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…

U.S. fares now filed four times a day

North American airfares are now published four times a day during the week, after the Airline Tariff Publishing Company (ATPCO) added earlier this month a filing feed at 4 p.m. Eastern time to the already-existing feeds at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.

This means that, at any of those times, a certain fare can be put on the market, changed or pulled off the market. It also means that a fare’s entire lifespan can be as short as three hours. The 4 p.m. feed had been planned for months, as I wrote in my book “Decoding Air Travel.” Although the airlines update their data 24 hours a day, ATPCO sends that data out to Global Distribution Systems (GDS), which are used by airlines and travel agencies to book flights, four times a day during the week. On weekends, there is only one feed at 5 p.m. ET…

Consider options before giving up seat

Volunteering to get bumped from a flight is an issue often raised by participants in the events on my book tour. As is the case with most situations I discuss in “Decoding Air Travel,” I advice travelers to think carefully before giving up their seat and examine the alternative ways to get to their destination — and to know exactly what they would get in exchange.

U.S. airlines, which overbook flights all the time, offer discount vouchers valued at as much as $400 for bumps on domestic flights, and up to $800 on international flights. Those certificates are very tempting and can save you lots of money. In fact, many travelers take certain trips only because they have vouchers to use. However, unless you are familiar with alternative flights that will get you to your destination, you may be asking for trouble…

How much slack do the airlines deserve?

The 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks this week reminded me of how much can go wrong in the airline industry to no fault of its own. Despite everything outside the airlines’ control, there are many reasons to criticize their performance. But how much slack should we cut them?

I’ve written several times about the increased scrutiny of the airlines by both the media and the public, compared to other industries, simply because of the nature of their business. A commercial carrier has more front-line employees than almost any other company, and it’s easier to complain about a person we see in front of us than about an invisible — and sometimes anonymous — representative…

Is the travel-agency model sustainable?

When was the last time you used a travel agent? I asked that question in my book “Decoding Air Travel.” Last month, President Obama asked it, too, and the American Society of Travel Agents speedily protested. So let’s examine the modern — or perhaps not modern enough — travel-agency system and the value it brings.

Many young people don’t even remember the time when using a travel agent was the only practical way to book a trip. While many consumers today book their own travel, using travel agencies is still quite prevalent in the corporate world. However, many business travelers I know are unhappy with their company’s travel agency. It’s clear the current system isn’t working well anymore for a variety of reasons. Without taking sides, let’s look at those reasons from the perspective of travel agencies and their customers…

United steps up fake ‘direct’ flights

United Airlines, already one of the biggest abusers of fake “direct” flights before its merger with Continental, has increased further the number of those flights in its schedule. Its oddest decision was to introduce fictitious “direct” flights, which consist of two or more segments with nothing in common but their number, between its hubs.

If you are shopping for a ticket from Chicago (ORD) to Denver (DEN), be very careful which flight you book. In addition to 10 daily nonstops with flying time of about 2 hours, United currently has three “direct” flights on that route, but they make a “stop” in Minneapolis (MSP), Des Moines, Iowa, (DSM) and Kansas City, Mo., (MCI), respectively…

Delta SkyMiles needs new leadership

Delta Airlines has cemented its status as the network U.S. carrier with the worst frequent-flier program, further devaluing its long-cheapened SkyMiles. The leadership of the program or the airline — or perhaps both — doesn’t seem to understand what the loyalty business in 2011 is about. It may be time for a new team at the top.

For more than a year, Delta failed to publish an award redemption chart for most of the world, resulting in lack of transparency about how many miles were really needed for an award ticket. When it finally unveiled a chart this week, the mileage rates on many routes were increased significantly. Many loyal SkyMiles members felt cheated and disrespected, calling Delta’s move a “stunt” in comments posted on FlyerTalk, the largest online travel community…

US Airways denies StarNet blocking

US Airways has denied recent suspicion that it has begun to block award seats made available by its Star Alliance partners for mileage redemption by members of its Dividend Miles program — a practice pioneered by United Airlines, which I first exposed in 2008.

The airline has been silent on the issue since reports about apparent blocking surfaced last fall. Many travelers said they found award inventory on various Star carriers, using one or more of the publicly available sources — the websites of All Nippon Airways, Continental Airlines and Air Canada — but US Airways agents were unable to see those available seats…

GDS travel-booking model faces change

Don’t be afraid — this is the message I have for travelers who may be concerned about losing the ability for comparison-shopping because of the war between American Airlines and online travel agencies. The longtime Global Distribution Systems (GDS) model is about to change, and many people stand to lose lots of money. That’s why they are trying to scare you.

For decades, the GDS model has been the norm for distributing airline data and booking flights, which has given the three main GDS companies in the world — Sabre, Amadeus and Travelport — enormous power. You might have heard that American was on Sabre and United on Apollo, which is now part of Traveport…