Fighting airlines’ attempts to overcharge

How do you know that an airline agent is trying to charge you much more than necessary to change a ticket? Two agents attempted that on me just yesterday, but they quickly realized they were messing with the wrong guy and retreated from their positions. The difference was thousands of dollars.

In my book, I explain why it helps to know what exactly you want before calling an airline, and more importantly, to know the outcome of an agent’s actions. I never trust agents to tell me how much I need to pay for anything — I call them simply to accomplish something I can’t do online. A couple of months ago, I issued a Business Class ticket for a client who flew the outbound portion but had to cancel the return. I called the airline to take him off that flight and said I wasn’t ready to rebook yet but would call back when I was…

Airlines still think customers are stupid

While most U.S. airlines have learned to be relatively honest with their best customers, many of their foreign peers have not yet realized that travelers are not as stupid as to fall for their PR spin and questionable practices.

It’s time for those carriers to wake up to the fact that it’s the end of 2011, and much in the airline industry is rather transparent to those of us who pay attention. Trying to persuade customers that bad news is actually good may be an essential PR trick, but in today’s hyper-connected world, it’s not hard to figure out someone’s true intentions. Among the airlines still using the old playbook is British Airways, which is surprising for such a major and quite good global carrier…

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…

British Air loses bags on $12,000 ticket

There must be very few things more embarrassing to an airline than losing the luggage of a passenger who paid more than $12,000 for a First Class ticket. Even more shockingly, British Airways, which did just that last week, didn’t try to right the screamingly obvious wrong and offer some sort of a good-will gesture.

Many of us often wonder who would pay $10,000 or $15,000 for a plane ticket, but let me assure you, there are such people. Premium travel has staged a remarkable recovery in recent months. As I look at flight inventory, I’m amazed every day by how full Business and First Class cabins are on various carriers…

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…

Singapore Air’s inept agents, dark side

My previously high regard for Singapore Airlines has been sinking quickly in the last week. Dealing with its agents regarding an award ticket has been one of my worst airline experiences in years. Now we learn that the carrier did little to help a passenger who suffered a heart attack during a flight last month.

When I wrote about Singapore’s “maddening perfection” in September, I pointed out that it deserves all the accolades it gets for its on-board products and in-flight services. However, the airline hasn’t quite understood that being a global first-class company means much more than that. I usually try to stay calm with airline agents on the phone and give them the time they need, even when it’s clear they are not very good…

The risks of third-party airline bookings

Long before the current American Airlines campaign to shake up the data distribution system, airline agents often refused to change tickets issued by travel agencies and third-party websites, such as Expedia and Orbitz. Dealing with those companies’ agents can be frustrating, and many fliers call the airlines for help directly, only to be sent back to the “original booking source.” Why?

Because once the airline takes control of the ticket, it effectively releases the original booking source from its responsibilities as the issuing agent — and when the booking source loses control of the ticket, it will no longer keep track of your reservation. So if there is a schedule change, that source won’t alert you, because it won’t know itself that a change has affected you…

The peculiarities of airline agent training

It’s one of the unavoidable realities of airline customer service that three agents will often give you three different answers to the same question. But I recently discovered a more rare phenomenon: Dozens of agents consistently doing something the wrong way. Was it lack of knowledge or deliberately ignoring the rules?

Before I continue, let me say that there are numerous superb airline agents to whom I’m grateful for unknowingly teaching me the ropes of the complex air travel system for years by satisfying my insatiable curiosity. I’ve also praised U.S. agents for handling rebooking during irregular operations better than their colleagues at foreign airlines…

Does badmouthing airlines help anyone?

Airlines are consistently among the most criticized companies by both the public and the media. While much of the criticism is deserved, does some of it amount to nothing more than badmouthing that helps no one? Isn’t it time for fliers to learn the air travel system’s ins and outs, and not blame the airlines for all their ills on the road?

In this column, I’ve denounced certain airline practices, such as the fictitious “direct” flights that are simply two flights with the same number but nothing else in common. There is no question the industry has made the system very complex, mostly for financial reasons, and it’s profiting from customers’ lack of knowledge. However, the system is what it is, and there isn’t much we can do to change it to our liking…

Singapore Airlines’ maddening perfection

Singapore Airlines topped yet another industry ranking this week, and while it usually deserves the awards it wins, there are a few aspects of the way it does business that drive some customers and partner-carriers crazy. Still, don’t expect those practices to change anytime soon.

The latest awards were bestowed by Britain’s Business Traveller Magazine. Singapore was named best airline overall and also won best economy and business class. Best first class went to Emirates, probably because of the shower on its Airbus 380 aircraft. I have yet to meet anyone who has flown Singapore and didn’t like it, regardless of which cabin they were in. It has long been the world’s leading carrier in hard-product innovation and luxury, often years ahead of its competitors…