SmartMoney Blogs

Pay Dirt
A daily look at what we buy, how we spend, and the companies that do right - and wrong - by their customers.

Airlines - All posts in category Airlines

  • Sep 29, 2011
    3:39 PM ET

    Airline Wi-Fi Charges Take Off


    Hyper-connected travelers have occasionally copped to the guilty pleasure of spending a few in-flight hours blissfully removed from email and the internet. Those days are waning: Airline travelers are expected to pay a collective $606 million on in-flight Wi-Fi by 2015, almost four times more than the $155 million spent this year, according to a study by In-Stat released Thursday.

    Paying for in-flight Wi-Fi has been slow to take off – only a handful of airlines offer it, and just 7% of airline passengers have bought it so far this year. But that’s nearly double the 4% who bought on-board WiFi in 2010, and interest is expected to pick up as more airlines add Wi-Fi capabilities. Smartphones and other devices are helping drive demand, too, says Amy Cravens, a senior analyst with In-Stat.

  • Sep 21, 2011
    5:07 PM ET

    How to Get More Respect on an Airline


    Delays, cramped quarters, overpriced snacks: With privileges like these, no wonder many air travelers dress for comfort. But comfy clothes and moccasins might actually be making your travel experience worse, according to a new survey from airline travel aggregator

    In response to the question, “When flying, do you feel you or others get treated better by airline personnel if you dress to impress,” some 63% said yes. Veteran travelers say that’s probably not a misperception. Site founder George Hobica says dressing up increases the chances of everything from an extra drink to an upgrade, or even getting chosen as a standby passenger: “Whether fair or not, airline employees treat you better if you take some care about how you dress when flying.”

  • Sep 9, 2011
    2:02 PM ET

    Hours at the Airport? 5 Fun Things to Do


    With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Sunday, passengers are reflecting about how life has changed for airline travelers and the amount of extra time they spend at their airport. Home Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently said some restrictions are being lifted: “One of the first things you will see over time is the ability to keep your shoes on.” Hurrah.

    Passengers do want an easier time at the airport. Harriet Baskas, author of “Stuck at the Airport,” enjoys off-beat distractions as she waits for her flight. One of her favorites? The Japanese Gardens at Honolulu International Airport. Before 9/11 when non-ticket holders could pass through the gates, it was also a place for farewells.

    Here are 5 more:

  • Aug 30, 2011
    10:49 AM ET

    Hurricane Irene: How Fast Did Your Airline Respond?


    Hurricane Irene didn’t only empty the streets last week, it also emptied the skies.

    The country’s major airlines were under immense pressure trying to re-book flights for anxious customers as some 12,000 flights were canceled, according to flight tracking website But the length of time it took to get through to airlines varied dramatically: It took just under three minutes to get through to U.S. Airways by phone, but it took more than ninety minutes for American Airlines, according to a new survey,, a site that rates companies’ customer service performance. Tweeting was not the ideal way to contact most airlines. Delta Airlines responded to all their Tweets, on average, in 14 seconds, but Tweets at other airlines went unreturned.

    Industry representatives say airlines have made themselves more accessible during crisis situations. Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, says he doesn’t comment on individual surveys, but says airlines constantly updated their social networking sites and websites as soon as flight-change information was available. He says many airlines were also proactive and reached out to travelers via email, and added extra staff to field telephone calls from worried passengers. “Airlines started notifying passengers of operational changes and rebooking policies several days before the hurricane made landfall,” he says.

    Here are survey’s results:

  • Aug 25, 2011
    2:24 PM ET

    How to Hurricane-Proof Your Travel Plans


    Her name is Irene, and she’s ruining your vacation.

    As soon as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dubbed the approaching Category 3 storm Irene on Aug. 20, consumers’ ability to shift their travel plans got more limited. But there’s still some recourse to change plans or get a refund for at least part of your trip.

    Steve Lott, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, says, “Be proactive. Start changing plans now.” Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, advises customers to program their airline’s 800 number into their cell phones, act fast on hotel reservations (at least 24 hours in advance), stock up on any prescribed medications should you get stuck on vacation and pick your connecting airport wisely.

  • Aug 24, 2011
    12:52 PM ET

    New Airline Rules: More Delays for Passengers

    Buckle up: The government’s new airline rules for passengers finally came into effect this week, but passengers must wait until January of next year for several new consumer protections, including those that require airlines to incorporate all taxes and fees in advertised fares, ban airlines from making post-purchase price increases and those that require airlines to notify passengers of delays of over 30 minutes, as well as cancellations and diversions.


    So why the delay? Steve Lott, spokesman for the airline industry group Air Transport Association in Washington D.C., says the industry requested the extension from the government. “The changes are complex for the computer systems that the airlines use and require extensive time and resources,” he tells Pay Dirt. “We made the request and the Department of Transportation agreed. Those changes cannot simply be made overnight.”

    Consumer advocates are divided over the two-step implementation. George Hobica, creator of, understands Lott’s rationale. “Anyone who works with software engineers knows that rebuilding data systems and websites takes time to do it right,” he says. “So I’m disappointed, but not surprised about this delay.” But Kate Hanni, founder of, says airlines should have implemented all the new rules before the busy holiday season.

