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…

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…

U.S. should change ‘international airport’ designation policy

I’ve always been puzzled by the grand “international” designation of numerous small airports throughout the United States, just because they boast the odd flight to and from Canada.

While Canada is, indeed, a foreign country, this week’s incident with a Virgin Atlantic plane at Bradley Airport in Hartford, Conn., provides sufficient justification for my bewilderment. The image on the left is the official logo of the airport at issue, with the word “international” displayed very prominently. Yet, when the Virgin flight from London to Newark, N.J., was diverted to Hartford because of bad weather further south, about 300 passengers were forcibly confined to the aircraft for four hours without water or food…

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…

When ‘open skies’ aren’t really open

Having covered American diplomacy for a decade now, I’ve received many “diplomatic” answers to my questions — but none more so than “Yes, but not really.” I was reminded of it by the recently negotiated Open Skies aviation agreement between the United States and Japan.

The idea of the Open Skies accords, which Washington has with more than 90 countries, was to liberalize air travel between the signatories, allowing flights from any city in the first country to any city in the second without the previously imposed government restrictions. However, the deal reached with Japan in December has one glaring exception…

Airlines refuse to honor mistake fares

How would you like to fly to Australia in Qantas Airways’ luxurious first class on its new Airbus A380 aircraft for $1,200? You could actually buy such a ticket last week, but as regular readers of this column might have guessed, that was yet another case of a mistake fare.

Just like 2009, the new year began with a major airline making an error when filing a fare, and then deciding not to honor the issued tickets. As I wrote last January, Swiss International Air Lines published a $300 business-class fare from Toronto to several European and Indian cities. In November, British Airways filed a $560 round-trip coach fare from the United States to India…

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…

U.S. warns airlines on fare mistakes

Airlines are among the few businesses that sometimes want customers to pay for their mistakes. Every once in a while, a carrier cancels issued tickets after it deems its own published fare was an “error.” The Department of Transportation tried to teach such companies a lesson last week — sort of.

Both U.S. and foreign airlines have filed mistake fares in recent years, as has been reported in this column. Some of the airlines, such as United Airlines and Alitalia, have honored purchased tickets, but others, such as Swiss International Airlines, have not. The DOT’s Wednesday ruling was directed at British Airways…

United pilot earns top praise

It finally happened. It took me more than 400 flights on United Airlines, but last week I met the legendary “Captain Denny” — or Dennis J. Flanagan, to be proper. If he was ever your pilot, you most likely still remember the experience.

I had heard a lot about Mr. Flanagan’s rarely attentive customer-service approach from fellow travelers, and even spoken with him on the phone with the intention of writing about him, but not having met him in person always stopped me. Now I have no more excuses. Our encounter wasn’t planned. As I boarded a plane in Phoenix, I saw a pilot greeting passengers at the door and handing out small information cards about the Boeing 757 he was about to fly…

NATO hotels greet America’s military

Access to a wide network of special military hotels around the country is a well-known benefit for members of the U.S. armed forces and their families, but apparently few of them know that they can stay at hundreds of similar hotels throughout Europe at bargain prices.

It’s natural that most service members spend their vacation in the United States — it’s easier, cheaper, and soldiers just back from an overseas tour are not that keen on heading abroad again. There are many decent domestic military hotels offering very attractive rates, often half of what you can find on the regular market. Then there are a few properties that seem to be known by just about everyone. Among them is the Hale Koa Hotel on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach…