Sunday, August 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Travel Troubleshooter: No 'comfort' seat on TAM - and no refund

Q: I recently flew from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to New York on TAM with my son. We had purchased "comfort" seats for this flight, for $75 each, and were assigned seats 27C and 27A. When we boarded the flight, we found that these seats had been double-booked, and other passengers were already in those seats, with valid tickets.

There were no other comfort seats available. Following very long discussions with a flight attendant, we were informed that we were to accept "regular" coach seats far back in the plane, and that we would receive a refund for the $150 we paid for the comfort seats.

We were dismayed to hear this. We are both quite tall, and I suffer from persistent back issues. Normal coach seating on TAM is so tight that it leads to back problems for me.

In my prior experiences, it is typical for passengers in such situations to be offered business- or first-class seats. Despite there being many empty seats in those classes, the flight attendant refused this.

I was told it would take between two and three days for a refund to appear in my bank account. But it's been more than five months. I've been back and forth with TAM, have called and written to their executives, but there's still no refund. I find this entire process discourteous and unprofessional on TAM's part. Can you help?

- Nathan Pearson, Rye, N.Y.
A: The seats you were trying to avoid are truly uncomfortable by almost any standard. The pitch, or distance between seats, is about 31 inches, which means you're wedged into a tiny enclosure for 10 hours. That shouldn't be legal.

When TAM double-booked your "comfort" seat - which has about the same amount as the average economy class seat in the '70s - they should have offered you a courtesy upgrade into a vacant business-class seat. If they couldn't, then the least they should have done was to quickly refund the upgrade fee you paid.

Refunds on upgrade fees ought to be automatic, but as it turns out, they aren't. When you didn't get your premium economy-class seats, a crew member needed to fill out paperwork authorizing a refund. That also didn't happen.

Airline passengers don't deserve this.

I find it absurd that TAM would string you along for five more months, promising you something it probably never intended to deliver. I mean, until I contacted it.

I asked TAM to look into your claims and a representative told me it experienced "difficulty" in obtaining the data from all pertinent departments because your paperwork wasn't filled out correctly after you were denied a "comfort" seat. TAM refunded your $150.


chris@elliott.org. Christopher Elliott is the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money and Hassle)" (National Geographic). He's also the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the cofounder of the Consumer Travel Alliance.
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