American tries to entice top United fliers

American Airlines has finally decided to take advantage of the problems many United Airlines fliers have experienced since the merger with Continental Airlines was completed on March 3. In an extremely rare move, American is now offering conditions-free top-elite status match to United’s most loyal customers.

Having read and heard about many United customers’ troubles after the carrier adopted Continental’s reservations system — and having encountered some problems myself — I e-mailed American spokesman Tim Smith on March 16. Smith has been the best PR person to deal with at any airline since I started writing my column in the Washington Times in 2008. I asked him whether American had any intention of capitalizing on United customers’ dissatisfaction by stealing some of them away through a status-match offer…

Rare airport luxury, almost wasted

Turkish Airlines has built an impressive business lounge at its hub is Istanbul, with the best sleeping rooms I’ve seen anywhere in the world, including in First Class lounges. The best, that is, until you try to sleep — unless you don’t mind loud noise that even Bose headphones on top of earplugs can’t block out.

As I’ve written before, Turkish has made significant progress in recent years toward becoming a world-class carrier, but it’s still a long way from being anywhere close to the top. It rushes to do something it deems top-notch but doesn’t really think it through — and for high-end customers, a little glitz doesn’t sparkle brightly enough if the entire experience is inconsistent and unpredictable…

Diplomats decry new United pet policy

Nearly 3,000 U.S. diplomats have urged United Airlines to extend to them a waiver from its more expensive and “unfriendly” new pet travel policy that the carrier has granted the military, the diplomats’ union said. While it took United just days to exempt the military, it has been mulling the State Department’s request for weeks.

The biggest hurdle appears to be the lack of understanding by United’s management — as is the case with most people — what the Foreign Service does, and why diplomats’ service to their country is no less important than the military’s. That’s exactly why — long before this issue arose — I decided to write my upcoming book “America’s Other Army“…

Did United choose the best rez system?

The decision by United Airlines’ management to use Continental’s Shares reservations system for the merged carrier has been causing serious problems since its implementation last weekend. So the news that the airline is working on a new version of its IT platform, integrating some of the features of the pre-merger United’s Apollo system, is very welcome, indeed.

It was hardly surprising that CEO Jeff Smisek and his team chose to keep Shares, given that most policies and practices of the combined carrier have followed the way Continental did business under Smisek. But in this case, the decision made good financial sense — Continental has owned Shares for years, while United paid Travelport, the company that owns Apollo…

Round the world in a week, without pain

How do you make sure a whirlwind trip round the world in just a week doesn’t wear you out and affect your productivity? Things went surprisingly well for me last week, as I flew from Washington to Munich to Paris to Bangkok to Islamabad, back to Bangkok, on to Seoul and back to Washington, so I thought I’d share the experience.

The first thing I have to say is that I don’t drink coffee or take sleeping pills. My only medicine when it comes to air travel is securing the best comfort and luxury I can — I need my flat beds, gourmet meals, lounges with showers, and sometimes even chauffeur-driven cars to connecting flights. I certainly can’t pay for them, but we’ll come to that momentarily…

Rethinking government air travel costs

It’s no secret that the U.S. government wastes huge amounts of money on airfare, and that waste has been institutionalized. So it’s hardly a surprise that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has done the same, as an Associated Press story pointed out yesterday.

The reason for the story was the apparent discrepancy between Paul’s crusade against excessive government spending and his own spending. But while he did waste taxpayers’ money, he didn’t break any rules. So perhaps it’s time for the rules to change. Government employees are usually required to buy full-fare tickets — meaning Y or B booking class — when traveling on business. The main reason for that is to have the flexibility to change and cancel those tickets for free…

DOT keeps false ‘each-way’ airfare ads

The media was full of stories last week about the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) requirement that advertised airfares include all taxes and fees, which goes into effect Jan. 26. But most stories missed the detail that promoting each-way fares “based on a required round-trip purchase” will still be allowed.

This means that a $220 fare you see advertised may not be the actual final price, after all — despite DOT’s much trumpeted pursuit of transparency and consumer protection. In its ruling last April that finalized the new requirements, it only demanded that the fine print be more prominent. “The department is codifying existing enforcement policy, allowing sellers of air transportation to advertise an each-way price that is contingent on a round-trip ticket purchase, so long as the round-trip purchase requirement is clearly and conspicuously disclosed in a location that is prominent and proximate to the advertised fare,” the final ruling said…

Fighting airlines’ attempts to overcharge

How do you know that an airline agent is trying to charge you much more than necessary to change a ticket? Two agents attempted that on me just yesterday, but they quickly realized they were messing with the wrong guy and retreated from their positions. The difference was thousands of dollars.

In my book, I explain why it helps to know what exactly you want before calling an airline, and more importantly, to know the outcome of an agent’s actions. I never trust agents to tell me how much I need to pay for anything — I call them simply to accomplish something I can’t do online. A couple of months ago, I issued a Business Class ticket for a client who flew the outbound portion but had to cancel the return. I called the airline to take him off that flight and said I wasn’t ready to rebook yet but would call back when I was…

FareCompare guts airfare search tools

The owners of FareCompare.com have apparently decided to destroy what used to be one of the most useful websites for consumer travel. Its best features were removed last weekend, and many of the remaining ones are not working properly. Talk about fixing something that wasn’t broken.

For a couple of years, FareCompare has been talking about catering more to the airline industry than consumers, proposing a system to track mistake fares and alert carriers, so they can correct them. The company has also stepped up advertising — both on the site and in e-mail messages. Could it be that it feels pressure to make it more difficult for consumers to find better deals and spend less money on air travel?…

Airlines still think customers are stupid

While most U.S. airlines have learned to be relatively honest with their best customers, many of their foreign peers have not yet realized that travelers are not as stupid as to fall for their PR spin and questionable practices.

It’s time for those carriers to wake up to the fact that it’s the end of 2011, and much in the airline industry is rather transparent to those of us who pay attention. Trying to persuade customers that bad news is actually good may be an essential PR trick, but in today’s hyper-connected world, it’s not hard to figure out someone’s true intentions. Among the airlines still using the old playbook is British Airways, which is surprising for such a major and quite good global carrier…