United raises ticket change fees by $50, others follow

MIA 033United Airlines has quietly increased the fees it charges for voluntary changes on tickets for travel within North America, and between North and Central America by $50 to $200. The change took effect on April 18, according to an internal company advisory sent to employees.

The decision makes United the airline with the highest change fees in the affected markets. Other major legacy U.S. carriers, such as American, Delta and US Airways, still charge $150, and smaller airlines like Frontier and Virgin America charge $100. Alaska Airlines’ change fees are $75 online and $100 by phone. Those fees, which Southwest Airlines proudly spares its customers, are in addition to any fare differences. Changing the most expensive — or full-fare — tickets doesn’t incur penalties on any airline…

American isn’t changing fare-publishing

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American Airlines’ roll-out of a new bundled fare structure this week has created some confusion among frequent fliers about what the change means to the way they book tickets. They have nothing to worry about — at least for now. American is not changing the decades-long practice of how fares are published on an airline tariff, and fears of a lack of transparency are misplaced.

You can still see in which booking class your ticket will be issued, though it’s indeed a bit confusing how exactly one would know the difference between the three new fare types by looking at that booking class, which could be the same for all three fares. So let’s break all this down and try to make sense of it…

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…

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…

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…

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…

DOT cracks down on airfare advertising

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) seems semi-serious about false airfare advertising. It fined several airlines this week for violating its rules of disclosing taxes and fees, but it still tolerates the disgraceful “one way based on a required round-trip purchase” manipulation practiced by some carriers.

Continental Airlines was fined $120,000 for failing to include fuel surcharges in fares listed on its website. US Airways and TACA, the Central American company, must pay $45,000 and $55,000, respectively, for the same wrongdoing — indicating that fares didn’t include taxes and surcharges, but not disclosing actual amounts…

American’s antiquated ticketing process

American Airlines has been trying to cut booking costs by fighting to reduce the power of the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) — and the high fees they charge. However, its own ticketing process remains surprisingly outdated for one of the world’s largest carriers, and far from being cost-efficient.

It wouldn’t be difficult for American to save millions of dollars a year. All it needs to do is implement instant ticketing, which most other major airlines have had for years. The carrier says it plans to introduce instant ticketing on its website later this year, but it has no intention to allow phone reservation agents to issue tickets at this time…

Airlines, want better GDS model? Unite!

One by one, airlines are waking up to the sobering reality of the modern Global Distribution System (GDS) model, which they created decades ago. Two carriers have now taken legal action, and this is only the beginning. If more airlines want to see changes and lower costs, they should join forces instead of watching from the sidelines.

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is about to become an expert on airline data distribution — in the 82nd year of her life. You can see her name stamped on a complaint (pictured above) filed last week by US Airways against Sabre, the largest GDS in the United States…

American wins first battle in data war

The new airline data distribution model I predicted in February has just become a reality. Expedia, the most popular online travel agency, agreed this week to carry American Airlines data hosted by the carrier’s “Direct Connect” channel. Expedia’s consolation prize is that it will use Global Distribution System (GDS) aggregation technology.

Since Dec. 31, when its contract with American expired and it decided not to renew it, Expedia had been resisting the airline’s attempts to move to a direct channel. Why? Because it wanted to continue to receive sizable kickbacks from Sabre, the GDS it uses to display and book flights. American insists on “Direct Connect” for two reasons…