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Flying with Someone? You May Have to Pay Extra to Sit Together

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, August 4, 2014

When David Masunaga flew on United Airlines from Honolulu to Paris recently, a passenger traveling with his young son asked if he wouldn't mind switching seats. As is often the case these days, the father and child couldn't get seat assignments together, and Masunaga, who teaches high school math in Hawaii, was presented with a carefully curated bag of snacks as a thank you for trading. "It was wonderful," he says. "I had lots of stuff to nosh on while waiting for my connecting flight."

Finding seats together when you fly isn't always easy these days unless you pay sometimes exorbitant fees for "main cabin extra," "economy plus," or other "preferred" economy seats because that's all that's available when booking a flight.  

What's causing this? Many U.S.-based airlines hold back a large number of "standard" economy seats even if the flight is half empty. They do this in part to accommodate their best customers (if you have status in a frequent flyer program, you can usually get first crack at those coveted aisle seats) and in part to earn extra revenue from people willing to pay for the extra legroom seats at the front of economy class, or to pay for any seat assignment at all. On some heavily-trafficked flights, if you book close to departure you might only find scattered single seats available in the "regular economy" section, but lots of seats in the "plus" section for an upcharge that can cost $50 or more each way. Even if you book far ahead, even if the flight isn't sold out, only middle seats or premium seats are shown as available.

I'm all for airlines making a profit, and lately they are doing a pretty good job of it. But this is one way they earn revenue that's particularly controversial.

And it's not just parents with small kids. What about someone traveling with an autistic adult, or with an older passenger suffering from dementia? Caregivers absolutely need to be in close proximity with their charges when they fly together. No three year old or special needs adult is going to enjoy a flight sitting alone between two strangers (the two strangers won't enjoy it either).

Some tips to get seats together

Book as far ahead as possible.
Almost too obvious to mention, and this isn’t always possible, but it helps.

Enter your child’s age when making a reservation. You won’t get a discount, but one major airline told me that if a child is 12 or younger its computer system will automatically attempt to pair an accompanying adult in an adjacent seat the day before departure. Other airlines may do this too.

Speak to the airline. If you can't find seats together online, call the airline to see if they'll open up adjacent seats.

Get to airport very early. If none of the above worked, speak to the check in agent at the airport. The earlier you do this before departure, the better your chances of snagging a seat that might be held back for elite status passengers.

Change plans or airlines. Choose flights offering seats together, even if that means changing plans or buying a more expensive flight. Or fly on Southwest, which doesn't offer seat assignments, but gives priority boarding to parents with kids four years old or younger and people with special needs.

Bribe someone to switch. None of the above worked? A Starbucks gift certificate, round of drinks or a movie pass might do the trick.

What else can we do?

These strategies don’t always work, or they’re not always practical. That leaves...

Shut up and pay up. As one cold-hearted “frequent flyer” blogger suggests, it was your choice to have kids, so pay for "preferred" seat assignments if that's all that's left. Consider it just another child-related expense along with diapers, childcare and college tuition.

Change airline policies. Airlines could stop holding back seats or accommodate passengers with special needs. British Airways is the only airline I'm aware of that has a policy that promises all children in your booking will be seated with an accompanying adult.

Regulation or legislation. New York Congressman Jerry Nadler introduced a bill (the "Families Flying Together Act of 2012" H.R. 6124) to require airlines to accommodate families with small kids but nothing has happened.

Passengers could do the right thing. See a child or elderly person sitting apart from his caregiver? Switch seats without being asked. Even without a bribe.

But none of this is ideal

Airlines aren't about to give up the revenue that their current business model provides.

Sometimes no one takes the bribe. Most passengers want the seat they were assigned. Flight attendants usually try to reseat passengers, but doing so can be stressful and unsuccessful. (Recently I spoke with Cindy Decker, the Columbus Dispatch's travel editor, who received a complaint from a parent flying on United who was, according to the reader, forbidden to trade seats by a flight attendant).  

