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Entries during 2007-08
Q. Are bags checked at the curb more likely to be lost than ones taken to a counter?
A. Theoretically, both methods are equally risky. Hard statistics comparing the two have not been released, but skycaps use the same baggage coding and ramp systems as counter check-in agents. (Skycap service, though, comes with a price: it's customary to tip $2 a bag.) You can see where airlines fall in the rankings of mishandled baggage by checking online with the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2006, Delta Airlines affiliate Atlantic Southeast was number one, logging 17.64 complaints for every 1,000 customers.
Thankfully, airlines are upgrading to more accurate radio-frequency ID tags, a move that Las Vegas's MacCarran International Airport credits for 10 percent fewer lost bags per year.
Above all, take comfort in this: 98% of lost bags are returned within five days.
Q. I recently found a round-trip flight on Orbitz from OAK to IAD for about $400. The outbound trip was listed as first class on US Airways and my inbound was in economy with United. Thinking this wasn't bad for one-way of first class, I went ahead and booked it. Three days before I was scheduled to fly, Orbitz notified me that there had been some sort of computer malfunction and they could only offer the economy ticket on US Airways.
The whole reason I purchased the $400 ticket was for the first class segment. Otherwise I would have gone with a lower fare in economy, which is where I ended up flying anyway. Is this a bait and switch tactic? Orbitz said there was nothing they could do aside from offer me a $50 credit. Anything I can do?
A. Orbitz should definitely honor the ticket. What happened to their customer care commitment? If you bought an HDTV online and they switched it to a regular TV at the last minute, would that be acceptable? We're going to call Orbitz and see if they'll fix this. So stay tuned!
Q. Does Browser really exist? What breed is he?
A. Yes Virginia, there is a Browser. And he's a Wheaten Terrier. If he isn't greeting a staff member at the door, or chewing on his business associate, Mr. Bunny, you can probably find him curled up under a desk where he prefers to keep an eye on all of us here at HQ.
Q: What's your personal favorite site for searching airfares? I’m partial to Kayak.com, but sometimes I use Travelocity and Orbitz. Is there one site that’s best for last minute deals? What about Mobissimo?
A: There really isn’t one “magic bullet” Web site, even though travel techies have been trying to build one for years.
One of the problems is that low fare leader Southwest Airlines, now the largest US carrier based on domestic passengers boarded, doesn’t release its fares to any site other than its own. That’s also true of Allegiant Airlines. Plus, those Spirit Airlines special fares, which you can sometimes actually book, only appear on Spirit’s site. And I often see that airlines save their best fares for their own websites or they offer promo code discounts if you book on these sites (even Kakak omits these).
When I'm booking my own travel, I'm usually flexible in my dates, so I start my search with Hotwire.com, Kayak or ITA Software, which have very good flexible date search functions. Cheapair.com has a good flexible search, too, but only for domestic and US-Canada round-trips, and it's an especially clean and easy to use site. I also like Orbitz, although lately its flexible search has been shut off and on and off again. If I’m looking for a flight between two foreign countries, I use Mobissimo.com. As for last minute deals (when you have less than a 7-day advance purchase), I suggest using the name your own price (bidding for travel) feature on Priceline.com.
Q: The airline announced that my flight would be delayed 2 hours, so I went to get a cup of coffee. I returned to the gate 30 minutes later, only to discover that the flight had left ahead of the new departure time! I had to wait all day for a seat on another flight. Who's to blame here? Me or the airline?
A: You're not the first victim of this type of foul up. No doubt, the airline claims they made an announcement, but not every part of an airport has good PA system coverage. It's actually a bad idea to wander away from the gate area in situations like this. Some experts suggest giving your mobile phone number to a gate agent, but I doubt that an overworked agent would has time to call or would.
Q: I will try to briefly describe my son's 24 hour delayed flight to Nice, France via Paris.
I am trying to get some compensation from Air France... just wondered if you thought I had any chance or have a leg to stand on.
I find it hard to believe that everything has to be done through regular mail with them. There is no customer service except via mail. Of course I'm sending everything certified receipt.
Flight booked on Air France- departing Logan, July 12 at 5:30 PM - (arriving in Paris and connecting to Nice). Plan to leave our home in Sharon, MA at 2PM. Just before leaving, Brad checks his email for one last time- there is an email from Air France: flight is delayed until 3:00 AM. (I suppose we are to be thankful we did not arrive at the airport to find that news. Both by phone and in the email we were told that it was 'technical difficulties').
Awaken at midnight, prepare to leave for the airport, check email- None! But Brad decides to check the Air France website for the heck of it... flight is postponed until 9:00 AM! Not even an email this time!
Try calling Air France- either the 800 number or to find someone at Logan. No one is available.
Awaken at 6:00 AM to try to confirm that the flight will indeed be taking off at 9:00. No one answers phones at Air France till 7:00 AM
Finally found out that it will leave at 5:30 PM, a full 24 hours later
(no email, no phone call).
Arrive at Logan at 2:30 PM. Brad goes inside-lines are horrendous. We call Air France from the car and they tell us on the phone that the flight left at 9 AM that morning! We tell them that it is on the departure board for 5:30 PM.
Brad lost a full day of his trip. Lost a confirmed reservation for Friday night in Nice. Lost a full day wages for the Thursday that was never a travel day. Planned to leave for the airport three separate times.
Wonder what they'll do, if anything, to compensate us. What do you think?
A: I think that Air France is one of the worst airlines in the sky. Readers may recall the case of the couple celebrating their wedding anniversary with a flight to France from Washington. They were caught in a horrendous traffic jam, and arrived at the airport 60 minutes before departure, only to be told by Air France that they could not be boarded because they were late for check in, and although there were coach class seats on the next flight out that day, they'd have to buy full fare economy tickets to get on board, at $2400 each. And Air France wouldn't even apply the cost of their original fares to the new fare, or refund their fare if the decided not to fly, which in the end they decided not to do.
I tried going to bat for them, but both Air France's public relations department and their New York-based PR agency were useless (basically, their modus operandi is to ignore problems rather than fix them).
I advise consumers to avoid Air France at all costs until they get their act together. They are an incredibly arrogant airline.
You should also report the airline to the FAA using this page of their Web site, and send Air France a copy. You should continue to pursue this with them and they may be shamed into action, but they'll probably just offer a voucher good for future travel, which at this point is probably useless to you.
Q. Why are non-stop fares so absurd? For example, if I book a flight from San Diego Dublin, Ireland on Delta through Atlanta, the fare is $744. For comparison, I looked at strictly booking the ATL to DUB segment and I got $785!! How can it cost more to fly less miles? The airline spends less on fuel, less on labor, less on maintenance for the aircraft, etc. I just don't get it.
A. It's simply because with all the hassle making (and missing) connections, and the time savings, more people want to fly nonstop, so the airlines know they can charge more, and they do.
Q: In a previous Q&A you wrote that it's best to use at ATM when obtaining currency in a foreign country. However, you neglected to mention that US banks extract a 3% currency conversion fee, making the exchange rate less favorable. Also, some banks charge a flat fee for each ATM transaction.
A: Actually, not all banks charge these fees, and those that do have fees as low as 1 percent. (Read the rest of the answer...)
My bank, Commerce Bank (http://www.commerceonline.com/), which operates in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania, charges no conversion fee and no per transaction ATM fees, either in the US or abroad (as their slogan says, friends don't let friends bank anywhere else).
Here are some other major banks' policies:
Another proviso is that the overseas bank may levy its own ATM fee. Some US banks will cover this fee as well, up to a limit; check with yours, shop around, and go with the best deal.
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