For all the miseries of flying with small children, families could always count on one perk from the airlines: early boarding. But now, this too seems to be going the way of the free in-flight meal.
Families hoping to avoid the crush of passengers and bags during boarding may now need to pay $36 or more for the privilege. United, is the most recent airline to stop letting families with young children board first, reports USA Today. American Airlines dropped family pre-boarding a few years ago, and US Airways did so last year. Delta, JetBlue and Virgin America are among the few carriers that still show preferential treatment to parents.
Christopher Elliott, author of “Scammed” and airlines passenger advocate, tells Pay Dirt how he fell for some of the oldest tricks in the book before becoming a consumer advocate. Known primarily for his work as a journalist and campaigner for travelers, Elliott himself used to work for a travel trade publication 20 years ago. He said seeing the travel business from the inside was very “eye-opening.” He also tells Pay Dirt about a valuable lesson he learned from a parrot named Scarlett.
Pay Dirt: What are the most naked scams that we don’t even see as scams?
Elliott: You’re being scammed right now.
Pay Dirt: I am? But you are promoting your book.
Elliott: Consumers are always being scammed. Usually, if you have to ask if it’s a scam, the answer is yes. The common definition of a scam is pretty narrow: A fraudulent deal that some shady guy offers you on the street or an email from someone in Nigeria telling you you’ve inherited $1 million. I talk a lot in the book about contracts. Some of the most onerous are mortgage contracts where the fine print is so dense that – at the end of the first six months – your interest rate suddenly goes up. And shrink-wrap contracts: By opening the box you are agreeing to the terms of purchase. Also, beware of contracts that self-renew.
It’s the night before Thanksgiving and everything has gone according to plan. Early arrival at the airport? Check. A quick read of Pay Dirt’s tips on how to avoid a flightmare before and air rage after you are on the flight? Check. Seat assignment made so it doesn’t get given away while browsing in duty free? Check. Non-stop, direct flights booked? Check. But even if some passengers do everything right, they can still get stuck at the airport unexpectedly for hours.
Pay Dirt polled some experts for tips on how to cope during the delays and how to such stave off airport rage.
Beware of upgrade requests. When passengers are stressed out the airline’s offer of extra seat room can seem tempting. Delta Airlines is just one airline that offers an extra 50% recline than Economy, early boarding, complimentary alcoholic beverages, plus four inches extra room. It’s the upper-middle class of airline travel. However, it costs $80 to $180 one-way. However, for those with a long pair of gams, George Hobica, founder of AirFareWatchdog.com, has a list of legroom upgrades for those who are willing to pay for it.
The price of being a Spirit Airlines passenger has nearly doubled.
A surcharge tacked onto every ticket dubbed the “passenger usage fee” is now $16.99 on domestic flights — up from $8.99 prior to Nov. 8. The fees, which are not included in the advertised fares do not include the $10 the discount carrier charges for booking a seat by phone. (A Spirit spokeswoman confirmed the change via email, but declined to comment on why it was made. “We don’t discuss our pricing strategy,” she says.)
The Transportation Security Administration this week announced the new membership of its Aviation Security Advisory Committee, but passenger rights advocates complain they are still not adequately represented. As expected, some of the TSA’s biggest critics were not invited to the party.
Passengers should be represented on the ASAC, which was established in 1989 following the destruction of Pan American World Airways Flight 103 by a terrorist bomb, groups say. “Where’s the passenger advocate?” says syndicated columnist and consumer advocate Christopher Elliott. Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, agrees. “There are virtually no consumer advocates on this committee,” she says. “It’s again frontloaded with the [airline] industry.”
The 24-member committee includes people who have been directly affected by terrorist attacks. Hanni notes the inclusion of one passenger advocate, Glenn Johnson, board chairman of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc., set up by families of those killed by a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.
The iPhone can’t control the weather, but a 99-cent app purports to take most of the guesswork out of planning weddings, ski trips, and other shopping decisions.
