Kate Klonick arrived at a Hertz location in Brooklyn expecting to easily pick up the midsize sedan she had reserved for a Thanksgiving trip to western New York. But when the store closed after she had waited more than two hours for her reservation, Klonick wondered what had gone wrong — and how she was going to get the car.
“I thought this was perhaps a misunderstanding,” Klonick wrote to the rental-car company in a letter that she posted to Twitter on Tuesday. “I had a contract! I had met its terms! Hertz simply had to fulfill its side of the deal!”
Instead, she said, Hertz refused to help her at multiple locations, hung up on her phone calls and attempted to make her pay $1,800 for a new rental four separate times. She eventually paid about $500 more than the quoted price for “a bad car” nearly 24 hours after her rental was supposed to start.
“It just seemed like terrible customer service,” Klonick, 37, told The Washington Post. “But after a while, I was like, ‘This isn’t just customer service, this is a terrible policy.’ ”
The St. John’s University law professor recounted her experience of “Kafkaesque customer service” in a viral Twitter thread that has captured the frustration felt by many holiday travelers during a stressful and expensive time of year. The critical thread led to Hertz reimbursing Klonick on Tuesday for the full total she requested of nearly $750, she said. Some noted how Klonick’s look at Hertz’s business practices coincided with the rental-car company’s stock price dropping Tuesday.
A spokesperson for Hertz confirmed to The Post what happened to Klonick.
“Hertz cares deeply about our customers, and we regret Ms. Klonick’s experience, which does not reflect our standards of service,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “We have spoken with her to apologize and refunded the rate difference. We are investigating the situation to better understand what occurred so we can take any necessary corrective actions.”
I had a Very Bad experience with @Hertz over Thanksgiving.— Kate Klonick (@Klonick) November 30, 2021
This is what happened & the letter I wrote. We are totally fine, & our Thanksgiving ended up wonderful, but I suspect this is a fraudulent business practice, & I want to give it visibility for those who don't or can't. pic.twitter.com/cr9haMSeXd
The car-rental catastrophe comes as millions of Americans navigate their holiday plans, many with a desire to resume normal activities due to the widespread availability of coronavirus vaccines. What’s perhaps the biggest holiday travel surge of the pandemic era is unfolding as scientists and public health officials continue to examine the potentially dangerous omicron variant, which has been identified in at least 19 countries.
Thanksgiving is a tough time of year for Klonick and her partner, who lost his sister six years ago, she wrote. The couple were on their way to spend the holiday with his elderly mother.
When she arrived at the Hertz location near Barclays Center on Nov. 21 at noon, she was surprised to see a line of 15 people who seemed “generally agitated.” They also had noon pickups — even though the location closed at noon, Klonick wrote. The attendant, identified in the letter as Amanda, announced she would serve a few of the people in line before shutting down the store.
Over the next two hours, Klonick’s partner called Hertz’s customer service phone number in hope of some help. The first time, he was told to stay in line and that he would be served. But when he called back, he was told he could make a new reservation at a different location for $1,800, which he declined, Klonick said.
“They were counting on people quitting and not making it through their labyrinth of customer service,” she told The Post.
At 2:15 p.m., Amanda announced to the several customers waiting in line that she was shutting down the shop, Klonick said. Customers attempted to bribe her to stay with $20 bills and begged, “Please give us cars” — but they were out of luck.
“Amanda declined, for reasons, I now believe that are separate from the ones she gave us, but this is not about poor Amanda, Hertz,” she wrote. “This is about you.”
After another location had closed and she was repeatedly hung up on by customer service, Klonick finally spoke to a representative who suggested she go to LaGuardia Airport. But Klonick said the employee indicated to her that if she shifted her reservation to the airport location, the new rate would be more than $1,800 for the week and that nothing could be done over the phone.
“It was extortion,” she tweeted of the experience. “They had the cars, they wanted me to pay more for them.”
A Hertz spokesperson told The Post that whenever the company is unable to give a customer their car at the confirmed time, it’s the company’s policy “to make every reasonable effort to assist the customer, which may include providing a comparable vehicle at the same rate if available, moving a vehicle from another location in close proximity, delivering a vehicle to the customer, paying for a taxi or sourcing a vehicle from a competitor if at an airport.”
When she, her partner and their blind, deaf rescue dog took an Uber to the airport in an attempt to get a car, they were greeted by the manager, whose name also happened to be Amanda. The manager suggested they call customer service, which they did — and were disconnected two more times. On the third try, a representative again recommended they make a new reservation that would cost them about $1,800.
“I knew they had to honor the agreement they made with me,” she told The Post. “That’s the part I was very righteous about.”
The couple and the dog went back to their Brooklyn home after a more than $100 round trip with Uber and hours of their lives wasted.
Then, the 14th call to customer service brought hope. The representative was perplexed to hear what Klonick had been through, she said. That was followed by a familiar proposal: There’s a car in the Williamsburg neighborhood, but it will cost you $1,800.
“At this point, both my partner and I said that was unacceptable,” she wrote, adding they had to take the car at the original rate of $414.93 because Hertz was allegedly violating New York City’s consumer protection law.
Klonick was put on hold for 45 minutes until she was given news she didn’t think she’d hear: Hertz would honor the original rate and have a car ready for her in the morning.
When the couple arrived at the Brooklyn store on the day before Thanksgiving, a white Kia had never looked so good to them. They were so ecstatic that they gave the desk employee who helped them a bottle of champagne they planned on having for the holiday.
“It was beautiful,” she wrote of the compact car. “The back seat was covered in some type of pet hair and the cupholders were dirty, and it had no gas in the tank, but by God it was a vehicle that would transport us 6 hours back to Western New York.”
But there was a catch: The Kia rental was now going to cost them $973, almost $560 more than the original rate. They grudgingly accepted, Klonick said, knowing they had already delayed their holiday travel by nearly 24 hours.
“Do you want to drive?” Klonick’s partner asked her.
“No,” she replied. “I have a complaint to write.”
In her Monday letter to Hertz, Klonick demanded the company reimburse her the nearly $750 she was owed for the difference in the car rental total, the round-trip Uber cost and the bottle of champagne.
It wasn’t until she posted the letter to Twitter, and it was shared widely on the platform on Tuesday, that she got the company’s attention. Hours later, a Hertz representative reached out to her and said she would be refunded the full amount. She has yet to receive the refund as of Wednesday, she said.
Klonick told The Post that she isn’t sure whether anything would have changed in her situation, or similar ones, if her thread didn’t go viral. She asked Hertz the same question, but the company did not answer it directly, she said.
“We are unfortunately living in an age where calling out corporations is one of the only ways where you can get a response,” she said. “For a little while, it’s a tool we can use to equal out some of the power that some of these companies have over us.”
If she can avoid it, Klonick said she is not going to rent from Hertz again. She suspected the feeling could be mutual.
“I don’t think Hertz wants me renting from them again either,” she said. “But if it ends up changing some of their policy, it’ll totally be worth it.”