United’s award blocking an issue in Continental merger

Just as many loyal United Airlines customers hoped that its expected merger with Continental Airlines would put an end to United’s massive blocking of “award” seats made available for mileage redemption by its partners in the global Star Alliance, the carrier made a government filing that raised new questions about its filtering policy.

With all the complex issues United and Continental have to resolve before completing their merger, which would create the world’s largest airline, the “award” blocking is hardly a top agenda item. In fact, I’d be surprised if it has come up at all in their negotiations so far…

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…

Breezing through U.S. immigration

Going through U.S. immigration has never been easier. I’ve done it three times in less than a month, and not once did I wait in line, see an officer in a booth or have my passport stamped. Instead, I dealt with a rather cooperative kiosk for about a minute.

I’m not in the business of promoting products and services — let alone government initiatives — but the Department of Homeland Security’s new Global Entry program has truly changed my life. There is no reason why it can’t change yours, provided you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. All you need to do is go to the program’s Web site, fill out a relatively detailed online application form and pay a $100 fee…

Should airlines honor fare errors?

Have you ever taken advantage of a suspiciously low airfare — say $300 to Europe in business class — that turned out to be a mistake? Did the airline cancel your ticket or did you fight to keep it? If you gave in, it might have been premature.

Like any human activity, filing fares is prone to errors once in a while — a few times a year at most, which is too much for the airlines, but not enough if you ask bargain-hunting travelers. In the most recent reported example, on Dec. 27, a traveler looking for a ticket stumbled upon a Swiss International Airlines business class fare of $0 plus tax from Toronto to several European cities. It was available on various booking engines, including Swiss’ Web site and Travelocity…

A life seriously damaged by smoking

Jeffrey Wigand still can’t believe he is the main character in a Hollywood blockbuster. “Are you kidding me? I didn’t think I’d survive.”

It has been more than five years since the man now known as the first tobacco industry whistleblower became the most senior executive to break ranks. But neither “The Insider”, the Oscar-nominated film starring Al Pacino, nor the publicity that surrounded Wigand’s crusade against big tobacco companies has bestowed on him even the slightest touch of celebrity.

I expected to meet a bitter and emotionally withered man who, after an infamous 1995 interview with CBS’s Mike Wallace, would carefully measure every word he uttered to a reporter. But I couldn’t have been more wrong…