Category Archives: TRANSPORTATION

Luggage at Last: Lessons learned

We finally received our luggage, five days after it never showed up at O’Hare Airport following Aer Lingus flights from Dublin and before that, Paris. Lessons learned:

  • Do not check luggage.
  • Do not put valuable stuff /things you care about in your checked luggage. Carry it on! This includes items such as: prescription glasses, prescription meds, almost completed diary, gifts for family, the right-foot sneaker — the left-foot sneaker was in my carryon bag.
  • If your checked luggage gets lost, keep bugging Aer Lingus (or whatever airline) for information (i.e. be a royal pain in the ass). We also posted our complaints on Twitter and Facebook with #AerLingus. The tweet got an AL response although who knows how much it helped. The FB post helped me find another good resource: The Aer Lingus Complaints Action Group on Facebook. Yes, there is one and people were very helpful, although it was a bit discouraging to read about people who had waits longer than ours.
  • Request “priority” or “expedited service” — I didn’t know if this existed but apparently it does, or it seemed to get a response. There were “priority” tags on our returned bags, as well as “rush” tags.
  • For Chicago area folks who lose luggage at O’Hare: Our baggage was finally delivered by Alpha-Tech Aviation Services.https://alphatechaviationsvcs.com/ This is good to know because AL told us it was Alpha Delivery Services, which it was not. The poor folks at Alpha Delivery Services, based in Kalamazoo, MI, were very kind – and sounded weary. They have gotten previous emails/calls from frantic people seeking their lost luggage and said AL has given out their number. (This is true. AL gave it to us too.)
  • I don’t know if this helped but I did try the pathetic route – mentioning that our luggage contained prescription meds and eyeglasses.
  • Don’t put cheese in your checked luggage…although ours was vacuumed packed and seemed to survive.

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Changes at the airport and in the air – international travel

Several airport and flight procedures have changed since I last traveled overseas, pre-pandemic, in 2019. (Fortunately there are no longer Covid protocols , for now at least. ) Here’s a few I noticed as a US citizen during our recent trip to London:

No more entry stamp in our US Passport for the UK: sadly, this is no more, thanks to today’s person-less immigration procedure (aka automatic epassport) involves interacting with a computerized machine, not a human. I don’t miss the sometimes hostile questions from the old human immigration officers, (how long you’re staying? when you are leaving?) But I still find it spooky to have to stand in front of a facial recognition machine, bleary-eyed after a long flight, to check while scanning my passport atop a screen — to check my identity by making sure my face matches my passport. Fingerprinting is also spooky…I watched some people, presumably not American citizens, doing this when entering the US.

King and Queen of the (Ludlow) castle (can you spot us way up top by the flag, waving?)

No more paper forms to fill out before (or after) landing: this includes the once-standard form for entering the UK, which required you to give the address where you are staying during your visit. Upon returning to the US, we actually conversed with an immigration officer in a booth who took our photos, looked at our passports and gave us a form to declare our purchases for customs, if need be. (No need.) In the past you needed to fill out a customs form and do so in the plane. Bn

Older, less perfect-looking or polished flight attendants – Not that there is anything wrong with this but our flight attendants this trip appeared to be in their 50s or 60s, and dressed more casually. One female attendant was full of good humor; another looked downright unhappy, like she hated her job…Or maybe passengers.

King and Queen of Ludlow Castle.#2

More passengers with carry-on luggage, although still plenty of overhead compartment space – We gave up a rare chance to check our bags free of charge and instead lugged our suitcases onto the plane in order to avoid our bags being lost amidst other checked luggage and/or to shorten our journey out of the airport.

We are easily spotted, mid-castle.

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Changing plane, train, ballet tickets due to Covid (or presumably due to another illness or issue): what I learned

I am very glad I opted (uncharacteristically) to pay $100 extra per ticket for our flights to London so we’d get “changeable” tickets. When my husband tested positive for Covid this week (He’s ok. Bad cold symptoms and initial high fever) it was five days before our flight to London. I discovered it was surprisingly easy to rebook our tickets, pushing our trip back a week (in case I get Covid. So far so good.). We even got $90 per ticket in travel credits. (Never would have guessed the cost would drop.)

London friends I can’t wait to see!

Meanwhile, rebooking our train travel was NOT easy. I couldn’t just change the dates of travel. I had to buy new tickets, which was very easy. Then I could apply for a refund, which was ridiculously difficult. No surprise that it was easy to spend more money but not to get money back. Shame on you, Great Western Railway! This was compounded by the announced rail strike days…with no service on 3 days of our trip. Grrrr.

On another cancellation front, after failing to find someone to give my Joffrey ballet tickets, hours before the performance, I looked closer at the fine print on the Joffrey website and learned that I could exchange them for a credit to use for a performance later in the season. I called the box office and voila! Now I can go to a performance through April 2023 (the current season).

Who we don’t want to see in London

Back to the airline situation: Our “ main cabin” tickets, I learned allow us to change them —- specifically to rebook the same trip and do it several times, if need be, without charge, beyond paying more (or less, as it happened) due to the new flight possibly costing more than the original one. Good to know and handy in case I develop Covid.

Google tells me: “The main difference between main cabin and basic economy is cost. For cheaper airfare and more money in your pocket, you trade flexibility for flight changes and/or cancellations, seat selection options and the ability to earn miles at a high rate. Love them or hate them, basic economy fares are here to stay.Apr 22, 2022”

I asked the American Airlines agent what would have happened if we had the cheaper “basic economy” ticket and she said we would not have been able to change/rebook the ticket. Or that’s what I understood her to say. Surely, I said, if someone is sick, especially with Covid, you don’t want them flying and would help them stay off the plane. She then said something to the effect that they could rebook once. (Not sure about the other particulars ex: change fee? Paying the possible difference in fares? Etc.)

Last January, when I decided not to go to a gathering in Atlanta, due to a Covid spike, Delta gave me travel credits with my basic economy tix (or some such), which I am using for thanksgiving flights to NY. But that was cancellation not rebooking flights.

The fine print on the American website specifies the policy for a variety of what I loosely called “changes” and the varying options, depending on the ticket type/cost. Another variable: the airline you choose. For an American Airlines basic economy ticket for example: if you cancel a trip, you can’t exchange the ticket or get a refund. But if you need to rebook the trip, you can sort of. The process/options are more “restrictive” than higher priced tickets. (The fine print doesn’t mention the possible option of getting travel credits if you cancel.)

Moral of story: ASK what is available and politely but firmly stick up for yourself. Play the pity card if need be. Or appeal to the airline to be reasonable, although this doesn’t always work.

I still have not forgiven American for screwing up my daughter’s (expensive, albeit “basic economy”) flights to a family wedding in New Mexico in early June. They cancelled her flights (for non-mechanical, non-weather reasons! It was due to their staff shortage) and then gave her awful options for other flights. She came close to missing the wedding. And the changes added even more stress to the trip. I was particularly incensed that they would not give her an available seat that was a decent alternative because it was a much higher fare seat. She’d have to pay considerably more.

American has improved its customer service, although I don’t doubt my latest experience had to do partly with having a higher fare ticket. I braced myself for a long wait on the phone for an agent (several hours in the recent past with an airline) but got a call back in a matter of minutes and the agent was efficient and accommodating (again, perhaps in part because I had a pricier, more flexible ticket but still…)

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Filed under airfare, airline fees, Airlines, England and U.K., London, Uncategorized

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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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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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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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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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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