Nadar is Right on Airlines and Small Claims Courts

N112905_small_claims_courtew Orleans As part of the meetings between ACORN International organizers in Canada, Mexico, Honduras, and elsewhere our up and coming star organizer with Local 100’s program in Dallas was coming.  She had never flown on a plane.  She had to get a passport for the first time.  We were all wildly excited.  She was going to help translate.  At the last minute she had a health crisis and was pulled into surgery the day she was supposed to fly to Tegucigalpa.  A tumor was removed and two months later she was able to come back to work, and hopefully soon this will be simply a bad memory for her.

We assumed with the doctor’s note that we would have no trouble getting the ticket refunded.  Our hard care, tough negotiating union staff pressed forward on the case.  Nada.  Stonewall city!  No refund, simply the promise of a charge to change the ticket and, equally bad, a credit for a future flight, but only usable for this same individual for whom we had purchased through Expedia with Continental Airlines.  We stand to lose about $1000 of union members’ dues money, and we are not happy about this rip-off.

I read with interest a similar rip-and-run reported in The New York Times to Ralph Nadar.  He and an associate were traveling to a speaking gig and appeared snowed into DC, so they rented a car, drove three or four hours, and made some college kids happy.  He sought a refund then from US Airways.  They gave him the same spiel about $150 per head change fee and a future credit with them for the two tickets.  Nadar being Nadar, sent a couple of letters to the company and made some phone calls and still got nothing.  According to David Segal’s “The Hagglar” column, he then threatened to take the matter to small claims court, and they folded like a cheap suit and gave him a full refund on the tickets and his change fees.

I want that, too, and I want it now!!!

The problem might be that we aren’t all lawyers, like our old friend, Ralph.  No matter, he’s right.  None of us are using small claims court sufficiently to seek justice as we advocate for what are becoming daily rip-offs of consumers by the big boys on land and in the air.  Most small claims of course by definition allow non-lawyers to participate fully.  At Advocates and Actions (www.advocatesandactions.org) we had been studying how to utilize these and similar tools to collect on unpaid wages and other obligations, but were missing the obvious in our own situation.

I think a lot of us ought to take a good look at small claims and see if we can finally get some justice in areas where the money means a lot to us, but nothing to them, perhaps this should be the court of first resort.

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