Ombudsman: Italian Rental Car Fine, No Aer Lingus Upgrade

Conde Nast Traveler

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"My wife and I rented a car from Hertz at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport during our vacation, and three months later, we began receiving notices from the city of Pisa fining us $50 for driving in a restricted zone on September 30. We were indeed in Italy on that date but never visited Pisa: We spent the entire time in Montepulciano, 100 miles away.
I checked the city’s Web site and saw that the license plate of the offending vehicle was EJ716DA; my rental car’s was EJ715DA. Clearly it was not my vehicle, and there was photographic evidence of that fact. I repeatedly called and e-mailed Hertz and the city of Pisa, but each party blames the other. Can you please help me clear this up?"

Tom Huse

Wilmington, North Carolina

Face, meet palm: Why would no one correct this obvious error? To find out, Ombudsman first called a representative of the Italian Tourism Board, whose only advice to Huse was to carry evidence of the mix-up when driving in Italy in the future and to repeatedly call Pisa officials—preferably with help from an Italian speaker—until the mistake was corrected. This was not a satisfactory solution, in Ombudsman's opinion, so we wrote to Hertz. In a welcome gesture, the rental car company paid his ticket and assured Huse that his record would be cleared. Ombudsman applauds Hertz for going above and beyond to remedy this case of mistaken identity. Mishaps like this can be chalked up to plain bad luck, but travelers should be aware of local driving regulations and restrictions. Some cities (such as Singapore, Oslo, London—and Pisa) have congestion zones where vehicles are charged a fee, and rental companies have no obligation to alert customers. Driver beware—after all, it's your rap sheet.

Last fall, I booked two coach tickets from Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus and paid for seats with more legroom because my wife had injured her leg. At the airport, the ticket agent said that there had been a change of aircraft, that our confirmed seats were not available, and that we would be in the last row. Since seats were available in business class and I had paid extra, I suggested that Aer Lingus should at least upgrade my wife, but the agent refused. At that point, I ­decided to pay $2,634 for a business-class seat for my wife and take the seat in the back row for myself. There were 14 empty seats in business class, yet the airline still forced me to buy a full-fare ticket.
Once home, I tried to settle the matter with Aer Lingus but have received no reply. Can you help?

Earl Latterman

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Luck of the Irish, eh? Airplane seats are never guaranteed—even if you pay an additional fee. An inconvenient policy, yes, but it makes sense given that when carriers have to change aircraft, the seat configuration often changes, as happened in this case. An airline representative explained that the change of equipment happened on the day of travel, and that the Lattermans could not be seated in an exit row since FAA regulations allow only able-bodied passengers in those seats. Aer Lingus did, however, refund the amount the couple paid for the extra legroom and offered a goodwill credit of $500.

Most carriers give free upgrades only to frequent fliers, as thanks for their loyalty. In an ideal world, Aer Lingus would have upgraded the Lattermans in a gesture of kindness, but these days you get what you pay for—sometimes less.

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