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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.

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

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. 

Changing Schedules Eat Into Vacation

Q. I booked a flight several weeks ago with American Airlines. Since my initial booking, American Airlines has changed my flight times so drastically (for both my departing and returning flights) that I now have lost 2 days of my vacation. So, for example, my departing flight is now leaving 8 hours later than originally booked, and my return flight is leaving 6 hours earlier than originally booked. I am entitled to some sort of compensation, or new flight, from American Airlines? I have tried calling their customer service department to ask; however, there's only so long I can sit on hold for.

A. You can ask for a full refund and rebook on another airline, but other than that there’s not much they will do for you sadly. Are your original flights still available or are there other AA flights available? If so, you can insist that they rebook you. It may take several tries and escalation but if seats are still available on your original or early flights, fight for it!

A Jump in Price

Q. How do the airlines set their prices? After seeing airfare for a particular schedule jump 100% from the time I started my search to when I actually tried to book it 3 minutes later, I was given the old "supply and demand...someone somewhere must have booked a seat in that span, and that caused the jump." How is that legal or even possible? 

A. We've heard this story time and again. Airlines only sell a certain small number of seats at their lowest fares. A flight might have a dozen different economy class fares, with a certain number of seats available at each fare. The price of each fare class can be set throughout the day, plus the airlines employ dozens of airfare analysts who do nothing all day but adjust the number of seats available in each fare class. That's why it's so important to check fares many times throughout the day and over a number of days if you can't find what you believe to be a reasonable fare. A fare might be $300 one minute, and the next it could be $200. Since airlines were deregulated in 1978, they are free to set whatever prices they wish.

Discounts for Group Travel

Q. We are having a family reunion of over 25 people all flying from New York/Newark to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Do the airlines give any type of discount for groups? Our trip is in late fall. Should we book now?

A. As to your first question, yes indeed, airlines have group travel desks that arrange travel and give discounts. Call your airline's toll-free number to see if your group qualifies. As to when to buy, fares to Puerto Vallarta aren't the cheapest, compared to other cities in Mexico, but you'll save money if you fly midweek. If you see a fare under $400 round-trip from Newark, you might want to jump on it.

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