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Entries during 2007-03

Not Without My Baggage

Q: Recently I arrived at the airport for baggage check-in approximately one hour before the scheduled departure of a Delta flight.  The line was long, and the attendants were slow, delayed by what appeared to be unusual check-in issues.  My turn finally came, and I stepped to the counter 30 minutes before departure.  I was told that my baggage could not be checked, because Delta was required to close check-in 30 minutes before departure.  I ultimately was given two options as the plane was being called for boarding: take a flight later in the day (for which they would check my baggage); or fly without my baggage.  I asked if they could check-in my bag (which I would open for thorough inspection) and send it on the later flight.  I was told that this was impossible to do.  I could not take the later flight and still meet the commitments at my destination; so I flew to my destination without my baggage.  Later in the day I was able to arrange for someone to retrieve my bag at the originating airport.  I have two questions.  First, is this required procedure for airlines?  Second, if it is, what is a person to do in such circumstances (what if I had no one to call to pick up my bags at the airport)?


 


A: Airlines suggest that travelers show up at check-in a minimum of one hour before flight time, and they can pretty much enforce their rules as they wish. You were really cutting it close, especially since you were checking baggage. There's no telling how long the check-in line or security will take, and it's better to be safe than sorry, as you've seen. I have several suggestions: next time you fly, give yourself more time if you're checking bags; don't check bags at all--pack light and carry on your luggage; if that's impossible, then send some of your luggage ahead via UPS or US Mail (have your hotel or the office you're visiting hold the shipment for your arrival).

Make Your Connection Without all the Running

Q: In a recent column, you mentioned that it's a good idea to allow at least four hours between connecting flights if you want to be absolutely sure you make the connection. However, when I book tickets on Travelocity they frequently only offer 45-60 minute connections, sometimes even less, even at busy airports such as Atlanta. How do I get around this?

A: You might try contacting Travelocity (or whatever online service you use) by phone to see if they can build in a longer layover, or you can call the airline directly or the airline directly. The only downside to calling a travel agent or airline is that you'll have to pay a service fee, but perhaps it's worth it considering the alternative, which might be missing your connecting flight. It is indeed difficult if not impossible to build in longer layovers using online airfare searches, so it's best to involve a real person to help you.

Virgin Atlantic to Launch Stateside?

Q: Is it true that Virgin Atlantic is planning to fly domestically, here within the U.S.? If so, where will they fly?

A: Richard Branson, the creator of Virgin Atlantic, and his business partners in the US are trying to launch Virgin America, a new airline that I imagine will be designed along the lines of JetBlue, with low fares but stylish service. However, the US Department of Transportation rejected the airline's application late last year. If you'd like to support their attempt to take wing, which can only lead to lower fares and more competition, then visit www.letvafly.com for ways you can help. No word on their flight plan, but there's a link on the Web site where you can tell them what cities you'd like them to service.

Why have flights to Europe been so pricey, even in spring?

Q: Why are airfares so high to Europe, even for spring travel? I've read that the airlines have shifted a lot of their planes over to foreign routes, which are more profitable than domestic, so wouldn't the increased capacity lead to lower fares? When will we see some deals?


A: With the weak US dollar, many Europeans are discovering that our country is a shopping paradise and an all around bargain, so they're coming here in large numbers, and of course, they have to go back home too, so I imagine that is keeping fares high. Plus, there are so many fees, taxes, and surcharges associated with international fares that the final price can be a shocker. Having said that, last April the airfarewatchdog.com team found (are you sitting down?) $378 round-trip, all-tax-included, fares from Boston to London on Virgin Atlantic for June, July, and August travel, so there's no telling when deals will pop up (it can really be worth while to check fares every day. These fares were available only on Travelocity.com, and only during a sale period of about four days until you find something). They were not advertised. We've also seen some great fares for spring travel from New York's JFK, such as nonstops on Air France to Paris for $450 round-trip including all taxes, for May travel. So you might consider searching from New York as well (even adding $78-$100 round-trip flights on JetBlue from Boston to JFK, you may still save money compared to flights from Boston.

Crew is a no show and they're stranded in Atlanta

Q: I hope you can help me resolve a dispute.
My husband and another couple recently booked flights with Delta from Boston to Cancun through Cincinnati, OH. We arrived at the airport at 3:30 am for a 5:50 am flight. By 7:30 the flight had not boarded and we were told that the first engineer had not shown up, and by 9:00 am it became clear that we would not make our connection and we were advised to find another flight. Due to an earlier snow storm we were unable to get another flight that day. After spending the day at the airport we found a flight to Atlanta, but were unable to get out of Atlanta until the next day. Consequently we lost a full day at our resort.

