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No more fee-free fare drop refunds on JetBlue, for most customers

Posted by George Hobica on Saturday, August 16, 2014

JetBlue has one of the best (maybe the best) customer protection programs in the airline business. Most people don't even know it exists.

Compensation is automatic if you book on Jetblue.com, but if you book through a third-party you must call JetBlue to activate.

As do most airlines, if JetBlue cancels your flight you can apply for a full refund, even on non-refundable fares. That's nothing special. But if there's a flight delay, JetBlue is unique in offering flight credits (valid for spending on future JetBlue flights within one year of issue) of between $25 for a delay starting at 90 minutes up to the full value of your fare for delays 6 hours or longer. Only caveat: the delay must have been within JetBlue's reasonable control, so a weather delay doesn't qualify.

They also offer onboard ground delays (i.e., "tarmac" delays) compensation starting at 3 hours, although D.O.T. regulations state that you must be allowed to deplane if a tarmac delay lasts 3 hours or more. If for some reason you're stuck on the ground upon arrival for between one and two hours, you'll get a $50 credit. Over two hours, you'll get a credit in the full amount of your fare.

So that's the good news.

The bad news is that JetBlue was one of the few airlines, along with Southwest and Alaska, that would give you a flight credit, with no rebooking fee, if a fare dropped between the time you buy and the time you fly. (Many airlines charge a $200 fee for rebooking at the lower fare on domestic tickets, and more for international fares). But as of August 14, 2014, JetBlue no longer issues fee-free fare drop refunds on most fares.

If you're a Mosaic frequent flyer on JetBlue, you still get a full refund (you can qualify for TrueBlue Mosaic by flying 30 segments plus 12,000 base flight points within a calendar year by or earning 15,000 base flight points within a calendar year). But for all other passengers, on most fares you'll pay a $75 fee to have your flight credit issued, which could wipe out a lot of the fare drop's value. It's still better than the $200 or more that United, Delta and American charge, but it's an unwelcome change, indeed.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

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How to file an airline complaint

Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, August 13, 2014

By George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog.com

Everyone will end up complaining about an airline sooner or later. For some reason, I've never had to write a scathing letter. The only time recently that something went amiss on a flight I’ve taken was Los Angeles to New York on American Airlines. I had used miles to fly in first class, and although I had booked my seat months in advance when I attempted to check in online 24 hours ahead I was told to do so at the airport, which is always a bad sign. Sure enough, there was no seat for me. I asked what happened, but the ticket agent could offer no explanation. Instead of ranting and raving, I remained calm, went to the lounge, and asked the front desk what they could do for me. And sure enough, I was put on a flight departing exactly 59 minutes after my original flight, same seat. Because the delay was under an hour, American didn’t owe me denied boarding compensation. But because I was polite and pleasant about the situation, the lounge agent found me and handed me a $400 travel voucher anyway. Maybe I would have gotten the voucher even if I had ranted and raved, who knows. Somehow, I suspect not.

So if you have an airline complaint, whether lost bags, a delayed flight, or poor service, always try to resolve it politely at the airport. If that doesn't work, send a letter or email to the airline.

--Be polite, specific, and as brief as possible, citing flight numbers, seat location, employee names if known, cost of fare, etc.

--Include your frequent flyer number.

--It's always a good idea to "sit" on your letter for a few days after writing it in order to cool down and rephrase things.

--Never say, "I will never fly your airline again!" since that gives the airline no incentive to help.

--Ask for a specific remedy, whether it is extra frequent flyer miles, a refund, or a voucher, and be reasonable.

--And remember, even airlines with stellar reputations screw up from time to time, as happened in this snafu involving Emirates and JetBlue that I attempted to fix with limited success.

Perhaps the best advice, though, is to avoid setting yourself up for air travel #fail to begin with.

Here are the email/website and corporate mailing address contacts for U.S.-based airlines. Although most people like to email these days, I find that a well-written snail mail letter can be more effective since so few people send them and they tend to stand out (plus you can include photocopies of relevant documents if applicable). And you can also pay the post office for a confirmation that the mail has been received.

Oh, and by the way, you can also use these methods for saying something nice about your flight or an employee's extra care.

