But in many cases, an airline's misdeeds may not result in any measurable loss of time or money -- just annoyance and inconvenience. As a case in point, a colleague at SmarterTravel.com recently received a lengthy email about a series of difficulties with a trip to London, starting with inadequate notification of schedule changes from the online travel agency (OTA) she used to her inability to get advance seat assignments without paying hefty fees. Clearly, none of this entailed any loss of vacation time or money -- just hassle, uncertainty and annoyance. And she obviously can't justify a monetary claim against either the OTA or the airline.
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-- Mount your own website. Early on, a few travelers were annoyed enough to mount company-specific gripe sites. Deltareallysucks.com is still operating; others have come and gone, as have so many airlines. You won't see many more of these because alternatives are now much easier.
-- Post to social media. Two years ago, songwriter-performer Dave Carroll wrote and posted his performance of "United Breaks Guitars" on YouTube, and it went viral, so far logging more than 11 million viewings. He's since added sequels. Nobody can expect to match that impact, but social media makes it easy for you to post a complaint that will at least be accessible to millions.
-- Post to a gripe site. A few online gripe sites, including airlinecomplaints.com, travel-rants.com and travelsucks.com, concentrate on travel. Travel is also well represented on the many general-interest gripe sites, including complaintsboard.com, complaints.com, consumeraffairs.com, consumerist.com, epinions.com, gripevine.com (co-founded by Dave Carroll), my3cents.com, ripoffreport.com and thesqueakywheel.com. Several of these sites claim to provide assistance in getting some sort of compensation, but I haven't heard from anyone who actually got compensation through a gripe site.
-- Post to a review site. Skytrax, the British-based site that claims to be the "world's leading airline and airport review site," posts reviews submitted by travelers through its airlinequality.com site. TripAdvisor, the giant in the hotel review space, also accepts and scores airline reviews. Seatguru.com accepts reviews (and complaints) about airline seating. And several guidebook and magazine sites also provide for traveler reviews and complaints. The advantage of dealing with a big review site is that far more interested travelers have access to your submission than through sites with a narrower focus.
-- Post to the Better Business Bureau. You can submit a complaint to the BBB. Check bbb.org for a link to the office nearest the airline's headquarters. BBB often does take action, but it probably won't deal with a complaint that doesn't involve some question of financial loss, contract default or law violation.
-- Send a complaint to the Department of Transportation. DOT accepts airline complaints by letter or online at airconsumer.ost.dot.gov. Except with possible law violations, DOT seldom takes up individual cases, but it includes all complaints in the summary statistics it issues -- data that are widely reported.
Obviously, many of these approaches work with other travel problems, not just with an airline. Depending on how much time you want to put into your efforts, you can submit complaints to as many of these and other sites as you want. At the very least, you'll give the airline a black mark. But don't expect an airline to offer profuse apologies or anything of value. You'll feel better, but don't think anyone at the airline will lose sleep over your plight.
Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through www.mybusinesstravel.com or www.amazon.com