Everyone will end up complaining about an airline sooner or later. For some reason, I've never had to write a scathing letter. Maybe I'm lucky but my flights are always just fine. The only time recently that something went amiss on a flight I've taken was on a Los Angeles to New York flight on American Airlines. I had used miles to fly in first class, and although I had booked my seat months in advance when I attempted to check in online 24 hours ahead I was told to do so at the airport, which is always a bad sign. Sure enough, there was no seat for me. I asked what happened, but the ticket agent could offer no explanation. Instead of ranting and raving, I remained calm, went to the lounge, and asked the front desk what they could do for me. And sure enough, I was put on a flight departing exactly 59 minutes after my original flight, same seat. Because the delay was under an hour, American didn't owe me denied boarding compensation. But because I was polite and pleasant about the situation, the lounge agent found me and handed me a $400 travel voucher anyway. Maybe I would have gotten the voucher even if I had ranted and raved, who knows. Somehow, I suspect not.
So if you have an airline complaint, whether it's lost bags, a delayed flight, or poor service, always try to resolve it politely at the airport. If that doesn't work, send a letter or email to the airline.
--Be polite, specific, and as brief as possible, citing flight numbers, seat location, employee names if known, cost of fare, etc.
--Include your frequent flyer number.
--It's always a good idea to "sit" on your letter for a few days after writing it in order to cool down and rephrase things.
--Never say, "I will never fly your airline again!" since that gives the airline no incentive to help.
--Ask for a specific remedy, whether it is extra frequent flyer miles, a refund, or a voucher, and be reasonable.
--And remember, even airlines with stellar reputations screw up from time to time, as happened in this snafu involving Emirates and JetBlue that I attempted to fix with limited success.
--You can also complain to the U.S. D.O.T., however don't expect to get a reply or resolution unless it's a safety/security or disability/discrimation issue.
Perhaps the best advice, though, is to avoid setting yourself up for air travel #fail to begin with by following this sensible advice.
Here are the email/website and corporate mailing address contacts for U.S.-based airlines. Although most people like to email these days, I find that a well-written snail mail letter can be more effective since so few people send them and they tend to stand out (plus you can include photocopies of relevant documents if applicable). And you can also pay the post office for a confirmation that the mail has been received.
Oh, and by the way, you can also use these methods for saying something nice about your flight or an employee's extra care.
5230 Clipper Dr.
Atlanta, GA 30349-8127
P.O. Box 68900
Seattle, WA 98168
4333 Amon Carter Boulevard
Fort Worth TX 76155
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001
3375 Koapaka Street
Honolulu HI 96819
2702 Love Field Drive
Dallas TX 75235
(click on "Customer Care")
P.O Box 66100
Chicago IL 60666
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034
555 Airport Blvd., Fl. 2
Burlingame, CA 94010
Airlines are also using Twitter to resolve complaints, but some are better than this than others.