Did you know that airlines can take your money for tickets, and then keep it when their own delays cause you to miss connections? There is a word for that. Did you know they can ignore requests for customer service? Not reply to messages they acknowledge they will?

Did you know that the Bush administration has putt handcuffs on the Department of Transportation’s ability to respond to consumer complaints? Sure DOT says file a complaint online, but in September 2007 according to New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg this is an empty pursuit:

The Secretary of Transportation has the authority to regulate airlines and issue fines up to $2,500 to carriers for violations of federal airline consumer protection rules. But the Bush Administration has chosen to limit the number of passenger complaints DOT can follow up on. Claiming budgetary shortfalls, the DOT only follows up on complaints related to discrimination and handicap accessibility. Most complaints are simply logged and reported monthly.

So this is a CogDog effort to smoke some response out of an airline who has taken my money, cost me another $900 to get home, and then, after ignoring most of my contact requests, says it is all my fault.

We will see about that. What follows, for documentation, is a letter I am sending by registered mail to Icelandair, who in my mind, has committed theft.

I do not expect to see one cent of my money. They have all the lawyers and fine print stacked up against me. But the game has changed and many businesses do not get the fact that they can no longer stomp on consumers and trust that no one hears about it. Companies need to know that they are transparent, and we have collective/connective tools to shine lights on the rats.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Icelandair North America
5950 Symphony Woods Rd Ste 410
Columbia, MD 21044

Cc: Better Business Bureau, U.S. Department of Transportation Aviation Consumer Protection Division, GetSatisfaction.com

To whom it may concern,

I am writing seeking resolution to a series of incidents beyond my control including late arrival and baggage delivery of an Icelandair flight on November 29 that caused me to miss two connections and required me to pay out of pocket $917.50 for a ticket to get home plus losing $158.04 for a prepaid hotel I was unable to use due to these delays. In summary and detail below:

  • Icelandair has pocketed money I paid for two unused tickets for flights missed that were not my fault. We have a word in America for taking money.
  • Icelandair’s customer service has been abysmal in (a) lacking a phone number for customers to call for service and (b) a pattern of repeated ignoring requests for customer service submitted via their web form and by e-mail.

I am asking in writing for a refund of $1075 as a minimum response to a terrible sequence of poor customer service. My next stop may be small claims court.

My roundtrip from Phoenix to Reykjavik was purchased via expedia (ticket 108 7376269300) included legs of US domestic travel on US Airways and American Airlines, and according to these airlines, all fees ($1204.30 total) were paid to Icelandair for these tickets.

I departed from Reykjavik on November 29 on flight 631 scheduled to arrive at Logan International airport in Boston at 5:50PM, which as planned should have left me enough time to make my 7:40PM flight from Logan to JFK on American Eagle. The attached message I received from Harpa Johnaasdottir documents the late arrival of flight 631 by 23 minutes. Officials at other airlines I have asked have said that Icelandair being late on arrival by any amount holds responsibility for me missing connections. I did not exit the plane until 6:25PM. Bags did not emerge in baggage claim until 6:35PM, and my own did not come out until 6:45PM. It took at least 10 minutes to exit US customs as there was a single long line at least 45 persons ahead of me.

At approximately 6:55PM I took my bag down the hall to the transfer station so it could be sent to American Eagle. Please note that the attendant for Icelandair was absent from their post, and it took some talking to an agent from another airline who agreed to transfer my bag. I was told to wait for bus 11 to take me from Terminal E to B, and exited at 7:00PM to see that bus pull away (I would have been aboard that bus had your employee been at their post).

I waited another 14 minutes as many buses came and went. I ran to the ticket counter for American Eagle to find the lights had been turned off and the gate agents were gone. I attempted to board electronically at 7:18PM (see attached receipt) was not allowed to get a boarding pass or get aboard my flight to JFK.

Because of the delays I missed my 7:40PM flight to JFK as well as my next day scheduled flight at 6:15am on US Airways (flight 15). The only way I could get home was to purchase a ticket from the US Airways counter in Boston for the next morning that cost me an extra $917.50. Because the US Airways ticket I had was purchased from Icelandair, they could not issue me a ticket change.

