Consumer Resources For Travelers

Flying high over Wyoming on our way to Hawaii, the pilot announced that one of the airplane's landing gear doors had come open. An atmosphere of subdued panic filled the passenger section as the crew unsuccessfully tried to fully open and close the door. The shrill sounds of this mechanical procedure did little to calm anyone's nerves. Finally the pilot decided that we would have to make an unplanned landing in San Francisco.Besides a case of extreme anxiety, I was delayed seven hours and missed an inter-island flight. While most of the passengers simply complained to each other, I picked up the airline's comment card and sent it, along with a letter describing the unfortunate situation, by certified mail to the airline's headquarters. They apologized and sent me a $200 flight voucher.Everyone loves to travel and most people have a problem-free trip. Unfortunately, there are also regular incidences of fraud and mismanagement in all areas of travel. If you do have a problem, try to get the situation resolved on the scene. Discuss the problem with whoever is in charge and ask for a satisfactory solution.If that doesn't work, take the names of all the individuals involved, make detailed notes about your efforts to resolve the problem. Keep all receipts, brochures, itinerary, contracts, correspondence or photos you have taken, along with any other evidence that helps prove your case.For problems that can't be resolved on-the-spot, the next step is to tell your local travel agent about the problem, and ask them to write a complaint letter (or do so yourself). Be specific about the problem and state what you are seeking in compensation.Here are several typical problems along with possible solutions:* You have a prepaid ticket but are prevented from flying because the airline has overbooked. The airline loses or damages your baggage. A flight attendant is rude. A delay causes you to miss a connecting flight.Contact the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Consumer Affairs, Washington, DC 20590. (202) 366-2220. They will register your complaint on computer and contact the airlines in an effort to resolve the problem. Under U.S. Department of Transportation rules, an airline must compensate you if you've bought a ticket for a flight but miss it because they've overbooked it. If the rescheduled flight delays you for more than two hours, you are entitled to compensation besides the ticket.Also, write or call the Aviation Consumer Action Project. 2000 P St., NW, Suite 700, PO Box 19029, Washington, DC 20036. (202) 833-3000. They are a consumer watchdog group formed by Ralph Nader to promote air safety, affordable air fares and other passenger rights. They have a variety of informational resources to help resolve your problem.* The airline seatbelt won't come undone. The flight attendant neglects to demonstrate safety features on your airplane.Contact the Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Ave., Washington, DC 20591. (800) FAA-SURE. They will investigate your complaint and let you know what they find."We get calls from consumers who have seen something unusual or what they feel is unsafe and they have asked us to take a look, we welcome their concerns," said Valerie Collins, Deputy Division Chief for the FAA which manages the consumer hotline.* Your ocean cruise was canceled and you were not compensated. A cruise line will not sell you a ticket because of a disability. The cruise staff was incompetent and/or other aspects of the trip were unsatisfactory.Contact the Federal Maritime Commission, 1100 L St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20573. (202) 523-5807. Be sure to try contacting the cruise line with your complaint first. If this does not work the FMC will try to work out a settlement with the cruise company on your behalf.* You are overcharged by a cab driver while on vacation in another U.S. city.Contact the State Office of Weights and Measures for that state or the local Consumer Protection Office. The Office of Weights and Measures regulates taxi cab fare meters, and may investigate your complaint and order the cab company to refund the money to you.* Your car rental bill was much more than expected.First, avoid late-night drop off when there is no clerk available. If you must drop off after hours, make a photocopy of the invoice for your own records. If you are overcharged, dispute the bill and let your credit card company know about the problem (Sometimes they can stop payment). Before the trip, call your car insurance agent to find out if your policy covers rental cars. This will save you the cost of collision insurance.* You are a victim of an outright fraud, such as a counterfeit ticket, misrepresentation of a travel package, or similar serious incident.Contact the Federal Trade Commission. Send written complaints to- FTC, Washington, D.C. 20580. They will investigate serious charges and prosecute the guilty party.* You lose your passport while in another country.Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and be prepared to show them as much identification as possible. "Generally they will get your replacement passport to you before your scheduled departure. "There are a lot of different options for replacing your passport," said Gary Sheaffer, Spokesman for the Bureau of Consumer Affairs of the State Department's Overseas Citizen Services. The OCS's Passport Services can be reached at (202) 647-0518 for further information..* All of your attempts to resolve a travel-related problem have failed.Contact the U.S. House Committee on Public Works and Transportation, 2165 Rayburn House Office Building, DC 20515 (202) 225-4472. They cover topics such as mass transportation, civil aviation, and most surface transportation. Although they don't pursue every complaint, any help from them could greatly increase your chances of a satisfactory solution to the problem and could result in legislation that prevents further abuse.* Other Resources:American Society of Travel Agents, Inc. Consumer Affairs Department, 1101 King St., Alexandria, VA 22314. (703) 739-2851. "We mediate complaints between consumers and members of ASTA. Complaints must be less than six months old and they (consumers) should try to resolve it themselves. They would then send us a written summary of the complaint," said Dan Bosco, Assistant Director of ASTSA's Consumer Affairs.Foreign tourism offices.If your travel-related problem abroad involved a travel company located in that country, the tourism office may be able to intervene on your behalf.Your local newspaper.Find out if they have a consumer-related column that will help investigate your complaint.

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