Available on iOS, and in the Android store starting Nov. 23th, the WeatherTrends360 app uses a team of meteorologists, climatologists and mathematicians to help people plan for good and bad weather, says CEO Bill Kirk, a former United States Air Force Captain. The website is free. He claims his company can predict the weather with 80% accuracy up to a year in advance.
WeatherTrend360’s main business is helping retailers control their inventory, and clients include Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s and Coca-Cola. The consumer app offers to help shoppers decide when is best to buy goods at the best prices. Forrester Research gives it 80% accuracy, which sounds impressive, but keep in mind that means the information could be wrong once every five days.
However, some experts believe the app is probably better used for entertainment purposes only. “I don’t think people will plan any major events around what this application does,” says Andy Nyquist, personal finance and investment blogger. “It may make them more comfortable about the choices that they do make in relation to weddings and trips. But people are more likely to enjoy the entertainment factor from the application as well as using the shorter term weather forecasts.”
Pay Dirt spoke to Capt. Kirk about the new app.
The threat of massive fines apparently isn’t enough to stop airlines from stranding passengers on the tarmac. On Saturday, some 100 JetBlue passengers and an unspecified number on American Airlines flights were left stuck on a runway at Bradley Airport in Hartford, CT. for seven hours during the snow storm.
These incidents raise the question: Are new Department of Transportation rules enough? They stipulate that airlines can incur maximum fines of a staggering $27,500 per passenger if planes sit on the tarmac for more than three hours on domestic U.S. flights. (In JetBlue’s case, passengers were stranded without adequate food, water or functioning restrooms. American Airlines say passengers had food and beverages.)
The amount of any airline fine depends on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the violation and harm caused to consumers, the carrier’s compliance disposition and ability to pay, says Bill Mosley, a Department of Transport spokesman.
The Department of Transportation fined online travel company Orbitz $60,000 on Tuesday for misleading advertisements that failed to mention taxes and fees, and in some cases, promoted fares which were no longer available.
Orbitz blamed the ads, which appeared in early 2011, on a computer “glitch.” Consumers selecting discounted fares advertised by the site were instead taken to a page where different rates was displayed.
To be fair to Orbitz, this is the first time in the company’s 10-year history it’s been hit with such a fine. “Orbitz is in compliance with Department of Transportation advertising requirements and the glitch that resulted in how fares were displayed for a short period of time earlier this year has been addressed,” Orbitz spokesman Chris Chiames said in a statement. But Air Canada, Spirit, JetBlue, United Airways, Continental have all been hit with fines for failing to inform passengers of various charges.
Accidents are relatively uncommon on commercial flights, but that could change if Ryanair’s plan to remove two-thirds of its bathrooms catches on.
With each bathroom creating room for three seats, the European discount carrier, which is known for proposing bizarre cost-cutting measures, says it could save passengers $6 on a $120 ticket. “It would fundamentally lower air fares by about 5% for all passengers,” CEO Michael O’Leary told The Independent. “We’re trying to push Boeing to re-certify the aircraft for six more seats, particularly for short-haul flights — we very rarely use all three toilets on board our aircraft anyway.”
Attention, nervous flyers: It may be time to buckle up and use your American Airlines miles. Shares at the airline plummeted by one-third Monday amid fears that it will seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. As investors panicked and sold their shares, its 67 million frequent flyer members around the world were also left with a worrying question: In a worst-case scenario, will all those hard-earned miles be lost? The bad news: When airlines file for liquidation, loyal customers are usually among the last on the long list of creditors to be reimbursed. Experts say nearly all other major debts will be paid before these rewards are redeemed.
But there are exceptions: when the carrier is taken over or when air miles are part of a code-sharing deal with another airline. For instance, when PanAm went into liquidation in 1991, Delta Air Lines honored the leftover air miles when it took over the airline’s assets. And when Hawaii’s Aloha Airlines went bust in 2008, United Airlines honored flights booked as part of its code-sharing agreement. United also honored its own frequent flyers when it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002. Tim Winship, founder of FrequentFlier.com, says AA’s air miles would likely be sold to another airline even if it went into liquidation: “It’s one of AA’s most valuable assets.”
Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to email@example.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.