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Entries during 2017-06

Delayed Arrival Times

Q. I received two emails this week alerting me to the fact that my flight times on United have been changed. My layovers en route to Boston went from about 90 minutes each to 3 hours. To me, the difference between getting into Boston at 12:05PM and 1:38PM is actually significant. Do I have any recourse here?

A. I don't think that's enough of a schedule change to request a refund or other compensation. And honestly, assuming you're connecting in Newark with chronic delays, even 90 minutes might be pushing it. If there's an earlier flight that has seats, you could call United and ask to be placed on it with no change fee. But airlines make it clear that schedules are never guaranteed.

Down Under the Weather

Q. Every time I fly from Los Angeles to Australia, I get very sick. Last time, I was sick for over six weeks when I got back home. I was told that I shouldn't fly longer then a five hour flight. Something to do with the air on the planes. Is this common?

A. Actually, it’s not uncommon, especially if one is older. Studies have shown that long flights create health problems of varying degrees, usually minor. One solution is to fly in a Boeing Dreamliner 787, which has an advanced air filtration system and also flies at a low “cabin altitude” which helps passengers breathe with less effort. These cabins are also kept at a higher humidity level, which keeps eyes, mouths, and nasal passengers hydrated.  Keeping mucous membranes moist supposedly helps prevent germs and bacteria from becoming a problem. As the Australian Business Traveller states, "If your nasal passage mucous membrane cracks in-flight — common on long-haul flights — you also open the body up to a much easier pathway for germs to get in." Qantas will launch 787 service from LA to Sydney in March 2018.

Lost Luggage, Lost Money

Q. My luggage was recently lost and I'm having a hard time convincing the airline of exactly what the contents were worth. In fact, the sum they're offering is nowhere near their $3,500 limit of liability. What can I do?

A. Although it may sound tedious, saving your receipts can really help you out in a situation like this. Losing a $50 shirt may not seem like the end of the world, but lose a bag full and that can really add up. For a record of purchases made via debit or credit, it's easy to refer back to bank or card statements as proof. For little ho-hum cash purchases, you might consider squirreling away those receipts too.

Another thing you could do to prevent something like this from happening down the road is upping the limitation of liability by purchasing Excess Valuation.

Of course, trip insurance can also save you in a bind like this, as well as some premium card services offered by American Express, that not only cover you if you're luggage is lost forever, they'll pay to replace "necessary personal articles" if your bag is delayed for six hours or longer.

Plane, Train, or Automobile?

Q. My husband and I are traveling to Germany and England to visit family and staying for a month. We're not sure how we will travel between those countries...car, train, or plane. If we rent a car do you have some "what not to do" advice? Also, will we need an International Driver's License?

A. If you don’t mind driving, your best option is to use a “buy back” program when renting a car. You’re not actually renting the car, you’re purchasing it for a short time (minimum 21 days). There are so many advantages to this, besides typically lower cost than renting. The buy back includes full insurance including all-important third-party liability, you get a brand new car, and much more. Some cars may be non-automatic shift however. For example, take a look at Renault’s programs here but there are others. You won’t need an international driver’s license. Of course, taking the train is much more relaxing and can usually be faster than driving, but can be more expensive unless you qualify for senior discounts and shop carefully, and it’s less flexible. I would probably avoid flying unless you’re traveling very long distances between countries.

Above image via Shutterstock

The Weather, Allegedly

Q. My flight from Chicago to Ft Lauderdale was cancelled by United for what they said was "weather."  It was cancelled 12-hours ahead of the flight. A thunderstorm was expected in Florida but did not actually happen until later in the day. Meanwhile, both Delta and United both operated flights out of Ft Lauderdale in the morning, so obviously weather was not a problem. Now I'll be sitting at O'Hare for the next 12 hours waiting for our new flights to take off later this evening. Clearly the flight was canceled for issues other than weather, right? Do i have any recourse on recouping expenses for the day, and possibly night, should they decide to cancel my flight again due to weather?