Airtran
Southwest Airlines
P.O. Box 36647-1CR
Dallas, Texas 75235

Alaska
P.O. Box 68900
Seattle, WA 98168

American
4333 Amon Carter Boulevard
Fort Worth TX 76155

Delta
Customer Relations
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001

Frontier
Customer Relations
7001 Tower Rd.
Denver CO 80249

Jetblue
27-01 Queens Plaza North,
Long Island City, NY 11101

Hawaiian
3375 Koapaka Street
Suite G350
Honolulu HI 96819

Southwest
2702 Love Field Drive
Dallas TX 75235

United
P.O Box 66100
Chicago IL 60666

US Airways
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034

Virgin America
555 Airport Blvd., Fl. 2
Burlingame, CA 94010

Airlines are also using Twitter to resolve complaints, but some are better than this than others.

@AlaskaAir

@AmericanAir

@DeltaAssist

@HawaiianAir

@JetBlue


@SouthwestAir

@United

@USAirways

@VirginAmerica

image via Shutterstock

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Now Even First Class is Being Nickel-and-Dimed

Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, August 7, 2014

By George Hobica

Airfarewatchdog.com

Maybe it's true or maybe it's apocryphal but back back in the 1980's, when airlines still served food to economy class passengers, American Airlines' CEO Robert Crandall proposed that by removing one olive from the salads the airline could save $100,000 a year (another estimate puts it at $40,000, but whatever).

But now the penny pinching is hitting the elite. American has announced that starting Sept. 1 it will offer snacks instead of full meals in first and business class on flights less than 2 hours and 45 minutes long. Currently, full meals are offered on flights lasting two hours or longer. US Airways, now part of American, will follow the same procedure.

If you fly on 17 popular (and presumably higher-value) routes such as Dallas-Chicago, the old rules will still apply.

So it has come to this. Even elite flyers are being dinged, just when airlines are announcing record profits. I'd understand this move if the airlines were still bleeding cash, but they're not.

Over at Delta, meals are served based on mileage flown. On flights up to 250 miles all you get is a cookie or bag of pretzels in first or business, or "heartier" snacks on trips of 251 to 899 miles. Most of these snacks (muffins, granola bars, cookies), I've found, are full of sugar and empty calories, so I'll pass thanks. United, too, now offers first and business class passengers a meal on flights only longer than 2.5 hours, but only "during meal times" which I guess is subject to United's interpretation.

Yes, of course, airplane food isn't all that great, even in first class, and no one is going to starve by not being fed for 2 hours 45 minutes, but sometimes when you take two connecting flights of, say, 2 hours 30 minutes and there's only 30 minutes between connections, it's possible to travel for a good part of the day without eating something. Maybe they'll let first class passengers get "take out" from the food-for-sale in economy.

Don't the legacy carriers love their first and business class passengers anymore? True, very few of them actually pay cash to sit up front. Most of them (including me) are freeloaders. They get free "status" upgrades (I'm an American "platinum" flyer so I can upgrade from almost any cheap fare) or they pay with miles. So maybe the airlines are thinking, hey let them eat cookies. But for those who sometimes actually pay $400 or $500 one-way for short flights in first class, these new meal rules seem as petty as ditching an olive.

What's next? Cash bars in first and business on flights under three hours? Or will they sacrifice the lemon twist from the martinis?

Follow us on Twitter @airfarewatchdog

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

A better way to search for hotel deals

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, August 4, 2014


by George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog

You already love the way Airfarewatchdog.com hunts for airfare deals. Now we're trying to improve the way you search for hotels as well!

Often when searching for hotel stays, I find that you have to sift through a lot of selections before you get to the good stuff. Even if you use filters and "sliders" to maximize location, ratings, and value, it still takes some work.

So, Hotelwatchdog uncovers the best hotel values without making you do the work. Here's how we do it:

We analyze hotel prices, comparing current rates to the hotel's average rate as well as to other hotel prices nearby. Once we've found the best rates, we make sure the hotel is in the best possible location, close to popular attractions, restaurants, and nightlife. Finally, we need to make sure the hotel is a winner. That's why we comb through reviews from TripAdvisor travelers and only offer you hotels with high ratings.

The result is a list of the best-of-the-best hotel options for your stay. No more sifting, filtering, scrolling. No more scrutinizing a map to find out if that hotel is in a prime spot. We'll do all that hard work for you.

