U.S. flights likely to Tokyo Haneda

Here is some good news for those of you seeking an alternative to Tokyo’s vast and faraway Narita International Airport: The Japanese government will likely soon allow nonstop flights between the United States and the city’s much smaller and nearby Haneda Airport.

There is, of course, some not-so-good news. Unless U.S. negotiators manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat, those flights will arrive and depart only between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. — which means that takeoffs and landings at U.S. airports may have to occur in the middle of the night, too. Access to Haneda is one of the issues being discussed between the United States and Japan as part of ongoing negotiations of an Open Skies Agreement…

Lufthansa agent’s ‘mistake’ stacks up

We all think we know that for a flight to depart and arrive on time, dozens of people have to do their jobs perfectly. It seems, however, that the only time we truly appreciate that is when something goes wrong and we feel the consequences long after landing.

In an attempt to encourage more people to travel — particularly overseas — I’ve been trying to dissuade them from believing the common perception that travel is a hassle. With online check-in and the ease of achieving elite airline status, thanks to unprecedented promotions this year, you can avoid long lines at the airport and almost breeze onto the plane. That’s how I feel most of the time…

Airline trade group raps governments

Should the world’s largest airline trade group openly criticize national governments that have enormous power over the industry? How likely is it that politicians will actually listen to that criticism, and could it backfire in the end?

Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the Geneva-based International Air Transport Association (IATA), seems much more concerned about the industry’s future than not angering governments. In fact, he thinks officials’ failure to adapt their policies to new realities is hurting the airlines. Mr. Bisignani made some daring comments aimed at specific governments at a press conference in Washington last week — in addition to projecting that the industry will lose about $11 billion this year…

Airlines require credit cards at check-in

Do you always pay for your airline tickets? If not, what would you do if you are denied boarding unless you show the credit card used for the purchase at check-in?

It may sound unreasonable, since many companies buy tickets for their employees with corporate cards that all of their travelers cannot possibly carry with them. It happens often enough, however, for all of us to keep our eyes open for any alerts with such requirements during the booking process. Last month, I used the Singapore Airlines Web site to book a ticket to Indonesia for a co-worker. I was asked if I was the passenger, and when I proceeded to enter my credit card number, this message appeared on the screen…

Keeping track of your trips

How many miles have you flown over the years and how many hours have you spent in the air? What is your most-traveled route? How many times have you circled the Earth or flown the distance to the moon?

Flying today may not be as much fun as it used to be, but many travelers still find it fun to keep track of their flight history. Having such a log can also be practical, in case you need to remember when you were in a certain country, for example. For years, my main frequent-flier account was my only reference to past trips. Airline alliances make it possible to post flights on several carriers to the same account, and being loyal to one alliance pays off in terms of achieving elite status…

Cancel trip, but don’t lose ticket

Have you ever had to cancel a planned trip and lose your nonrefundable plane ticket? Next time, you don’t actually have to lose the ticket. In most cases, even if it’s nonrefundable, its value — except for any penalties — can be applied toward another ticket, and not necessarily on the same airline.

The first and most important thing you need to do is cancel your original itinerary before your first flight takes off. If you don’t, you’ll really lose the ticket’s value. After cancellation, you have two options. You can either use the old ticket’s “residual value” — the total price minus the penalty — to purchase a new ticket if you have another trip coming up, or you can use that amount any time until one year from the date your original ticket was issued. You don’t have to travel by that date — just buy the new ticket…

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…

American ends stopovers on ‘awards’

Do you rely on the media to tell you about changes in your preferred frequent-flier program? If you did that when American Airlines introduced its one-way “awards” last week, you missed the loss of a significant benefit — a free stopover previously offered on mileage tickets.

It was no surprise that American omitted that detail in its press release, but it was shocking to see how many mainstream-media reports parroted the corporate line. They apparently didn’t notice the discontinued stopovers — a sign of a successful public-relations campaign. Given the recent rich history of “enhancements” in the airline industry, which has been hit hard by the global recession, one of the first questions I ask when I hear about new features is whether any old benefits are being taken away…

Travel blogs keep watch on industry

Public relations departments of airlines can’t catch a break. Not only is their industry under constant scrutiny by the public and the traditional media, now they have bloggers to worry about.

Let’s face it — the news hasn’t been great lately. How do you spin reducing services while adding fees? Or keeping fuel charges intact when oil prices are three times lower than they were when those charges were imposed? Part of a journalist’s job is to “unspin” what businesses — or the government, for that matter — tell the public, but another part is to do so fairly and to present different sides to every story. Bloggers, however, have no such obligation. They are free to rant about any grudge they may hold against a company without worrying about bias…

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…