There are two sides of the customer service story. The NYT's David Segal, who writes the Sunday Haggler column, usually focuses on the customer side - that is, endless waits on the phone, billing mistakes, shoddy merchandise, and so forth. This week he got the other side - and it's not pretty. Actually, some of the cons constitute outright fraud (not that the company will press charges). Remember when the volcano in Iceland shut down much of the trans-Atlantic airline service? Well, British Airways offered to give every grounded passenger $125 a person, per night, to cover hotel costs.
"So we had a lot of people who apparently just stayed with friends and then wrote out receipts, 'Three nights at the Waldorf-Astoria: $2,000,' " says spokesman John Lampl. (For the record, the airline stuck to its limit.) The airline also sees a wide assortment of luggage-related scams; it seems that an uncannily high percentage of people whose bags are lost claim that their bags were filled with furs, computers, and maybe lots of couture clothing. More exotically, Mr. Lampl reports, some passengers who travel with wheelchairs or motorized scooters leave the airport and later claim the devices were damaged in cargo during the flight.
Shoppers can be a handful, too. The National Retail Federation estimates that in 2009, fraudulent returns amounted to $9.5 billion. Some of these result from a practice known as wardrobing, in which a shopper buys a garment for a particular event, then returns it once the event is over. "It happens a lot at Halloween," says Joe LaRocca, a spokesman for the federation. "Moms come in the day after, and they figure, Johnny will be done with that character next year, and this costume won't fit him anyway."