic.

  10. @Gary, what is a passenger supposed to do if a FA or gate agent says, falsely and without basis, that bins are full when they are not? Passenger can refuse to board and insist on alternative transportation — fine if you’re patient; terrible if not. Passenger can surrender his bag but risk loss (and airline is likely to impose the usual disclaimers as to fragile items, electronics, etc.). I’ve read about some major losses (four digits) that occurred in exactly this way.

    You question making this a “federal” matter. What alternative do you suggest? A letter to the airline is not likely to get any serious investigation or resolution. No state regulator can do much on aviation issues due to airlines’ exemption from state laws. Our regulatory scheme is a federal scheme; if a passenger has a complaint, the federal DOT is basically the only place to take it. Personally I would much prefer to bring suit under MGL 93a, my state’s consumer protection law, and I think I would easily prevail on these facts under that law (if this problem had happened to me, which fortunately it has not). But federal legislation denies me the right to bring suit under MGL 93a or any other state law. So here we are.

  11. The complaints are indeed awesome, as is the knowledge of Ben being the complainer regarding his bags not being allowed into overstuffed bins. Just how large were those bags, anyway?

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