DOT should ban fictitious flights

Did you know that hundreds of fictitious flights inhabit airline schedules every day? They don’t exist in real life — just on paper. They are meant to make more money for the airlines by tricking customers and perverting a practice that was actually started to help travelers. In fact, they spell nothing but trouble for passengers.

Those fictitious flights are labeled “direct” by the airlines, which years ago decided to rewrite the dictionary and use that term for flights that weren’t nonstop but made at least one stop on the way to their destination. First, those flights were operated by the same aircraft, but later a “plane change” was introduced. The Department of Transportation has allowed the airlines to abuse the practice any way they like…

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…

When an airfare sale is not quite a sale

How do airlines decide what fares qualify as “sales,” and why do they advertise certain fares, but not other, much lower ones? Why is United Airlines promoting a “sale” between Washington and Boston for $109 each way, when there are currently six published lower fares in that market, beginning with $49 each way?

For the most part, I don’t bother to figure out why airlines do certain things anymore. I just gather all the information I need about what they do and try to work with it — or around it. Years of watching fares have taught me not to fall for those “sales,” because in many cases, I can find a much lower price to the same destination, on the same dates and on the same carrier…

Giving the bus another chance

When was the last time you took a bus instead of a plane or train? Until a week ago, it had been 12 years for me. I didn’t have fond memories from back then, so I reluctantly decided to give the bus another chance with a weekend trip to New York, and I’ll happily do it again.

There are at least three reasons why I avoided hopping back on a long-distance bus all those years: It’s slower than a plane, less comfortable than a train, and ground transportation doesn’t really excite me. The only advantage has always been the lower cost, but that wasn’t enough to entice me because if I planned well in advance, I could get a plane or train round-trip ticket from Washington to New York for $120. Even the additional airport-security measures after Sept. 11, 2001, failed to change my mind…

New hopes for rail travel

Have you heard that trains are “in” again? They have been “out” for so long, it’s almost hard to believe it, but President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to ride the rail into Washington for his inauguration has excited many train lovers.

Since flying became the main form of long-distance transportation in the United States in the past couple of decades, repeated warnings by railroad executives and industry advocates that insufficient funding and out-of-date equipment would lead to the system’s collapse seemed to fall on deaf ears. Finally this fall, Congress more than doubled funding for Amtrak, the semi-public company, in a $13 billion railroad improvement bill sponsored by Reps. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, and John L. Mica, Florida Republican…

Year-end travel deals trimmed

Does elite status with your preferred airline or hotel chain seem elusive this year? The good news is, year-end promotions offering elite fast-track and bonus points are back. The bad news is, they are fewer and less generous than in the past.

That, of course, is hardly surprising, with all the ills that have befallen the travel industry in recent months. What is surprising is the diversity of those deals, depending on the loyalty program to which you belong. No two of them are exactly alike — except that most require registration and end Dec. 15, so holiday travel is not covered. American Airlines is offering its customers who fly a round trip between the United States and Britain a free companion ticket for a future trip to either Britain or the Caribbean…

Specs, fame and satisfaction

James Spader calmly challenges the “mystery man” image he’s had among film audiences since playing a sexually troubled youth in “Sex, Lies and Videotape” more than 13 years ago, and he does it with the simplest, facts-of-life arguments.

His choice of roles, he explains, has never been determined by a need to “manage” his career or build himself up as a particular “type”, but rather by how a certain project fits into the rest of his life — sometimes it’s “my being out of money”, sometimes it’s “my children being out of school”. So he would “take whatever I can find at that time” and “try to make the best of it”.

“Every few years I do a film I’m really excited about, and the rest of the time I’m finding a way to make a living, still doing something that interests me,” he says in a characteristically soft manner. “I’m able to do that, and it works out great for me. I like making films, but I’m not going to connect my entire life to it”…