And legislation or regulation is fraught with issues. How exactly would this work? How old is a "child” (H.R. 6124 says it’s 12 or under) and how do you prove the child's age, when booking a seat or showing up for a flight (kids don't have picture IDs; would people try to scam the system like they do with early boarding where that still exists?). What if there's an equipment change or cancelation and only middle seats are left on the substituted flight or aircraft? Do you kick out people who, months ago, reserved an aisle seat into a middle seat to accommodate families with children or other caregivers and their charges?

Feel free to share your own strategies and suggestions.

Other stories you might like:

Turn Your Next Layover into a Mini-Vacation at the 15 Best Airport Hotels

Airplane Makers Plot to Cram More Bums on Seats

Are airline pet fees justified? Passengers say no, but there are costs involved

To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+

Above image via Shutterstock

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 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 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+

Turn Your Next Layover into a Mini-Vacation at the 15 Best Airport Hotels

Posted by George Hobica on Friday, August 1, 2014


Gone are the days when an airport hotel was little more than a purgatory for delayed passengers. Lavish spas, gorgeous restaurants and enticing décor are making overnight layovers into big fun. Here are fifteen great hotels that'll take the sting out of any extended airport visit.

Hyatt Regency Incheon ICN

The sleek, organic design that Hyatt fell for back in the early '00's works well everywhere, but particularly at the airport, where all that simplicity becomes downright soothing. Nothing like showing up here completely out of your mind with exhaustion, then sinking into slumber in gorgeous surroundings.

Check in from $283  

Sheraton Malpensa Milan MXP

A fashionable city like Milan deserves a smart overnight option at the airport – this recent addition is connected directly to Malpensa's Terminal 1, featuring soundproof rooms, 24-hour room service and fast connections to the center of town. Like so much in Italy, this hotel is truly easy on the eyes.

Check in from $250  

Alt Hotel Toronto YYZ

A free monorail whisks you from your terminal to this affordable-chic find that's a recent and welcome addition to the previously pedestrian airport scene. If you've stayed at Canada's fashionable Le Germain hotels, you might recognize the vibe – this is the group's first trip to the airport, with pleasing results.

Check in from $119

Sofitel Heathrow LHR

An easy walk from Terminal 5 through covered walkways, you might want to stay here even if you'll be spending most of your time in the city, since it often has the best rates of any London hotel in its class (central London is just a 45-minute Tube ride away). I love the breakfast buffet, the fitness room, the free WiFi, the high-intensity bedside reading lights (a rarity these days). Definitely deserves its 4.5-star TripAdvisor rating.

Check in from $286

Crowne Plaza Changi Airport SIN

Steps from the embarrassment of riches contained in the terminals at Changi, this resort-like property boasts cutting edge design, cocoon-like rooms, a gorgeous pool area and decent dining. Good transit links to the city and a well-equipped fitness room make this a place you might just want to call home for your entire stay in Singapore. And the club room option is well worth the upgrade.

Check in from $210  

citizenM Amsterdam Airport AMS

Pod hotels have yet to appear at every airport, and likely for a reason – nothing like a night's stay in one to bring out your inner claustrophobe. Pint-sized rooms at this terminal-adjacent property have an edge, though: windows. Décor is modern, the beds are comfortable and the price is right.

Check in from $193

Fairmont Vancouver YVR

One of the best things about this Northwest city? Seemingly endless mountain and water views. One of the worst things about Vancouver? Seemingly endless traffic. At this in-terminal hotel, you get all of one and none of the other. Stressed about your extended stay? The on-site spa is excellent. (So is the pool.)  

Check in from $295

Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport BKK

The "24 Hours Flexi" policy here eliminates the "will they, won't they" anxiety on your flight about what's going to happen when you get to check-in. (Ever been there? You know what I'm talking about.) Luckily, there's more to this property, located a 5 minute walk (in air-conditioning, don't worry!) from the terminals.

Check in from $151

Hilton Frankfurt Airport FRA

Part of an architecturally fascinating addition to one of Europe's most handsome airports, this slick (but never chilly) overnight option offers some serious connectivity – guests are sleeping right on top (almost literally) of Terminal 1 and the airport rail station, which links you to, well, most of Europe.

Check in from $267

Westin Detroit Metropolitan Hotel DTW

Everything about this in-terminal hotel is designed to take the sting out of your longer-than-planned airport visit, starting with the hotel's very own security checkpoint, which delivers you directly to the concourse of one of the world's largest airline hubs (Delta).

