Showing results for 
Show  only  | Search instead for 
Did you mean: 

Complaining with a Purpose

0 0 244

This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

It's been some time since I posted anything here, and here's why: We've had a hell of a time traveling in the past couple of weeks.

It all started when we were departing Milan for London to begin the last leg of our journey, in Israel.

Let's start by saying it's been almost two weeks since I last saw my backpack.

You see, a series of major snowstorms hit London just as we were preparing to fly there on January 7. Airports were shut down; passengers were turned away. We considered ourselves lucky to find a flight with British Airways when our easyJet flight was cancelled.

We were not so lucky to be delayed for more than three hours, which meant we finally arrived at the Heathrow baggage claim as they were shutting it down for the night amidst a flurry of lost-and-delayed baggage paperwork and piles of unclaimed bags lying pell-mell about the place. And so began the saga.

To cut a very long story short, while in London for a couple of days we finally got through to British Airways and asked them to forward our bags to Israel, since it was unlikely the bags would be found and delivered to us while we were still in London.

They forwarded my husband's bag to Tel Aviv; it arrived there about four days after we did.

They forwarded my bag to Chicago.


It's amazing how quickly one can go from philosophical to flabbergasted to furious in the space of a few seconds. In such a situation, it's easy to call up Customer Service and rant and rage at the hapless flunky on the other end of the line (which, admittedly, is what I did).

But that doesn't often accomplish as much as a well-worded letter of complaint sent to the right place.

My husband sat down to compose what he now considers his masterwork: a 3-page, single-spaced letter to British Airways outlining our ongoing difficulties and our desire for compensation, given especially the amount of clothing we had to buy in both London and Tel Aviv for their different climates, not to mention toiletries, and a small bag to carry all this new stuff in.

As the English teacher, I edited carefully, in particular changing some of the wording so as to try to catch a few more flies with some strategically placed honey. For example, BA prides itself on its customer service; we pointed out that we were pleased with the attitudes of employees and their demeanor toward us, while we were emotional would hopefully garner a more sympathetic ear. I chose words and phrases carefully for their connotations, so as not to sound hyperbolic or hysterical, but still to evoke additional sympathy.

We also dropped the word "honeymoon" in there a couple of times for instant sympathy points.

The upshot is that, after sending this e-mail to as many members of the BA hierarchy as we could find with some Internet research, we got a bit of action: at least two phone calls from different BA offices, an e-mail from another, a promise of compensation for everything we'd spent (including for our  £88 2 a.m. cab ride from Heathrow to our hotel, required because the Tube closes at midnight), and some spending money on a debit card couriered to where we were staying.

Of course, my bag still hasn't arrived, and on January 21 it will have been two weeks. *sigh*

Teenagers love to rant at the unfairness of the world. They love to wax hyperbolic about things that bug them---it's the nature of the beast. But hysteria rarely gets anyone anywhere in the world of argumentation.

A complaint letter is a good way to get them to structure an argument. Most important, helping them to realize that concession and even subtle flattery goes a long way in such an argument can help empower them; they might even take their newfound skills and use them for some real good, like writing their political representative or an organization about an issue about which they feel passionate.

Determining to whom such a letter should be sent can also be a useful exercise in Internet (and other) research---can the students find the best person to receive this complaint? Can they explain why they think that might be the best person, based on the information they can gather about that person?

If they come up with something especially well-written, I might consider hiring them to write our next letter to British Airways. Smiley Wink