Last updated: 10:00 AM ET, Tue February 16 2016

Are Domestic Airlines Hiding Required Complaint Information on Purpose?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | February 16, 2016

Are Domestic Airlines Hiding Required Complaint Information on Purpose?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

A member of Congress from California is challenging the way that airlines handle passenger complaints. Congresswoman Janine Hahn, a Democrat representing the Los Angeles area, has gone as far as saying that airlines purposefully make it difficult for passengers to lodge complaints. 

There could be something to this complaint. A law that was passed in 2012 requires airlines to provide links on their website that direct unhappy fliers to a Department of Transportation complaint page where they can officially air their grievances to the government. 

Complaint information hidden in obscure places

When Hahn and her staff researched the issue, they found that every airline complied with the law, but they put the links and complaint directions in places that were virtually impossible to find. Hahn told the Los Angeles Times: “I searched for the hotline number myself on different airline websites and couldn't find it anywhere. If I can't find it, I am assuming many other fliers can't find it either, and the data demonstrates that.” 

She added that staffers were eventually able to find contact information for the complaint line. On Delta's site, it was listed under “Travelers With Disabilities,” not a place most people would think to look for a general complaint form. Spirit, meanwhile, buried the complaint information at the end of a 51-page legal document that it called its “Contract of Carriage.”

READ MORE: Are Airlines Really Experiencing Record-High Numbers of Passenger Complaints?

An amendment for the upcoming FAA funding bill

Hahn is seeking to add an amendment to the upcoming FAA funding bill. The amendment would require airlines to put information on how and where to make a complaint in a central, easily noticeable place on their website. 

The problem is that a number of lawmakers are trying to attach amendments to the funding bill. It is very unlikely that the final bill will include all of them. Hahn’s idea is more likely than some others to make it to the final vote at the end of March. 

Why the amendment could pass

First of all, it does not require a major investment from airlines. They would simply have to get their in-house web masters to update their sites. They might even be able to plead ignorance about the previously obscure placement of the complaint information and point to a more prominent position of the info as an example of their commitment to customer service.  

READ MORE: Opponents of Privatization of Air Traffic Control Send Letter to Congress

The airline lobby will most likely spend its time focusing on fighting amendments that could cost them a great deal of money or on the major issue of air traffic control privatization. 

But is it really necessary?

If it is included in the funding bill, how much of a difference will Hahn’s amendment make? Perhaps some, but a quick Google search is all that is needed to find the Department of Transportation page where you can make an official complaint via phone, snail mail or a web form. This page even has advice about how to offer extra information (copy of your ticket, itinerary, flight numbers) so that your complaint can be taken more seriously and even lead to some action from the airline.    

Yes, it certainly appears that some airlines are purposely putting required consumer complaint information in obscure places, and Rep. Hahn’s amendment would correct this issue. However, complaint information is readily available and easy to find on the DOT website, so anyone should be able to find it anyway. 


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.

Discover Club Med All-Inclusive Vacations

Hotels & Resorts