We want to make this the very best hotel finder on the web. Now we'd like you to try it! Go to Airfarewatchdog.com/Hotels and search for hotels in your destination. Then tell us what you think. What features do you love? What other features would you like to see? Send us your feedback here

 

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Make sure your carry-on measures 22 by 14 by 9 inches and not an inch more if flying AA, DL, UA or US

Posted by George Hobica on Sunday, June 15, 2014

It happened to me and many others, and it could happen to you: getting sent to the check in desk with a 20-inch or 21-inch carry-on bag that has never raised an eyebrow with the airlines before. And you could miss your flight as a result. Note: this isn't gate checking. It's back to check in. This only applies to American, Delta, US Airways and United. JetBlue and Southwest have more generous carry-on limits. As does Virgin America, which has a 24 by 10 by 16 (50 inches over all) limit.

I've heard of this going on in Miami, and I experienced myself a couple of weeks ago and saw it happening again last week at New York's JFK in the American Airlines terminal. My 20 by 15 by 8 inch (43 linear inches overall) bag was rejected just before TSA, and even though I arrived at the airport 90 minutes ahead of flight I just made the last boarding call.

I'm only mentioning this because I don't want anyone to miss a flight. So many people get sent back from the pre-TSA line (where a "redjacketed" airport employee checks your boarding pass normally) that the check in lines can be unusually long.

Here's what's happening: the FAA is giving extra scrutiny to American Airlines as they move along with their merger with US Airways to make sure they're enforcing their (meaning American's, not the FAA's or TSA's) 22 by 14 by 9 inch carry on bag limit. And they are enforcing it the letter. So a 22 or 21 or even a 20 inch long bag that happens to be 15, instead of 14, inches deep can be rejected if it sticks outside of the bag sizers placed just before TSA.  Again, they are not just checking at the gate (although they check there too of course). You don't get to gate check! You go into the check in line and pray that you make your flight.

Delta and other airlines are also following the bag size rules to the inch, I've learned on Twitter, but for different reasons. It's the busy summer travel season and planes (and overhead bins) are full. One guy with the same sized bag I have (21 by 15 by 8) was made to pay $100 to check his bag on Delta on an international flight.

Just a word of warning.

Interesting, too, that American's carry on allowance info on its website is a bit different from US Airway's but supposedly the two airlines are now following the same rules. As you can see, effective June 11, 2014 US now permits a "soft-sided garment bag up to 51 inches" in lieu of a "carry on bag." No word on exact dimensions for the garment bag. Just 51 inches.

And while we're at it, before travel look up your airline's carry on weight limit too because some foreign carriers have strict weight limits, not just size limits.

And for the record, I'm all for restricting the size of carry on bags. But the recent strict enforcement is something you should prepare for.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Updated: How a flexible date airfare search can save money

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, June 2, 2014

People who have flexible dates get the best fares. There's no magic day to buy a fare, although there are cheaper days to fly--for domestic U.S. travel it's Tuesday and Wednesday, and for international trips it's usually Monday to Wednesday or Thursday.

You can often save hundreds of dollars by flying when the going is cheap, and sometimes it just requires tweaking dates by a few days. Indeed, Airfarewatchdog.com lists airfares based on the lowest possible price, assuming that you’re date-flexible, which is why people with specific travel dates often don't find the fares we list.

It's disappointing that Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire and Expedia have dumbed-down their flexible date search tools, in part because these searches place a lot of stress on their computer systems (searching for a needle in a haystack is more data-intensive than search just a specific date). But a few good options still exist, along with an interesting newcomer.

Here are some tools we use to find the cheapest flights. You can play too!

Cheapair.com

This online travel agency (OTA) site allows a 330-day search.  It only works on some domestic U.S. routes and doesn’t include Southwest, Allegiant and other airlines that sell fares only on their own websites. To use this feature, enter an origin and destination and check the “My dates are flexible” option. Although it’s convenient and easy to use, Cheapair charges a $9.95 booking fee. As far as I know, it’s the only site that still shows searches over 330 days. (By the way, if you’re wondering why only 330 days, that’s the maximum period over which major domestic U.S. airlines such as Delta, US Air, American, and United publish airfares. Other airlines, such as JetBlue and Southwest, publish fares over shorter time periods).

