Some answers to readers' airline questions:
Question: I understand that London's Heathrow Airport has a horrendous arrival fee. Is the same true for Stansted and Gatwick, London's two other airports?
Answer: I'm not sure if you're referring to the airport landing fee, which is assessed based on the size of the aircraft and does vary from airport to airport but is paid directly by the airline, or Britain's air passenger duty, which is, essentially, a tax levied on airline tickets and varies depending on the class of service (economy or premium) and the length of the flight, not the airport. This tax is paid directly by the passenger and has been steadily increasing.
When introduced in 1994, it was 10 pounds. On a flight from the eastern U.S. to Britain and return, it's 67 pounds (about $103 at current exchange rates) in economy and 134 pounds ($205) in business or first class. On a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to London it's 83 pounds ($127) and 166 pounds ($254), respectively....
Question: As a human resources consultant, I sometimes receive travel inquiries from one of my clients. Here is one: An employee, using a company credit card, purchased a $1,200 airline ticket for a business trip. The ticket is in her name and is nontransferable. She then resigned from the company, and the company (which is paying for the ticket) contacted the airline. The airline initially told them there was no problem but later said no changes (regardless of fees paid) could be made to the ticket and even added the comment "Guess you just gave your former employee a nice trip." While my client understands that advance tickets have restrictions, it seems impossible that the change of employee name (with change fee) cannot be implemented and that the ticket, paid for by the company, remains in the possession of, and for exclusive use by, the former employee. Can you help?
Answer:Here are words I never thought I'd say: The airline is right. The client bought...
Virgin Galactic has trained more than 140 "space agents" worldwide to sell tickets for the first commercial space flights that may begin as soon as early next year.
"We have two clients signed up," Bell deSouza of Mansour Travel in Beverly Hills said Wednesday. The agency is one of eight in California authorized to sell the $200,000 ticket to ride.
Monday's successful test flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo in Mojave brought the idea of commercial space travel a bit closer to reality. More flight tests are expected by the end of the year and, if all goes well, commercial operations would start in early 2014.
The 31-year-old travel agency was invited to rep the company likely because of its "high-profile, upscale" clientele, DeSouza said. It has one designated travel agent, Carmella Sears, who underwent Virgin Galactic training to be able to explain the experience to customers and who visited the company's Spaceport America site in New Mexico.
The agency promotes the space flight...
Virgin America kicked off service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on Monday and rolled out a new in-flight system that allows a passenger to anonymously send a perfect stranger a cool cocktail during the flight. Yes, it's a flirty seat-to-seat way to hit on someone in midair.
The airline also rolled out introductory fares between L.A. and Las Vegas of $39 each way for those who buy by Monday night.Dubbed "get lucky," the service allows a passenger to use a seat-back touch screen to buy a drink or a meal and send it to a fellow flier using a digital seat guide map. The seat-to-seat delivery already allows folks to e-chat with anyone on the plane (provided they want to engage).
Need lessons on how to up your game? Virgin empire founder Richard Branson tells all: "As founder of the Virgin group, I've been in my share of compromising positions," Branson starts out in "Sir Richard Branson's Guide to Getting Lucky at 35,000 Feet" (video above).
No application yet for those who turn you down....
The explosions in Boston on Monday jangled nerves and created some flight arrival and departure issues at Logan International Airport. What worried fliers may need to calm themselves is a golden kiss -- a golden retriever kiss, that is.
Therapy dogs will be spreading the love at boarding gates, baggage claim and ticketing areas at Los Angeles International Airport to put fliers at ease with a cuddle and wag of the tail. It's part of a new program called PUPs, Pets Unstressing Passengers.
"Being able to see a dog makes everybody feel good and takes their stress level down," said Heidi Huebner, director of airport volunteers who oversees PUPs. Mixed mutts, Dobermans, bijon frises and other types of dogs wearing red "Pet Me!" vests will visit all airport terminals.
