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Entries during 2017-09

The Last to Board

Q. I always seem to end up in the last group called to board the plane. And I've actually seen plenty of people who board before their group is called or before their rows are called, and yet they are allowed to board whenever they approach the podium. Why do almost all airlines not actually enforce their boarding procedures? I'm okay boarding a little later but I don't like being edged even further back in the process because some people are lying and the people in charge don't call them on it! In the interest of fairness, what can I do? And why does this always happen?

A. I have seen airline personnel enforce these rules, but they don’t make passengers remain seated until their boarding group or row is called. So eager passengers crowd the boarding area, making it difficult for passengers who need to board. I suspect that employees just don’t want to make a scene and the airline doesn’t have the personnel to enforce common courtesy at the boarding area. And you’re right, more and more people have priority boarding, now that you can buy your way to the front of the line with various credit card perks and extra fees.

Above image via Shutterstock

No Purchase Confirmation Email

Q. A couple of months ago, I purchased a ticket online from American Airlines for a flight from Oklahoma City to Syracuse. When I attempted to check in for my flight, I was told that the ticket had been canceled. American said that my credit card had been rejected 3 times by Amex. They also said they emailed me to inform me of the rejection, though I never received an email.   
 
I immediately called Amex and was told that American had made no effort to charge my card. Since I had to be in Syracuse for business the next day, I had no choice but to purchase another ticket, and this one did not come cheap. Do I have any recourse and if yes, what would you suggest?

A. Though it's rare, little technical goofs like this can happen from time to time. When making a ticket purchase online, you should always be on the look out for some sort of confirmation code on the page that follows and/or -more importantly- a confirmation via email. If you don't see either of the two, the next step should be to check your credit card charges. You can be sure that no charge means no ticket.

Blocked Out Seats

Q. Do airlines block out a large section of seats to make it appear there are fewer seats remaining? When our airline cancelled the final leg of our trip, we reviewed the airline website for flights returning a day before as well as after our original return date. None of the alternate flights offered adjoining seats. Yet, when we called the airline, they immediately assigned us two seats together in a section that appeared to be completely filled on their website. How likely is it that we will be reassigned seats?

A. Yep, some airlines do block out seats, even if the plane is half-empty, and sometimes a call to the airline will sort things out. They do this in part to accommodate last minute business customers who are flying on higher-priced “walk up” fares, to cater to their preferred frequent travelers, and also, in some instances, to entice consumers to purchase “premium” seat assignments for a fee. Even if you end up not sitting together, it’s always possible to ask fellow passengers to trade seats. A good strategy is to offer to buy the accommodating passenger a couple of cocktails on board, or bring along some Starbucks gift cards ($10 should do the trick) as a thank-you.

Changes to Departure Time

Q. I need to fly out early in the morning to reach my destination in time for a scheduled event, which is why I purchased a ticket for a 6 a.m. flight. Now I received an email that the airline has changed my departure time to 4 p.m. If I had wanted to leave at 4 p.m., then I would have bought my ticket for that time. Are airlines able to change your flight without your permission?

A. Airlines state in their contracts of carriage that schedules are not guaranteed, but you can ask to cancel your booking and get a refund without penalty, even on a non-refundable fare, if they won't reseat you on the original flight you booked. That's also in their contracts of carriage.

Advance Seat Selection Trickery

Q. While booking two different flights on American many weeks in advance, I noticed that when I got to the phase of selecting seats that virtually all seats shown to me were the so-called “preferred” seats.

Is American purposely hiding or holding back normal economy seats in an attempt to force customers to buy higher priced but not necessarily better seats? I don't mind paying for cabin extra, but really, am I being baited and up-sold for a normal seat in row 12?

A. Yes, they are trying to persuade consumers to pay for the extra legroom seats. I advise people to buy the fare without choosing a seat and then recheck frequently, either by phone or online, to see if basic economy seats become available. If none become available, they’ll get one of the extra legroom seats for free or they’ll be assigned a seat in basic economy eventually. As frequent fliers with status get upgraded to extra legroom seats more basic economy seats will open up, usually starting at 72 hours before flight time. Bottom line: as long as you can buy the regular economy airfare you will get a seat, unless you’re bumped from the flight in which case you’ll get cash compensation for denied boarding.

Booking One Way International Tickets

Q. Is it okay to purchase a one way ticket to a foreign country. My reason for doing so is that I'm not yet sure what day I'll return.

A. Increasingly, it is perfectly okay. It used to be that one-way fares were much higher than a round-trip fare, but because of airlines like WOW and Norwegian selling one-way tickets for about 1/2 the round-trip price, some other airlines are following suit.

If the route you’re considering doesn’t have a cheap one-way fare (the round-trip fare is higher), you won’t get into trouble not using the return flight, as long as you don’t do this too often, as some airlines don’t like it when passengers use this strategy. As a courtesy, you should cancel your seat on the return flight.

Hurricane Price Gouging

Q. I read your observation in a recent article in the New York Times about customer complaints regarding possible price gouging in response to recent hurricane activity in Florida.

If your observations are true, that these in prices are just a reflection of computer program adjustments as standard airline practices, and not price gouging, then I and other consumers agree then there is even a bigger problem with how these fares are generated.

Don't you understand that these computers are programmed by humans to maximize profit for the cost of a seat based solely on when it was purchased?

A. A few days ago, I did some random searches on Kayak and Southwest and did not find any evidence of price gouging. For example, I saw Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans on Jetblue nonstop for $55 one-way and a fare to NYC last minute for $190 one-way, and a same day $380 nonstop from Miami to New York.

So I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and others I talked to in the industry didn’t find atrociously high airfares either, although many flights were sold out.

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