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…

U.S. carriers tighten routing rules

Do you sometimes prefer making a connection or two instead of taking a nonstop flight, either to save money or rack up more frequent-flier miles? You might have to change your ways. Domestic U.S. transfers are now allowed much less frequently than before, and making connections on flights between an airline’s hubs is almost impossible.

No big deal, you might say. Wouldn’t any reasonable person choose a nonstop any time? Not necessarily. Different travelers have different priorities — some would rather save time, others money. But the best thing about the previous practice was that passengers had options. Now, that’s no longer the case…

Airlines find new way to overcharge fliers

As if the existing methods to overcharge travelers weren’t enough, some airlines have just found a new way deeper into your pockets. It comes in the form of sophisticated software designed to increase prices based on your desperation and lack of choice. Will you fall for the latest gimmick?

The new application is courtesy of Amadeus, one of the major distributors of airline and other travel-related data worldwide. This week, it announced the launch of “Active Valuation,” an “IT solution that enables airlines to maximize revenues across multiple channels,” or to charge you more for something you can otherwise get at a lower price…

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…

U.S. has ‘no desire’ to ease airline ownership rules

American carriers can relax — their freedom to fly anywhere in the European Union is no longer threatened by Washington’s refusal to allow foreign control of U.S. airlines. That was the biggest news from last week’s agreement to expand the 2007 U.S.-EU Open Skies accord.

When the deal was first negotiated, carriers from both sides of the Atlantic were permitted to fly between any two cities without the previous government restrictions. However, those rights could have been lost next year, unless European companies could own controlling shares in U.S. airlines…

Hidden perils of airline code-sharing

The practice of one airline selling seats on another carrier’s planes with its own flight numbers has been around for years, and many travelers are familiar with the term “code-sharing.” Yet even experienced fliers continue to be surprised by what amounts to false advertising.

It’s holiday time, and I’d love to write columns about how seamless and hassle-free travel is — which is true for me in most cases — but I keep hearing from readers about questionable airline behavior. In the latest example, LACSA, Costa Rica’s national airline, may have misled some customers…

United pilot earns top praise

It finally happened. It took me more than 400 flights on United Airlines, but last week I met the legendary “Captain Denny” — or Dennis J. Flanagan, to be proper. If he was ever your pilot, you most likely still remember the experience.

I had heard a lot about Mr. Flanagan’s rarely attentive customer-service approach from fellow travelers, and even spoken with him on the phone with the intention of writing about him, but not having met him in person always stopped me. Now I have no more excuses. Our encounter wasn’t planned. As I boarded a plane in Phoenix, I saw a pilot greeting passengers at the door and handing out small information cards about the Boeing 757 he was about to fly…

Breezing through U.S. immigration

Going through U.S. immigration has never been easier. I’ve done it three times in less than a month, and not once did I wait in line, see an officer in a booth or have my passport stamped. Instead, I dealt with a rather cooperative kiosk for about a minute.

I’m not in the business of promoting products and services — let alone government initiatives — but the Department of Homeland Security’s new Global Entry program has truly changed my life. There is no reason why it can’t change yours, provided you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. All you need to do is go to the program’s Web site, fill out a relatively detailed online application form and pay a $100 fee…

Higher standards for travel sector?

How many horror stories about airline customer service have you heard? There are certainly plenty in the press and many more on various travel Web sites. Still, do we apply the same standards and scrutiny to companies outside the travel industry?

The nature of the airline and hotel businesses requires constant face-to-face interaction with customers, and an employee’s every step is evaluated by a flier or a hotel guest much more often than by a supervisor. In fact, thanks to the Internet, thousands of people can learn about an incident involving a front-line employee hours — if not days — before the company’s management does. Earlier this month, a San Francisco man complained that a United Airlines agent took a break…

Is ‘award’-seat data held by copyright?

How public is the publicly available information about the limited seats airlines release for mileage redemption on their flights? Can anyone take that information from an airline without permission and publish it on their own Web site, even with the best of intentions?

A frequent flier from the San Francisco Bay Area tried to do just that last month, but he was forced to shut down his site in less than a week. “Mystified by the inner workings of inventory management” at United Airlines, he created a model that searched and analyzed “award” availability on several routes served by United “on a nightly basis,” he wrote in a March 18 self-promoting post on FlyerTalk.com, one of the largest online travel communities…