Kayak.com

Kayak, a meta-search travel site rather than an OTA (the difference between meta search and OTA is explained here), has a robust flexible date search, powered by ITA Software (see below). First you have to sign up with your email. From the flights tab click on the "more search options" link under "find flights" and then choose Flex month. Specify a departure date and a trip length, either a single number of nights or a range of up to any seven days (such as 6-8 or 18-25). As is the case with Cheapair, you won’t find Southwest, Allegiant, or Ryanair, but you will find a wide range of destinations, domestic and international. Once in a while, however, you’ll click through on fare found via flexible search and find that it’s not available. That’s just the nature of the beast. And you may not find the best possible routings, since airlines apparently don’t share their entire inventories with third-party sites.

No discussion of flexible date airfare search can exclude ITA Software’s Matrix Airfare Search function, but read why it shouldn’t be relied on as the Holy Grail.

Hipmunk.com

The "pricegraph" feature isn't exactly a flexible date calendar but many people find it useful once they get the hang of how to use it.

Orbitz.com

Another favorite site has been online travel agency (OTA) Orbitz.com. They used to have a 30-day flexible date search but now it's just plus or minus 1 to 3 days.

Hotwire.com

Hotwire, also an OTA, works like Orbitz.com does. It, too, is powered by ITA Software. Again, just plus or minus 1-3 days.

Adioso.com

This newish, under-the-radar site is a very cool airfare search product for many reasons. You enter a "to" and "from" airport and then a trip length such as "about two weeks" and you'll see a bar graph showing the fares for dates in that range.

Some airlines have good flexible date search tools as well.

United.com

One of the positive changes United made when it combined the Continental website with its own was to introduce an excellent flexible date function. From the home page “Flight” tab choose a calendar start date, a length of trip, click on “My dates are flexible” choose a length of stay and search. Use the blue forward arrow to the right of the calendar search through United’s entire schedule over 330 days, month by month. Easy.

Looking at the major U.S. legacy carriers, in contrast, Delta.com only allows a +/- 1-3 day search when you choose “My dates are flexible” from its home page. US Airways doesn’t have a flexible option at all; and American used to have a 30-day flexible date search but got rid of it.

Among the smaller U.S. airlines, JetBlue doesn’t have a true flexible date search, but once you enter your route and dates, you can forward-arrow week-by-week from both your original departure and arrival dates to find alternate fares.  Virgin America offers the same functionality. It’s a bit time-consuming and clumsy, but better than what’s offered by USAir and others.

Southwest.com

Southwest doesn’t list its fares on meta-search or OTA sites, but it does have an excellent flexible date search feature. As the case with other sites mentioned here, Southwest.com doesn’t scream this fact from its homepage. To find the “Shortcut” Low Fare Calendar takes some work, unless you know where it is. It's right here.

But it’s simple to use. Choose a departure and arrival city and a departure and arrival month and you’re all set.

Over in Europe, easyJet.com has a simple and effective flexible date tool. Just click on the “Flexible on dates” box to use it. Ryanair.com has one too, similar to the JetBlue model. Interestingly, the “Flexible dates” button is pre-checked, suggesting that Ryanair prefers that you be flexible to find its lowest fares. AerLingus.com also defaults to flexible dates, searching over a two-week period for both departure and return. Britishairways.com automatically shows a seven-day flexible date range and provides previous week and next day arrows to further search.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

The Travel Insurance In Your Wallet That You Didn't Know You Had

Posted by George Hobica on Sunday, June 1, 2014

 I recently wrote about a new air travel insurance plan called AirCare, which provides cash payouts on the spot if your flight is delayed more than two hours for any reason, if your luggage is lost, delayed or stolen, if a flight delay causes you to miss a connecting flight, or if you're stuck on the tarmac for more than two hours. There are surprisingly no obvious loopholes, and this is over and above what compensation you might collect from the airline, insurance policies, or other sources, all for $25 per flight.

But soon after publishing the story, some commented that credit cards provide the same benefits for free. Do they? Yes and no.

What I didn't realize is that, yes, some credit card issuers have buried in their fine print contracts rather extensive travel insurance. Some, but not all, and the benefits vary widely between issuers.

Did you ever have a laptop or iPhone stolen or "gone missing" during TSA scanning, or perhaps in the plane? Depending on the cards you used to pay for your trip, your issuer's built-in, free travel insurance might have compensated you for at least part of your loss.

Did a traveling companion get sick just before departing on a trip, causing you to cancel? Did the airline lose your bags, and only offer a paltry $500 in compensation? You might have been covered and not even known it.

