Category Archives: TRANSPORTATION

It takes a pandemic to get airlines to be reasonable…and finally drop charging change fees

It’s about time these airlines finally do what southwest has done for years. Now let’s get rid of checked baggage fees!!

Business updates: Delta and American follow United in permanently dropping some change fees.
https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/08/31/business/stock-market-today-coronavirus?referringSource=articleShare
Sent from my iPad

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Filed under airline fees, Airlines, Uncategorized

More on flight refunds – don’t settle for less….

If you discover that the airline’s refund is less than you paid for your ticket — as I did, specifically $68 less for my ticket, $50 less for my husband’s ticket – here are words to the wise:  Call again and ask what’s up. I did and found out that the shortfall equaled the cost of choosing seats, which is deemed “an additional purchase.” It is also refundable but the refund must be done separately from the rest of the ticket. It’s not clear if an additional refund REQUEST is required, i.e. if I would have been refunded for this additional purchase had I NOT called the airline.

Don’t settle for less.

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Filed under Airlines, flying

How to get a pandemic-era refund for a flight to Europe — or the many other places Americans can’t travel right now …

My advice: Call the airline (if you booked via the airline) and make your case. Don’t do via an emailed refund request. (My request was denied via the United website  ) But when I called the airline, I was granted a refund surprisingly quickly.

More details: we bought direct tickets from United  last April for an early September flight from Chicago to Paris for $450 each  — knowing  we might not be able to go due to the coronavirus situation – a situation we had no idea would get  THIS BAD). We  bought the tickets because they were ridiculously cheap, we had long-established plans (a house booked with friends in Burgundy, sigh) and we could cancel or change with no fee and get compensation, whether a credit or refund.

Our flights were soon changed by United from direct to connecting via Newark and our outbound flight leaving at 2 p.m. rather than the original  6 p.m.  — both grounds, I thought, for a refund. (We also assume the flights will eventually be cancelled.) We prefer a refund rather than credit, which according to United must be used to book a new flight  “within a year of the original ticket issue date.”  I think that means we have to book the flight by April 2021 but we don’t have to fly by April 2021.  Also I’m assuming we can fly anywhere and are not locked into our original destination. Regardless, we now question whether we’ll be able to fly at all next year – and if so, when.  So just give us our money back, please! e

United’s “Cancel Bot” informed me I could ‘submit a request” for a refund if my flight “wasn’t rebooked within two hours of (the) original departure time.” But I learned that “submit a request” doesn’t automatically mean “receive a request.”  Two weeks later, an email from the “refund desk” denied my submitted request.   But when I called United ( 1-800-UNITED1 ), I barely had to make my case. The agent said I was eligible for a refund for the reasons I presented in the email request. Of course ,I’m sad we can’t go….but relieved to get the refund. We’ll go as soon as we can…and maybe even fly United, since it was reasonable, after all, about all this.

 

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Flying during a possible pandemic

I have flown three times during the past 10 days (Feb 29-March 9) of the coronavirus situation (Des Moines to San Francisco via Vegas on Southwest; San Francisco to Burbank on Southwest; Burbank to DSM via Salt Lake City on Delta) and here’s what I noticed:

– A few people wearing masks, not many.

– A few people wiping their seating area with wet wipes and their hands with hand sanitizer. (Me included by flying day #2 when I found unopened wipes in my travel bag that I bought last fall in Vietnam. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been doing…I couldn’t find wipes in San Francisco or Burbank. We found hand sanitizer only after we asked a shop keeper in San Francisco who let us know he had a secret stash behind the counter. “One per family,” he said. Which seemed wise.)

– Not many people are using their tray tables or tucking things into their seat pocket. I predict a (further?) decline in readership of the in-flight mag, not to mention the safety brochure. One woman I saw using her tray table for her laptop was wearing a mask. Huh?

– My delta flight today (March 9) was delayed for cleaning but only a few minutes (and I welcomed the cleaning.) Southwest attendants wore gloves. But my delta flight attendant didn’t wear gloves while serving but did when picking up empty cups. (But she was very pleasant and offered a wider snack selection including granola bars than the other flights.)

– The occasional sneeze or cough (including by me…allergies. Really!) is more noticeable and noticed.

– My second flight had lots of empty seats. We all took our own aisles and window seats. (Maybe we read the same article saying that window seats exposure you to less germs.) Pleasant surprise for this aisle-flyer: it was fun looking out the window.

