David Goldstein's checked luggage is misplaced on a flight to Salt Lake City after he misses a connection. He spends $10 on socks and toiletries after Frontier Airlines promises it will cover his incidental expenses. But now the carrier is balking at a refund. What's going on?
Q: I have a trivial travel issue that is turning into something that's anything but trivial.
Frontier Airlines mishandled my bags on a recent flight to Salt Lake City. I had missed a connection, and the airline promised to send the bags to my hotel. It also gave me a sheet explaining that I would be reimbursed for up to $25 in incidental expenses.
That morning, I bought socks and toiletries for $10. My bags were not delivered as promised, so I phoned Frontier the following evening. Two hours after the call, my luggage arrived.
On my way back, I spoke with a Frontier representative at the airport. I gave her my receipts and filled out the necessary forms for reimbursement. Altogether, the process took several hours.
I've been waiting for my $10 reimbursement for months. I have called Frontier Airlines, left phone messages, and sent e-mails through its Web site. I want my money back -- and a hand-signed apology from an executive at Frontier Airlines -- and hope you can help me avoid a costly suit for the airlines and print this in your advice column to help other travelers. -- David Goldstein, Elkins Park, Pa.
A: Frontier should have paid you the $10 promptly. Forcing you to spend hours filling out paperwork and then months waiting for compensation is probably not the kind of experience the airline has in mind when it calls itself "a whole different animal."
Actually, let me back up a little. Frontier shouldn't have misplaced your luggage in the first place. When it did, reuniting you with your belongings should have been a top priority -- not an afterthought that only became a problem after you phoned.
Reimbursement for incidentals is one of those issues the airline industry as a whole rarely does right. It should reimburse you at the gate -- in cash. (I've seen it before.) But more often, it asks you to fill out paperwork and then denies your claim because of a technicality.
I couldn't find any reference to Frontier's liability regarding misplaced luggage. The airline publishes a list of frequently asked questions about refunds on its site but it doesn't include any information about reimbursing you for incidentals when your luggage doesn't arrive on time. So, short of that piece of paper you received when your luggage didn't make it, you wouldn't know what Frontier had agreed to do.
I think the airline needs to be a lot clearer about what it will do when your luggage is lost, at least when it comes to picking up your expenses.
But you could have handled this situation more effectively, too. Frontier specifies that certified or registered mail is the best way to reach it, so instead of calling and e-mailing, I might have sent the carrier a registered letter with copies of your paperwork, requesting a refund.
Actually, let me back up one more time. You might have pushed for an immediate reimbursement at the airport on your return flight. I mean it's $10. How hard would it have been to just reach into the cash register and hand you an Alexander Hamilton?
I contacted Frontier on your behalf. It checked its records and found that the originating flight -- the one on which your connection had been missed -- was on a different air carrier. So technically, it didn't misplace your luggage. It also could find no record of your original complaint or your many calls and e-mails to the airline. Frontier apologized and refunded your $10.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the host of "What You Get For The Money: Vacations" on the Fine Living Network. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2008 Christopher Elliott Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.