Pets are mood enhancers, according to WebMD's pets website. Interact with a dog and it suppresses a stress-making hormone called cortisol and lowers your blood pressure too. And that's exactly the point, Huebner said.
In just 10 days you'll be able to carry knives onto planes. Not big butcher knives, of course, but those described as smaller than 2.36 inches long and less than half an inch in width.
That relaxing of Transportation Security Administration rules in March also includes allowing passengers to carry on certain items, including ski poles, hockey sticks, golf clubs, etc.
But it's the knives that have created the strongest reaction, including one from U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Los Angeles). Pilots and flight attendants as well as members of Congress have objected strenuously, and some have asked the TSA to reconsider and keep small knives on the prohibited list.
In March, California U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) wrote a letter to TSA head John Pistole to oppose the policy change. More than 100 members of Congress signed on to the letter. Pistole replied explaining why the decision was made, noting that explosive devices seemed to be the weapon of choice for terrorists, not knives.
Question: My passport will expire at the end of August. Because I travel for my job frequently and sometimes with little advance notice, I cannot be without a passport for the four to six weeks it will take to get a new one. Also, many visas I will be applying for require a passport with at least six months left of validity, meaning I need to get a new one sooner rather than at the last minute. Is there any good way for people like me to transition to their next passport?
Lisa Kim Davis
West Los Angeles
Answer: Yikes. Davis has a problem. If that sounds like a wonderful grasp of the obvious, it's not just the problem associated with the question she asked; like many problems, that one can probably be solved by throwing money at it.
It's a problem that the passport expediters to whom I talked emphasized repeatedly: If your passport expires in less than six months, a country may refuse you entry even if there's no visa requirement. Among those countries that require at least three and...
It's difficult to know when to buy an airline ticket and when to wait. Some sites offer to guide you on the timing of your purchase.
I recently examined the fare prognostication tools used by Kayak and Bing, which advise travelers whether to buy plane tickets while searching those websites or to wait. Both sites use data from scores of past searches to predict whether you're finding a fare at its lowest point or whether it may fall.
I examined 10 random routes and dates of travel, and the companies were generally united on their predictions, with one exception: For a hypothetical trip from Los Angeles to Portland, Ore., in mid-April, Bing and Kayak both brought back the same fare — $178 on both Delta and Alaska airlines — but differed in their recommendations.
Kayak said with 85% certainty to buy. Bing said to wait with 75% confidence.
Who won? Bing.
A week later, the price had fallen to $158.
That led me to a simple question: Why must we spend so much time guessing whether...
Here are some tips to add to your storehouse of money-saving knowledge. For instance, you can get money back when a hotel room rate drops. Or you may be able to get free airline lounge passes or a hotel upgrade. Here's how.
Getting money back if the price goes down: If your hotel lowers your room rate between the time you buy and check in, which happens about 20% of the time, you can usually rebook at the lower rate, or get a refund automatically. Tingo.com checks and rechecks your hotel rate almost until the hour of check-in and automatically refunds the price drop to your credit card. It also alerts you if a room upgrade is available at the original price you paid.
Orbitz (www.lat.ms/10eeB99) will give you 110% of the price difference if another Orbitz customer rebooks the exact same dates and room type. Orbitz also works with airfares and packages. But you no longer get cash back; now you get Orbucks, which can be spent on future travel on Orbitz. Orbucks expire a year from issue.
Question: Two years ago, I traveled to Tibet, including Lhasa at 11,975 feet above sea level. I started having mild headaches. Two weeks later, as the plane was landing in San Francisco, I became non-responsive. I underwent a craniotomy to relieve pressure from a clot next to my brain. I've had other altitude issues, including passing out while snowshoeing near Mammoth and experiencing altitude sickness after leaving Cuzco, Peru. I know commercial flights are pressurized above sea level, and I have taken some domestic flights. Is a long flight safe for me?
Playa del Rey
Answer: You could argue that it's unsafe to walk across the street, and you'd be correct, but with a series of medical events like Fisher's, the best move is to check with a physician who knows your medical history.
