web Musings of The Global Traveller

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Get 30k Delta miles for $330

An email from Delta skymiles offers double miles on transfers through to end April. While the email says it is targetted, it seems to have been sent far and wide.

To get your 30k miles, simply pay $330 to transfer 30k to a friend. Your friend then pays $330 to transfer the 30k miles back to you. End result is you each have 30k miles added to your balance for $330.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Airline passenger rights in USA improved

Thanks to a tip-off from Rick Seaney, I learned today that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has improved airline passenger rights in USA. No, this is not the passenger bill of rights that some have been calling for and has been on and off in the news for months.

Rather, the rules for compensation for denied boarding (or involuntary denied boarding aka IDB) are being improved 25 years after they were set. The press release is light on details but refers to compensation limits being doubled and also extended to include 30 to 59 seat aircraft (the old rules only covered 60+ seat aircraft. The detail (and reasoning) can be found on the DOT website here.

In summary.

Old rules - 100% of ticket value to next stopover to max $200 if delay is 1-2 hours (1-4 hours for international), 200% to max $400 if delay is over 2 (or 4 for international) hours. This on top of the provision of transport or refund. Only applies to aircraft with 60+ seats.

New rules - as above but with $400 and $800 limits. DOT acknowledges this increase does not fully reflect inflation. Only applies to aircraft with 30+ seats.

Under the new rules an exemption applies for aircraft with 30 to 59 seats where for safety reasons either a smaller aircraft must be substituted or payload restricted. Hopefully this exemption does not get abused by airlines (eg by excessive overbooking in situations where payload restrictions are reasonably forseeable or likely) as much as European airlines trying to wiggle out of their EU passenger rights compensation obligations.

The rules don't come into effect for at least another 30 days, but it is promising that DOT refers to next month. So while the exact date isn't yet published it should be before 1 June 2008.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Great London Heathrow Terminal Shuffle Extended

I spoke too soon when I said a couple of days ago that things were looking up for British Airways (BA). They've now announced a delay to the second phase of flights being shifted to their new terminal at London Heathrow (LHR), T5. This was planned for late April but "will now begin in June". My guess is they need some time to make some changes in the baggage handling area which seems to most problematic of the many issues BA has in the new terminal.

What does this mean for LHR travellers?

Most airlines that use LHR were due to change terminals in a great shuffle lasting around 12 months. The Cranky Flier did a good summary of the great LHR terminal shuffle last month. Forget that timetable, it is now history.

Firstly, if you are flying to/from or through London Heathrow in the next several months you should check again which terminal(s) you will be using. But wait at least a couple of weeks. According to the other major UK domestic airline, bmi, other airlines have not yet been consulted about the change of plans by BA. Catty? Yes, especially as bmi is one of the least impacted airlines (they don't change terminals in the shuffle but may have some impact on their scheduling thanks to star alliance connecting passengers). Anyway, I expect it will take a while before the dust settles.

So, don't rely on your travel agent or itinerary to tell you which terminal you are using. Check for yourself a few days before departure at least. If you are connecting between two different airlines (or on BA between terminals) check that your connection is still viable if it now requires a terminal change. If your connection becomes too short as a result, the airline should rebook you on another flight.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

More disruptions for American Airlines, and better news for British Airways

Just a week after I posted a blog entry about major disruptions to some airlines, in which I said American Airlines MD-80s had been out for wiring checks and completed, there is more bad news. From, today's grounding is due to checks on, wait for it, wiring. Huh? Did they only look at one aspect the other week?

I bet this isn't the last one in the series of temporary groundings by FAA.

Meanwhile, British Airways is at last back to normal operating levels in London Heathrow Terminal T5, that is apart from the backlog of undelivered bags. I hope it stays that way, and that both BA (the airline) and BAA (the airport operator) have learnt some lessons ahead of the next phase of the great terminal shuffle - most flights being moved from terminal T4 to T5.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Midnight delays and how to deal with trips in vain

The other night I was reminded just how unpleasant a lengthy delay can be in the middle of the night. My red eye flight was pushed back an hour at a time for a few hours in total and ended up leaving just before 3am. The frustrating bit was not being able to snooze during the wait as I was unsure if the latest announced boarding time was accurate, or if the gate would change yet again (it did change once). That the flight disappeared from the terminal monitors at the time of the scheduled departure did not help as we were totally reliant on announcements made at the gate.

During the wait I wondered what would happen if the flight delay turned into a cancellation. My tight schedule would mean I wouldn't be able to rebook for the next day on the same airline (it operated once daily), or reroute on the same airline, or be rebooked on the one other airline serving the route.

On a similar vein I calculated that my pull out time was about 4am. Earlier in the year I had to pull out of two trips - coincidentally from the same airport on a single route (different from this redeye) but on 2 different airlines. The first one was caused by a mechanical issue and I determined I would not return to origin in time to make an onward flight on a separate ticket. The second one was caused by bad weather at the destination airport but with the same problem. For this latest time, it was again a mechanical issue (on the same airline - bad luck probably but readers may wish to avoid being on my American Airlines flights!) but again the same problem with onward flights on separate ticket.

Fortunately I didn't reach the pull out time. But for the benefit of others, here is what I do. The situation I describe can be called a "trip in vain". The same applies if for example you are doing a short trip to another city to hold a meeting but the delays mean you cannot reasonably hold a meeting (eg your 6 hours in that city turn into 1 hour). If you have flexible tickets, or have status with that airline or it's alliance partners, then you can get the ticket cancelled and fare refunded (possibly with a small penalty). Another strategy to take to protect against this, instead of buying expensive flexible tickets, is to buy dirt cheap ones (if you don't fly but it cost you peanuts then the lost value by not flying is no big deal). You'd have to cancel a high proportion of such tickets for the cheap approach to be worse off than the expensive flexible tickets approach, although there could be other reasons for booking flexible fares.

