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…

Airlines cut back on first-class service

If you ever wanted to sit in first or business class but couldn’t afford it — and upgrading wasn’t an option — your time may have arrived. While airlines await the return of paying “premium” passengers, some of them are letting lower-class fliers occupy plush lie-flat seats.

On Australia’s Qantas Airways and Germany’s Lufthansa, you can now sit in first class even if you hold a ticket for business — no miles or other upgrade instruments are necessary. Qantas also allows coach customers in the business cabin. The two carriers still offer standard three-cabin service on most of their international networks…

Gay travel endures amid recession

The travel industry seems to be engaged in a curious courtship. Its targets are gay travelers. During a recession, they apparently are the one group that doesn’t change leisure habits too much, so airlines, hotels and tour operators are trying to win their business.

Courting gay customers is nothing new, of course. A few years ago, the creators of the popular Showtime series “Queer as Folk,” Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, told me that, during their research for an episode, they had discovered that gay Americans had hundreds of billions of dollars of disposable income. So the fight for shares of that income has been going on for a while — many airlines and booking engines have created dedicated pages on their Web sites for gay travel…

Delayed at the airport? Enjoy!

Flight delays are all too common these days, but if you have to wait around for hours, why not do it in style?

It may be difficult for many Americans to believe, given the state of U.S. airports, but there are airports in the world where one can enjoy spending time. I was reminded of that recently while waiting for a delayed connecting flight in Hong Kong. Not only is the airport one of my two favorites, it was named best on the planet in a global survey released last month. It’s efficient, clean, easy to navigate and displays architectural finesse. My final destination on that trip was Singapore, my other favorite airport, which came in second in the survey of 8.2 million travelers conducted by Skytrax…