Is the airline market really not working?

The travel-agency community has been fuming for years over its inability to sell airline products that used to be included in ticket prices but no longer are, and with good reason. A travel agent’s value is diminished by such a significant limitation. The airlines, in turn, refuse to make those products available through distribution channels they don’t control because of high costs. So what’s the solution?

According to the American Society of Travel Agents, the answer is government regulation. “The airline marketplace is simply not working,” the organization’s senior vice president, Paul Ruden, wrote today on its website. Even though the Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering mandatory disclosure of extra fees for seat assignments, luggage, premium economy seats, etc., it’s unlikely it will force the airlines to sell those products through the currently dominant third-party distribution channels…

9/23 is ‘mad as hell day’ over airline fees

Three major travel-industry organizations begin a campaign on Tuesday to compel the airlines to disclose all fees not included in the ticket price at the same time as the actual fare — and before the ticket is issued. But will such a campaign succeed?

The groups — the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), the American Society of Travel Agents and the Consumer Travel Alliance — want consumers to sign a petition to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The text urges him “to require airlines to fully disclose their fees, whether airfares are purchased on an airline’s website or through an online or brick-and-mortar travel agency.” The organizations plan to deliver the petition to LaHood on Sept. 23, which they have designated as “Mad As Hell Day”..

Avoiding luggage and other airline fees

A new survey by the Consumer Travel Alliance released this week found that luggage and other additional airline fees increase the average ticket price by up to 50 percent. The truth is, there is a relatively easy way to have most of those fees waived — if only travelers were better educated and more open-minded.

My impression during almost constant global travel for most of the last decade is that people think they know how to travel — but then they complain about being “scammed” by the airlines. My approach has been to learn as much as possible about rules, restrictions and fees, and then to look for ways to waive them and generally make the system work for me…

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…

Dulles Airport enters the modern age

Washington Dulles International Airport is certainly taking its time to fully join the modern age of air travel, but the first steps in its journey are now complete, and they make an obvious difference. The most significant are the new international arrivals hall and the AeroTrain, which started running last week.

As readers of this column will recall, I have no love lost for Dulles. In the past, I’ve gone as far as to call it a disgrace for the capital of the world’s richest and most powerful country. Its many limitations include the archaic people-movers officially known as “mobile lounges” and the depressing interior of the “midfield terminal”…

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…

Officials ordered back to coach

Washington is a government town, and most of its travel business is related to the many federal agencies here in one way or another. For those of us living in the nation’s capital, the most visible proof of that are big national events, such as a presidential inauguration, along with the numerous visits of foreign leaders that often result in street closures.

The travelers less visible to Washingtonians are U.S. officials traveling across the country and around the world on official business, which means spending taxpayers’ money. The Bush administration decided about six years ago to allow business class airfare for federal employees whose one-way journey lasts 14 hours or more…

Being airline elite can be simple

Many of you must already hate me — not me personally, but people like me, known as “elite” passengers.

Remember that time you were on standby for hours, then suddenly a guy walked over to the gate, asked the agent if he could get on what you hoped would be your flight, because he didn’t want to wait another hour for his original flight? A minute later, he walked away with a boarding pass in hand, and there was no seat for you on the plane. It wasn’t me, but it could have been. Elite passengers can be added to a waiting list minutes before a flight and go right to the top. The highest-level elites — and their travel companions — are exempt from all sorts of fees…