Why new United should have domestic business — not first — class

One of the big questions of the United-Continental merger is whether the domestic premium cabin will be sold as first class, as is currently the case with United, or business class, which is what Continental does. For customers’ sake, that cabin should be sold as business class.

This is not just about a name — it affects booking classes and flight inventory, and the present discrepancies between domestic and international flights can be very confusing for passengers, and sometimes even for agents. The domestic first-class designation is a tradition started decades ago, when all commercial planes had two cabins of service. But then along came business class, and the major network carriers ended up with three cabins on international flights…

Back to basics of air travel

Many of us have learned the ins and outs of air travel in great detail and mastered the frequent-flier game in recent years, but two incidents this month reminded me that we often take for granted some basics that are unknown to many travelers.

Did you know, for example, that there are still people who have no idea they can check in for a flight online, even though they fly at least once a year? Or that some passengers miss their international flights because they are not aware they need to be at the airport by a certain time? Last week, I was stuck at the Minneapolis airport for hours because of bad weather. The airline I was flying had shut down its business lounge there, so there would be no peace and quiet or free soft drinks and snacks for me…

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…