When their Air Jamaica flight in March from Curacao to Montego Bay arrived late, Monika Jansen and her family hoped they might still catch their connecting flight, scheduled to take off a few minutes later.

They were stunned at what happened: Not only didn't Air Jamaica hold that flight so incoming passengers could make their connection, it also let the connecting flight leave earlier than scheduled.

"We could not fathom why the plane had departed early knowing we were arriving late but before the scheduled departure time!" says Jansen, a Potomac Falls resident who was flying first class on vacation with her husband and 17-month-old daughter.

Air Jamaica got the Jansens a room at the Wyndham Rose Hall resort for the night, but the drive from the airport was long, the baby was hungry and the Jansens were peeved about being stranded.

To exacerbate matters, Jansen says, her husband had to argue for an hour on the phone to get the airline to pay the extra cost of a room refrigerator for their toddler's food. The airline also balked at picking up the cost of an international phone call to alert relatives of their delayed arrival. And, Jansen says, the next day their flight home left 45 minutes late.

Jansen wrote to Air Jamaica demanding an apology and two round-trip first-class tickets as compensation. She says she was dumbfounded when the airline offered "a halfhearted apology" and no compensation, but instead "blamed us for missing our flight," stating that our travel plans, which Air Jamaica ticketed, "did not allow sufficient time for an international connection."

Frustrated, Jansen did what savvy consumers often do when they get no satisfaction from a customer service department. She went straight to the top, writing to Christopher Zacca, Air Jamaica's chief executive. Jansen heard nothing for two months, then received a voice mail message from an Air Jamaica customer service manager saying she thought the airline owed the Jansens something for their troubles. A letter followed with two $250 vouchers for flying on Air Jamaica and an apology.

Air Jamaica spokesman Mike Going says there was nothing unusual about how Air Jamaica handled the operational logistics at Montego Bay airport that day.

"One of the great drivers in this business is on-time performance. You have to make an operational call," he says. "You've got 150 people on an airline sitting. Do you let them sit on the hope that the incoming airline will arrive in time? Does it become a creeping delay?"

There was no guarantee Jansen's plane would have made it in time even if the connecting flight had been held, so the connecting flight took off, says Going.

Air Jamaica handled the situation on the ground the way most of the airline industry does. "We put you up and we feed you," he says. "The greater the infraction, the greater the compensation. If you're late for an hour, hey, here's a meal voucher. If it's an overstay, we try to make everybody comfortable.

"Generally that satisfies most customers. . . . But you can't please everybody the exact same way. Mrs. Jansen felt far more compensation was required."

Contrary to popular belief, when flights are canceled or connecting flights missed, and passengers are stranded overnight, airlines are not required to get them hotel rooms, pay for meals or compensate for inconveniences. Each airline has its own policy. In Air Jamaica's "conditions of contract," it states that flight schedules are not guaranteed and the airline "assumes no responsibility for making connections."

Going says Air Jamaica "strives to please everyone. Where we dropped the ball is we didn't properly respond to her first letter."

Jansen's letter to Zacca made a difference. Although the complaint should not have had to go that far, Going says, "after the fact, Air Jamaica did the right thing."

Jansen says the lesson is: "If you don't get a satisfactory result by going through the standard channels, you need to escalate your complaint and go to the top of the food chain."

Got questions? A consumer complaint? A helpful tip? E-mail details to oldenburgd@washpost.com or write Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.