This blog post was updated on July 19, 2019.
It’s easy to give the poor customer service agent a piece of your mind, or head to social media for a rant when you get hit with a particularly heavy fine by your airline. But does being rude really get you anywhere?
Alex Hamberger had to make a last-minute flight change from Buffalo, New York to Kansas City to visit his baby niece when he was hit by a sudden illness. Instead of choosing a spiteful tirade, Alex decided to write a rather witty, detailed letter to American Airlines – yes, a real, snail-mail letter – to ask them to waive the fee (he also included pictures of him and his niece for a personalized touch).
And, it worked.
American Airlines waived his fee, replying, “I’m glad you are ‘formerly sick’ and ‘currently healthy’ to make plans to see your precious niece. She sure is a lucky little girl to have such a loving Uncle Al!”
So next time you’re ready to lash out in fury over a fee or charge or mistake the airline might have made, try his approach. After all, it worked for him. It could work for you too.
Here’s Alex’s letter in full:
American Airlines Customer Relations
4000 E. Sky Harbor Boulevard
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Dear Most Kind and Benevolent American Airlines Customer Service Staff Member,
I write to you with the hopes that you may take mercy on me and afford a little sympathy for this flyer who was taken quite ill and had to postpone his trip to see his beloved niece.
Picture it. No, not Sicily 1922 (But I appreciate you are a Golden Girls fan, much like myself! And in case you didn’t get that reference, no worries; read on!), but February 29, 2016. It was a Monday night and I was getting so excited for my upcoming trip to visit my sister, brother-in-law, and niece who was about to turn 6 months old that Thursday! I started to feel a little sinus pressure that night, nothing major but enough to give me pause. As I woke up that next day on Tuesday, March 1st, I felt OK, but things quickly went downhill. It was a cold, I thought; nothing major.
By Wednesday, March 2nd, things were escalating. My cold symptoms had intensified. I consulted with a virtual doctor-on-call using my computer (very fancy!), and she recommended I head right in and see an actual physician. “Uh oh,” I thought. “That’s not a great sign.”
I visited the doctor that evening and he was sufficiently concerned with my symptoms that he suggested I cancel my planned trip to Kansas City the following day. “WHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY,” I wondered silently to myself. It seemed like a little cold, but alas, he concluded travel was unreasonable and issued me the enclosed note. Always a rule follower, I abided by his advice.
And BOY am I glad I did! You’ll see the doctor’s note references an infectious disease. It was just two days later on March 4th, that I learned this infectious disease was not a household cold or flu: it was a Haemophilus Influenzae bacterial infection. Yes, the same infection that can cause conditions such as epiglottitis (a fatal respiratory disease), pneumonia, and notably, meningitis in children under 5. Remember when I mentioned I was going to visit my 6 month old niece?! Thank heavens I didn’t!
Suffice to say, after 2 long weeks of illness, which prompted a formal medical leave from work, I didn’t suffer any of the severe complications (though I did have a sinus infection, ear infection including a ruptured eardrum, pink eye, throat infection, full-body rash, among others). But most of all, canceling my trip to visit my infant niece was the best thing that could have happened; had I visited her and she gotten sick, it literally could have killed her.
All that said, I’m hoping you may be able, or at least willing, to take pity on me and this woeful tale (as pitiful as it is), and forgo the $200 change fee normally imposed on tickets such as this. I know, I know, I purchased a nonrefundable ticket and that I took the risk that my I may face this fee if my trip were canceled. But I’m hoping you can see that this trip was canceled for very significant reasons, and that in addition to the pain and suffering I endured as a result of my illness, I was even more so upset that I couldn’t see my family members whom I hadn’t visited since November! A niece needs her uncle (that’s a saying, right?)!
Now, I don’t know if this will be problematic or not, but I just recently rebooked my trip and I’ve already paid the $200 change fee. So I now realize there may be 356 reasons you can’t refund this to me, but I figure it’s always worth a shot! If it’s possible in any way to recoup this $200 I’d be forever grateful.
I know you must deal with testy and ornery travelers all the time, and I assure you I am not one of those. If I’m not able to recoup this cost, I’m most understanding. I thank you for all you do to make the travel dreams of flyers such as myself a reality.
And in case this letter was too long or unclear, I’ve also included a photo-story of the whole ideal attached.
Thank you again for your kind consideration. I look forward to hearing from you and also to my next flight!
Formerly sick person
Currently healthy person
Boom! Alex nailed his request and got what he wanted – a fine example of how honesty, humor, and the right attitude can always get you further than pure rage.
Do you have a great or not so great airline customer service story? We’d love to hear them in our comments section below!