Monthly Archives: June 2004

Why Can’t You Change Your Ticket

I haven’t decided if I’ll make this a regular feature or not, but today I’ll address a question that everyone asks me: Why can’t I change my airline ticket?

You can change your hotel reservation until 6pm, you can change your car rental reservation, you can change your train ticket, but God forbid you want to change your flight…

So, why do airlines give you (and me) such a hard time about changing tickets? (In fact, I just got off the phone with United, who told me that I could not change my free ticket to leave 12 hours earlier. I hate that.) In any case, here’s the reason (and you’re not going to like it): Airlines see your ticket as a contract to get you from here to there on a given set of flights (this is why they hate hidden cities and back-to-back ticketing, and all of the other little tricks to save money). They aren’t required to change that contract just so you can fly a day earlier. They believe, frustratingly, that they are selling you a seat, not a reservation, just as tickets to a Broadway show gets you a seat on a given day, not simply entrance to the theatre.

Of course, the frustrating part is that if they cancel your flight at the last minute and book you on a different flight, they don’t have to compensate you. But the long and the short of it is this: unless you’re flying on a low-fare carrier, who understand that changing a flight is part of traveling, you’re gonna pay.

AirTran Upgrades Its Rewards Program

AirTran announced changes to its frequent flier program, making it quite similar to Southwest’s program. Free tickets are based on the number of flights taken, with 32 flights in a single year leading to a free domestic ticket. The big news is that if you take 100 flights (50 round trips) in a 12 month period, you will receive a free coach ticket anywhere in the world. But, you’re saying to yourself right now, AirTran doesn’t fly anywhere good. There is the twist, my friend. AirTran will purchase your ticket to Botswana. Or wherever. Of course, if you fly 100 AirTran flights a year, do you really want a coach seat to Botswana? In any case, it’s an interesting twist.

Southwest Gets Sued

Southwest Airlines has been sued by two people who claim they were refused boarding because they were too fat. The two travelers, who are, the lawsuit admits, “morbidly obese,” were told they would each have to purchase a second seat. The lawsuit continues that the pair were humiliated when this discussion took place in front of other passengers.

KLM Goes with Net Fares

As you likely know, airlines give essentially the same fares to all distribution points, and pay commissions and/or overrides to those fares to travel agencies (in some cases). In Europe, that is beginning to change. Led by a similar move by SAS, KLM is changing to a so-called net fare system in the Netherlands and Scandanavia. A net fare means that KLM does not pay a commission; rather, it subtracts the commission from the fare it gives to a travel agent, allowing the travel agency to mark up the fare whatever it wants. KLM also will charge consumers who buy directly from the airline a fee based on where they make the purchase ($12 for a web booking, up to $55 for an offline booking).

This changes the airline ticket model from a commission-based approach to a wholesale approach, giving distributors more flexibility to compete (or charge whatever service fees they’d like). It’s a significant change, and a way to appease distributors who are getting tired of shrinking commissions.

(editor’s note: Yes, I know, it’s not the funniest or wackiest story in the world, but it’s a new way of doing business and I thought I’d make you choke down your metaphoric brussel sprouts this morning. Carry on.)

Air New Zealand Upgrades Its Cabins

Good news for anyone flying Air New Zealand starting the second half of 2005: The airline is upgrading the cabins in its long-haul fleet. First class cabins will be eliminated and replaced with an upgraded business class featuring lie-flat beds licensed from Virgin Atlantic (which has amazing beds). A premium economy section will be added with 40″ of pitch, and economy will be upgraded to 34″ of pitch (most carriers have 31″-32″ of pitch, a measure of legroom). All seats will have on-demand video systems with nearly 800 hours of entertainment.

In other news, Northwest Airlines continues to fly 747s that have projected movies and 31″ of pitch. Hm, why can’t the US carriers compete?

Hawaiian Airlines Pilot Gets Mad

A pilot for bankrupt Hawaiian Airlines was so angry that the trustee overseeing the carrier’s bankruptcy was on his flight, that he kicked the guy off his flight from Honolulu to San Francisco. The trustee, Joshua Gotbaum, has apparently made some decisions that angered Hawaiian’s pilots.

“The pilot informed Mr. Gotbaum that he wasn’t comfortable having him on the plane,” according to a spokesperson.

US Denied United, For the Last Time

The US has denied United’s request for $1.1 billion in corporate welfare, er, government-backed loans, saying, “The board concluded that granting the loan guarantee is not a necessary part of maintaining a safe, efficient, and viable commercial aviation system in the United States.” The board told United that it will not be permitted to apply again. A sad day for United’s employees, a good day for a free economy.

Follow Up on New Cuba Restrictions

A follow up to the story last week about the new rules restricting visits to Cuba by Cuban-Americans to once every three years. Part of the rules required Cuban-Americans visiting the country to return by the end of June. However, the US government has now given a reprieve to these folks by extending the deadline for returning to the US until July 31. Charter flight operators said that there was no way they could contact all of their passengers in Cuba by the end of June. Well, it looks like Castro’s government will stay in power yet another month.

Airport Security Does Its Job

Since we frequently hear stories about the supposed inept security staff at US airports, I wanted to let you know that, in fact, they do occasionally stop bad guys. On Friday, security screeners at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California (SNA), arrested a man who tried to carry a gun and a 6-inch knife on board a flight bound for Washington, DC. The man did not have a criminal background, nor was he on any of the terrorist lists. In any case, the screeners did manage to spot the proverbial needle in the haystack. For all the grief the screeners get, think about what a miserable, difficult job it would be to look at x-rays of hundreds of bags, hour after hour, knowing that there is nothing abnormal about virtually all of them. Blech.

You’re Not Flying to Cameroon Today

Are you flying today? Does your ticket say Younda? Or Douala? Or someplace else in Cameroon? Well, I may have some bad news for you. Cameroon’s national airline, CAMAIR (though the story also refers to it as Cameroon Airlines) has skipped payments on 3 of its 5 aircraft (a 767 and two 757s), stranding hundreds of passengers. Most of the cancelled flights were domestic or regional, but one flight to Paris has also been cut out.