Check in from $324

Langham Place Beijing PEK

Just a couple of minutes via free shuttle bus from your terminal, you've got one of Beijing's most plush hotels. Seriously – this is five-star material, from the on-premises fine dining to the art collection to the deep-soaking tubs in the rooms.  

Check in from $193

Atlanta Airport Marriott Gateway ATL

A quick hop on the airport's free SkyTrain brings you to this expansive, modern property that more than does the job for a short stay, offering a great fitness center, pool and not-half-bad food. Tip: If prices are too high here, the SpringHill Suites by Marriott next door offers excellent value.  

Check in from $119

Grand Hyatt DFW

In a destination where airport-adjacent can be a lengthy ride away (seriously, DFW is so big!), let the booker beware when it comes to finding a convenient place to spend the night here in Dallas. This one, you're right at Terminal D – and a SkyLink ride away from the rest. Touches like a steam room and a 24-hour coffee bar make this more than just a place to flop.

Check in from $259

Marriott Hong Kong SkyCity HKG

 If you don't mind the short hike, the best hotels at Hong Kong's often-transited airport aren't at the airport at all – they're at nearby Hong Kong Disneyland. They're fun, but they're also expensive, and, if you've got an early flight, you might want to stay closer. No problem. Adjacent to the new SkyPier (quick trip to Macau, anyone?) and a pretty golf course – and just a couple of minutes via shuttle from the terminals

Check in from $229

Other stories you might like:

Airplane Makers Plot to Cram More Bums on Seats

Are airline pet fees justified? Passengers say no, but there are costs involved

Flight Review: JetBlue's Mint Service

To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+

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

Airplane Makers Plot to Cram More Bums on Seats

Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Don't tell me that the issue of standing room airplane "seats" is rearing its ugly head again. You may remember this front-page article in the New York Times back in April of 2006, written by freelancer Christopher Elliott, stating that Airbus had approached some Asian airlines about installing "standing seating" on its A380 aircraft.

Airbus immediately denied the story, calling it "idiotic," and the Times published a mea culpa correction and the paper's ombudsman wrote this damning article about the whole sad affair although Elliott more or less stood by his story, as reported.

But wait. Hugo Martin in the LA Times is reporting that Airbus has in fact patented a design for such "seating" (actually, they look more like bicycle saddles than seats). Martin quotes Airbus spokeswoman Mary Anne Greczyn saying, “Many, if not most, of these concepts will never be developed, but in case the future of commercial aviation makes one of our patents relevant, our work is protected. Right now these patent filings are simply conceptual.” So maybe Elliott wasn't so "idiotic" after all.

But what is pure idiocy is the whole concept of stand up air travel, even if it (presumably) led to lower airfares. While it would be fodder for stand up comedians, it's a crazy idea and if the story had appeared on April 1st I'd be laughing. But there's nothing funny about Airbus' patent application. First of all, airplanes are already packed to the max, and since the airlines could cram more stand-up passengers in their metal tubes they'd have a harder time complying with FAA regulations mandating that all passengers can be safely evacuated in an emergency in 90 seconds, even if not all doors are operable. So that would mean more means of egress at a minimum (although presumably, since standing passengers are already standing, they could escape faster, and there'd be room for more exits with all the seats removed). And what would the "brace position" look like? Would you rest your hands on the shoulders of the passenger in front of you? And how would the seat belts work? It's all pretty silly, but that's what they said at Kitty Hawk.

Oh, and not to be outdone, Boeing recently announced, says USA Today, that it is developing a "high-density" 737-MAX model that will cram an extra 11 passengers onboard, resulting in a 29-inch seat pitch vs. the typical 31 inches. News reports suggest that the new model will be targeted to airlines that wish to cram as many passengers as possible in their planes. (Maybe that's why they call it the "MAX"). But these days, isn't that just about every airline?

