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I have never had cause to write a scathing letter to an airline until this year (read the letter).  That’s not to say things haven’t gone amiss on flights over the last 7 years – like any other traveler I have dealt with my fair share of flight delays, cancellations, missed connections, ridiculous baggage fees and broken entertainment units (for 15 hours!).  I’ve just never experienced anything which I thought warranted a negative email…until I flew with Hawaiian Airlines.

I was incredibly disappointed when, after 4 weeks, I received a generic email back from Hawaiian offering their “sincerest apologies” for my experience – I had, after-all spent hours writing that letter, making sure I struck the right cord between polite yet still firm; non emotive yet still conveying the stress and anxiety they caused.  I wanted them to acknowledge that their actions were appalling and offer a way to redeem the situation.  Didn’t happen.

I then discovered a phenomenal article on Airfare Watch Dog (written by George Hobica) which detailed how you should write an airline complaint, and realized there were a few ways in which I could have potentially improved the outcome of my correspondence.  

How to write an airline complaint:


Obviously if you have an airline complaint first attempt to resolve it politely at the airport. Failing this, however, send a letter or email to the airline.  Here are George Hobica’s recommendations:

1. Be polite, specific, and straight to the point.  Remember to cite flight numbers, seat location, employee names if known, cost of fare, etc.

2. Include your frequent flyer number.

3. “Sleep on it”.  Give yourself a few days to calm down and potentially rephrase. 

4. Never say, “I will never fly your airline again!” since that gives the airline no incentive to help.

5. Ask for a specific remedy, whether it is extra frequent flyer miles, a refund, or a voucher, and be reasonable.

6. And remember, even airlines with stellar reputations screw up from time to time.

God forbid I ever have another reason to write a scathing letter to an airline, in the future I will write it differently.  Next time round I will be sure to ask for a specific remedy and propose what I deem to be acceptable compensation.

Have you ever written to an airline?  Any tips to share?


About Megan Claire

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure!  Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Follow their journey on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.



  1. Thanks for sharing this, Meg! We try really hard to not write complaints, but if I ever feel like it is necessary it is definitely good to know the most effective way to approach the situation!

    • Thanks Kathleen! I also try really hard not to write complaints – probably one of those things which is a good thing not to have any experience in :D

  2. Hopefully I never have to write a letter. Tweeting complaints, I’ve learned, works wonders as well. I’ve gotten then best feedback with a tweet!

    • Interesting concept re twitter complaints! – we’ll see if Hawaiian replies to the gazillion tweets I sent out today then :D!!

  3. I am a fan of Hawaiian Airlines, though I have never flown them internationally. I did write an email to an airline once, and I think it may have been Hawaiian, because of excessive delays. I did suggest that we should be compensated for our wasted time and the response was to provide us with vouchers, so I highly recommend suggesting a solution next time, or even in response to their response to you. It’s not too late.

    • Thanks Katherine! That’s definitely where I went wrong; assumed that they would have the decency to act on compensation as part of their own initiative! Lol lesson learned!!

  4. All good points! I always say “I understand mistakes happen, however…” and then I spell out what happened that was frustrating.

    • Clever, I’m using that line next time…hopefully there won’t be a next time though!! :D Thanks!

  5. I once wrote a scathing letter to United after they canceled a flight and told me they would pay for my hotel, then REFUSED to comp the hotel. I got a coupon for 10% off my next flight that expired in the next 30 days.
    It all depends on the airline. Alaska Airlines screwed up once and comped us miles without even a letter. The “I will never fly..” advice is really good. I think my letter to United was too threatening. Then again, they just suck.

    • Thats pretty bad – if you’re not going to come through with a promise, don’t offer it in the first place! Hate companies who don’t come through! Gotta love that the coupon expired within 30 days – because the majority of people totally travel that frequently lol!!

      I’ve been hearing consistently horrible things about United, so duly noted!!

  6. About to call American Airlines myself and using this as a reference to follow if I get to someone on the phone. Unfortunate circumstance for me with their staff that held me up with printing a boarding pass!

    • Good luck! Let me know how your call goes. Hope you didn’t miss your plane because of the delay!!

  7. A few years ago, I wrote to KLM in regards to my busted NEW suitcase and missing items from that suitcase.
    They sent me a cheque for the suitcase and included a 50% off my next flight voucher. I used the voucher and somehow, the flight attendants thought I was high up there in the company. I was the first to receive my meal, and even got offered a second one… oh yeah and the free drinks were good too! That was the best service received. LOL!
    When we landed, and I was getting my stuff together, one of the attendants asked which department I worked for. I gave her a confused look, and she said, “you are a Manager for KLM right?” I laughed and said, “have a nice day!”

    • Lol that’s awesome, love it!!! Pretty good compensation for a busted suitcase; I would say they made up for the first encounter with them!

      Lol we have a gentleman who comes into the hotel bar I work at and tells everyone he’s the owner. I think he may be a little unsound in the mind, but every time a new staff member starts he gets free drinks all night!

  8. Great post! Over the years I have had my fair share of airline problems, as all travellers have, though I am yet to have an incident which absolutely requires a letter to be sent. Fingers crossed, I never do, though I will keep this in mind should it ever come up!

    • I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!! Hopefully we’ll never have to send one again either; it just makes you frustrated and mad all over again reliving the experience lol.

      Have a wonderful New Years!

  9. Good to read and some great tips. I’ve just read your complaint letter to HA, too. I had to write one to Air France and felt I got the same ‘generic’ response back. It has put me off flying with them again!

    • A generic response really does put you off – I felt like I had taken so much time and effort to write something which really expressed how disappointed I was, and to have it just shrugged off really gives the message that they just don’t care.

      Sorry to hear you had a similar experience with Air France – I’ll be cautious when flying with them the next time we get over to France.

      Hopefully your future travels will prove better and you won’t have to draft another complaint! Happy travels :)

    • Thanks for the link Anthony! Some of these are GOLD!!

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