The Quest for a Refund

Jess and I have decided we will travel by land for our Christmas travel in order to not be subjected to the invasive, demeaning, and/or cancer-causing security requirements of flying. Luckily my work schedule is such that we can spend the extra time traveling to and from Texas without cutting into the time we planned to actually be there. Regardless, as part of this decision I've been seeking a refund for the tickets we purchased in September.

My opinion is that when I purchased the tickets on September 25 I did so with the understanding that passing through security was required in order to receive the service I paid for (namely, being flown from A to B). At the time there was a security screening option which I considered tolerable. Therefore I accepted that screening requirement as an implied condition of the transaction.

On October 28, more than a full month after my purchase, the TSA changed the requirements of the security process and all the options became intolerable. To me it seems fair to say that the implied condition of my transaction with the airline changed without my consent. Since the terms of our contract changed without my consent I should be entitled to a refund because I reject the new terms of the agreement.

Of course, the Southwest customer service representative didn't agree with my position. While she agreed that passing through security was a requirement to receiving the service I paid for, her position was that because Southwest doesn't control the TSA I wasn't entitled to a refund from Southwest because of something that the TSA did.

I think this is entirely bogus. Southwest's contract of carriage makes no mention of security screening requirements, however I think it's fairly obvious that they must be included in any discussion of the contract as an implied condition—refusing to comply will result in you being denied boarding, being removed from the airport, and potentially being arrested and fined up to $11,000. I've also checked the contracts of carriage for Delta, American Airlines, and US Airways. None of which make mention of requiring conformity with security screening requirements except to say it is the passenger's responsibility to arrive with enough time to undergo any such requirements. JetBlue's, however, explicitly says "Passengers and their baggage are subject to inspection with or without the Passenger's consent or knowledge." So if you fly JetBlue you should be aware that you've agreed to be inspected without your consent or knowledge. Not cool JetBlue.

In contrast. Amtrak's conditions of transportation explicitly state "Passengers failing to consent to security procedures will be denied access to trains and refused carriage, and a refund will be offered." So it is clearly not unreasonable to suggest that the carrier should refund the ticket when the passenger refuses to comply with security procedures.

After getting nowhere with the Southwest CSR I asked to speak with a supervisor and was told that she was a supervisor. So I told her I'd be pursuing this further, which she, of course, didn't care about.

[INTERMISSION]

My next step was to log on to my credit card company (Citi Bank)'s website and file a charge dispute. I explained my position, why I felt I was entitled to a refund, and how Southwest responded to my request. As I was about halfway through the form I got a popup suggesting I could chat with a CSR about my dispute. So I did that which got me nowhere. I know why they have that option because they want to nip disputes in the bud when it's someone making a fruitless claim. But I explained to that CSR what my dispute was about and was directed to submit the online dispute form. And I did so.

I've since received notification that the dispute has been supported by Citi Bank which means that they provided a conditional refund on the charge and have sent the dispute to Southwest. So now I'm waiting to hear Southwest's response.

If Southwest denies the refund I'm planning to send what's known as an Executive Email Carpet Bomb. Which is essentially sending an email of complaint to any and all executives for which an email address can be found. This is a fairly popular move with the Consumerist.org website and can be successful when other methods fail.

If that does fail, however, I am fully grumpy enough and ready to take the matter to small claims court. I don't see how anyone could reasonably consider this to amount to anything but a change in the terms of our contract.

The truth of the matter is this:
Southwest: If you buy this ticket, in order to use it you have to be cleared by the TSA.
Me: TSA, what do I have to do to be allowed on the plane?
TSA: You have to do X.
Me: OK.
[33 days later]
TSA: Oh, by the way you now have to do Y to board your plane. We don't allow X anymore.
Me: No way.
Southwest: Too bad, thanks for the money.

So much for the "Southwest Difference."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *