Airfarewatchdog

Travel Q&A

You can submit your own question to us at askgeorge@airfarewatchdog.com. We will try to answer as many as possible.

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Missed Connection

Q. My niece and nephew were flying from Dubuque to Atlanta via Chicago on American Airlines. Deboarding was delayed by about 15 minutes or so in Chicago, causing them to miss their connecting flight to Dubuque by only a few minutes. That flight to Dubuque was the last one of the day, so obviously this meant either stay overnight and fly out the next day (which was not an option due to work the next day) or rent a car and drive the 3 hours back to Dubuque .... which is what they chose to do.

So, my question is: really, American Airlines?! Could they not see via computer that my niece and nephew were recently landed and on their way? Personally, I've been on flight before where we have waited for other passengers who were making a connecting flight. Why is this situation
any different?

Is there anyway to get compensated for this? And if so, would they contact American or CheapOAir, the site where they purchased the tickets? Does purchasing tickets from a third party website make a difference in such situations?

A. Unfortunately, the only recourse in situations like this is to either file a complaint with the airline or see if there’s any insurance available. If their trip was paid with through some credit card issuers, it’s possible that the card has built-in travel insurance that would help out.

It’s precisely for this and other travel mishaps that a company called Aircare was recently launched. Had the two passengers paid $25 extra, they would have been paid $500 in this missed-connection scenario.

I have no idea why a last flight of the day from Chicago to Dubuque could not have waited a few extra minutes, even if it meant missing its take-off slot at O’Hare, which admittedly is a busy airport, but I see this sort of thing frequently and I assume that there are operational reasons for sticking to schedules. I wouldn’t bother contacting CheapOAir, but it might help to complain directly to American.

Above image via Shutterstock

Late to Gate, Missed Flight

Q. While on a group trip, half of our party missed the flight and had to pay a fee of $100.00 per person ($1100.00 total) to reschedule for the next flight. Our flight was scheduled to leave from Orlando at 10:37pm, we were at the ticket kiosk at 9:50pm due to a delay at the rental car location. Someone at Spirit Airlines advised us to get out of the kiosk line we were already waiting in and into another line. After about 5 to 10 minutes standing in the second line, another Spirit employee who advised us we needed to be in the line we were originally in. We were furious because it caused us to miss the final boarding call and they would not call ahead to the boarding area to advise we were on our way.

What recourse do we have in recouping money lost in fees and hotel stays?

A. Spirit is notorious for fees and for difficult customer service. People fly them because their fares are sometimes 90% less than competing flights, although lately we’ve seen the major airlines match them on many routes.

But arriving at the check in kiosk 47 minutes before take off put you in a difficult position. You’d still need to check in, check bags, go through security, and walk to the gate. Your flight probably “closed” (meaning  that you were supposed to be on board in your seat) 15 minutes before scheduled take off (some airlines close flights 20 minute before take off, allowing them to leave the gate earlier than scheduled), so you probably wouldn’t have made your flight anyway, especially with a large group and little kids in tow. I realize that there was a delay at the rental car counter, but I always advise people to arrive at the airport, even for a domestic flight, two hours ahead. You just never know what might happen. A flat tire, traffic, unusually long TSA lines—a hundred different delays could affect your plans. And these days, missing a check in deadline, as you discovered, can be a huge inconvenience if there are no seats until the next day or you need to pay a fee.

Many people hate arriving at the airport early, but airports these days have all kinds of amenities to distract you. Plan to have a meal (airport food outlets have improved enormously of late); some airports have museums and play areas for the little ones, mini-spas, and other diversions

I doubt you’ll get anywhere with Spirit.

Above image via Shutterstock

Cruise Cancelled, Money Lost?

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.

Above image via Shutterstock

Preserving a Child's Miles

Q. My 14 year old daughter has 45,000 miles in the American Airlines frequent flyer program but she just got a letter saying that because there's been no activity in the account her miles will expire in December. She's not planning to fly anytime soon, and she is too young to get a credit card as a way to earn miles (I use my American Airlines Visa card to buy everything, and that's how I extend my miles). So how can we protect her miles?