– Other flights, including the one I am on now, seem almost full (although I have no neighbor.) Maybe more people would cancel if the airlines (other than always reasonable Southwest) extended their Covid-9-inspired, no-charge-for-changes policy so it includes flights right now (not just those purchased between now and March 31. Thx guys but you could do better. Your self- interest is showing.)

– people are calm and pleasant. Not sure I would know anything was different if I didn’t read the news.

– I noticed new signs (I think) in the bathroom in Des Moines (some that could use copy editing) asking “travellers” (yes, misspelled) to wash their hands.

– I also found myself not holding onto the railing on the escalator, to avoid germs and making use of sanitizer stations.

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Filed under California, flying

Adventures (I’d rather not have) on American Airlines but they did try to remedy

We didn’t have much luck with our flights to and fro on American Airlines between Austin-Des Moines. Our outbound flight was cancelled due to weather. That was somewhat expected. Our return flight was cancelled just as boarding began — due to mechanical problems. Which meant we had to stay overnight in Dallas. Not fun.

I get that planes sometimes have mechanical problems (although two flights in a row from Austin-Dallas had mechanical problems on the night we were traveling). My issue is more with the “customer service” reps whose mercy you are at. The reservation agent I got on the phone was snippy and not the least bit sympathetic. The gate counter agent in Austin was kinder. (She assured me that yes, we’d get a voucher to stay at a hotel once we got to Dallas at 9:30 p.m. The reservation agent on the phone made no such guarantee).

In Dallas, at the “customer service counter” I had a really nasty guy. He asked if I had my boarding passes for the next flight. I replied “yes.” Then he said “You told me ‘no.'” Then I countered “No, I told you ‘yes.'”

It was downhill from there. He booked us at a hotel for the night and gave us a voucher. It was 10:30 p.m. and the airport was shutting down. When I asked how we got to the hotel, he mentioned a shuttle. Where do we pick up the shuttle?  He wasn’t sure. The agent next to him chastised him and told him to call the hotel and arrange the shuttle and pickup spot for us, which he did begrudgingly. He also gave the shuttle driver our cell number. I asked how long it would take for the shuttle to arrive? He said 20 minutes.

Outside the terminal, in a dim garage area that I wouldn’t have enjoyed waiting in on my own (one poor older woman was waiting solo and she looked nervous), 20 minutes came and went. I called the “Country Inn.” The shuttle was coming, I was told.  Another 15 minutes came and went. By this time several other people were waiting. I called the hotel back. Oh, the woman at the hotel desk said, “the shuttle driver went home for the night. He couldn’t find you.” GRRRRR….It was now almost 11:30 p.m. We ended up getting an Uber with a young guy who was supposed to be in Florida early the next morning because his dad was having open heart surgery.  The next morning, we took an Uber — we missed the shuttle driver again.

I did get an email from American two days later, apologizing for the flight mishap and giving me 5,000 miles on my frequent flier account. Thanks. I emailed my account of  what followed the flight cancellation. Surely they can do better. They agreed, responding promptly with a personal email that included another apology and 5,000 additional flight miles. That was a pleasant surprise and made me feel they were listening. Maybe others won’t have the same bad experience…

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Aggravation with plane tix to Vietnam and Cambodia

Hoping this is not a bad sign but man, it’s been tough getting plane tix for our trip next month to Vietnam. I was braced for issues with smaller airlines like Cambodia Angkor Air and Vietnam Airlines but not with Delta. Issues all around unfortunately.

Here’s some words to the wise:

Be patient (or have someone nearby to calm you down)

After booking online, copy whatever info (including confirmation #) pops up on the screen – because you might not get the email confirmation or tix you were promised.

Don’t trust – instead verify. For example, if Delta books you on Vietnam Airlines for the third flight of your 24-hour journey, check with Vietnam airlines to see it can give you a seat assignment – since Delta says it couldn’t do- and better yet see if they’re aware you are on their flight! (They weren’t.)

If something doesn’t seem right, it may not be right . So, for example, call back Delta  if the flight it booked you on via Vietnam Airlines doesn’t seem familiar to Vietnam Airlines.  Demand a fix! Ask for a supervisor if need be.

Be persistent. Keep holding on the line for a Korean Airline agent to pick up, even if you have to listen to excruciatingly bad tinny muzak. Someone will finally pick up. And if that agent tells you that — contrary to what Delta just told you —  they can’t assign you a seat on the Korean Air flight that Delta booked you on, call back Delta — and find another agent who WILL give you a seat assignment. (At least on one of your two Korean Air flights…)

Look in your Junk Mail/Spam – You must might find that missing e-ticket from Cambodia Angkor Air. (we did!)

Be polite. I can’t say I always managed this. But I tried.