But as this report clearly shows, there are credit cards with extensive benefits and those with paltry ones, even though the annual fees tend to be similar.

It's the travel insurance you probably didn't know you have. 

Of course, the details of that coverage are going to be buried in fine print, in documents you probably threw away when your card showed up in the mail. Not to worry – it's easy to go back and check because it's all on line.

There are three main categories of air travel insurance included with credit cards, although not all cards offer all of them: 

Trip interruption or delay

Your flight is interrupted or delayed after departure due to a "covered reason"—typically one or more (but not always all) of the following:  illness, injury, labor strikes, equipment failure, or weather. Needless to say, no card covers all possible causes of a delay. If it's not in the "covered reasons" (for example, a crew showing up late for your flight or congestion-related air traffic control delays) you're on your own.  

Trip cancellation (i.e., when you have to cancel a trip before departure)

You or a traveling companion or immediate family member (definitions of "immediate" vary widely) becomes ill or injured before departure and you need to cancel your plans. For example, your son breaks his leg a week before your trip and you have $4,000 in non-refundable trip arrangements, many credit cards cover that. But in all cases, pre-existing conditions are not covered.

Lost or delayed baggage

The airline loses your checked bag; someone steals something from your carryon bag in flight; or your bag is not lost but merely delayed upon arrival.  Different cards define a delay differently: for some it's just four hours, for another it might be 12 hours. And in almost all cases, lost bag coverage is in "excess" of whatever you collect from your airline or any other insurance you might have, such as homeowners insurance (although if your policy deductible is $1500 and the loss is $1000, you might not have to make a claim if you present your policy's declaration page to the credit card company's representative).

Even computers, cell phones, and jewelry are covered by some credit cards, although for no more than $500 per incident. But at least it's something, and airlines don’t cover these things at all.

Cards vary in their deadline for making a claim, so in some cases if you've had a recent loss but didn't know you had coverage, you may still have time to file a claim retroactively to your credit card issuer (some claims can be made a full year after the loss). However, some cards require that you pay the entire cost of your trip on the card to qualify for coverage, while others settle for just a portion of the trip. One card we checked, oddly, only pays for round-trip transportation, not one-way trips. Some cards cover trips of up to 30 days, another might cover up to 60. 

This free coverage will never be as extensive as a policy you purchase separately from a company like Travel Guard or Access America, but neither is it something to ignore and if you've had a recent loss you even might be able to file a claim retroactively.  

Are you covered? Here are some favorite credit card brands and issuers with a synopsis of what they will and won't do for you next time something goes bump in the flight, along with links to their official contracts.

 

American Express

Chase Sapphire card

Citibank Aadvantage Signature card

World MasterCard

Capital One Venture Rewards

United Explorer Visa Platinum card

Related: Watch out for larceny in the air

Follow us on Twitter @airfarewatchdog

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Credit Card Travel Insurance: The Citibank Aadvantage Signature Card

Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, May 29, 2014

Almost all credit card issuers offer some kind of travel insurance, but they vary vastly depending on what's in your wallet or purse. The Citibank Aadvantage Visa Signature card is neither the worst nor the best in what it offers compared to other cards. Compared to the Chase Sapphire card or the United Explorer Platinum card, it's middling, although it offers more protection than, say, the Hilton HHonors card from American Express. Its definition of  "family" member is more restrictive; and it doesn't offer trip delay coverage or reimbursement for carryon luggage or electronic items lost in checked bags. 

Official contract: If you have this card, sign into your Citibank account and search for your specific coverage.

Who is covered?

The cardholder, traveling companions, spouse, domestic partner (some credit card issuers exclude these), and immediate family members, which means unmarried children under 19 or under 23 if a full-time student.  (In contrast, the Chase Sapphire Card includes a much more extensive definition of family).

What is covered?

A qualifying trip (round-trip only) charged entirely to the card.

Trip cancellation

What is covered?

Sickness, injury or death which results in medically imposed restrictions before your trip begins or a loss or theft of checked baggage. The injury must be verified by a physician. Weather events, mechanical delays and anything else is not covered.

What is not covered? 

Pre-existing conditions and anything not specified above.

Trip interruption

What is covered?

Similar to trip cancelation—sickness, injury, etc. If you need to interrupt your trip after departure, coverage kicks in.