The blood clot and altitude issues may not be related, two doctors I spoke with said. If that's the case, they think he probably can travel safely in an aircraft for a longer period of time. If...
British Airways has named Los Angeles as the first destination to be serviced by the airline's first A380 Airbus starting in mid-October, the airline announced Tuesday.
The double-decker plane will operate as one of three daily flights between London and Los Angeles starting Oct. 15. The airline's largest passenger plane will accommodate 469 fliers and feature 14 first-class seats and 97 business class seats (53 upstairs and 44 downstairs). The airline is scheduled to receive its first superjumbo jet in July.
The airline isn't saying exactly when the inaugural flight to Los Angeles would be, but round-trip tickets are on sale. Until March 13, promotional rates are available for $830 for economy, $1,380 for premium economy and $3,800 for business class (prices include taxes and fees). (To make sure you're on the A380, check the aircraft when you make a reservation.)
The special rate is good for travel from Oct. 15 to March 2014 with some blackout dates. The airline also will launch A380...
You keep hearing about people who take these fabulous trips (see story) and they don't pay a penny — or very many pennies. You have miles, but you don't seem to be getting much, well, mileage out of them.
For the last seven years, my life has been all about points. I quit my recruiting job on Wall Street, for which I traveled more than 150,000 miles a year (and collected numerous corporate credit card points), and founded ThePointsGuy.com, a website that's all about maximizing frequent-flier miles and credit card points.
These days I have millions of miles that I accrue on the cheap. They allow me to travel the world in first-class style on a coach-seat budget.
Here are a few things that every traveler — not just frequent fliers — can do to be smarter about their miles and get more out of them.
Lots of people have frequent-flier miles — it's estimated that more than 20 trillion miles and points are floating around out there — but few leverage them for...
It's been a long time coming. Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways officially merged in May 2011, but their flight options and reservations have remained separate -- until now. Consumers soon will be able to go to either airline and choose from the full list of itineraries operated by Southwest and AirTran.
The airline plans to roll out integrated itineraries and ticketing to 39 cities (it isn't saying which ones) on Feb. 25 and to connect the entire network in April, according to a statement. For customers, that means being able to add legs of AirTran travel to a Southwest flight and vice versa, and being able to book an all-AirTran itinerary on Southwest.
For those enrolled in frequent-flier programs, the airline recommends being members of bothRapid Rewards on Southwest and A+ Rewards on AirTran until they become one. That allows you to be able to trade credits between the two systems. Note that itineraries booked on Southwest -- even if there's an AirTran leg of travel to, say,...
More than 3,000 flights have been canceled and train service has been suspended Friday as a large winter storm started to bear down on a swath of the Northeast from New Jersey to Maine. The winter storm is predicted to bring high winds, plenty of snow -- 2 to 3 feet predicted for Boston and New York City -- and a big headache for travelers.
"This one doesn't come along every day. This is going to be a dangerous winter storm," Alan Dunham, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass., told the Weather Channel. "Wherever you need to get to, get there by Friday afternoon and don't plan on leaving."
As a result, officials in many states are taking precautions to prepare for what could be a devastating blizzard. FlightStats.com reports 3,147 flights canceled Friday and 980 flights canceled for Saturday, as of noon Eastern time. Airports in New York City (LaGuardia and JFK), Newark, Boston, Hartford, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., reported...
The International Airlines Travel Agent Network has launched a free mobile app that can locate more than 20,000 travel agencies in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The idea is to give travelers a quick way of finding a professional travel agent at their fingertips.
The deal: The Travel Agents app is free for iPhone and iPads as well as Android and BlackBerry devices. Just go to the relevant app store and download. IATAN, a nonprofit organization that's part of the larger airline trade group International Air Transport Assn., has compiled information for the app from travel agents who meet their accreditation standards.
When: The app is available indefinitely.
Tested: The app allows you to search for travel agents to by city, ZIP Code or area code. I received three referrals with address and phone numbers for agencies in my area when I punched in my ZIP Code. From there I found options to call up a map and directions to each agency.
