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Entries during 2017-12

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.

Travel Insurance for Winter Ski Trip Abroad

Q. My family and I are planning a ski trip to Austria this winter. I'd like to buy travel insurance so that we are all covered in the event one of us should become ill or have an accident. We do have group insurance through work but overseas travel is not covered. I don't know what type to buy and I have read stories of people buying insurance only to have their claims later denied because of an honest misunderstanding of coverage. Please advise.

A. The number one reason why people make a travel insurance claim is illness or injury before the trip departs, and some credit cards have built-in insurance for this, so you might want to check your coverage (you have to buy the trip with the credit card). But travel insurance is often more convenient for covering illness that occurs abroad. Whatever policy you decide on, make sure it includes medical evacuation coverage to transport you back home to a hospital of your choice. You don't want to become ill and get stuck in a hospital abroad for several weeks. It can be very expensive to arrange a med-evac flight back home (as in $50,000 or more). You can use squaremouth.com or insuremytrip.com to compare travel insurance policies.

Compensation for Delays

Q. I was recently traveling for work, flying from San Diego to Bahrain with connecting flights in both Washington Dulles and London Heathrow. My departure from San Diego was delayed for more than 2 hours due to mechanical problem. I accepted a rerouted flight to San Francisco and then to Dulles. I was stuck in San Francisco for over 2 hours. I missed my flight from Heathrow to Bahrain and was stuck in Heathrow for over 6 hours. Can I still submit a claim for phone expenses and for the inconveniences as a result of those delays?

A. If you have records of these expenses, I’m sure Delta would at least give you a travel voucher. I was on a flight from JFK to LAX on American recently and the plane had a technical problem. Then the crew “timed out” (meaning the pilots couldn’t work any longer per FAA regulations), so American gave me a $300 voucher for future travel when I asked. It does depend on your status in the frequent flier program, how long the delay was (in my case the flight was canceled around 1 a.m. and then rescheduled for 6 a.m. that morning).

Paid for the Shortest Connection, Given the Longer

Q. Is there is anything one can do when the airline changes the flight times, increasing the connection time from 40 minutes to 4 hours, plus with an additional connection instead of the original single connection?! I intentionally spent a little extra money to book the quickest flight with the shortest possible connection. If I wanted to spend all day on a plane, I would have booked the cheaper flight to begin with. Isn't there some recourse?

A. If the airline still flies the route on the same schedule as you originally booked, try calling the airline and ask to be re-instated on that schedule. This happened to a friend of mine a few years ago. He booked a nonstop from NYC to Denver on United at a very good price and was then re-booked on a connecting flight. He called United again and again until they put him back on the nonstop. The only other option is to ask for a full refund.

Book Economy, Pay for Economy Plus? No Thanks.

Q. I purchased a great fare from Chicago to Paris on United through Orbitz. When I got to the seat selection part, the site claimed that online selection for this flight had ended, so I called United only to be told that they would not give me seat assignments until I checked in at the airport. Since this was a very long flight and we were traveling as a family of four this was really rather upsetting, so we arrived at the airport extra early to get our seats. After waiting in a huge line to see an agent he told us that there were no seats left in economy but that we could sit in "economy plus" for $398 more per person! After refusing this ridiculous offer he proceeded to go ahead and give us the seats in economy plus anyway at no extra charge - basically they are overselling regular economy then trying to scam customers into paying extra for five extra inches of legroom! Is this a common practice?

A. It's good that you stood your ground. If regular economy was oversold, then United would have had a choice between upgrading you for free (which they did) or bumping you (involuntary denied boarding) and compensating you in cash. Unfortunately, we've heard of other instances where United would only assign seats in advance if passengers upgraded to their Economy Plus seating. Keep in mind that it's becoming a more common industry practice to charge for advance seat assignments, or to offer the perk only on more expensive fares.

Flight Canceled: Not Enough Passengers?

Q. I was on a JFK hotel shuttle when I overheard a conversation. Apparently, a couple of travelers had just returned from London.

The fellow who flew Norwegian mentioned that they cancelled his outbound flight simply because there weren't enough passengers on the trip. Norwegian flew them out the next day but of course they missed several events they had bought tickets in advance to see.

And Norwegian made no restitution. One of the passengers was an attorney who took names and wants to sue.

Can Norwegian cancel flights solely at their discretion and, if so, not pay its passengers anything? Can they be sued for this? This fellow made the point of saying it wasn't mechanical or weather related. Just the number of passengers.

A. I’m surprised that they would cancel a flight with not enough passengers since presumably that plane was scheduled to fly to JFK and pick up passengers for the return trip.

Airlines can cancel flights for any reason however European Union law stipulates that passengers are entitled up to 600 Euros in compensation. This is the case even if departing from the US, so long as the flight is traveling to/from somewhere in the EU. Even if the fare is purchased from a US-based airline but an EU-airline operates the flight (for example, you buy on American but the flight is operated by British Airways). You'll find more on these passenger protections here.

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