Western carriers return to Iraq

Iraq may not be among Western travelers’ most desired destinations quite yet, but some of the world’s leading airlines have decided that flying to the war-ravaged country can be profitable, so they are returning there after a 20-year absence.

Although two of Europe’s major carriers — Austrian Airlines and Turkish Airlines — have been serving Iraq since 2008, their re-entry in that market was viewed as only moderately significant at the time, and none of their peers followed suit. Austrian chose Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq, which was never nearly as violent as the rest of the country…

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…

Is ‘award’-seat data held by copyright?

How public is the publicly available information about the limited seats airlines release for mileage redemption on their flights? Can anyone take that information from an airline without permission and publish it on their own Web site, even with the best of intentions?

A frequent flier from the San Francisco Bay Area tried to do just that last month, but he was forced to shut down his site in less than a week. “Mystified by the inner workings of inventory management” at United Airlines, he created a model that searched and analyzed “award” availability on several routes served by United “on a nightly basis,” he wrote in a March 18 self-promoting post on FlyerTalk.com, one of the largest online travel communities…

Airline elite status now easier to earn

Are you resigned to being kicked off the airline elite-status wagon because your travel has dropped significantly this year? Don’t give up quite yet. The trips you make in the next couple of months could earn you double miles that count toward your status, so you could maintain it with half the normally required travel.

It has been rather amusing, though hardly surprising given the persistent slump in demand for seats, in the last two weeks to watch the so-called U.S. legacy carriers match and sometimes outbid each other in their efforts to entice more customers to buy tickets. You might have heard about the various fare discounts currently on offer, including prices to Europe of just more than $400, including taxes and fees, which haven’t been seen in years…

Fare sales often lost in translation

Why is it so difficult for major U.S. airlines to be upfront with their customers? Their practices of advertising fares and marketing services remind one of that mysterious “Twin Peaks” revelation, “The owls are not what they seem.”

Last month, I wrote about fake “direct” flights — two or more separate flights that are sold as one under the same number, but are operated on different aircraft and sometimes require changing terminals. That often sends unsuspecting passengers running across the airport to catch what they discover is a regular connection. Knowing that “direct” flights are not what they seem helps to avoid unpleasant surprises during a trip. To avoid such surprises before travel, you should also know that airfares, as advertised by the so-called legacy carriers, are not what they seem, either…

Airlines want budget, premium fliers

Can an airline be a low-cost carrier, nickel-and-diming most of its passengers, while offering luxury to a few others and charging them $15,000 for it? And is that an “all things to all people” model or a version of “divide and conquer”?

Executives at the so-called legacy carriers know that a huge part of their revenue comes from passengers who pay for business and first-class tickets, so they are trying to keep them happy by installing flat beds, upgrading entertainment systems and serving gourmet meals. However, airline chiefs also realize that most people on their planes sit in coach and can’t afford $7,000 to fly to Europe in business class. Because economy passengers pay what the airlines consider low fares, carriers are trying to minimize the costs associated with carrying those fliers…

Airlines abuse ‘direct’ flights

At about 9 p.m. last Monday, Delta Air Lines Flight 9 was over eastern Canada on its way back from Cairo. At the same time, Delta Flight 9 took off from New York en route to Los Angeles. That doesn’t make sense to you? Well, it does to the airline industry.

The flight taking off was the “continuation” of the flight that hadn’t yet landed because of a five-hour delay. Delta sells Cairo-Los Angeles as a “direct” flight with a stop in New York, but in reality, that journey consists of two separate flights that have nothing in common except for number 9. The first one goes from Cairo to New York on a Boeing 767 aircraft, and the second from New York to Los Angeles on a Boeing 737. The arrival of the first leg is evidently not a condition for the departure of the second…

Cheap airfares endure

Who says that cheap plane tickets are a thing of the past? How would you like to go skiing in Utah this winter for less than $150 round trip from the East coast, including all taxes? Rather visit a warmer place? How about a ticket to Hawaii for less than $300?

Yes, these are real prices, but you might need to do some homework to get them. Airlines now publish low fares less frequently and often pull them off the market within hours. We’ve all heard travel experts warning that air fares have nowhere else to go but up, mainly because of record-high jet-fuel prices, as well as predictions that the era of affordable air travel is over. That may well be what the future holds. The present, however, begs to differ…