I also did a more generic...
Question: My wife and I travel to Israel at least twice a year to visit children and grandchildren. There is a 10-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv. Because of time constraints, we can stay only about seven days. Even though we take Ambien on the plane, we are hit with heavy jet lag for the entire time we are in Israel, which affects the enjoyment of our trip. Is there anything we can do to reduce the jet lag?
Answer: Short of not going, there is so far no magic potion that will cure jet lag, which is a disruption of circadian rhythms that regulate our body clocks. When we are jet-lagged, we want to sleep and eat at the times that are inappropriate to where we have landed.
And, alas, for the Samuelses, flying east is more difficult, said Dr. Herbert L. DuPont, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. "Expect jet lag when you are going east across time zones," DuPont said....
Anyone who has booked a last-minute flight knows you pay more when you wait. But you also pay more if you book too early. What's too early? What's too late?
Pity the poor fare geek trying to hit that elusive sweet spot.
Discount travel site Cheapair.com has crunched a year's worth of booking data and found some answers to these and other eternal travel questions, including:
— Best time to book a domestic flight? Seven weeks in advance.
— Best time to book an international flight? Eleven to 12 weeks out.
— Best day to search for flights? Not necessarily Tuesday or Wednesday, despite the conventional wisdom.
And, probably most surprising of all, the study found that booking too early can be almost as expensive as booking too late.
"The 'earlier the better' is not the case in booking either domestic or international flights," Jeff Klee, chief executive of Cheapair, said of his company's analysis.
Klee's computers compiled 560 million fare-search records from 2012, giving...
Question: My husband is from China and visits family there every couple of years. I haven't gone since 2007 and would like to see our relatives, but the idea of a 12- to 14-hour nonstop flight has become daunting as I have aged and flying has become an experience that can be compared to a root canal. Is there any route or airline that is cost-effective and lets me break up the flight to a reasonable degree?
Answer: There are a couple of ways to give yourself a break on that long journey. One is practical and comes from travel agent Tina Erskine, the owner of Tina's Travel Network in Pflugerville, Texas. The other requires the luxury of time and money and comes from my dreams.
Once upon a time, travel agents were happy to book airline tickets for you. Some still are. But many must charge a service fee because airlines don't compensate them.
Erskine is in the camp of those who think leisure travelers are better off booking their own tickets. If you don't feel...
Ever wonder what flight attendants really think of you? What they'd tell you if they had the nerve? Or weren't afraid of being fired? What secrets would they reveal about their jobs?
Several of my friends work as flight attendants. One of them recently retired after 20 years flying for a storied name in commercial aviation. Others work for less glamorous domestic U.S. airlines. I asked them what they would say to their passengers if they could or what bits of wisdom they would reveal if granted anonymity. These folks do not represent every flight attendant in the skies, so if you're a flight attendant, feel free to disagree and send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. But I didn't make this stuff up. What you read here may surprise you or make you laugh or both.
Here are some of their confessions.
You know that coffee you ordered? It may be decaf even though you asked for regular. Flight attendants told me they would rather you sit back, relax and fall asleep so you don't bother them.
After fuel prices sent airfares skyrocketing last summer, you may have sworn off travel to Europe. We can't predict whether summer 2013 fares will shoot up; looking at a sample now tells us they're not cheap — at least, not in comparison with winter fares. The rule of thumb holds true: If you want to stuff a few extra dollars in your stocking, go in the off-season.
Because the weather isn't optimal and there are few school holidays, winter is typically the cheapest time to head to Europe, excluding the holidays. The "cheap" season lasts until about mid-March, when fares begin to creep back up.
Using Kayak.com, we checked round-trip nonstop fares from Los Angeles International Airport to London's Heathrow and Paris' Charles de Gaulle for three random dates. (Because airfares are volatile, these may no longer be available.) For a Jan. 15-22 trip, the lowest fare for nonstop service from LAX to London was $877 on several airlines. If you fly May 7 and return May 14 you'll pay as...