United raises ticket change fees by $50, others follow

MIA 033United Airlines has quietly increased the fees it charges for voluntary changes on tickets for travel within North America, and between North and Central America by $50 to $200. The change took effect on April 18, according to an internal company advisory sent to employees.

The decision makes United the airline with the highest change fees in the affected markets. Other major legacy U.S. carriers, such as American, Delta and US Airways, still charge $150, and smaller airlines like Frontier and Virgin America charge $100. Alaska Airlines’ change fees are $75 online and $100 by phone. Those fees, which Southwest Airlines proudly spares its customers, are in addition to any fare differences. Changing the most expensive — or full-fare — tickets doesn’t incur penalties on any airline.

The United fee increase, coming just a week after the carrier was named worst in customer service in a national ranking tracking airline performance, is certain to anger United fliers even further. Industry watchers will be monitoring very closely whether other airlines follow suit — that has been the trend historically, though customer backlash and social media outrage have forced carriers, including United, to reverse controversial decisions in recent years…

UAE mixes aviation and foreign policy

As U.S. and other NATO troops continue to die in Afghanistan, one of the main questions being asked in foreign policy circles is this: How committed are Arab governments to defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban? The United Arab Emirates showed last week that fighting violent extremism is less important than its commercial airlines’ well-being.

Most governments around the world help their carriers in various ways, not only out of national pride, but because a strong airline has a positive impact on a country’s economy. One of the missions of every U.S. embassy is to promote trade and commerce that benefit American companies. That has become an organic part of modern diplomacy.

Customers gain sway over airlines

If you thought complaints about a policy of your preferred airline would fall on deaf ears, last week proved you wrong. As travel companies struggle to survive the economic crisis, they are increasingly listening to their most loyal customers.

As I reported in this column, United Airlines announced last month that it soon would end advance domestic upgrades, which could be confirmed using electronic certificates top elite travelers get if they fly at least 10,000 miles per quarter. Though United tried to mask that huge loss for its best customers with the promise of automatic “free upgrades” if space in first or business class is still available a couple of days before a flight, the outcry against the new policy was overwhelming…

Flu controls surprise travelers

How would you feel if you were detained for more than a week upon arrival in a foreign country for reasons that had nothing to do with you — and you missed your meeting or never even made it to your destination?

Thousands of passengers to Asia, where governments have implemented the most draconian measures to prevent the spread of swine flu, have been facing that prospect every day for two weeks. Unfortunately, in most cases, they were not given all the information they needed in advance so they could plan accordingly. Beginning April 28, dozens of planes arriving daily in Japan from North America have been held after landing until a team of health inspectors…