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Boarding Procedures

Q. How are the boarding zones determined? I always seem to end in the very last zone to board.

A. Procedures will vary slightly by airline, but generally, the airlines board passengers who need help and families with young children earlier. First and Business Class next.  After that, frequent flyers with elite status and those who've paid extra for early boarding and premium economy seats. Passengers who are holders of the airline's issued credit cards are also often given earlier boarding privileges. After that, depending on the aircraft and the airline's policy they will board back to front, but this can also vary.

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Rebooking Canceled Flight

Q. My flight was canceled and I was told that the airline could not get me on another flight to my destination until tomorrow, because all the flights were full. How do I get home?

A. Flights are more full these days due to the capacity cuts over the past few years. It can be a major hassle to rebook a flight after it has been canceled, especially at peak travel times when most flights are at or near full capacity. Acting fast is essential and being proactive to change routing in advance of a major storm can help you get to your destination as planned.

One suggestion is to call the airline while waiting in line at the airport to try and get ahead of the line for rebooking. Also, if you are flying out of a hub or there are flights going out to other destinations from where you are, look into other routings. We have a handy list of links to airlines' route maps here. Sometimes you may be able to piece together an odd routing that the airlines' system won't come up with by simply inputing A to B. Have a look at the departure board at the airport and see what flights are actually leaving and see if you can work out a connection. It may mean an extra stop, but it may get you home the quickest.

Also, look into nearby alternate airports and taking ground transportation. A little creativity during flight cancelations can sometimes help you get you where you want to be sooner.

Outbound & Return Both Canceled

Q. I just took a round trip flight on American Airlines from Dallas to Richmond. My departure was canceled and I was put on an earlier flight. Although their records indicate they sent me two emails I did not receive them and consequently I missed my flight. Then my return flight (a nonstop on American) was canceled 3 hours before it was to depart and I was rerouted on two US Airways flights. That was annoying enough but to add salt to the wound, US Airways charged me $25 for a bag that was supposed to be free on AA. The attendant said their computers are not compatible (after a year of being “merged”) and I had to pay for the bag. This time at least I was notified of the change but only because I'd set up flight notifications on my app.
I asked for compensation before I got hit with the $25 baggage fee. They gave me $100 voucher. I emailed the AA help desk and they awarded me 7500 miles for the additional trouble I had.
I am still not happy with the situation but I feel like I am over a barrel. Shouldn't the airline do more in these situations?
A. This all sounds like an unusual ordeal and although I wholly empathize, actually, that’s pretty good compensation, or at least more than most people get these days. It’s always a good idea to check online to see if your flight is operating as scheduled. You can use services like or  and other flight trackers, and now that you have the American Airlines app you’ll be in good shape for your next flight.

Above image via Shutterstock

Exit Row Responsibilities

Q. Without asking for it, my wife and I were seated in an overwing emergency exit row. We're both 57 years old, but I have a bad back and my wife has arthritis. When asked by the flight attendant if we were "capable" of operating the overwing exit door, we said "no." The flight attendant said "You look capable to me." After some back and forth, we were reseated. Isn't it stupid to assign these seats at random, rather than making sure passengers are willing and able to work the doors in an emergency?

A. As I discovered when I took the British Aiways safety course in London the overwing doors on a Boeing 737 are heavy! Forty pounds to be exact, and I was surprised how difficult they are to operate (tip: if you ever have to open one, sit well back in your seat because the door will hit you as it opens into the cabin, and it will hurt!).  And while the chances of ever having to operate one are miniscule, you were right to ask to be reseated. Overwing exit rows are considered to be a "perk" and some airlines only assign them to their best customers for free or charge extra for them. Next time you fly, look at a seat map at to see if you're sitting in one of these rows (they're clearly marked). Most airlines ask you if you're capable of sitting in these rows when you request these seats, but there is a chance that you'll be assigned one at random at the last minute if no other passengers grab one.

Above image via Shutterstock

Planning for Europe in Spring

Q. We are planning a trip to four major European cities (Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Rome) leaving in late April and returning in early May. Cities could be in whichever order that would be the cheapest. Which days are cheapest to fly abroad?

Should we book one way tickets or can one get a round trip to one city and then fly home from a different city? We are in our seventies and also would like to book 3-4 star hotel rooms. Is it possible to book from the rail stations as I did in my younger days? This would allow us to stay longer if we have more to do and perhaps even skip a city. Wondering if the Eurail pass is the way to go or just get train tickets when we need them.

