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Planning a Scenic Rail Trip Around the U.K.

Q. This isn’t an “air” question unless you include the fact that we’ll be flying to London, but I hope you can help. We’d like to take several of the more famous U.K. “branch line” trains when we visit London the end of August. We’ve checked out websites but we’re still confused, so maybe you can map it out for us. We want to take the Settle to Carlisle train, the Glasgow to Maillaig run, the Inverness to Kyle line, and we want to get to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper overnight express, returning to London at the end of the trip. In what order should we organize this trip so that we get all the trains most efficiently?

A. I’ve actually done some of these trains and they are indeed spectacular. Start by taking the Caledonian Sleeper from London Euston Station to Inverness (a recent offer online for a couple occupying a double berth was priced at 38 pounds). From Inverness take the train to the Kyle of Lochalsh. From there, take a ferry to Skye, just because it’s so pretty and the heather will be in bloom. Overnight. From Skye, take a bus or ferry to Mallaig for the famous Highland Line via Ft. William and onward to Glasgow. Overnight. Then onto the Glasgow to Carlisle train (about an hour and 20 minutes on a fast service) and then hop on the scenic Carlisle to Settle train, and onward back to London from there.

You'll find more on U.K. rail trips here.

Insurance + Tour Company Coverage

Q. My family has a very expensive international trip coming up, leaving from New York's JFK; however, it is up to us to fly to JFK airport from our home airport. Our tour company trip insurance only covers the tour company's portion of the trip, which begins with the flight from JFK. If our flight to JFK happens to be cancelled and we missed the connection, who is responsible for the expense?

A. If you don't make your flight to JFK, chances are you'd be responsible. And never buy insurance from your tour company! You'd be better off buying from a third party, such as those you'll find on, a comparison shopping site. To be on the safe side, you should always leave a HUGE amount of connection time for JFK connections.

Online Seat Availability

Q. Do airlines block out a large section of seats to make it appear there are fewer seats remaining? When our airline cancelled the final leg of our trip, we reviewed the airline website for flights returning a day before as well as after our original return date. None of the alternate flights offered adjoining seats. Yet, when we called the airline, they immediately assigned us two seats together in a section that appeared to be completely filled on their website. How likely is it that we will be reassigned seats?

A. Yep, some airlines do block out seats, even if the plane is half-empty, and sometimes a call to the airline will sort things out. They do this in part to accommodate last minute business customers who are flying on higher-priced “walk up” fares, to cater to their preferred frequent travelers, and also, in some instances, to entice consumers to purchase “premium” seat assignments for a fee. Even if you end up not sitting together, it’s always possible to ask fellow passengers to trade seats. A good strategy is to offer to buy the accommodating passenger a couple of cocktails on board, or bring along some Starbucks gift cards ($10 should do the trick) as a thank-you.

Above image via Shutterstock

Multiple Schedule Changes

Q. We booked a Delta flight online, traveling from Phoenix to Amsterdam, well in advance. Twice now we have received notices of changes to the flight schedule. I've never experienced this before. Can airlines do this freely?

These changes can make big difference if you had an important meeting planned. What are they allowed to change without any obligations for compensation? We now have an over 8 hour layover in Atlanta. Is the airline obligated to provide anything due to the length of the layover?

A. Unfortunately, the airlines are free to do this without regulation or compensation. Their only obligation is to give you a full refund of your airfare if you ask for it. I have long thought that there needs to be some government regulation about "in-advance" schedule changes.

It is possible that your original flights are operating without a change but that for whatever reason Delta put you on different flights, so I would call Delta and ask if that's the case.

As for your long layover in Atlanta, no, unfortunately Delta is not required to provide meals or any other services. But at least you won't miss your connecting flights and have plenty of time to clear security, if that's any silver lining.

Milan in Summer

Q. I’ll be visiting Milan this summer. Any suggestions of what to do and see, and the best places to stay?

A. TripAdvisor lists 1,179 things to do in Milan, and it ranked #1 in a list of 52 Places to Visit in 2015 from the New York Times. You'll also find a useful “3-days in Milan” itinerary on TripAdvisor that hits all the tops attractions, such as the Duomo Cathedral and the Brera Picture Gallery. The city is a good jumping off point to visit Lake Como. It is an amazing place to go shopping for fashion, however, with hundreds of outlet stores. Typically, the summer sales start the first Saturday in July, so if you’re a shopaholic plan your visit for then. Milan is also a great culinary destination. TripAdvisor commenters’ number one hotel in Milan is Hotel Spadari al Duomo (closely followed by the Park Hyatt) although I was very impressed with the Four Seasons Milan on my last visit.