Other stories you might like:

Are airline pet fees justified? Passengers say no, but there are costs involved

Flight Review: JetBlue's Mint Service

Carry-on Rules Revisited

To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+

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

Three U.S. Airlines Will Still Fly You on a Competitor If There's a Snafu

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, July 14, 2014

Prior to 1978, in the event of a delay or flight cancellation all U.S. airlines were required to offer transportation on a competitor's next flight out if that flight would get the passenger to their destination sooner. Airlines were even required to put economy class passengers in first class if only first class was available. I actually took advantage of Rule 240 back in the 1990's when traveling to New York on American Airlines via San Juan. I missed my connecting flight due to a mechanical delay, and would have been required to overnight in San Juan had I not asked to be "Rule 240'd" on Continental to Newark on a flight that had just one seat left—in first class, as it turned out. After a bit of back and forth with a supervisor (the original agent I spoke to said "sorry we can't put you in first class") I was on my way.

The rule was mandated by the now-defunct Civil Aeronautics Board and was incorporated in all airlines' contracts of carriage. The only exception was for "force majeure" (i.e. "Act of God") events, which each airline is free to define as it pleases.

Most airlines, because they're no longer required to have one, have eliminated Rule 240 from their contracts. But three carriers, surprisingly, still have one. Maybe they just haven't gotten around to striking it out.

Those airlines are: Alaska, Frontier, and (surprise!) even United.

Alaska still has language about putting passengers in a higher class of service than what they paid for if that's all that's available. Frontier and United don't.

Of course, all this assumes that there is a seat on another airline that will get you where you're going faster than your cancelled or delayed flight, and with planes so full these days that's not a certainty.

Alaska's contract is here (scroll down to Rule 204AS)

Frontier's is here (scroll down to page 31)

And United's here (scroll down to Rule 24, page 33, especially subparagraph E). Note United's extensive definition of  "force majeure" events, including a "shortage of labor" (which presumably includes crew not showing up for your flight because their inbound flight was late).

All of these are in PDF format.

And to see how other airlines define "passenger rights" consult our Guide to Air-Passenger Rights.

And keep in mind that even if an airline has rid itself of Rule 240, it doesn't hurt to ask. Airlines, when it suits them, routinely put passengers on competitors if there's space available. It's up to the discretion of employees, and you should always ask as humbly and sweetly as humanly possible.

Other stories you might like:

Are airline pet fees justified? Passengers say no, but there are costs involved

Flight Review: JetBlue's Mint Service

Carry-on Rules Revisited

To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+

Above image via Shutterstock

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

Add the Airfarewatchdog App to Your Device

Posted by George Hobica on Wednesday, July 9, 2014

While you were away tending the grill and waving sparklers, we've been super busy with the launch of our new app!

Yep, now you can get the latest low fares for your favorite cities on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

Find a flight to Flint while walking the dog! Book a cheap trip to Trondheim on the crosstown bus!

Star and track your fave routes, forward deals along to friends and family, and share 'em on Twitter and Facebook.

If you haven't done so already, be sure to download the Airfarewatchdog app to your device.

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

Are airline pet fees justified? Passengers say no, but there are costs involved

Posted by George Hobica on Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pet lovers (and I'm one of them) are sometimes outraged by the fees airlines charge ($250 round-trip on many U.S. airlines) to bring pets in the cabin and in the cargo hold. And they're not too happy that the pet carrier is their one allowed carry on item.

Are these fees justified at all? What's the big deal about bringing a pet inside an airline cabin? How much does it really cost an airline to ship a pet in the cargo hold?

Well, there are costs involved. Not just the extra fuel that a 100-pound golden retriever might consume, but liability and operational costs as well.

Plus, traveling with your pet is a dicey proposition. Cargo conditions are, at best, risky. Experts insist that the risk is low, but risk is risk. Animals die in transit routinely; if there's a malfunction in the hold (temperature, pressurization) then all bets are off. Indeed, the Department of Transportation now requires routine reports from the airlines; these are made available at  

And then there's the inconvenience to other passengers, when you bring your furry friend inside the cabin.  An emergency landing – which can be caused by something as small as a passenger allergy to cat dander, for example – is an expensive hassle for an airline. Lawsuits, should a pet bite another passenger, for example, are another consideration. And if a pet gets loose on the tarmac (it happens) airports are shut down, flights are delayed and canceled, adding up to more expense to the airlines. Simply put, you'd be surprised what can happen when you mix animals and airplanes. Here are just a few examples that might give you pause:

The pooping pooch

Passengers boarding US Airways Flight 598 in Los Angeles on a recent morning weren't expecting to be taken to Kansas City – they'd paid for Philadelphia, after all. But an expensive emergency landing couldn't be avoided, after one of their fellow travelers – Truffles, a large service dog – wouldn't stop, well, pooping in the aisles. Flight attendants couldn't keep up with the cleanup, passengers began dry-heaving and, well, the rest was all over the news that night.

