Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Guarantees!

When you buy an expensive electronic gizmo or a car or a major appliance, one of the things you probably look for is the warranty - the manufacturer's offer of repair, replacement, or refund if something goes wrong within the period of guarantee. The more money you spend on the product, the more likely you are (well, I am, anyhow) to expect a solid guarantee of performance.

But as we know, expectations frequently crash on the rocks of reality.

This has bothered me for a long time, but most recently in regards to the huge travel mess caused by American Airlines' cancellation of thousands of flights in order to carry out FAA-mandated inspections of wiring harnesses in its fleet of MD-80 aircraft. Much has been written about the hardships encountered by stranded passengers, and the bottom line of many of the stories is that it's better to endure the short-term agony of disrupted travel than to risk deadly accidents. Can't argue with that, I suppose.

Unless you are one of those people who foolishly thinks that, in exchange for your payment of a fare, the airline is actually guaranteeing to fly you from point A to point B. Think again.

I call your attention to this article that ran on the CNN website the other day, in particular this quote:

"...airlines are not required to compensate passengers for canceled flights. The only time airlines legally have to provide compensation is when a passenger is bumped from an overbooked flight, according to the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division."

Yes, you read that correctly. The airline is not required to give you your money back if they fail to deliver the transportation service for which you paid in good faith.

I took a few minutes to check the website of the Department of Transportation's Aviation Consumer Protection Division, where I read this:

"Contrary to the belief of some, airlines are not required to compensate passengers for "damages" when flights are delayed or canceled. Compensation is required by law only when you are "bumped" from a flight that is oversold. Airlines almost always refuse to pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight. If the purpose of your trip is to close a potentially lucrative business deal, to give a speech or lecture, to attend a family function, or to be present at any time-sensitive event, you might want to allow a little extra time and take an earlier flight. In other words, airline delays and cancellations are not unusual, and defensive planning is a good idea when time is your most important consideration."

Note that defensive planning on your part is said to be a good idea, rather than airlines actually planning to deliver promised service.

I understand that some things are beyond the airlines' control. They can't ensure perfect flying weather, for instance. If my destination is socked in by a huge snowstorm, well, they can't do much about it. But if they can't deliver the service for which I paid, why should they be allowed to keep the money? Or offer me a "voucher" for a future flight I may not need?

I need a better lobby in Congress to shape the laws on my behalf.

The lack of guarantees for performance isn't limited to the airlines. If you got kicked in your fiscal crotch during the ongoing financial meltdown, the "professionals" on whom you may have relied for advice aren't accepting any liability, either. Our financial advisor is probably as good as any other, and generally does a good job of helping us lurch toward retirement. But she offers no guarantees of her effective performance as a steward of our meager retirement funds. In a recent exchange of e-mails, I noticed that her standard message template includes the following at the bottom (extracted from a much longer set of words):

"Investment and insurance products:

"Are Not FDIC Insured *** May Lose Value *** Are Not Bank Guaranteed

"The information contained in this e-mail was obtained from sources believed to be reliable; however, XXX Investment Services, Inc. does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor is it responsible for results obtained from use of this information.

"The delivery of this information ... in no way guarantees the future performance of the securities.

"Past performance is no guarantee of future results."

In other words, "I think I'm giving you good advice, but if it doesn't work out, I'm not responsible."

I think I'm in the wrong line of work.

In my job, I'm paid for being able to apply my specialized knowledge of an arcane set of topics to produce useful and timely advice and products for a demanding customer. If I don't deliver the promised product, or if the advice I provide results in other losses or problems, I get fired. This is as it should be. I don't have the option of putting a disclaimer on my work that says, in effect, this is my best effort, but if it doesn't meet your needs, I'm not responsible - no refunds, no guarantees.

So riddle me this, Batman: whatever happened to the quaint concept of taking responsibility for one's actions? Yes, I know it's a silly question, but I just had to ask it.

And so, maybe, should you. After all, we're all in this mess together.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



KKTSews said...

I believe the airlines are required to refund the cost of your ticket (or half, if it's the second leg of a round trip). The key is the TSA's use of the word "damages". Not that this is good--but at least they don't keep your fare.
Flying used to be a special event and the service (and cost) reflected that. Now much of America, myself included, fly routinely and the service is, at best, routine and mimialist.
You know, for short distances (as in, visiting your other grandkids in Ohio) you're better off driving if the cost of gas weren't so high.

KKTSews said...

That would be "minimalist"...early morning typos!

The Mistress of the Dark said...

But from the sound of things they are doing something to compensate travelers because my guess would be if they didn't, they wouldn't have business.

Myself, I'd rather stay on the ground and see less of the world then put my life in the hand of the airlines.