A. Even though weather didn’t affect the other airlines, it might have affected your airline’s flight because the aircraft was coming from somewhere that experienced bad weather. It’s not just the weather where you are that causes problems; it could be weather anywhere in the country depending on the original location of your aircraft. Your only recourse is to ask for a full refund of your fare, or you should ask your airline to put you on another airline whose flights are operating (at the same fare you originally paid) if there are seats available. Unfortunately, airlines are not legally required to reimburse you for expenses, although some will do this voluntarily.

Above image via Shutterstock

Anytime Tickets?

Q. Is it possible to buy "anytime" tickets between two destinations? I would like to buy a ticket between PDX and LAX that I can use anytime I want...but none of the websites seem to sell anything like this.

A. It is, sort of.

What you'd do is buy a fare on Southwest Airlines. If you decide not to use it on the original dates booked, you can cancel it without penalty. Then Southwest will give you a flight credit good for a year from the original date booked that you can apply to the route. If the fare has gone up or down from your purchased fare, you'll either pay more or keep the fare difference in your account.

The other way to go about this, of course, is to buy a full fare, fully refundable ticket, and those don't come cheap.

Above image via Shutterstock

Allergies & Service Animals

Q. I flew recently and there were two "service animal" pets in the cabin and they were not in their cages. I seriously doubt they were service animals. Anyone can now buy a service animal "vest" online, and in fact I have a friend who has done this (actually, an ex-friend) even though she has no "disability" other than being a nervious wreck who should probably just take Xanax instead. I am severely allergic to pet dander and had a horrible asthma attack. Delta tried to buy me off with a form letter and a $50 credit. What are my rights?

A. Unfortunately, there's no federal or other certification process to prove that people have disabilities that would prevent people from scamming the service animal policies of the airlines (or indeed, of any common carrier--the same thing applies to trains, subways, and buses). And yes, people do scam the system. You basically have no rights at all, other than to ask the airline to put you on a pet-free flight, but that's often unworkable or inconvenient. You should certainly ask the airline to note in your record that you're allergic to pet dander and hope that they will alert you to any pets that have been confirmed on your flight.

Navigating Ireland in Fall

Q. I am trying to decide the best month to fly to Ireland this fall. Is September or October a better month? Is the train a practical and enjoyable way to see the country? Does the rail system also include Northern Ireland?

A. Both September and October will offer lower airfares than peak summer, and Ireland is one of the cheapest airfare destinations in Europe. Irish Rail, with over 1,491 miles of track, does serve Northern Ireland, and certainly rail travel is more relaxing than driving. I will say that finding fare information on the Irish Rail site is quite baffling. They do offer tourist rail passes, however, which might be an option if you are planning on using the rail system extensively.

Above image via Shutterstock

Tight Connections

Q. Whenever I ask about tight connection times, either from the airlines or tour companies, I'm told "they" state that time is sufficient to go from your plane to the next. Recently I was told that two hours is a sufficient amount of time at Heathrow to get off my plane in the international terminal, find the shuttle and proceed to my next terminal, have my hand baggage check, then go through a security screening, and then proceed to my gate. The Heathrow site states that you need a "minimum" of 90 minutes to accomplish this and that's once you are off the plane, which sometimes can take more than 15-20 minutes. Heaven forbid the plane is even a little late. Who is the "they" that come up with these times?

A. 90 minutes really isn’t enough time to do a connection at Heathrow. Even if you’re in the same terminal, you’ll need to go through security again, get on a people mover if you’re in Terminal 5, and walk to the gate; and if you’re changing terminals that takes extra time. Two hours is pushing it, too, if your flight is late. It’s sometimes possible to ask the airline or your travel agent to build in a longer layover (taking the next flight out) without incurring a higher fare. That said, British Airways is pretty good at monitoring tight connections so when you leave your inbound flight you’ll often be met by employees who can help facilitate your transfer.

Medical Devices & Baggage Allowances

Q. I plan to travel with my pocketbook, carry-on luggage, and a sleep apnea machine. The machine is a medical device but will it put me over the two piece carry-on rule?

A. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your medical device will not count against carry on limitations and can be brought along with both your carry-on and pocketbook. To be absolutely thorough, you might consider bringing along a doctor's note in the event anyone should question you about it. 

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