What is not covered?

There is no coverage for severe weather, which some cards such as the Chase Sapphire card do cover.

Lost baggage

What is covered? 

Bags lost or stolen when checked only up to $3,000 (only $2,000 for New York State residents for some reason). There is no coverage apparently for carry-on luggage (some credit cards, notably American Express, provide this). You have 45 days to make a claim. Coverage is secondary to the airline's liability, which by U.S. law for domestic travel is no more than $3,400.  For international travel, airline liability is much less, so presumably if the airline only pays $1000 and your loss is $2000, the card will pony up the remainder.

What is not covered?

Electronics, cameras, jewelry, computers, and the like.

Delayed baggage

There is no coverage for delayed delivery of checked baggage. Some other credit cards provide this.

Trip delay

There is no coverage for trip delays. Some other cards provide this, usually just $100 per day for up to 3-5 days.

Capital One Venture Rewards Card

American Express

Chase Sapphire Card

The United Explorer Visa Platinum Card

You might also like: Miss Your Connection? Here's $500 from AirCare

Related

Watch out for larceny in the air

 

 

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

Miss Your Connection? Here's $500 For Your Pain

Posted by George Hobica on Saturday, May 17, 2014

Air travel mishaps—misconnections, delays, lost bags-- happen every day, and although there's travel insurance to protect you against some things, and government regulations or airline policies offer compensation for certain problems like lost bags and involuntary bumping, for many scenarios you're on your own. For example, there's no government or airline compensation if you suffer a long tarmac delay or a misconnection (the airline might get fined if they don't offer to deplane you after three hours, but none of that sees its way into your pocket). Or if your flight is delayed, nothing is owed you. Travel insurance may cover you in certain scenarios, but there are loopholes large enough to fly a 777 through, and if you collect something for your trouble, there are daily or absolute compensation limits that are usually inadequate, forms to fill out, and denied claims.

But now an innovative new company, from the people who started TravelGuard travel insurance (now part of AIG insurance), is aiming to cover snafus not covered elsewhere, with minimal effort on the part of the insured.

AirCare, from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection https://www.bhtp.com/home/aircare, is a fixed-benefit flight protection plan that compensates passengers for many of the air travel inconveniences that fall through the cracks.

What's covered

For $25 per trip, AirCare will pay you:

  • $1000 if you're stuck in the plane ("tarmac" delay) for more than two hours
  • $1000 if your luggage is lost or stolen
  • $500 if a flight delay causes you to miss a connecting flight
  • $500 if your checked luggage is delayed more than 12 hours
  • $50 if your flight is delayed more than two hours

True, airlines are responsible to reimburse you for lost or delayed bags, but they'll depreciate the value of the contents and require receipts. With AirCare, there's no depreciation of contents. And compensation is in addition to whatever you might eventually collect by complaining to the airline or from a travel insurance policy. And if there's a misconnection, airlines will put you on the next flight if there are seats, but often there aren't. And they won't pay for hotel rooms if you're stuck overnight. $500 could come in handy. I just wonder if crafty travelers will game this by booking those 38-minute connecting flights at Atlanta on incoming flights that are late 90 percent of the time. I hope not.

By the way, these benefits are cumulative. If your flight is delayed and then you're stuck on the tarmac for two or more hours, you get $1050. Miss your connecting flight as a result, and it's $1550.

Of course, there are more things that can go wrong in a flight besides these. AirCare doesn't cover you merely if your flight is canceled, it should be noted; or if the airline announces a schedule change far in advance of departure, for instance, requiring you to purchase an overnight hotel stay in a connecting city http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/6741025/airline-refuses-to-budge-on-schedule-change/. Also, it currently applies only to domestic flights, not international ones.

How it works

AirCare automatically tracks your flight. Miss a connection? AirCare will know, and you immediately get $500. Then they'll help arrange (but not pay for) same-day travel on any airline. To start a claim for delayed bag delivery, you just send a picture of your baggage claim form to start the claims process. Same process if your bag is lost or stolen. And if you're stuck in the plane, AirCare will have tracked your trip in real time and automatically transfer $1000 into your account. It won't get you in the air faster, but it will help ease the pain. Also included is a travel assistance concierge service to help find hotels, rental cars, and alternate flights if something goes awry with your travel plans.