With some airlines, you also have the option of rebooking. However it very much depends on airline policy as to whether this is worthwhile.

Some are very flexible and will let you rebook for free even if there is no availability in your booking class. A year or so ago I had a trip in vain due to weather issues on Air New Zealand and, thanks to my status I guess, my cheap ticket was rebooked as an expensive ticket at a later date that suited me - score extra miles and improved customer loyalty in return for the airline going the extra mile.

Others require payment of rebooking fee unless the cause of delay was totally within their control (eg if weather played a part then rebooking fee applies but if mechanical or crew issues then no rebooking fee), and/or require availability in the original booking class or payment of fare difference. I had a trip in vain on a dirt cheap sale fare on Qantas that was worth a whopping $2 as credit or could be used if the exact same sale reappeared on dates that work for me - result is a pissed off customer annoyed that I had wasted my money on something I could not use due to what I perceived as being caused due to the airline's actions.

Since policy varies so much it is worthwhile asking specifically if you have any options for cancelling or rebooking your trip in vain. Give your ticket details (including booking class if you know it or at least mention if it is first or business class) and your highest relevant elite status or airline club membership if you have any. Sometimes rules are bent for high price tickets, club members or high status passengers. Ask as soon as is practical (in the club lounge if you have access or the nearest ticketing desk). If you don't like the answer just say you want to consider your options and try calling the airline later, just in case the agent was lazy or offered incorrect advice or you get lucky with the rule-bending the second time around.

Back to the recent redeye. When we eventually left (with a scant 2 minutes until the crew went out of hours), I was so tired having already been up about 40 hours that I crashed asleep at the end of the safety briefing and only awoke a few minutes before landing. The sweet flight attendant apologised for not having enough time to now serve me my meal.

New links

I've added some more links (at right) to sites I find interesting or regularly useful. Please check them out some time.

Frequent flyer mileage not crediting automatically

I have no idea why it is happening, but lately a high percentage of my flights have not been crediting mileage to my frequent flyer programs (FFP) automatically. This has been across a few different airline and FFP combinations, even sometimes when crediting to the FFP of the airline operating the flight!

Maybe it just is a coincidence - I've also had long periods without any problems. But it sure is annoying. Some programs make missing mileage requests simple and painless. Fill in an online form and you are done. Unfortunately some online forms only allow claims for their own flights. Other programs have a more complicated process and require effort - hunting down an e-ticket number for example, or mailing in originals of boarding passes and tickets. Some FFPs say they require the boarding pass and tickets to be mailed in but in practice accept faxed copies or even an email outlining the required details. I guess they state a harder line to deter some requests, which is poor form in my view.

In general, if I can't do it online and have an elite status member contact that I can validly use, then I'll use that person to chase up the mileage requests. That sure beats having to snail mail stuff half way around the world to the mailing address of a FFP, hoping it doesn't get lost en route (or paying for expensive registered mail) and waiting weeks for any action. But, it would be better for me and for the FFPs, if they all had online missing mileage claim forms.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A rash of major disruptions to some airlines

Safety checks

Last week Upgrade: Travel Better and Cranky Flier (amongst others) blogged about several airlines' having some or all aircraft of a type being grounded temporarily for various maintenance checks.

Today it is United's turn with their 777s (source Chicago Tribune). Apparently one of the long list of things to check regularly, has not been checked for some time.

So a quick run-down by airline.

  • American - MD-80s out for wiring checks, now completed.
  • Delta - MD-88s and MD-90s out for wiring checks, now completed.
  • Southwest - 737s out for checks of the skin, now completed.
  • United - 747s out for maintenance checks, now completed.
  • United - 777s out for fire suppression checks, underway.

While I'd be surprised if any of these safety checks finds anything other than minor deficiencies in process and monitoring, they are still enormously disruptive to the airlines affected and of course to travellers. As the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seemingly conducting audits airline by airline, I'd be interested in knowing when they plan to do the remaining airlines - so I can make sure I'm not flying those airlines at a time when disruption is likely.

British Airways (BA)

The situation seems to be very slowly improving. Cancellations and delays through London Heathrow (LHR) terminal T5 are ongoing (almost 1 week so far) but slowly reducing each day. There has to be a big question mark over whether they are up to shifting most of the remaining flights from T4 to T5, which is scheduled for April 30. Especially as one of the biggest problems has been baggage and T4 flights being longhaul will bring a lot more baggage. If the move is delayed, this will have snowball effects on the great London Heathrow shuffle (see this blog entry by Cranky Flier for a summary).

A threat of a pilots strike (over the set up of BA's new Open Skies subsidiary) was last month held off by referring to court for a ruling. I guess the silver lining of the current mess is that BA is (or should be) much more likely to settle with the pilots to avoid yet another public relations disaster.

I'm glad my transfers through LHR this month are on other airlines, even though I do wish to see the new terminal for myself.

Keep informed

Clearly, the status of all these (and other similar) disruptions can change quite quickly. Be informed. Check the relevant airline and airport websites. Check live flight information (eg flightstats). Know your rights (eg if flying an EU airline or any airline from the EU check out my previous entry on EU passenger rights). Some more tips are in my blog entry from last year on disruptions.