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Entries during 2013-02

Regional Jets & Carry-Ons

Q. I haven't flown in more than a year so I'm not sure of the current policy on carry-on luggage. If I fly on a smaller regional jet,  I know that the overhead bin will be too small for a "standard" carry-on piece of luggage. In the past I recall they would “gate check” the luggage and there would not be any fee.  Is there a written policy now or is it subject to airline discretion?

A. You’re correct that regional jet overhead bins are too small to accommodate some carry on bags, even if they conform to the airline’s published size and weight limits. But as long as your bag conforms, you should be able to gate check your bag for free. On United Airlines, for example, the maximum combined linear measurement (length + width + height) of carry-on bags must not exceed 14 inches x 9 inches x 22 inches (23 x 35 x 56 cm) or 45 linear inches (114 cm). You can find carry on limits for your airline by doing a web search for airline + carry on size.

Jumping the Security Line

Q. I was in the security line at the airport yesterday and it seemed that some people were able to bypass others in the security line and move right to the front. These people were not airline employees as far as I could tell. If the TSA is a government organization, how do they justify preferential treatment for some classes of passengers?

A. Although the TSA itself is a government agency and they control access to the scanners and the "airside" of the airport, who controls access to the TSA? It's the airlines themselves. The people who check to see that you have a boarding pass and proper ID before you reach TSA are airline employees (contracted out). So the airlines figured out that they can either charge for priority access to the TSA or give it to their first and business class flyers, which is what they're doing.

Image via Shutterstock

No Spirit

Q. I subscribe to your website and receive regular emails on the destinations I want. One thing I do not like is the listings that are for Spirit Airlines. First, there are too many and based on news articles and coverage, Spirit has serious problems relative to their customer service, cancellation of flights etc. I flew Spirit one time and had a big problem with charges on a Spirit vacation relative to the car rental end of it, which was not handled well by Spirit. This was years ago and i can see they continue to have problems. Also, the posted fares are often so few and inaccessible , I now never go into the listings that are Spirit. I think you provide free advertising for them. Isn't there anyway for me to filter out the Spirit fares you post?

A. Despite the fact that so many people hate Spirit, they do have the best fares. For example, were you to travel from Portland OR to Dallas on July 11 and return a week later, Spirit's fare is exactly $98 round-trip. On the same dates, American is charing $838 round-trip--almost ten times as much.

Even with bag fees and other fees, and the admittedly cramped seats, for some people in these challenging times, they have a choice--either see their grandkids or stay home. Thus, we continue to list Spirit's fares. And frankly, no airline is perfect. We get complaints about Southwest, JetBlue and even Virgin America, to name just a few.

By the way, Spirit does not pay us to list their fares. In fact, we lose revenue by listing their fares. Their lowest fares are only available on Spiritair.com, which is a website that we do not "monetiize."  We list their fares simply because for some people it's the only economically viable choice.

Spirit image via Shutterstock

You Missed Your Connection: Why Was Your Return Flight Canceled?

Q. I booked a flight on Emirates Airlines from Buffalo to Manila, with connections at New York JFK and Dubai. The flight from Buffalo to New York JFK was on JetBlue, but I bought the entire trip through Emirates on one ticket and with one reservation number. I had 2.5 hours to make the connection at JFK on the outbound flight, but the JetBlue flight was delayed and I missed my onward connection. Emirates was very helpful in getting me to Manila on other airlines with minimal inconvenience. However, when I showed up for my return flight from Manila back to Buffalo I was informed that my entire return itinerary had been canceled because I was deemed a “no show” on my New York to Manila flight. Emirates got me to Dubai, but I ended up stranded in Dubai for 22 hours, eventually getting on a flight from Dubai to Dallas, then Dallas to Pittsburgh (which I paid for myself) and then had a friend pick me up for the drive back to Buffalo. All in all, it took me 65 hours to get home. By the way, Emirates refused to provide meals or a hotel while I waited for nearly a full day in Dubai. My question: why was my return flight canceled even though Emirates was aware of the “misconnect” at JFK on my outward journey and what, if anything, can I do about this? Am I entitled to denied boarding compensation per U.S. law?

A. Oddly, yours was not the first story like this in my inbox this week. There was also the woman flying on Air Canada connecting in Toronto to a British Airways flight. Both of you ended up missing your outbound connection and being labeled as “no shows” on the return.

First, let me say this. Neither of you had enough time to comfortably connect. Two-and-a-half hours is not enough time to make a domestic-to-international connection at New York’s JFK (or Toronto Pearson), especially in winter over the busy holiday travel period. You should never accept such a tight connection. Next time, insist on the maximum layover you can get (four hours sounds about right). If your first flight is on time, great. Enjoy the airport. Read a book. Get a day pass to the lounge. It’s worth it. Second, if you do miss your connection, do not get on the rebooked connecting flight without a printout of your complete new itinerary in hand, showing a confirmation of your return segments. Assume that the airline will cancel all of your return flights (even though they’re not supposed to do that). Don’t wait until you show up for the return to discover you’re stranded.

Now to your specific situation. No, U.S. denied boarding compensation does not apply in Dubai. Why was your return flight canceled? I contacted both Emirates and JetBlue, and although both are now offering some sort of compensation, I have to say I’m not satisfied and neither should you be. (Emirates is offering to pay for your out-of-pocket expenses, which is great, except it doesn’t compensate you for the agony of a 65-hour ordeal getting home; JetBlue is offering a $100 credit, to which I say, big deal).

Each airline, in the most politely possible terms, is blaming the other for not “protecting” your return flights. Emirates’ customer service claims that, “It is the responsibility of the inbound carrier (in this case JetBlue) to protect a passenger’s booking when they become aware of a delay which could result in a missed connection.” Emirates further claims that their representative who booked you on alternate flights (on Delta and Gulf Air via London and Bahrain) did attempt to reinstate your return booking, but your seat was snapped up by another traveler “due to the busy holiday season.” JetBlue is saying that they, too, attempted “to find passage on any one of our 20 partners” but were unable to do so, at which point “Emirates stepped in to assist by confirming your travel on another carrier….Emirates indicates that a communication issue failed to recognize your outbound flight as flown.”

I think the key words here are “failed” and “communication.” As soon as your inbound JetBlue flight was recognized as being late (perhaps even before you left the ground in Buffalo) both airlines should have realized that you would miss your Emirates connection from JFK, and both should have immediately worked to protect your return flights. Whether because of human error or poorly coordinated computer systems, this was not done. I think you’re entitled to a refund of the return portion of your flight homeward. And I’m shocked that Emirates refused you hotel and meals in Dubai, and made you pay your fare from Dallas to Buffalo. I thought they were better than that.

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