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…

Carriers lose appetite for Tokyo Haneda

When I landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport today, I had one of my easiest, fastest and smoothest international arrival experiences. But I wondered where all those airlines that last year fought and won a fierce battle over the right to fly to Haneda actually were.

It appears the industry overestimated Haneda’s appeal to travelers, and it also might have miscalculated how many passengers remain in Tokyo, as opposed to those who connect to other destinations. It’s true that the March earthquake and tsunami had a negative impact on travel to Japan in general, but traffic to and from the much bigger Narita Airport has largely recovered…

U.S. should change ‘international airport’ designation policy

I’ve always been puzzled by the grand “international” designation of numerous small airports throughout the United States, just because they boast the odd flight to and from Canada.

While Canada is, indeed, a foreign country, this week’s incident with a Virgin Atlantic plane at Bradley Airport in Hartford, Conn., provides sufficient justification for my bewilderment. The image on the left is the official logo of the airport at issue, with the word “international” displayed very prominently. Yet, when the Virgin flight from London to Newark, N.J., was diverted to Hartford because of bad weather further south, about 300 passengers were forcibly confined to the aircraft for four hours without water or food…

Tired of ‘remote’ gates in Frankfurt

How many busloads of passengers does it take to fill a Boeing 747? Ask the Frankfurt Airport. With all the innovations and conveniences brought to modern airports, it’s inexplicable to me why airports in some of the most developed countries on the planet remind one of the Third World. Many travelers often complain about London’s Heathrow, but I find Frankfurt no less frustrating.

I realize there are not enough gates with jet bridges, and some airlines prefer “remote” gates because their use is cheaper, but I can’t remember flying through Frankfurt and not being taken to or from a plane by bus at least once. As of this week, I’ve had 111 takeoffs and landings at that airport…

Round-the-world fare mysteries revealed

Trying to figure out how airlines determine fares is utterly futile, but that doesn’t necessarily dampen my curiosity. On a recent visit to the Star Alliance headquarters in Frankfurt, I sought insights into how the global group sets its popular round-the-world fares.

I always enjoy dropping by the alliance’s modest office — not only because it’s an easy walk from the airport terminal, but also because just about everything it does is unique and pioneering in the industry. With 27 member-carriers, one would think it’s a grand operation, so I was surprised that fewer than 80 people work there…

Educating the flying public

Do you find that air travel has become a complex game of numerous airline rules, growing restrictions, oversold flights and never-ending fees? Do you feel knowledgeable enough and prepared to navigate that labyrinth before, during and even after a trip?

I often compare booking travel to a science — with so many different booking codes, fares, upgrade requirements, penalties and other conditions for changes and cancellations, it’s almost impossible for fliers to keep track of it all. That makes them heavily dependent on airline agents, and it’s well known that you can hear different answers to the same question…

Airline agents make up U.S. entry rules

Ever since electronic permits for foreign travelers to the United States who don’t need a regular visa became mandatory in January, I’ve been getting reports about confusion among both passengers and airport agents about some of the new rules. So I thought I’d try to clear things up.

It’s a particularly good time to do that, because after March 20, the Department of Homeland Security will impose fines on airlines that transport visitors with neither a visa in their passport nor approval by the new Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The fines will be $3,300 for each non-compliant passenger…

Dulles Airport enters the modern age

Washington Dulles International Airport is certainly taking its time to fully join the modern age of air travel, but the first steps in its journey are now complete, and they make an obvious difference. The most significant are the new international arrivals hall and the AeroTrain, which started running last week.

As readers of this column will recall, I have no love lost for Dulles. In the past, I’ve gone as far as to call it a disgrace for the capital of the world’s richest and most powerful country. Its many limitations include the archaic people-movers officially known as “mobile lounges” and the depressing interior of the “midfield terminal”…

U.S. flights likely to Tokyo Haneda

Here is some good news for those of you seeking an alternative to Tokyo’s vast and faraway Narita International Airport: The Japanese government will likely soon allow nonstop flights between the United States and the city’s much smaller and nearby Haneda Airport.

There is, of course, some not-so-good news. Unless U.S. negotiators manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat, those flights will arrive and depart only between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. — which means that takeoffs and landings at U.S. airports may have to occur in the middle of the night, too. Access to Haneda is one of the issues being discussed between the United States and Japan as part of ongoing negotiations of an Open Skies Agreement…

Lufthansa agent’s ‘mistake’ stacks up

We all think we know that for a flight to depart and arrive on time, dozens of people have to do their jobs perfectly. It seems, however, that the only time we truly appreciate that is when something goes wrong and we feel the consequences long after landing.

In an attempt to encourage more people to travel — particularly overseas — I’ve been trying to dissuade them from believing the common perception that travel is a hassle. With online check-in and the ease of achieving elite airline status, thanks to unprecedented promotions this year, you can avoid long lines at the airport and almost breeze onto the plane. That’s how I feel most of the time…