Travel Q&A

Don't Miss a Single Travel Tip!
Follow Us on Facebook
I already like Airfarewatchdog on Facebook

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

Current posts | Categories
Entries during 2011-05

International Lap Child: No seat but it'll cost you

Q. We were shocked to learn that our one-year-old child, who will be sitting on my lap on an international flight, and not taking up a seat, will be charged $400. What's this all about? The airline representative we spoke to was unable to give a satisfactory response.

A. Unfortunately, most airlines now charge 10 percent of the adult fare for lap children on international flights (not domestic ones, not yet, anyway), plus any fuel surcharge, plus international taxes and inspection fees. It doesn't seem fair, since the child isn't taking up any room on the flight, although one could argue that each passenger presents an insurance liability in the case of an accident or injury, and the crew might be busy warming formula bottles and so on. Even if you're flying on a frequent flyer ticket, your lap child will have to pay 10 percent of what your ticket might have cost, plus fuel and taxes. If you're in business or first class, that cost could be very high indeed.

Sudden Itinerary Change

Q. I bought a roundtrip ticket on Alaska Air from Oakland to Kona, Hawaii. Soon after, I received an email from Alaska stating that the return flight is going to the San Jose airport and not Oakland.  The two airports are 50 miles apart. Alaska is giving us $200 voucher for this inconvenience and a voucher for a bus to get us back to Oakland Airport. This is not a minor change. Do I have any recourse? I feel like I should be asking for a $400 voucher, since this is half the ticket price.

A. We wish we understood why Alaska is doing this, since as near as we can tell they are still flying Oakland-Kona roundtrip, although on the Kona-Oakland return leg they are no longer flying nonstop (connections through Seattle only). There are two ways of looking at this. Some airlines would just return your money and make you buy a fare on another airline, perhaps at the last minute and at a much higher price, or offer no compensation. Unfortunately, we see this sort of thing all the time. It's really unfair, in our opinion. So one could argue that Alaska is actually treating you much better than another airline might in such a situation. You probably still have the option of getting a full refund and trying to book on another airline. But what Alaska should do in this case, if it cannot accommodate you on the return, is put you on another airline that flies Kona-Oakland, at their expense. And yes, you're in your rights to ask for higher compensation. It couldn't hurt to do so. Also, your letter implies that the fare is $800 round-trip, which seems quite high for that route. Make sure the fare hasn't gone down and if it has, request a fare-drop refund. Alaska is one of the few airlines that provides a full refund, also in the form of a voucher, if the fare goes down between the time you buy it and the time you depart.

Involuntary Refunds

Q. We had long-standing reservations for a flight to St Louis, connecting in Atlanta. Departure time from our home city was 8:30 am.

We received an email timed at midnight (which we didn't see right away) and then a 5:00 am automated phone call from Delta telling us the flights had been cancelled, and that we'd been placed on another series of flights departing around noon. It would have gotten us to St Louis within five hours of our original arrival time.

The new timing did not work for us, so I called Delta (and after being on hold for quite a while) the reissue desk allowed us to cancel with a full refund ... since they said that it was an involuntary change on our part.

Is this common? I mean, I'm grateful to have a full refund, but with all the schedule changes in the air today, is it Delta's policy to fully refund if THEY change the flights?

A. Yes indeed, this is called an involuntary refund and most airlines have a rule in their contracts of carriage covering this. If the flight is cancelled, or the time significantly changed (depending on airline, if it's just an hour or two this doesn't apply) you can get a full refund, even on a non refundable ticket.

You'll find this rule (usually called Rule 260) in the airlines' contracts of carriage. So if you feel like the new flight times are so far off the original that you can't make it to the airport in time, or your trip will be futile, ask for a refund.

Better Pack Your Running Shoes

Q. I am planning on flying with my elderly father from New York to Augusta via Charlotte. From Charlotte, he would need to catch a plane 35 minutes later to Augusta on the same airline. Will he have to go through security again or, since he is catching a flight on the same airline, can he just walk to another gate in Charlotte? Will he make it on time?

A. Thirty-five minutes, especially if leaving from New York’s delay-plagued LaGuardia Airport, isn’t enough time to make a connecting flight even for a marathon runner. Airfarewatchdog doesn’t understand why airlines schedule such tight connections. Many airlines require you to be on board and in your seat 15 or 20 minutes before scheduled departure or your seat is subject to resale, so a 35 minute connection actually leaves as little as 15 minutes to make the next flight. This makes no sense to us. When planning connecting flights, you can usually build in up to four hours between flights, but you might need to do this using a real live agent or travel agent rather than booking online. Your dad will not need to go through security again, but he still might miss his connecting flight. You can play the odds by researching the historical on-time records of your flights with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics at The airline should also be able to tell you what percentage of the time flights are on time (from zero to 90 percent or more).

Compensation for Delays?

Q. Today, a good friend who is a frequent traveler told me that there is a new law that requires airlines to compensate travelers who are bumped or delayed a significantly higher amount than in the past. He said it could go as high as $1,500 for a delay of four hours. Is this correct? If not, what are the current policies of the airlines?

A. New D.O.T. regulations, which will take at least three months to go into effect, have proposed to increase the maximum compensation for an involuntarily bumped airline passenger from the current $800 to $1,350 (the new rule also states that airlines must inform bumped passengers that they are entitled to a cash payment, not a voucher good for future travel). The maximum pay out would kick in only for a delay of over four hours. But this does not apply to flight delays. Currently there is no government-imposed penalty for delayed flights operating within or from the U.S. However, in the European Union there is. Even if you’re a foreign national, if a flight departing the E.U. is delayed due to a cause reasonably within the airline’s control, then cash payments are stipulated. The amount depends on the length of both the flight and the delay. Perhaps something like that will be proposed in the U.S. one day.

Price drops after you buy, before you fly

Q. If an airfare goes down in price after I buy it but before I fly it, will the airline give me a refund for the price difference? 

A. No airline will actually give you money back, but currently three will give you a credit toward a future flight, without penalty and in full, when a fare drops, as long as you don’t change flights or travel dates. In other words, the new lower fare has to be available on the flights you originally booked. Those airlines are Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest. Most, but not all, other airlines will refund a price drop difference, but they’ll deduct a service fee of up to $150 on a domestic fare, and $250 or more on an international one. Some foreign-based airlines will not issue a refund at all. You buy it, you fly it.

  • Real deals from your departure city
  • Verified by our Dealhounds