The fleeing feline

Karen Pascoe's Norwegian forest cat, Jack, spent 61 days lost at New York's JFK Airport after escaping his kennel. An American Airlines clerk stacked his kennel on top of another, causing it to fall and open, which sent the frightened feline scurrying. When Jack eventually was found – he fell through the ceiling of the customs area in Terminal 8 – he was so malnourished and dehydrated, he had to be euthanized.

The terrier on a tear

A plane full of Phoenix-bound travelers got an unexpected – and very impromptu – free trip to Pittsburgh one morning in 2011, thanks to fellow passenger Mandy, a 12-pound Manchester terrier, who went on a rampage after her owner let her out of her cage, biting passengers and crew on a flight that had originated in Newark. Victims were treated by airport medical personnel; Mandy and her owner were sent packing.

The Golden is a goner
Model Maggie Rizer carefully followed the instructions provided to her by United Airlines before allowing her beloved Bea, a Golden Retriever, to travel in cargo. A carefully labeled crate, a bowl filled with ice – the works. Bea died of heatstroke en route to San Francisco. "Please, don't trust that an airline will truly care and provide safety to your beloved pet," Rizer wrote at the time.

Booboo bites the dust

It's a long way from the island of Guam to Houston, but 1-year old Booboo, a Jack Russell Terrier-Chihuahua mix, made it just fine. Unfortunately, during the cargo unloading process, Booboo managed to escape from his crate, dashing onto the runway, where he was run over by an oncoming vehicle.

When Byrdie bolted

Airports shut down for all sorts of reasons, but a 2012 closure of New York's LaGuardia Airport had nothing to do with, say, weather, and everything to do with a 30-lb Rhodesian ridgeback named Byrdie, who bolted from her crate, bringing the busy hub to its knees. The dog's owner, Austin Varner, was eventually transported out onto the runway to retrieve her terrified pet.

Other stories you might like:

Flight Review: JetBlue's Mint Service

Carry-on Rules Revisited

Airlines Change the Carry on Rules

To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+

Above image via Shutterstock

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

Flight Review: JetBlue's Mint Service

Posted by George Hobica on Thursday, June 19, 2014

I shouldn't even be telling you all this, because if word gets out then all the JetBlue "Mint" flights will be sold out. After all, at this writing, there's only one flight a day, with just 16 seats in each direction on the New York JFK to LAX route. (They'll be adding a red-eye flight soon, however).

Mint is what JetBlue calls its premium cabin, launched with much fanfare on June 16 with fares starting at $599 each way, far less than what United, Delta and American charge for their trans-con routes in business or first class (no, I was not invited to the launch ceremony or other events so I just used 35,000 TrueBlue points to write this review. I think I'm on some kind of JetBlue blacklist dating from the time I sat next to former CEO David Neeleman on a flight and complained about a surly flight attendant. He promptly turned away and said nothing for the rest of the flight to Nassau).

JetBlue  doesn't call their new cabin business or first class, heavens no. That would sound too un-Jetblue-like. So Mint it is. With mint cocktails and mint ice cream and lots of other minty stuff.

So here's Mint:


One thing I thought I'd miss is the lounge access that American, United and Delta give to customers flying in business or first class (you don't need to be a lounge member if you're flying on the JFK-LAX route in business or first). However, at LAX there's a Virgin America lounge near the JetBlue gates. The JetBlue LAX gates can be a zoo, so definitely worth using the lounge.  It costs $40 per visit to non-members, or free to Priority Pass or American Express Platinum members who get their free Priority Pass card. And at JFK, there's a similar lounge near gate 26 in the JetBlue terminal. So even if you have to pay, with $599 fares vs. $2500 on the other airlines, you're all set.


