Why new United should have domestic business — not first — class

One of the big questions of the United-Continental merger is whether the domestic premium cabin will be sold as first class, as is currently the case with United, or business class, which is what Continental does. For customers’ sake, that cabin should be sold as business class.

This is not just about a name — it affects booking classes and flight inventory, and the present discrepancies between domestic and international flights can be very confusing for passengers, and sometimes even for agents. The domestic first-class designation is a tradition started decades ago, when all commercial planes had two cabins of service. But then along came business class, and the major network carriers ended up with three cabins on international flights…

U.S. ESTA trouble for SAS passengers

It has been more than seven months since the new U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) has been mandatory for airlines that fly citizens of visa-waiver countries to the United States. Yet some carriers’ computer systems are reportedly experiencing serious problems, resulting in denied boarding for travelers with valid ESTAs.

Last week, I received a disturbing e-mail message from an Austrian citizen who had read my previous coverage of ESTA issues. On July 5, she wasn’t allowed on a Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flight from Stockholm to Chicago, for which the carrier blamed problems with the passenger’s ESTA…

Clarifying United’s StarNet blocking

Readers’ interest in United Airlines’ practice of massively blocking award seats otherwise made available for mileage redemption by United’s partners in the global Star Alliance doesn’t seem to subside, judging by the feedback I get and the web traffic on this site’s pages dedicated to the issue. So it’s time to clarify some misconceptions about the infamous StarNet blocking.

Earlier this week, I received a complaint from Norma Brandsberg, a reader from Virginia, that United is “blocking an award through Continental” Airlines. “United’s own site is showing availability,” but “Continental is not seeing the open seats in their system,” she wrote…

9/11 pilot scholarship plans expansion

Captain Dennis Flanagan, the United Airlines pilot I profiled last year, just reminded me about the upcoming anniversary of the September 11 attacks and the scholarship fund in the name of his former colleague, Captain Jason Dahl, who was at the controls of United Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.

The charity, whose official name is the Captain Jason Dahl Scholarship Fund, was established soon after the pilot’s death by his wife Sandy. Each year, two aviation students — one at Dahl’s Alma Mater, San Jose State University, and one at Metro State University in Denver, where Dahl lived — are awarded $5,000 grants. There have been 16 recipients so far…

Talking air travel for an hour on NPR

Air travel is one of those topics that no radio or TV show can go wrong with — it’s certain to touch a nerve with many people and provoke numerous comments and questions. That’s what happened yesterday on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show, which I was on for the first time.

I always thought the reason to be invited would be to talk about foreign policy on the Friday news roundup, where Diane has three Washington journalists discussing issues from the passing week. That never happened, but a couple of weeks ago I suggested to one of the show’s producers that the summer is a good time for a program on travel…

Mexicana embarrasses Oneworld alliance

Global airline alliances are a relatively new concept, and the three existing ones have naturally had to create their own rules. This week’s Mexicana Airlines decision to suspend ticket sales raised serious questions about Oneworld rules and requirements.

Why did the alliance insist publicly that all was fine at Mexicana just a day before the announcement? Did the carrier fail to give Oneworld a proper warning? On Tuesday, Mexicana filed for insolvency proceedings in Mexico and bankruptcy protection in the United States. That same day, Oneworld spokesman Michael Blunt issued a press release, assuring travelers that the Mexicana’s position in the alliance was “unaffected” by the developments…

United, Continental execs at odds over loyalty program

The management teams of United Airlines and Continental Airlines have never seen eye to eye when it comes to customer loyalty, and that seems to be causing trouble during their merger preparations. My inside sources tell me that Continental executives don’t quite understand United’s big emphasis on loyalty in recent years.

It also appears that Jeff Foland, who last week was named head of the combined carrier’s frequent-flier program, Mileage Plus, will have a tough job selling United’s current philosophy to his new bosses in the Continental team, which will run the company once the merger is completed, most likely around year’s end…