A. You should probably book an “open jaw” round-trip ticket rather than two one-ways. It doesn’t much matter what arrival and departure cities you choose since the fares will be similar, but typically flying Monday to Thursday will be cheaper than weekend travel. As for hotels, since you’re not traveling during the peak summer season you can probably book “on the fly” but I do recommend looking into, a hotel booking site similar to but with the difference that if the hotel lowers your rate between the time you book and your arrival Tingo will refund the difference to your credit card. You can always cancel if you change your mind (just be sure to book a refundable rate). Seniors can often get discounted rail tickets in Europe and I would just buy point-to-point rail fares since you won’t be taking very many train trips during your stay. However, the train from either Paris or Amsterdam to either Venice or Rome can take quite a while. Paris to Rome can take 11 hours, Paris to Venice 13 hours, and Amsterdam to Venice 18-19 hours, so you might consider flying unless you’re die-hard rail fans.

Above image via Shutterstock

Passenger Service Charges

Q. I've noticed that if I fly to Europe using a "free" frequent flier ticket, the taxes and fees vary depending on the airport I connect through. For example, if I connect through London on my way to Venice the taxes added to the "free" ticket are higher than if I connect through Madrid. What is going on here?

A. As you've discovered, when you cash in miles for a frequent flier ticket it's not exactly free. The airlines sometimes add fuel surcharges, which goes to their bottom line, but they also tack on taxes. Some of these taxes go into the coffers of the U.S. government, but the largest fees, often called "passenger service charges," or simply "airport taxes" are charged by foreign airports. And there are sometimes as many as three different taxes. Zurich Airport charges a  $59 "noise cancelation fee" and Amsterdam a $6 "noise isolation surcharge." A Paris airport might charge $90 in extra fees, whereas Madrid might charge $34. London has particularly high "duties" that must be paid, and they vary depending on the class (economy, first or business) that you're flying in. And that's each way, so it really adds up.

Above image via Shutterstock

330-Day Travel Periods?

Q. In checking the rules and restrictions on some of the fares you post, I notice that many include a 330-day travel period. What exactly does that mean?

A. Legacy carriers sell fares for travel up to 330 days into the future, whereas the newbie low cost ("low cost") carriers do not. For example, the current 330-day period allows for bookings through January of 2016.

This is especially helpful for those who plan to book using frequent flier miles, when booking early means better availability of award seats.

Above image via Shutterstock

Fare Period vs. Fare Availability

Q. One of your fare listings says "travel through May 31" and I tried to book a fare leaving on Friday, April 3, right after work, and coming back the following Sunday night, Easter, April 5. My itinerary falls within the dates covered in your listing, so why didn't I get that fare?! It was hundreds more!

A. We'd like to take this opportunity to address the difference between the dates of travel period and date availability. Not all dates are going to be available within the dates of travel period, especially on any holidays, peak travel days, or weekends (not to mention any blackout dates that the airline institutes.) We also would like to point out that the airlines will set aside a limited number of tickets at a sale price for each date and some dates will sell out at the lower prices before other dates do. Flexible travel dates will increase your chances of booking a sale fare, as will traveling mid-week as opposed to weekends (although people do book weekend sale fares all the time).

Above image via Shutterstock

When to Buy?

Q. Is there a certain day that's better than others for finding the cheapest airfare? Also, is further in advance better than trying to book a few weeks prior to departure?

A. Actually, Airfarewatchdog doesn’t believe that there’s just one single day to find a low airfare. Yes, it’s true that at least for now, Southwest and Airtran usually launch their sales on late Monday night/Tuesday morning, so by Tuesday other airlines have matched. Tuesday is definitely a good day to search for domestic airfares, at least on routes served by Southwest and Airtran. And on Tuesday or Wednesday, most airlines have also posted their last minute weekend deals. As the week progresses, seats at the lowest fare may be grabbed by other travelers. But we've seen amazing deals pop up on Fridays, Saturdays, or even Thursdays. Sooo, we strongly urge readers not to look for airfares only on Tuesday.

A huge price drop on a route you want to fly could happen at any second, be it six months or even six days from your ideal departure date. Not only do the airlines constantly adjust airfares themselves, but they tweak the number of seats offered at the lowest fare. Someone could be holding the last seat at the cheapest fare and decide to cancel. Voila, the fare is yours if you were persistent enough to look.

The real key to finding a low airfare is to sign up for free airfare alerts-- from us, of course! Check several times a day every day of the week and you’ll be amazed at how often fares change on any given route.

Just One Ticket Left

Q. I've noticed that a number of discount airlines have included on their online booking search results such statements as "one ticket left at this price!" next to the fare price. While I've seen that prices actually do go up after that one ticket is bought, I'm wondering how believable is this statement? Does it necessarily mean the price won't go any lower in the future? Is this all a marketing ploy to get you to buy a ticket as soon a possible?

A. We’ve also noticed this, and we think it’s a legitimate warning. Airlines sell only a certain number of seats at their lowest fares at any given moment. However, this doesn’t mean that they won’t open up more seats at the same fare later on, or that they won’t lower the fare on a route to an even lower price the next day. Fares and seat availability at the lowest fares are in constant flux. The best way to nab a deal is to sign up for free low fare alerts from the many web sites offering this service.

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