A. There are several easy ways, even without a credit card or taking a flight.

Join the American Aadvantage dining program, using her frequent flyer number. Then register your credit cards on her dining account. Then just have a meal at a participating restaurant and you're all set. (American is currently have a bonus deal where you get 10,000 miles for 10 "dines" of $40 or more; you must register for this promotion).

Buy a few miles from your account to her account. There's a per-mile fee but this is an easy solution.

Or just buy something on the Aadvantage shopping portal (this applies to any airline's shopping portal by the way). Register at the portal with her frequent flyer number. Then go to a participating retailer (there are over 250 of them) and from there sign into the retailer's website in your name. Buy something using your credit card. Your daughter will get the miles even if it's bought with your card.

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 Seatguru.com 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

Always the Last to Board

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.

Above image via Shutterstock

23 Hours in Shanghai

Q. The cheapest fare I can find to Cambodia involves a plane change in Shanghai. The wait time is 23 hours. First, is it permitted to leave the airport and tourist around in Shanghai without a China visa for a few hours? Second, what would be a "do not miss" activity/attraction for that time?

A. As long as you're holding a ticket onward, and not staying longer than the allotted 48-hours, you'll be fine. From the Chinese Consulate: Visas are not required of passport holders of the following countries, who transit through Pudong Airport or Hongqiao Airport of Shanghai, provided they hold valid passports, visas for the onward countries, final destination tickets and have booked seats, and stay in Shanghai for less than 48 hours: Republic of Korea, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland.

As for what to do during your stay, there's plenty! You'll find a thorough to-do list of Shanghai's Greatest Hits on TripAdvisor. The Shanghai Museum is always popular, as is the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Even a little after dinner stroll on the Bund is a pretty spectacular way to spend an evening.

Shanghai image via Shutterstock

Insurance for Family Trip to Italy

Q. My family and I are planning to visit Florence and Rome in August. I'd like to buy travel insurance so that we are all covered in the event one of us should become ill. We do have group insurance through work but overseas travel is not covered. I don't know what type to buy and I have read stories of people buying insurance only to have their claims later denied because of an honest misunderstanding of coverage. Please advise.

A. The number one reason why people make a travel insurance claim is illness or injury before the trip departs, and some credit cards have built-in insurance for this, so you might want to check your coverage (you have to buy the trip with the credit card). But travel insurance is often more convenient for covering illness that occurs abroad. Whatever policy you decide on, make sure it includes medical evacuation coverage to transport you back home to a hospital of your choice. You don't want to become ill and get stuck in a hospital abroad for several weeks. It can be very expensive to arrange a med-evac flight back home (as in $50,000 or more). You can use squaremouth.com or insuremytrip.com to compare travel insurance policies.

Above image via Shutterstock

Travel Insurance Claims

Q. What is the best way to activate the travel insurance I purchased? Due to an unexpected illness, a person in my party cannot take the trip. We are two weeks out from the travel date.

A. First, congratulations for purchasing travel insurance. The most common reason for making claims on such insurance is indeed sudden illness, either experienced by the person buying the insurance or by someone in the traveling party. In order to file a claim, under the fine print of most policies the person who is ill must seek medical attention before the date of travel. You cannot simply tell the insurer that you or your traveling companion is ill and leave it at that. Create a paper trail showing a diagnosis and that medical treatment was sought.

Above image via Shutterstock

Flight Changes at Your Expense

Q. We bought tickets last April to travel from Moncton to Vietnam via New York on United. The trip being in October, we bought early in order to get good prices.

Last week, we were advised by Expedia that United no longer offers flights between Moncton to New York.

United offered to reimburse the whole trip. It left us no choice but to cancel everything and book all over again, costing us $463 more. So much for the benefit of booking early, not to mention the stress that caused us since we have to catch up with a tour in Vietnam that is all paid for.

Under the circumstances, shouldn't United offer to do more to correct the situation?

A. This is one of the most un-regulated and annoying aspects of air travel these days. If you were to change your travel plans, United would charge you $200 or more. But United can change YOUR travel plans and cost you $463. Airlines should be required to put you on another airline at the same price you paid when they abandon a route or change a schedule so drastically that the flight no longer works for you.

And unfortunately, there’s no travel insurance plan that would cover this, either.

Above image via Shutterstock

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