Here’s more of the gory details:

With Delta, first they charged us twice for our tickets (once was enough) and it took me more time than it should have on the phone to confirm this and get one of the charges dropped. Then the third leg of my flight — with Vietnam Airlines, booked via Delta, got dodgy. I tried emailing the airlines to get seats and they couldn’t even acknowledge our reservation and said Delta needs to give me a Vietnam Airlines confirmation #. So back to Delta for the code (why didn’t they give it to me to begin with??) but even that didn’t work with Vietnam Airlines. So back to Delta – where I learned that our one confirmation number (for two passengers) is now two separate confirmation numbers, which is inconvenient and even Delta couldn’t explain why/how this happened — and couldn’t change it.  Back to the Vietnam Air issue,  I asked for a supervisor after the regular agent couldn’t deal. Next we were rerouted so we are now flying on Korean Airlines on the third leg. But getting seats — still not easy. Delta told me to contact Korean Airlines, which finally answered the phone and told me we were only eligible (due to the type of fare we purchased) for advance seat assignments on our outbound flight. But we have to call Delta back to get them. And miracle of miracles, after holding skeptically while the Delta agent did her thing, we did get those seat assignments. So I’m marking that off my list.

I still think it’s WRONG that U.S. airlines gladly sell us tickets on other airlines but then provide almost no help with seat assignments.  I am glad that I tried to get seat assignments on Vietnam Air because I ended up learning that they didn’t seem aware that we were on this flight. That was my fear to begin with — that we’d spend hours and hours flying from Des Moines to Minneapolis to Tokyo, only to find out the last leg of our flight to Hanoi was a no go.

Meanwhile there’s Cambodia Angkor Air, which I should have read up on more before I booked a ticket (it gets horrible reviews). I bought a tix from them for a flight from Vietnam to Cambodia on Sept. 1 and never got any email acknowledgement. I’m glad I at least copied the information that popped up on the computer screen after I booked the flight so I have some confirmation but the confirmation number seems to mean nothing. I looked online and I was supposed to get an e-tix within 24 hours of purchase. Five days have passed and no e-tix. We did check to see that the charge cleared on our credit card bill — but only yesterday so maybe that’s the issue. Reaching them seems nearly impossible – no phone. Dodgy email.

Also, on a few flights jointly operated by Cambodia Angkor Air and Vietnam Air, buying the ticket from Cambodia Air was much cheaper — why? Although more expensive, I ended up buying the Vietnam Air ticket because I’ve heard this airline is more reliable and I want to make sure we get back to Vietnam a few days before our flight home.

I’ve planned other challenging trips — to Peru, Japan, Panama – but this one seems to take the cake. That said, I’m very excited for the trip.

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Filed under Airlines, Cambodia, flying, Vietnam

Hectic trip home on Southwest from LA

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Not in LA anymore

At 5 a.m. we got a text from Southwest telling us that our flight home was cancelled. At first I thought it was our Las Vegas-Des Moines flight, due to snow. But it turned out to be our Burbank-Las Vegas flight — no snow but instead due to labor unrest with the mechanics union, a bunch of flights were cancelled. argh.

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Ditto

We ended up getting a flight from LAX which involved considerable hustle and hassle to get there (a much long Uber ride at 6 a.m.) but we made our close connection without a hitch, thanks in part to a nearly 1/2 hour early arrival. Phew! One trick I learned: I could NOT use the Southwest website to find an alternative flight. It didn’t work. At first I called and pressed the number for the “change existing flight reservation” (or some such)…and the wait for a callback was 55 minutes. So we called back and pressed the number for “make a new reservation” — miraculously, that was an 8 minute wait. (Why help existing customers when you can get new paying customers, right?) As it turns out we didn’t really have 55 minutes to spare because we had to hightail it to LAX for our alternative flight. Live and learn. Bit disappointed in Southwest, which I’ve long flown and liked.

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Filed under Airlines, California, flying, Los Angeles

About those “basic economy” Plane fares….buyer beware!

Yet another way for airlines to nickle and dime us: the “Basic Economy” fare. It means different things depending upon the airline. United’s basic economy does not allow you to stow a bag in overhead (let alone check a bag) so you’ve got to pack very lightly.  Dirck tried this out during a recent trip to Albuquerque (where he was staying with relatives so he could borrow clothes, if need be. Plus   it was only a long weekend trip.) He did have to check in at the counter — he couldn’t get his seat assignments or boarding passes in advance online. And he got closely scrutinized by the counter person who seemed to think he was going to try to smuggle on a bag to go in the overhead. Meanwhile the ticket fare was by no means cheap (about $340) and both of his planes traveling to ABQ were delayed due to mechanical problems so he lost half a day of his trip. Thanks United.

