Airlines abuse check-in deadlines

SJO 013Have you ever been told by an airline agent that you had missed the check-in deadline, even though you arrived at the airport well before the published cutoff time? That happened to dozens of Spirit Airlines passengers this week, but it’s nothing new. Agents have been abusing customers for years and have even made them pay penalties.

A former intern of mine told me once that he was returning home to Washington from Las Vegas with a friend when an agent declared it was too late to check them in. At least the agent was honest and admitted that the fault wasn’t theirs. Technically, there was still time before the deadline, but the flight was overbooked. Because the two passengers didn’t have seat assignments and the plane was already full, there was no space for them — despite the fact that they were holding confirmed and paid tickets for the flight.

The agent was not only honest but incredibly arrogant, making the students pay a $150 change fee each to get on another flight. The young men didn’t know better as to stand up for their rights and ponied up the penalties. So the airline, which had overbooked the flight and made money from more passengers than there were seats for on the aircraft, ended up making even more money from apparently inexperienced travelers…

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…

New hopes for rail travel

Have you heard that trains are “in” again? They have been “out” for so long, it’s almost hard to believe it, but President-elect Barack Obama’s decision to ride the rail into Washington for his inauguration has excited many train lovers.

Since flying became the main form of long-distance transportation in the United States in the past couple of decades, repeated warnings by railroad executives and industry advocates that insufficient funding and out-of-date equipment would lead to the system’s collapse seemed to fall on deaf ears. Finally this fall, Congress more than doubled funding for Amtrak, the semi-public company, in a $13 billion railroad improvement bill sponsored by Reps. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, and John L. Mica, Florida Republican…

Get refund if airfare drops

Are you angry at yourself for buying a plane ticket for the holidays too early and the price is now lower? Do you even know whether the fare has dropped? Either way, you may be able to get some of your money back.

For years, travelers were warned against procrastinating when it comes to holiday trips, since conventional wisdom held that air fares usually get higher the longer you wait. But this year, wild swings in the price of oil and a global financial meltdown have shattered stereotypes about air travel. Although many U.S. carriers have resisted lifting the fuel surcharges they imposed when oil was much more expensive, fares have been cautiously coming down of late…

Stories about Sharon Stone

Just after 3 pm on an unseasonably hot spring day, an elegant, black sports car pulls up in front of a posh, downtown hotel in San Francisco, and out steps Sharon Stone. Sporting a stylish red scarf, she takes off her sunglasses and walks towards a virile-looking man in a dark suit and cowboy boots. This is Phil Bronstein, her husband of two years and executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

Stone and Bronstein then sit down for their first interview together since their wedding on Valentine’s Day, 1998. At the time, gossip columnists were quick to give their marriage no more than a year. They were wrong, but the couple acknowledge the difficulties of a marriage involving two of the most fickle of all professions.

“You work really, really hard at it, because that’s what’s required for a successful relationship,” Stone says, once the waiters in the hotel’s restaurant finally retire, having assured her of the pleasure of her presence…