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Deceptive Airtran Bump Reimbursement

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My wife and I are old hats at flying, having traveled extensively throughout the US, South America, and Europe over the years. However, we had never been in a position to be voluntarily bumped until this past summer on a return trip from Eleuthera, Bahamas. With a day to spare (we were returning on a Saturday night), when the gate agent announced that they needed 8 volunteers to be bumped from a flight from Atlanta to Richmond that was overbooked, we offered up our seats. In exchange, we were promised, we would receive 2 free roundtrip tickets anywhere that Airtran flies with only a couple of blackout dates - specifically the agent mentioned Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and Easter. This was the last flight out of Atlanta to Richmond that night, and since we had our four children with us, we gave up all 6 of our seats for the opportunity to take two vacations in the coming year.

Today, I called Airtran to book one of our free flights and learned that there are significant differences between what we were promised at the gate and what Airtran is now willing to provide. I've seen a few other posts about this problem from others, but I want to let the Fodor's community know what our experience has been so far. Like a previous poster, I've included an excerpt from my letter to Airtran below for your consideration:

--

I write to make a complaint about the deceptive compensation practices of Airtran. In July, we had tickets to return from Nassau, Bahamas to Richmond, VA through Atlanta, GA. The flight from Atlanta to Richmond was the last flight out of Atlanta to Richmond for the evening, and was overbooked so the gate agent asked for volunteers. In exchange, we were told we would get 2 roundtrip tickets per seat anywhere that Airtran flies, with the only restriction being a few blackout dates surrounding holidays. After the flight left, the gate agent rebooked us on a flight the next evening and we were given vouchers for “certificate” flights.

Today, I called to book flights for a trip we would like to take in March and April 2014. The flights are not full, but the customer service representative has indicated that there are no “certificate” seats available on this route in either March or April, or really at all. This was the first I have heard of these being “certificate” seats – the gate agent indicated quite vocally in his call for volunteers that we could fly anywhere that Airtran flies with the ONLY exceptions being holiday blackout dates.

I strongly object to the deceptive information about getting 2 roundtrip tickets on Airtran and not being informed that these would be extremely restricted “certificate” flight vouchers. In fact, we were specifically promised there were no other restrictions. After the customer service representative informed me of the “certificate” restriction, I looked over the information we were given. I could find no notice about this being a “certificate” seat until I looked UNDER the boarding pass which was conveniently stapled over the fine print disclaimer.

We believed when we volunteered our seats that we would be treated fairly and that the stated compensation of 2 roundtrip tickets per seat would be honored as promised – to fly anywhere that Airtran flies except during a few select blackout dates. Airtran had no problem taking our 6 seats during a very busy summer travel season, but now refuses to honor the deal in our request for flights during March and April 2014.

The customer service representative that I spoke to said that this was Airtran’s policy and she really couldn’t do anything about it, then asked if I would like to check for a flight elsewhere, as no “certificate” flights for this route were available (period).

This was our first time flying Airtran, and overall we were satisfied with the experience. However, the deceptive practice of taking seat volunteers, promising light restrictions, and stapling the boarding pass over contradictory exclusions, needs to be reviewed and changed.

Here is what I would like to happen:

1. Allow us to book our flight from on the not-full flights, as promised.

2. Ensure that we are also able to book our travel this summer without “certificate” restrictions, as promised. (This flight path is not yet open for booking.)

3. Review the practices of gate agents asking for volunteers to ensure that the deceptive practices are discontinued, including both (a) promising that the only restrictions are holiday blackout dates, and (b) of stapling the boarding pass over the fine print in the vouchers.

--

I have filed a complaint with the FAA Consumer Protection Division as well. I will keep the Fodor's community informed if there are any updates, but in the case that there is not a good resolution, I thought that others might benefit from our experience and choose not to voluntarily be bumped from a flight.

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