It would be nice if one day a travel insurance company covered all possible pain points of air travel, but that's unlikely. According to AirCare CEO John Noel, however, the company is considering other ways, beyond the five restitutions planned so far, to compensate passengers for things that can go bump in the fight. If it does, we may one day fly much friendlier skies.

Further reading: What are your "rights" when you fly?

Follow us on Twitter @Airfarewatchdog

 

 

 

 

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

British Airways A380 Flight Simulator

Posted by George Hobica on Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I don’t play video games, and probably I never will now that I’ve landed an Airbus A380 at airports all over the world in a flight simulator. Because really, what video game could ever compare with manning the joystick in a multi-million dollar sim?

I knew that my first flight “sim” experience would be exciting, which is why I flew all the way to London’s Heathrow Airport and the British Airways training center, but it wasn’t prepared for how thrilling it would be. BA will be launching its A380 service between Los Angeles and London and London and Hong Kong later this year, and I was one of the lucky few to grab a slot for a couple of hours in their new A380 sims.

For those of you who have never taken the controls of a sim, these sophisticated machines are enclosed cockpits resting on moveable mechanical legs that, as the name implies, simulate flight and are used for flight crew training purposes. The controls, video displays, seats and other features are identical to a real cockpit, and the windows are actually video screens that can be programmed to show airport terminals, taxiways, runways, topographical features, and weather conditions. The sim pods tilt, lurch and even rumble to recreate real-life take off and flight conditions, and speakers broadcast sounds (jet and wind noise, landing gear and flap movement, even the sound and movement of the tires bumping along the taxiway.).


Under the guidance of an experienced BA captain, I took my sheepskin-upholstered seat and got a tour of the controls. At my left hand was a joystick; at my right the four levers that controlled the mighty jet’s engines; at my feet, pedals used to slow down or brake the plane on the ground. Other controls worked the flaps and landing gear and switched the auto pilot off and on. I was surprised to see that this plane has no “steering wheel.” The joystick controls all directional movement on the ground.

After watching a typical take off and landing performed by my instructor, it was my turn. Where would I like to go? Tokyo? Manhattan? Hong Kong? I released the brakes, and we were “towed” out to the taxi way. It was now my job to slowly position the aircraft for take off. After giving the engines a bit of thrust I placed my left hand on the joystick, which is used to steer the plane while on the ground, and was surprised at how sensitive it was. Only minute movements are necessary, and had this been an actual take off someone on the ground would have assumed I was inebriated as I swerved back and forth.  The simulator’s speakers broadcast engine noises and the simulator pod rumbled a bit as we passed over “imperfections” in the taxiway. Once at the head of the runway, I applied the brakes and then placed my right hand on the four throttle levers, pushing them forward in unison. And away we flew.  As we ascended, the simulator tilted and banked. (In fact, the motion was so real that after a few such take offs one member of our party became a bit airsick.)



Outside the “windows” we could see a computer-generated view of greater London. The computer was programmed for a bright sunny day, but with a quick adjustment the “weather” could be switched to turbulent, cloudy, or rainy. And yes, simulated windshield wipers switched on when the rain started “pelting” our craft.

In minutes, we were descending into Hong Kong, my first port of call. I didn’t crash the plane, thankfully, but it was exactly a smooth landing. I was more successful upon subsequent landings at New York’s JFK and LAX.

One thing I learned was that there’s no such thing as a completely automated take off or landing, even when using the autopilot. Planes do not actually take off and land by themselves, much less position themselves for take off, or bring themselves to the gate.

Does this all sound like fun? That doesn’t begin to describe it. I was giddy, as in joyfully elated. The two hours passed in a flash and all too soon we were back on the ground, literally and figuratively, in London. I’d do it again and again, given the chance.

The British Airways Flight Training website describes the airline’s flight simulator experiences as “the thrill of a lifetime” and that’s no exaggeration. Currently, simulator flights are available in Boeing 737-400, Boeing 757-200, and Boeing 767-300 aircraft (training on the Airbus A380 and other models in the fleet may become available in the future). A one-hour “flight” costs £399 (about $465) or £1197 (about $1800) for a three-hour flight. Gift certificates are available as well. I can’t think of a better present for anyone who ever dreamed of being a pilot. Or for the video game geek on your holiday shopping list. Or for anyone, for that matter.

To learn more, visit George Hobica's profile on Google+

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