  • Aug 15, 2011
    3:39 PM ET

    TSA Security Committee Leaves Critics on the Ground


    Attention all airline passengers and those who are unhappy about security procedures at airports: The Transportation Security Administration is rebooting its Aviation Security Advisory Committee with a new collection of experts and advisers. But the TSA won’t say who will represent passengers’ rights on the ASAC – established in 1989 following the destruction of Pan American World Airways Flight 103 by a terrorist bomb – and some of the agency’s biggest critics say they’ve been left off the list of invitees.

    According to the Department of Homeland Security, the re-established ASAC will include victims of terrorist acts against aviation, law enforcement and security experts, airport operators, airline management, and aircraft and security equipment manufacturers and – crucially for members of the public – aviation consumer advocates will also be represented. Jonella J. Culmer, a spokeswoman for the TSA, says, “ASAC members have not been finalized or announced at this time.”

    However, Kate Hanni, founder of, says she asked to be on the committee, but has been already been told that there are no vacancies. In an email exchange with a department official, was told it could submit a candidate to participate on sub-committees or public forums. Hanni says her organization could not afford to pay for those monthly trips to Washington D.C. (A full committee member would have such travel expenses paid by the TSA.)

  • Aug 4, 2011
    2:55 PM ET

    Newark Airport Tops List For Most Delays

    You may want to seriously reconsider your travel plans if you were thinking of booking a flight out of Newark Airport in New Jersey anytime soon. But there’s good news too for travelers: the larger JFK Airport was absent from the Top 10 list of delays at airports. Of the 100 most-delayed flights over the past year, 40 of them originate at Newark, according to data compiled for Scott McCartney and “The Wall Street Journal” on Thursday by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.


    Delta Airlines, which earned brownie points as the second airline after Spirit to refund uncollected federal taxes to customers this week, had the highest percentage of delayed flights — 60.2% for its 4pm Newark-Altanta flight during the evening rush hour when air traffic tends to be most congested. Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta, tells Pay Dirt that flight is No. 2 and No. 3 based on Department of Transport data with Southwest at No. 1. He says it’s systematic issue at Newark. (A Southwest spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.)

    Two notable absences from the Top 10 delays: JFK Airport and JetBlue, which has a hub in JFK. (A 2010 study by Flight Stats ranked American Airlines at JKF as No. 3 on a list of delays with 30% of flights delayed.) But George Hobica, founder of, says JFK is good for domestic travel – if you know when to fly. “Unless there’s a weather problem, JFK has become a less congested airport.” He flies through JFK for domestic flights, and tries to fly early. “It’s an international airport, so the bulk of the departures are from 4pm onwards.”

  • Aug 1, 2011
    4:57 PM ET

    Delta Joins Spirit By Giving Passengers A Tax Break

    Good news for airline travelers. Yes, you read that right. Delta Airlines said Monday that it will refund federal taxes to customers on flights that it didn’t have to pay the government’s Federal Aviation Administration during the Congressional stalemate over funding, which on most airlines amounts to around $45 per $400 round-trip ticket.

    And, if that wasn’t enough good news, the Internal Revenue Services says it’s also on board.  IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said in a statement late Monday:  “The IRS is committed to working with Delta and other airlines to ensure they can provide a smooth refund process for their passengers.” It also complimented Delta on its move to refund passengers.


    “Funding for the FAA expired on July 23,” Delta said in a statement announcing the refund. “At that time, Delta stopped collecting several taxes imposed on ticket sales, including a 7.5% tax on the base ticket price, a $3.70 segment tax and facilities taxes on international travel and travel to and from Alaska and Hawaii.” Spirit Airlines did not raise fares last week and passed on the tax savings to customers by lowering domestic non-stop fares by 7.5%.

    As Pay Dirt reported last week, rather than pass savings along to travelers, most U.S. airlines hiked fares over the weekend to make up the difference. They argued they were staying competitive with market prices – and each other. Consumer advocates thought it was a missed opportunity to show customers some love.

  • Jul 25, 2011
    4:11 PM ET

    Nickels & Dimes: Tax Holiday For Airlines, Not For You

    A government snafu has offered airlines a unique opportunity to earn consumers’ good will, generate some positive news coverage and boost ticket sales – but the airlines aren’t taking it, according to blog The Middle Seat Terminal.


    A Congressional stalemate over funding means that the government cannot currently collect taxes of around $45 on a $400 round-trip ticket. But rather than passing that savings along to travelers, the country’s major carriers actually raised fares over the weekend to make up the difference.

    American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, US Airways and jetBlue were first off the runway to raise prices on Friday night by at least 7.5% to keep the bottom-line ticket price unchanged, despite the tax-break. United, Delta and Continental followed suit Saturday night, while Frontier and Virgin America hiked prices on Sunday night, according to Tom Parsons, CEO of A spokesman for Virgin America says it will still pass on the tax discount on Mexico and Seattle fares to consumers. Spokespeople for the airlines say they need to remain competitive as other airlines raised their prices over the weekend. But not all carriers moved in lockstep: Alaska Airlines passed on the tax savings to customers.

About Pay Dirt

  • 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 or tweet @SMPayDirt.