Also, check the previous columns. The toughest is when I do one on a specific topic, and you write to me the next day to say the same thing happened. I’ll give you advice on how to resolve it, but I can’t take on two rental car company problems in a row.
What makes for an ideal issue for a column?
The company should have made a documented mistake that clearly violates their policies, or have a policy that doesn’t make sense. And the traveler should have exhausted all their options before coming to me as a last resort. I’m skeptical when someone writes to me only a week after something happened — you have to give companies a chance.
What is the most complicated case you’ve tackled?
The woman who missed her $17,000 Antarctic cruise was pretty complex. It involved reading tons of policies and having pretty robust exchanges with companies. There were six or seven entities involved, including the Chilean government. I had to put together answers from all of them and look at it and ask, Who is really at fault here? To their credit, American Airlines eventually refunded the cruise, though it was their fault.
What do you define as a successful outcome?
It’s not always the case that the consumer wins or gets all their money back. For instance, I did one where someone got speeding tickets in Paris, and the rental company wouldn’t tell them where or when the speeding tickets happened, for a reason that has to do with European Union law. I had a great talk with some folks at the rental company, as well as the subject, and the back-and-forth turned into an interesting article, even though no one got any money back.
What have you learned about the travel industry?
I’m usually on the traveler’s side, but I’m also fascinated by — and to some extent, sympathetic to — just how hard it is to run a big company that provides one-on-one services. I would never want to be the C.E.O. of United Airlines.
Has writing the column made you feel better about your own travel mistakes?
It should make everyone feel better when you read some of my answers and see just how complicated, obscure and unfair some of the processes are. I can’t even imagine feeling bad about making a mistake anymore. Everyone makes mistakes when they travel — it’s just too complicated.
Have a tricky travel problem you need advice on? Email Seth at [email protected]