Additional Security Checks

Q. When we flew Miami to Frankfurt to Edinburgh recently, we had to go through security in the Frankfurt airport before being allowed to fly on to Edinburgh, despite having gone through security at our original departure point of MIA. I wasn't expecting that. Next month we are flying Miami to Toronto to Zurich on Air Canada and are worried that we'll be required to go through security at the Toronto airport, as that will stretch our tight connection time of 90 minutes. Will we have to go through security a second time in Toronto or does Canada have different rules than connecting flights through Europe?

A. Not all airports require a second security check unless you leave one terminal and enter another. Frankfurt and also Tokyo are unusual in that even if you are remaining in the same terminal and just doing a connection without going "landside" you often go through security again. On the Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Los Angeles via Tokyo, even though you're just stopping for an hour, you still have to get off the plane and go through security a second time, despite the fact that you remain in the same terminal. The extra security check is just for added measure and I'm not sure why some airports do this and others don't, other than the Germans and Japanese are rather fastidious about procedure and safety.

It's possible that you will have to get your bags from the flight from Miami and go through security again, especially if changing terminals, depending on your flights. And personally I wouldn't leave just 90 minutes to connect, with delays possible and a terminal change possible.

Trip Cancelled, No Refund

Q. My husband and I were booked to go on a cruise earlier this month, which we had to cancel due to my husband having an accident four days before we were meant to depart. His doctors would not clear him to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle, and then onward to Vancouver for a cruise.

Unfortunately, we did not have travel insurance. Upon speaking to our rep with Holland cruises, she said there is no refund and no rescheduling allowed 30 days or less from departure. To add insult to injury (literally!) they would not refund the hotels we had booked for our stay in Seattle. Nothing apart from the taxes and port fees has been refunded.

Other than sucking it up, do we have any recourse? We have asked our Holland rep to put us in contact with their corporate department who deals with concerns/complaints. We have medical verification for the injury. Can we do anything else? I know most hotels will allow a 24 hour cancellation without charge. We gave Holland four days notice. Surely, they will be getting a refund from the hotels, and possibly other excursions/bookings, but we are not.

 A. There still may be hope if you charged the cruise to one of the many credit cards that offer free, built-in cancellation coverage for scenarios just like yours. Many people don't read the fine print, but a number of credit card issuers actually provide a wide range of travel insurance whenever you use their cards to buy a trip. More about that here.

Sudden Changes to Flight Times

Q. I need to fly out early in the morning to reach my destination in time for a scheduled event, which is why I purchased a ticket for a 6 a.m. flight. Now I received an email that the airline has changed my departure time to 4 p.m. If I had wanted to leave at 4 p.m., then I would have bought my ticket for that time. Are airlines able to change your flight without your permission?

A. Airlines state in their contracts of carriage that schedules are not guaranteed, but you can ask to cancel your booking and get a refund without penalty, even on a non-refundable fare, if they won't reseat you on the original flight you booked. That's also in their contracts of carriage.

Cancellations Due to Illness

Q. I booked tickets for both myself and my mother for travel to India. My mother got sick two days before traveling and was admitted to the hospital. I was hit with $200 cancellation fee and denied a refund. I booked the ticket through CheapOair. Shouldn't I be entitled to a full refund?

A. I'm assuming you didn't buy travel insurance. If you booked with a credit card, there may still be hope! Some cards do offer protections for trip interruptions, delays, even lost luggage. You may find you're covered for the full cost of the trip as this explains.

Tight Connections

Q. Whenever I ask about tight connection times, either from the airlines or tour companies, I'm told "they" state that time is sufficient to go from your plane to the next. Recently I was told that two hours is a sufficient amount of time at Heathrow to get off my plane in the international terminal, find the shuttle and proceed to my next terminal, have my hand baggage check, then go through a security screening, and then proceed to my gate. The Heathrow site states that you need a "minimum" of 90 minutes to accomplish this and that's once you are off the plane, which sometimes can take more than 15-20 minutes. Heaven forbid the plane is even a little late. Who is the "they" that come up with these times? Not everyone is a young airport Olympian.

A. 90 minutes really isn’t enough time to do a connection at Heathrow. Even if you’re in the same terminal, you’ll need to go through security again, get on a people mover if you’re in Terminal 5, and walk to the gate; and if you’re changing terminals that takes extra time. Two hours is pushing it, too, if your flight is late. It’s sometimes possible to ask the airline or your travel agent to build in a longer layover (taking the next flight out) without incurring a higher fare. That said, British Airways is pretty good at monitoring tight connections so when you leave your inbound flight you’ll often be met by employees who can help facilitate your transfer.

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