We had tweeted that we'd be flying Mint, and surprise! The woman who would be our flight attendant on the flight tweeted back. Kat was very nice, in fact the entire crew was super. Probably picked especially for this service. A little packet with earplugs and eye shades was already at our seat, and Kat came round with Mint's signature mint cocktail (with or without vodka). There's no canned safety demo video—it's all done manually. Four of the seats are singles, with no one seated next to you, so no crawling over your neighbor to reach the aisle. (So far these seats are being sold for the same as the double seats, but that could change depending on demand).

The seats

I have to say that these are probably the most comfortable lie flat seats ever. They seem to be partially air filled, and you can adjust the firmness. There's also a massage function (very subtle but it works); a shoulder height adjustable reading light in addition to the overhead lights; a lumbar support; easy-to-reach AC power outlet, USB and earphone jacks (unlike on American's new A321T jets where you have to contort to reach them); and a little pocket near the outlets for your smartphone. I usually end up squirming after a few hours in any business class seat, but I sat still in these. They're still very narrow at the shoulders in the lie-flat position (unlike Singapore Airlines' business class seats which are really wide), but they're still extremely comfortable (United's business/first seats on their 757 trans-con jets are also squirm-proof).

The food

Definitely the best airplane food since the Concorde. Maybe even better. Don't scoff until you try it. JetBlue has teamed up with a NYC restaurant called Saxon+Parole, which frankly I'd never heard of even though I live in NYC part time, and it is outstanding. Really. After a "welcome taste" of chilled carrot and ginger soup with cilantro and a spicy marshmallow (yes, really!), we had a choice of three of the following tapas sized dishes: Portobello mushroom mousse with truffles, whiskey jelly and crostini; Corn custard and poached lobster with corn salad and picked chili peppers; Roasted Atlantic cod with white beans and fennel; Ribeye and fingerling potatoes with a plate-licking balsamic-ginger reduction; and Fontina-stuffed gnocchi with creamed leeks and black truffles. For dessert, seasonal fruit salad with organic mint chocolate chip ice cream from Brooklyn's famed Blue Marble. Everything was better than most NYC Michelin 3-star restaurants I've visited (I know, I can hardly believe it myself). As my seat companion remarked, "Why can't all airlines do this?" The only downsides were the rolls and bread. A bit stale but oh well.

The entertainment system

This could be improved. Although JetBlue now has 100 TV channels and satellite radio, there were only five movies available and nothing I wanted to see. American Airlines has a much better selection of on demand music, TV and movies (although no satellite TV, and a word of warning, there are no movies on AA's trans-con service in economy until the fall while they switch from a free model to a paid one). However, WiFi is free for now on JetBlue. Also, no Bose noise-cancelling headphones in Mint as you'll find on American's trans-cons in business and first.


Another thing to consider is that JetBlue doesn't have elite level frequent flyer upgrades, as do American, Delta and United. And they currently have fewer flights than the big guys, with their almost hourly service on the JFK-LAX route. So if your Mint plane goes technical, you're going to get stuck on a regular plane. But other than that, especially considering the price difference, Mint is going to be a huge success. In fact, American and United have already adjusted some of their business class fares downward to compete, on some days and times. Just don't take my seat.

Other stories you might like:

Carry-on Rules Revisited

Airlines Change the Carry on Rules

Make All the Niagara Jokes You Want - It's Still a Great Summer Destination

To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+

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

Carry-on Rules Revisited

Posted by George Hobica on Monday, June 16, 2014


Well it certainly was interesting last week when I posted this about changes to the airlines' carry-on bag policies. I'd never heard from the United and Delta media relations people before (hey, I've only been writing and/or tweeting about air travel for 25 years). But I sure got an earful. And from readers as well. Basically, the response was "nothing has changed in the last five years or since 2008" or whenever.The article pretty much went viral. And a number of television reporters took what I wrote to mean that the airlines had changed one of the “allowed” dimensions (the depth) from 15 down to 14 inches, which is not what I said at all.

