Questioning conventional airfare wisdom

I’m tired of all the “low-fare tips” in the media — both hearing and reading about them, and giving them myself. Yes, I’m guilty of feeding the media’s hunger for quick “Top 5 tips,” and not happy about having to dumb down a very complex airfare system, which is actually more misleading than helpful.

Those of us who are trained and experienced journalists know very well how to make a specific or even technical topic accessible to a large general audience. I’ve been doing that during my entire professional career. So it’s understandable that editors and producers across the United States want to write stories or produce TV and radio segments that are easily understood by most of their audience…

The peculiarities of airline agent training

It’s one of the unavoidable realities of airline customer service that three agents will often give you three different answers to the same question. But I recently discovered a more rare phenomenon: Dozens of agents consistently doing something the wrong way. Was it lack of knowledge or deliberately ignoring the rules?

Before I continue, let me say that there are numerous superb airline agents to whom I’m grateful for unknowingly teaching me the ropes of the complex air travel system for years by satisfying my insatiable curiosity. I’ve also praised U.S. agents for handling rebooking during irregular operations better than their colleagues at foreign airlines…

U.S. carriers tighten routing rules

Do you sometimes prefer making a connection or two instead of taking a nonstop flight, either to save money or rack up more frequent-flier miles? You might have to change your ways. Domestic U.S. transfers are now allowed much less frequently than before, and making connections on flights between an airline’s hubs is almost impossible.

No big deal, you might say. Wouldn’t any reasonable person choose a nonstop any time? Not necessarily. Different travelers have different priorities — some would rather save time, others money. But the best thing about the previous practice was that passengers had options. Now, that’s no longer the case…

US Airways hears feedback, fixes website

US Airways has set a good example of listening to customer feedback and fixing a problem. In my case, there was added criticism in a newspaper column, but instead of complaining, the airline rolled up sleeves and started working.

In March, I wrote in my Washington Times column about its website’s inability to display many itineraries, even when booked directly with US Airways. At the time, spokeswoman Valerie Wunder at the company’s headquarters in Phoenix arranged a conference call with two in-house experts, who told me that the reason for the glitch was the site’s failure to recognize some foreign airport codes…

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…

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…