I opted for American’s Basic Economy fare during a recent trip to New Orleans after I read the fine print and found out that I could bring a bag to stash overhead. The fare (a reasonable $240) was about $70 cheaper than the Economy fare, I think. I ended up buying advance seat assignments on both flights for about $9 per flight (two flights each way).  I was in the last group to board, regardless — in the ominous-sounding “Group 9,” which wasn’t that big an issue except when it comes to finding overhead space to put a bag. I didn’t have this issue because Dirck had an Economy ticket (that his employer paid for) and had checked his bag  so he took mine when he boarded with Group 6.

One irritating thing did happen when I tried to buy seat assignments on the way home.  I went online, picked out a specific seat for each of my two flights at a specific price. But instead of giving me the seat I chose for the first flight (an aisle seat toward the front of the plane, so I could get out faster and make my connection) the automated system gave me a seat I never would have purchased (a middle seat way in the back).  I was charged $16, rather than $18 for the two seat assignments. And there was no recourse. I tried calling the airline but they said I’d have to wait until I got to the airport and switch — which I did but the seat I originally selected was no longer available. I did switch to an aisle seat but way back in the plane. It’s a cockamamie system — as I complained to the American ticket agent, it would be like buying a specific book from Amazon and Amazon ending me a different book, at a different price, with no option to correct my order. Consumer be damned….

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Filed under airfare, Airlines, flying

Bad deal on United Airlines – avoid flying the airline from DSM to ABQ

It was bad enough that my husband had to pay $350 for a flight from Des Moines to Albuquerque on United — this is the bare bones fare, non-holiday, no pre-assigned seat, no overhead luggage storage.

To add insult to injury, it took 12 hours for him to get to his destination — way more than planned – because both of his flights were delayed by mechanical problems.  He arrived in Denver two minutes before his connecting flight was due to take off and ran to the gate, just as the door closed. He got to know the Denver airport far more than he wanted.

The weather, of course, was perfect for flying. He’s had trouble before with United. Let this be a reminder to us – – and a warning to you, dear reader – -not to fly this route with United again.

I should add that my husband’s return trip went without a hitch. But it seems like he has trouble with the departure or return every time he flies this route with United.

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Filed under Airlines, Albuquerque, flying, New Mexico, Uncategorized

Hanging out at Gatwick – London (sort of)

Playing post-vacation catch up:

It’s tempting to jump on a train and visit my beloved London during this 7 hour layover but a number of things are holding me back, including my arm, which doesn’t hurt but slows me down. “Been through the war?” the immigration woman said to me with uncharacteristic humor.

Fact is, I’d have only 3 hours max before I need to head back to the airport for check in. And protests are expected in London because Trump is visiting. (I just avoided him in Helsinki, where he and Putin are summitting in a few days.)

I wasn’t planning to go through immigration here but my Norwegian Air representative recommended this, even if I don’t go out of the airport because apparently it offers more comfortable options for waiting around than departures. Good to know for future reference.

I slept a bit last night but was up by 3:30 a.m. to watch my cell alarm go off at 4. My Airbnb host Annamari was sleeping on the living room couch (I had her room) but got up to give me a hug goodbye. It was kind of an odd Airbnb arrangement but she was sweet and the price was good ($70 a night). The 11 minute walk to the bus was easy and because it was almost full daylight I didn’t feel spooked dragging my suitcase through neighborhood streets at night. Oddly, I had to pay with cash (5.50 euros) which is the opposite of other Scandinavian countries that have become almost cashless.

Kallio Airbnb

As I pulled my suitcase through the outskirts of Kallio, several young people were out and about, at a karaoke bar and the McDonald’s. The airport bus was packed at 4:30 am but Helsinki airport was very quiet at 5:15 am. My first flight was easy and not too uncomfortable. I think I slept. Next one could be a bear.

Airbnb room

But hey, just found some reclining lounge chairs here, looking down through the glass at people checking in for flood flights. Feels almost like a day at the beach except there is no sun or sea or beach and a baby is wailing nearby. And three security guards just passed by with a sniffing dog.

P.S. As it turned out, my flight to  Chicago was delayed two hours because the pilot was missing. not a promising sign.  He did eventually show and we flew on without incident. Forgot what a pit Gatwick is. Chicago Midway looked bright and shiny by comparison the next day.

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Filed under airport/flight safety, England and U.K., Scandinavia