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…

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…

Preserving upgrades in case of rebooking

Dealing with flight delays and cancellations is challenging enough for travelers, but for some of us it has an additional complication: How to preserve our upgrades in case of rebooking. My trip to Alaska this week provided a textbook example.

As experienced and creative as I might be in handling flight disruptions, the weather is always my worst enemy. I’ve rarely felt more helpless than I did in Denver on my way to Anchorage. My plane had diverted to Colorado Springs because of a thunderstorm, and my departure time kept being pushed back more times than I cared to count…

Aviation meets community service

It’s no secret that times are rough for the airline industry, and the glamor once associated with it is long gone. Many children, however, still dream of a life in the sky. Should they be encouraged?

The answer of Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong’s main airline, is a resounding yes. In 2003, it started a program for high school students called “I Can Fly,” which teaches young aviation enthusiasts the basics of the industry at no cost — from piloting and engineering to marketing and customer service. About 3,000 students have graduated from the three programs in Hong Kong so far, said Elsa Leung, Cathay’s corporate communication manager…

United yields on award blocking

How easy is it for an airline to make its loyal customers happy? Just ask United Airlines. The members of its Mileage Plus program have been happy campers for 10 days, spending their frequent-flier miles like there is no tomorrow.

Many of those travelers waited for that opportunity for months, if not years. They had joined Mileage Plus and mounted sizable accounts with the assumption that they would be able to redeem their miles for flights on the Star Alliance, the global network of 24 carriers of which United is a founding member. But often in the past few years, when they tried to book “awards” on Singapore Airlines, Germany’s Lufthansa or Asiana of South Korea, among others, finding availability was a Herculean task. Many travelers were angry…

Airlines abuse ‘direct’ flights

At about 9 p.m. last Monday, Delta Air Lines Flight 9 was over eastern Canada on its way back from Cairo. At the same time, Delta Flight 9 took off from New York en route to Los Angeles. That doesn’t make sense to you? Well, it does to the airline industry.

The flight taking off was the “continuation” of the flight that hadn’t yet landed because of a five-hour delay. Delta sells Cairo-Los Angeles as a “direct” flight with a stop in New York, but in reality, that journey consists of two separate flights that have nothing in common except for number 9. The first one goes from Cairo to New York on a Boeing 767 aircraft, and the second from New York to Los Angeles on a Boeing 737. The arrival of the first leg is evidently not a condition for the departure of the second…

Political punch in a package of charm

Condoleezza Rice has rarely heard a question she doesn’t know how to answer, from queries about her tumultuous childhood in segregated Alabama to her success in the male world of superpower politics, nuclear weapons and arms control.

She meets me with the friendly smile and easy hospitality of a west-coaster, defying the image of someone anointed by Washington insiders to become the most powerful woman in the world in a year. The chief foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, Rice is being tipped as a likely secretary of state or national security adviser should Bush win the White House.

As huge a task as this sounds, Rice’s own life story has the word “amazing” written all over it. At 45, she has been the first black woman in just about any job she’s taken on: from special assistant for national security affairs to President George Bush when she was only 34, to provost of California’s prestigious Stanford University (the Harvard of the west coast) where she managed a budget of nearly $2bn…