I returned to the International Terminal at Logan to seek an Icelandair staff person, but the counter was closed. I used my computer to log onto your web site for customer service (http://www.icelandair.us/information/about-icelandair/contact-us/) which lacks a phone number to call for assistance. The only form of contact was a web form there, where I submitted a message Nov 30 (item number 138307) for which I never got a response. On December 10, I called your reservations line (1-800-223-5500) where the operator was most unhelpful, claiming there was no phone number for customer service, and only could provide an email address, to whom I wrote the attached message on December 11. I received one response from Harpa Johnnsdottir (attached, Dec 17) claiming that there was sufficient time for me to make my connection, and implying it was my fault for missing it.

I am an experienced international travel, and have never had problems making connections at Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Baltimore airports.

I replied to this message on December 17 (attached) with a detailed chronology as detailed in this letter, and have not gotten a response. Another message submitted to your web service form, acknowledged on Dec 18 (item number 140011) has also been ignored.

I have contacted American Airlines, US Airways, expedia, and Icelandair seeking a response, and everyone points at someone else.

Bottom line- I paid my money to Icelandair for tickets I could not use due to delays of Icelandair; I was forced to pay much more for a ticket to get home; Icelandair has kept this money and offered only one token apology; and Icelandair has demonstrated a repeated pattern of ignoring customer requests for service.

I regret this experience has tainted a wonderful month I spent in Iceland, and while I do plan to return, I will seek any way other than Icelandair to get there. This entire sad tale has been posted on my website and shared with every consumer agency I can find:
http://cogdogblog.com/2008/12/29/icelandair-took-my-money

Please do the right thing and provide more than empty apologies.

Regards

Alan Levine

———————————————
UPDATE Jan 5 2009: (partial) Victory! Victory! Victory! Icelandair is now offering to refund $400 for my unused original tickets, Yay!

The post "Shining a Light: Icelandair Pockets My Money" was originally emerged from the primordial ooze and first walked on land at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2008/12/icelandair-took-my-money/) on December 29, 2008.

8 Comments

  • James Farmer

    Tossers! That’s the last time I choose Icelandair for my Northern European flying!

    Best of luck with the complaint.

  • Thanks for sharing this! I will look for other airlines rather than this one to use. What happened to you was truly wrong. I also travel a lot and will share this with as many as I can.

  • I am old enough to remember when air travel was an adventure, rather than an ordeal.

    I look forward to seeing any response you get from Icelandair. Hope they take note of the comments here (and take into account the many who read but don’t post a comment) and start computing the potential dollar value of the business this may cost them.

  • Susan Miller-Cochran mediatedlife.edublogs.org

    Alan, I also will avoid Icelandair in the future. Stacey and I are getting ready to plan some travel to northern Europe, and we’ll look at other airlines.

  • Jay Cross informl.com

    Cog, you think you got problems, look at http://tinyurl.com/95ysot. My Complaints to Air India page has attracted more than 50 comments from passengers who they screwed and then stonewalled. This is an amazing outpouring of human sorrow. Air India is not human.

  • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

    @Jay Cross: What a tale and dogged pursuit on your parts. It is clear that all airlines have reams of stories (as your readers added to the pile) so it is more a letter of knowing you are playing roulette and one day the badball is gonna drop you.

    I have pretty much accepted that I have made a donation to an economicly deprived country via icelandair and am wondering how to write it off as charity

  • Harriet

    Unbelievable! I used to get a subscription to Travel & Leisure magazine where they have a standard column called ‘Travel Ombudsman’ They would help people resolve travel problems like yours. Usually if a major publisher starts investigating, the companies take notice. I googled ‘travel ombudsman’ and found this link to USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/travel/2004-01-07-editor-ombudsman_x.htm
    It may be worth a shot since you don’t have anything else to lose!

  • Teri V.

    You should submit this to Consumerist, and Clark Howard (the Atlanta consumer advocate whose CNN show starts tomorrow), has a consumer action center at http://clarkhoward.com/.

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