Complaints that didn’t make the cut


Most letters I receive are legitimate requests for help from travelers who have been wronged by an airline, hotel or car rental agency. But not all of them are. Here’s a selection of gripes that didn’t make the cut:

Free room for plumbing problems?

Q: I stayed at the Howard Johnson’s earlier this year on spring break with daughter, her friend and my sister. When we got there we noticed that the toilet was not flushing right. I called the front desk and they sent a temp up to look at the toilet. He told me that he had never worked at a hotel before and did not know how to fix a toilet.

The toilet did not flush the rest of the night. I called the front desk numerous times. Then, when my sister took a shower, the water did not go down in the tub. This was at 7 a.m. They said we could shower in another room.

I asked to speak to the manager and he was never around. I called the main number for Howard Johnson’s and they were supposed to let me know what they would do about it. They never did. I am at a loss about this and what my next step should be. I disputed my credit card but it didn’t side with me because I stayed all night. Can I do anything else?

— Kathleen McCaughey

A: So let me see if I understand this correctly. You stayed in a motel during spring break. The toilets and showers didn’t work right – and now you want a free room?

I agree that the Howard Johnson’s should have offered accommodations with working bathrooms. And if it couldn’t, it should have offered to let you use another shower in the property, which you say it did.

I don’t agree that the room should be free. A hotel should offer to cover the cost of a room for more serious incidents – a room burglary, flood or fire – not for mere plumbing problems during peak season.

You should have insisted on speaking with either a manager or an assistant manager before checking out. They would have been empowered to adjust your bill. But since you stayed in the room and checked out without first talking with someone, I’m with your credit-card company on this one. Time to pay up.

No refund on ticket

Q: I purchased a roundtrip ticket from Chicago to Munich through A few hours later I was told by my lawyer that I better not leave because I might have trouble coming back to USA, because of immigration issues.

So now I can’t leave and there is nothing I can do with my purchased ticket. I was wondering if you could help me. I called and it told me that there is nothing that can be done. I called the airline to find out if it could help me, and it said Hotwire is responsible. I can’t leave the country but if there is a way I could get at least some money back, I would be more than happy.

— Neza Kurnik

A: Hotwire’s tickets are totally nonrefundable. When you bought your tickets online, you agreed to those terms.

Hotwire is able to offer lower fares in part because its tickets are so restricted. If you though your plans might change, you should have booked a more flexible ticket through your airline or a travel agent. The fare would have been more expensive, but you wouldn’t have lost everything.

You’re just one of many travelers who seem to have a hard time understanding the meaning of the word “nonrefundable.” It means you will never get your money back. I would love to help, but it isn’t fair to ask to change the terms of its agreement with you because your circumstances have changed. is entitled to keep your money.

Free airline seats for the trouble

Q: I recently wrote to British Airways regarding several very bad experiences I had had with the airline’s ground staff.

In one instance, I was rudely told that I was too late to go to the gate for a connection at Heathrow, although I was well within the airline’s published guidelines for transfer check-in. As a result, I arrived at my destination half a day late, and had to get from Heathrow to Gatwick at my own expense.

In another, I was required by British Airways to check in at London Paddington to buy a one-way ticket from Tel Aviv because the airline said I didn’t have the proper visa for Israel.

British Airways responded, suggesting its staff wasn’t rude to me. It also refused to refund my ticket from Tel Aviv to Cyprus. Eventually, I disputed the credit-card bill and got my money back.

I think I am entitled to an apology (or several), and at least free upgrades (if not a free business-class ticket) for me and my daughter on our next round trip from Tel Aviv to New York.

— Judith Friedlaender

A: If a British Airways employee told you that you were late for a connection, but you believed you weren’t, you should have asked to speak with a supervisor. However, once you accepted the alternate flight, you essentially forfeited any right to additional compensation.

After some back-and-forth with the airline and your credit-card company, you also got a refund on the other ticket. I can’t blame British Airways for acting as if your case is closed.

Does the airline owe you a pair of business-class tickets for your trouble? I don’t think so. An apology, probably. But no more.

Airlines should not be required to give away free seats in the front of the cabin to passengers who believe they’ve been treated with disrespect. If they did, then most of us would be flying in first class – and not paying for it.