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…

ExpertFlyer boosts airfare transparency

The transparency of raw airline data in recent years has been hugely important for our ability to secure the lowest fares and build the best itineraries. ExpertFlyer.com has been a pioneer in that endeavor, and now it has taken an extra step by showing government, military and other fares that have long been a mystery to most travelers.

I first began using ExpertFlyer soon after the website launched in 2005, and was happy to pay the $100 annual fee because it has helped me save thousands of dollars. Last year, when I left the Washington Times and started teaching seminars, I naturally decided to use the site in my classes — and I received a complimentary subscription. In the interest of full disclosure, ExpertFlyer also donated $1,000 to the book tour I’m currently on. That said, I’m not at all obligated to promote the site in this column…

What’s the real point of airline rankings?

There are so many travel-industry rankings at year’s end, it’s hard to keep track. It’s even harder to figure out which — if any — of them are credible and meaningful. Looking at some of the results, one has to wonder when some of the respondents last flew on the airlines and through the airports they assessed.

Rankings are usually administered by various magazines — one exception are the new Frequent Traveler Awards. In the last several years, I’ve made it a habit to look at the Global Traveler Magazine‘s so-called Tested Awards, most of which make sense. However, as I was reading this year’s results during a flight last week, I couldn’t help but gasp in astonishment at some of the results…

Predicting flight delays and cancellations

Are you one of those travelers who wait until they get to the airport to find out that their flight has been delayed or canceled? It’s time to become a proactive flier and learn how to predict disruptions, so you can get rebooked before anyone else on your flight, with a minimum impact on your travel plans.

Although there is no guarantee that your prediction success rate will be 100 percent, because airlines often swap aircraft, the method I’ve adopted works most of the time. It’s actually rather simple: I track the planes assigned to my flights by matching arrival and departure gates. Continental Airlines makes it even easier by providing the most advanced data in the industry, but more on that later…

Tired of ‘remote’ gates in Frankfurt

How many busloads of passengers does it take to fill a Boeing 747? Ask the Frankfurt Airport. With all the innovations and conveniences brought to modern airports, it’s inexplicable to me why airports in some of the most developed countries on the planet remind one of the Third World. Many travelers often complain about London’s Heathrow, but I find Frankfurt no less frustrating.

I realize there are not enough gates with jet bridges, and some airlines prefer “remote” gates because their use is cheaper, but I can’t remember flying through Frankfurt and not being taken to or from a plane by bus at least once. As of this week, I’ve had 111 takeoffs and landings at that airport…

Round-the-world fare mysteries revealed

Trying to figure out how airlines determine fares is utterly futile, but that doesn’t necessarily dampen my curiosity. On a recent visit to the Star Alliance headquarters in Frankfurt, I sought insights into how the global group sets its popular round-the-world fares.

I always enjoy dropping by the alliance’s modest office — not only because it’s an easy walk from the airport terminal, but also because just about everything it does is unique and pioneering in the industry. With 27 member-carriers, one would think it’s a grand operation, so I was surprised that fewer than 80 people work there…

U.S. airlines handle disruptions best

How many times have you been jerked around at an airport and made to wait in several long lines after a flight delay or cancellation forced a change to the rest of your itinerary? Chances are, that happened abroad. For all their faults, U.S. airlines handle irregular operations better than their foreign peers.

I’ve always wondered why airport agents in the United States — whether at check-in counters, gates or even business lounges — can do almost anything a passenger needs, including rebooking, rerouting and reissuing tickets, while agents in other countries are much more specialized, and thus less helpful…

Western carriers return to Iraq

Iraq may not be among Western travelers’ most desired destinations quite yet, but some of the world’s leading airlines have decided that flying to the war-ravaged country can be profitable, so they are returning there after a 20-year absence.

Although two of Europe’s major carriers — Austrian Airlines and Turkish Airlines — have been serving Iraq since 2008, their re-entry in that market was viewed as only moderately significant at the time, and none of their peers followed suit. Austrian chose Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq, which was never nearly as violent as the rest of the country…

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…

Award blocks still irk United fliers

There is rarely a single specific issue a reporter writes about that provokes huge interest from its first mention, and then continues to do so for months on end. For loyal customers of United Airlines, however, the carrier’s blocking of “award” seats made available by its partners in the global Star Alliance is not just any issue.

That was evident as soon as this column exposed the previously secret practice in September, as hundreds of members of United’s frequent-flier program, Mileage Plus, complained either to me or the airline. Although I haven’t dedicated a column to the issue since early December, I continue to receive e-mail messages about it. I also try to answer some questions in a thread on FlyerTalk…