Swiss Air overplays ‘mistake fare’ excuse

Airlines sometimes make mistakes when filing fares — it’s human and understandable. But when major carriers keep erring and then punish paying customers by unilaterally canceling tickets days or even weeks after their issuance, that raises questions about competence and responsibility.

In late September, Swiss International Airlines filed a first-class one-way fare from Burma, also known as Myanmar, to Canada that was between $600 and $800 after taxes, depending on the specific routing. Was that an obvious mistake? Under normal circumstances, an educated traveler would probably say that it was. But there is much more to the story.

That was not the first time such a low fare out of Burma had been published. Just five months earlier, Korean Air issued tickets at similar prices — they were later canceled, but the Department of Transportation eventually forced Korean Air to reinstate them. Although I noticed that fare at the time, I didn’t bother to take advantage of it, suspecting it was, indeed, a mistake that wouldn’t be honored…

American tries to entice top United fliers

American Airlines has finally decided to take advantage of the problems many United Airlines fliers have experienced since the merger with Continental Airlines was completed on March 3. In an extremely rare move, American is now offering conditions-free top-elite status match to United’s most loyal customers.

Having read and heard about many United customers’ troubles after the carrier adopted Continental’s reservations system — and having encountered some problems myself — I e-mailed American spokesman Tim Smith on March 16. Smith has been the best PR person to deal with at any airline since I started writing my column in the Washington Times in 2008. I asked him whether American had any intention of capitalizing on United customers’ dissatisfaction by stealing some of them away through a status-match offer…

India tries to blackmail Star Alliance

The Indian government is engaging in apparent blackmail of the Star Alliance, following the global airline group’s rejection of Air India’s membership application. New Delhi’s threat to take away traffic rights from Star members is about to test the diplomatic skills of both the affected carriers and the alliance leadership.

As I wrote in August, Star really, really wanted to add Air India to its network, because of the large and fast-growing Indian market. It spent more time, effort and money on helping Air India meet the membership requirements than it has with any other candidate. At the end, however, Air India’s entrenched corporate culture and internal Indian politics became unbearable, and the alliance gave up…

US Airways denies StarNet blocking

US Airways has denied recent suspicion that it has begun to block award seats made available by its Star Alliance partners for mileage redemption by members of its Dividend Miles program — a practice pioneered by United Airlines, which I first exposed in 2008.

The airline has been silent on the issue since reports about apparent blocking surfaced last fall. Many travelers said they found award inventory on various Star carriers, using one or more of the publicly available sources — the websites of All Nippon Airways, Continental Airlines and Air Canada — but US Airways agents were unable to see those available seats…

What’s the real point of airline rankings?

There are so many travel-industry rankings at year’s end, it’s hard to keep track. It’s even harder to figure out which — if any — of them are credible and meaningful. Looking at some of the results, one has to wonder when some of the respondents last flew on the airlines and through the airports they assessed.

Rankings are usually administered by various magazines — one exception are the new Frequent Traveler Awards. In the last several years, I’ve made it a habit to look at the Global Traveler Magazine‘s so-called Tested Awards, most of which make sense. However, as I was reading this year’s results during a flight last week, I couldn’t help but gasp in astonishment at some of the results…

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.

New Lufthansa business class in a year

Lufthansa appears to have listened to the recent criticism of its decision to install its old angled business-class seats on the newly arrived Airbus 380 aircraft — finally, truly flat seats are planned when its first Boeing 747-800 enters service in late 2011.

Many Lufthansa customers were puzzled and disappointed when the German carrier didn’t bother to introduce fully flat beds on the A380. It was the perfect opportunity — the current seats have been inferior to those of many competitors for years and don’t quite fit the image of a leading airline, which Lufthansa certainly is. In addition, it rolled out brand-new first-class seats on the A380…

Clarifying United’s StarNet blocking

Readers’ interest in United Airlines’ practice of massively blocking award seats otherwise made available for mileage redemption by United’s partners in the global Star Alliance doesn’t seem to subside, judging by the feedback I get and the web traffic on this site’s pages dedicated to the issue. So it’s time to clarify some misconceptions about the infamous StarNet blocking.

Earlier this week, I received a complaint from Norma Brandsberg, a reader from Virginia, that United is “blocking an award through Continental” Airlines. “United’s own site is showing availability,” but “Continental is not seeing the open seats in their system,” she wrote…

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…

U.S. warns airlines on fare mistakes

Airlines are among the few businesses that sometimes want customers to pay for their mistakes. Every once in a while, a carrier cancels issued tickets after it deems its own published fare was an “error.” The Department of Transportation tried to teach such companies a lesson last week — sort of.

Both U.S. and foreign airlines have filed mistake fares in recent years, as has been reported in this column. Some of the airlines, such as United Airlines and Alitalia, have honored purchased tickets, but others, such as Swiss International Airlines, have not. The DOT’s Wednesday ruling was directed at British Airways…