So, some clarification is in order. Prior to March of this year, United stated in its contract of carriage that “Carry-on Baggage must not exceed the Maximum Outside Linear Dimensions of 45 inches (114 cm) (height + width + depth), which includes its wheels and handles, and may not be longer than 22 inches in any single dimension.” It now reads "Carry-on Baggage must not exceed the Maximum Outside Linear Dimensions of 9 inches (22 cm) x 14 inches (35 cm) x 22 inches (56 cm), which includes its wheels and handles." That might seem like a minor change, but it does mean that, for example, a 45-linear-inch bag measuring 21 x 14 x 10 that would have qualified under the old rules does not qualify under the new rules.

Is that nitpicking? Not if a hyper-vigilant employee notices that your bag is sticking out of the sizer by one inch, as has happened to me and many others this year, sending you back to a long check in line and you miss your flight. Not if that $200 or $300 bag you bought last year is now useless because you never, ever check bags. Again, I'm not implying that United's bag sizers have changed. But here's a twist: a United spokesperson informed me that they are installing or have installed new bag sizers that will actually measure 23 x 15 x 10 inches. So that is a change for sure, and good news. Interesting.

Over at American things are also interesting. As I stated in my original article, this all began when I showed up at New York's JFK with my usual carry-on bag which measures 43 linear inches (21 x 15 x 8) and was stopped at TSA because one side stuck out by one inch in the sizer. Back to check in I went and I almost missed my flight as a result because, with so many others who had been sent back, the line took 45 minutes to clear. I was told by the check in agent that the FAA was "cracking down" on AA, so blame them. And, it turns out, that is indeed the reason, as a reliable source told me (it's "merger related"). The same source also implied that this extra scrutiny will just be temporary, but we shall see.

American, too, clearly states on its website that bags must adhere to the 22 x 14 x 9 inch rule. No one dimension must exceed those measurements in any way and the overall dimensions must not exceed 45 linear inches. But back in 2010, as this archived page shows, only for travel within the U.S. are the specific 22 x 14 x 9 inch dimensions mentioned. For travel elsewhere, it just says "45 inches".  So that’s a change from what the website says today, where there appears to be no distinction between regions.

But wait. Just last week, American sent an email to customers linking to this. There, you'll read, there's no mention of "22 x 14 x 9" at all. But, back to the future, there is a mention of 45 inches! It says, and I quote "Now, when flying on [American or US Airways], you can bring a carry-on bag within 45” combined dimensions (including odd-shaped bags). Personal items must be smaller than the carry-on item. In lieu of a carry-on bag, you may choose to bring on a soft-sided garment bag of up to 51” in size. You also can bring diaper bags and duty-free items, in addition to a carry-on bag and a personal item, on your flight."

This is confusing. Is that a rule change? Or a conflicting rule? Or both?

To be honest, I couldn't find a "rule change" over at Delta, so I shouldn't have lumped them in. However, Delta is clearly cracking down on carry-on sizes. I received a tweet from a disgruntled Delta passenger last week who, coincidentally, has also traveled all around the world with a carry-on bag measuring 21 x 8 x 15 (the exact same dimensions as my bag) and was sent back to pay a $100 checked bag fee on a New York JFK to Birmingham UK flight. So again, it's that one angry inch, even though the bag by any other measure is quite small, and indeed has fewer cubic inches than an "allowed" 22 x 9 x 14 inch bag. That may not be a Delta "rule" change, but it's definitely a change, because I've never heard of a bag that small being rejected as a carry-on, and I've heard it all in the past 25 years writing about airlines and air travel.

And just to be clear, what initially ticked me off was the possibility of missing my flight or having to throw out my previously-acceptable carry-on bag. I’m all for limiting the size of carry-ons. But under the “old” United and American policies, as clearly explained above, many carry-ons would have been welcomed in the cabin. And now they might not be. Oh wait. With United’s soon-to-arrive new bag sizers and last week’s American Airlines email, maybe they will be. 

Other stories you might like:

Airlines Change the Carry on Rules

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5 Reasons Why Disney World Is Better Than Ever

To learn more about George Hobica, visit his profile on Google+

Above image via Shutterstock

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+

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