We were put up at a hotel in Atlanta and given $7.00 in food vouchers (hardly compensation for a lost day in an inclusive resort in Mexico). No other compensation was provided. Other passengers who were bumped or did not get on flights due to weather conditions received $400 cash or free flights. It seems unfair that we were not compensated when the problem was clearly the fault of the crew while those who were inconvenienced due to overbooking and problems not the fault of the airline (weather) were compensated.

Is this common practice? What recourse do we have? Any help you can provide would be welcome!

A: I'm amazed that Delta would hand out vouchers in the case of a weather delay, which is out of their control, and not in the event of missing crew, which may have been more in their control (or at least was probably not an "act of God"). If a passenger is bumped against their will, then yes they get up to $400 in cash or vouchers (it's better to take cash). If in fact Delta was clearly at fault in causing you to miss a day of your vacation, then certainly they should provide you compensation. (The key question is whether or not the crew member was late because of weather; good luck trying to get a straight answer on that from Delta.) This is why we need a passenger bill of rights. What if you had missed a $1000 cruise because of Delta's negligence or the negligence of one of its employees. I would definitely write to Delta's customer relations department. Delta Airlines, Customer Care, P.O. Box 20980
Atlanta, GA 30320-2980, or call (404) 715-1402, and ask for a travel voucher equal to the value of your missed day of vacation. If they refuse, you might consider taking them to small claims court in your local jurisdiction. That might get their attention.



Hidden City Ticketing

Q: I saw a great fare from Akron to Las Vegas for $79 each way on airfarewatchdog.com. It connects in Denver on Frontier Airlines. I don't want to go Las Vegas, but I do want to go to Denver. But the fare to Denver is much more. Can I book a round-trip to Las Vegas, get off in Denver, and then return from Denver to Akron? Will the airline give me a hassle if I do?

A: They sure will. Actually, they'll cancel your Las Vegas-Denver-Akron return flight when you don't show up for the Denver-Las Vegas portion. Since this fare can be booked just one way, you could conceivably buy it one-way Akron-Las Vegas and get off in Denver, but there may be consequences. This is called "hidden city" ticketing and is against airline rules. They won't send the sheriff after you, but Frontier might boot you out of their frequent flyer program, and, if you book your ticket through a travel agency, they might go after the agency for any fare difference your little scheme has saved you.

Delta Causes Them to Miss a Day of Vacation

Q: I hope you can help me resolve a dispute.

My husband and I recently booked flights with Delta from Boston to Cancun through Cincinnati, OH. We arrived at the airport at 3:30 am for a 5:50 am flight. By 7:30 the flight had not boarded and we were told that the first engineer had not shown up, and by 9:00 am it became clear that we would not make our connection and we were advised to find another flight. Due to an earlier snow storm we were unable to get another flight that day. After spending the day at the airport we found a flight to Atlanta, but were unable to get out of Atlanta until the next day. Consequently we lost a full day at our resort.

We were put up at a hotel in Atlanta and given $7.00 in food vouchers (hardly compensation for a lost day in an inclusive resort in Mexico). No other compensation was provided. Other passengers who were bumped or did not get on flights due to weather conditions received $400 checks good for cash or free flights. It seems unfair that we were not compensated when the problem was clearly the fault of the crew while those who were inconvenienced due to overbooking and problems not the fault of the airline (weather) were compensated.

Is this common practice? What recourse do we have? Any help you can provide would be welcome!

A: I'm amazed that Delta would hand out vouchers in the case of a weather delay, which is out of their control, and not in the event of missing crew, which may have been more in their control (or at least was probably not an "act of God"). If a passenger is bumped against their will, then yes they get up to $400 in cash or vouchers (it's better to take cash). If in fact Delta was clearly at fault in causing you to miss a day of your vacation, then certainly they should provide you compensation. This is why we need a passenger bill of rights. What if you had missed a $1000 cruise because of Delta's negligence or the negligence of one of its employees. I would definitely write to Delta's customer relations department. Delta Airlines, Customer Care, P.O. Box 20980
Atlanta, GA 30320-2980.
Or call (404) 715-1402. They should give you a travel voucher for the lost value of your vacation. If they refuse, you might consider taking them to small claims court in your local jurisdiction. That might get their attention. Also, next time you fly that route, take a nonstop.

JetBlue flies Boston-Cancun nonstop. It's worth whatever extra it costs sometimes not to make connections, especially during bad weather months.
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