Fares, Bumping, Baggage: What an Air Traveler Needs to Know

Sunset, November 1987 | Go to article overview

Fares, Bumping, Baggage: What an Air Traveler Needs to Know


Fares, bumping, baggage: what an air traveler needs to know

Ah, for the good old days of air travel, when making plans required little more than looking for a reasonable far on a convenient flight. Today's air travelers need to know reams of information just to get off the ground. Getting a ticket doesn't guarantee a trouble-free trip.

Even so, the number of Americans boarding commercial flights has skyrocketed, from 275 million in 1978 (the year air travel was deregulated) to nearly 419 million in 1986. Flights are often filled, even overbooked. Airports are swamped, too: some schedule a hundred flights during peak travel hours, even though runway capacity allows for only 50.

Fortunately, help is coming (see box below). Congress, consumer-rights groups, airlines, and airports are working to make domestic air travel more responsive to travelers' needs. (Rules for foreign carriers vary by country.) It helps to know what to do if you have air travel woes.

Bargain fares can be costly

Sometimes the least expensive fare can end up costing you more. These fares usually carry the severest restrictions: some are absolutely nonrefundable and nontransferable--even if it's not your fault that you missed a flight.

What can you do? Try not to buy tickets until your plans are sure. Or be willing to pay a higher fare (sometimes twice the lowest, even for the same class seat).

And consider buying trip-cancellation insurance when you buy your ticket. Most policies give a partial refund if emergencies cause you to miss a flight. Ask your travel agent, or check these insurers:

Access America, Box 807, New York 10163; (800) 851-2800.

Teletrip (Mutual of Omaha), 3201 Farnam St., Omaha, Neb. 68131; (800) 228-9792.

Travel Guard, 100 CenterPoint Dr., Stevens Point, Wis. 54481; (800) 826-1300.

The Travelers Companies, Ticket and Travel Plans, Agency Marketing Group, 1 Tower Square, 15NB, Hartford, Conn. 06183; (800) 243-3174.

Dealing with delays and cancellations

If weather or air traffic delays your flight, you're stuck. If it's due to a mechanical or crew problem, ask the airline ticket agent to book you on another flight (but beware --rerouting may cost you more).

If your flight is cancelled, the airline must put you on another flight. Some airlines will transfer you only to their next flight. Try to secure a confirmed seat, not a standby one.

If you're stuck overnight for reasons other than weather, some airlines may cover your expenses. Ask an airline representative for the company's policy.

Bumping: sometimes worth the wait

Airlines overbook flights to protect themselves from inevitable no-shows. If an airline must deny boarding to passengers with confirmed reservations and tickets, it must first ask for volunteers to give up seats in return for either cash or a voucher for future travel.

If you plan to volunteer, check these first: Will the airline put you on the next available flight, regardless of airline, and when will it depart? …

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