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Entries by Peter Thornton

Holey Moley! Fares Have Skyrocketed!

Q. Holey Moley! Fares have skyrocketed - especially from my home airport of Fresno. Even worse than ever! Trying to get to Charleston, SC in Feb and it's costing an arm and a leg! I want to be there for my son's college baseball game. Any suggestions?

A. Indeed, fares are on the rise. However, with some flexibility on which airport you can fly from/to, it is possible to search out a better deal for certain itineraries. In this case, trying to fly between two smaller markets, it can be difficult to find a low fare. If driving a few hours to a larger market (i.e. San Jose) is an option, consider the price difference. This can result in tremendous savings, especially if there are multiple travelers in your party. Also, with more airlines to choose from in a larger market, you are likely able to find better routings that only require one stop. Trying to fly between two small markets coast to coast can often require two stops for the lowest fare, which could even take longer in total travel time than driving to an alternate airport that offers a better route. Although it won't help for February travel, Southwest is going to begin flying in and out of Charleston, SC beginning March 13, 2011. With this increased competition, fares from/to Charleston will likely drop.

Airplanes Wasting Gas

Q. On my flight yesterday, the pilot came on the PA about halfway through the flight and announced that the plane was doing very well with little head winds so the speed flaps (or whatever they are called) on the wings would be up for the rest of the flight. He said they needed to burn off some excess fuel before we landed. Why is this? Why would they intentionally waste fuel?

A. Sounds pretty crazy with the high gas prices these days that airlines would simply dump fuel, but it is indeed true. It all has to do with weight. Airplanes have a maximum take-off weight and a maximum landing weight. If the plane lands too heavy, it could be unsafe and do damage to the plane. Dumping passengers or bags just wouldn't fly (no pun intended), so the aircraft dumps fuel. Not all aircraft are able to dump fuel, so they would simply burn it by circling around until they reach a safe landing weight. This is not a normal occurrence. It is usually done during unscheduled landings, such as emergencies, when the aircraft needs to land immediately, thus not burning the fuel it would have normally used en route. In your case, the little head wind resulted in the plane's "miles per gallon" being more efficient and it needed to burn more fuel once it was in range of your destination in order to reach a safe landing weight.

American Out of Orbit

Q. I recently got a really great deal on Orbitz flying American Airlines.  Problem is I need to change the dates on my tickets.  I read the news today that Orbitz is no longer selling tickets for American Airlines.  Is my ticket still valid?  How can I make any changes?  Why did American remove their fares from Orbitz?

A. Yes, your ticket is still valid.  Orbitz is no longer selling American tickets as of December 21, 2010.  If you bought the ticket before that date, it will still be valid.  However, if you need to make any changes to your itinerary, you'll have to contact AA reservations at 1-800-233-7300.  More information can be found here.  And why?  We'll tell you why.

Boarding Denied? Passport Red Tape

Q. I was denied boarding on a flight to Brazil because, although my passport was valid and didn’t expire until several weeks after my return to the U.S., the airline informed me that many countries require that a passport be valid for six or more months from the time the passenger returns home. This doesn’t make sense to me. Do other countries have similar policies?

A. Unfortunately, a number of countries have similar requirements, so it’s essential that, when you fly to a foreign country, you research passport validity period requirements. Airlines are not required to inform you of these rules when you book your seat. Make sure you learn about required visas as well.

Power to the People

Q.  I think there is a lot wrong with the way airlines treat customers today.  We get delayed, overbooked flights, baggage fees, and false advertising.  I have some great ideas to help solve these problems, but will anyone really listen to me?  I'm just a small town everyday normal citizen.  I wish I was the one in charge of regulating the airlines.

A.  Actually, your voice can be heard.  The New York Times posted an article stating that the D.O.T. is working along with Cornell university to help ordinary citizens share their opinions on the recent proposals for new airline regulations or any other concerns.  So, have at it.  Go let the big dogs know how you feel about how the airlines are treating the general public and what you think would work to solve the problems.  Who knows?  Maybe your idea will lead to some real action in the Airline Passenger's Bil of Rights.

Flying From Alternate Airports: Cheaper? Faster?

Q:  I live really close to a small airport, but it’s cheaper to fly from a larger airport in a nearby city.  Where should I fly from?

A:  There are many factors that will play into this decision.  Make sure you consider all of them before you jump on a lower fare, just because it is lower.

First of all, are there non-stop flights available from the larger airport?  This could make all the difference.  Many smaller airports only have a few commuter flights to the airline's hub cities, where you'll likely have to connect to your final destination.  If the cheaper flight from a larger airport has a connection as well, you may want to consider just flying from your local airport.  Say the commute to the larger airport is 1-2 hours.  You need to consider this time as one leg of your journey.   If you also have a flight connection, this is essentially a 2-stop trip.  Would you buy an airline ticket from your local airport if it had 2 stops?  On the other hand, if non-stops are offered from the alternate airport, it could actually be a shorter travel day to simply travel by land to the larger airport and fly non-stop to your destination.  Make sure you calculate the total travel time of both options.

Of course, you must consider the actual cost benefit of flying from an alternate airport as well.  Airport parking is almost always absurdly high.  If you normally get a ride to your local airport, but would need to park at the alternate airport, this could cut out any savings you made by making the drive.  Of course, if you are traveling with multiple people, the savings will multiply.  Also, consider other ways to travel to the alternate airport.  There are many shuttle or bus services that will take travelers from outside markets directly to larger airports in the region.   You should definitely consider this if traveling alone as it is almost always cheaper (and environmentally friendly) to share the ride.   Plus, you can rest as if you were on a flight, cause you won’t be behind the wheel.

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