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Answering Your Travel Questions

by Jack Penning

kgw.com

Posted on September 1, 2006 at 1:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:45 PM

Thanks to the hundreds of people who've taken the time to e-mail their travel questions and concerns over the last couple of months. I always enjoying reading your comments, and I enjoy helping to the extent I'm able. I've been so busy covering "news of the day" lately, I haven't had time to respond. So I decided to steal some time on this Friday to clean-out the inbox... and respond to some of your questions here.

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I'll start with the possibility of a Northwest Airlines strike. You'll find background information in my post from yesterday.

Hugh and Mona write: "We have reservations on [Northwest] from PDX to [Minneapolis] and on to Kansas City on September 5th. I realize you don't have a crystal ball, but possibily you have some information as to whether or not the threatened strike will take place?"

As you probably know, for now, the strike is off. A federal judge ruled flight attendants can't strike until he has time to consider a strike's impact on the airline and the flying public. So you're fine... at least through Labor Day.

But, the judge could come back with a decision at any point next week. Although I don't have any inside information, union leaders I've talked to are quite convinced the judge will allow their strike to go forward immediately. The airline is confident a strike won't be allowed. In similar cases, the right of a union to strike has been upheld.

But remember, this likely won't be a widespread strike... affecting all flights. Rather, it's likely they'll call-in-sick for certain flights... or walk off the plane just before it's set to depart. It's a tactic they call "CHAOS"... meaning "Create Havoc Around Our System." It was last used by Alaska Airlines flight attendants in 1993, and it succeeded in getting them a new contract.

The best advice is to continually check both the airline's website, and the website of the flight attendant's union. If nothing is posted about an imminent job action on either site, assume your flight will operate normally.

You can also monitor Northwest Airlines flight operations by using the link I've provided to Flightstats.com. It will give you a good idea of how many flights, on any given day, are running on-time. For example, at noon today, Northwest had 1460 flights scheduled, with 8 cancelled, and 87% running on-time.

Dale wrote me to explain a tough situation he got into on an international trip... and to ask if there's anything he can do about it: "My Sony Mavica camera was stolen out of my luggage, which was lost and finally arrived a few days later in Bangalore, India. My flight originated in [San Antonio]... to Chicago... on to Frankfurt, Germany. The plane was late, we were re-routed to Mumbai, then on to Bangalore the next day. My luggage arrived on Monday, with locks still in tact, however they obviously opened the luggage, everything was there except the camera."

Unfortunately, there isn't much one can do about items stolen from luggage, unless the item was declared to the airline before departure. Airline ticket jackets clearly state the international rules, governed by the Warsaw Convention: "...liability for loss, delay, or damage to baggage is limited to... $9.07 per pound [up to $640]... unless a higher value is declared in advance and addtional charges are paid."

In this case, it's a good idea to file a claim with each and every airline on your itinerary, and against each country's security agency. It's unlikely you'll be reimbursed, but it's always worth a shot.

The best advice, always, is to carry expensive items on-board with you, or ship them with UPS or FedEx.

Chantel wrote me with a question about an airline's responsibility when it changes your flight's departure and arrival times... after you've booked and paid for the ticket: "I have a situation where the airline has changed our flight to arrive back from Ireland 2 hours later then what it was originally scheduled, and we have to catch another flight once arriving back in Toronto to go to Baltimore. We [now] have 15 minutes from when we arrive to when we are scheduled to fly out again, which of course is impossible to make (especially we will have to get our luggage and check in again). I was under the impression that when an airline has a major schedule change like that, you have the option of changing your travel dates or cancelling your flight for no penalties. They will not let me cancel for a full refund."

In the US, airlines have to go by a law called "Rule 240," which would require the airline to change your connecting flight, or offer a full-refund, due to a schedule change like the one you describe. However, the rule does NOT apply to foreign airlines... like the one you're flying between Ireland and Toronto. That airline is required to do nothing, but tell you of the schedule change.

The good news is that the airline you're connecting onto will likely understand, and allow you to change that flight without a fee. If not, they'll, almost always, allow you onto the next available flight, if you miss yours, at no additional charge.

Amy wanted to know more about the new airport security regulations. Specifically, she asked about how long they'll be in place: "Is there a way I will know if these are all still in effect when I leave next week? I was wanting to grab a coffee at the airport before my flight!"

From all indications, it appears the new security rules are here to stay. The TSA has no plans to change anything. But, in time, we usually see these rules relaxed somewhat. I would say to plan on dealing with the current "no liquids or gels" situation at least through the Christmas holiday.

Obviously, this is just a small sample of your e-mails. If I didn't respond to yours, I apologize. But please keep the notes coming! I love to hear from you at jpenning@kgw.com.

Other News and Notes

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My colleague, Vince Patton, recently told me about a promotion Frontier Airlines is running for passengers leaving Denver. The airline will ask departing passengers if they want to take part in a survey before they leave. But there are no questions to answer. Instead, agents direct you to stand on a scale, where a computer (anonymously) records your weight. Then your carry-on is weighed. That's the whole survey.

It turns out, Frontier is working to come-up with a new average weight for passengers and their baggage, so it can more efficiently load and balance its planes.

For taking part in the survey, Frontier will give you a coupon for free DirecTV in flight... a value of $5.

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Alaska Airlines is considering new routes from the West Coast to Hawaii, according to an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal. The Journal reports Alaska is working to receive FAA permission and certification to operate extended over-water flights (called ETOPs in the industry for Extended Twin-engine Overwater Performance) with its twin-engine 737s. The initial reason for the advanced certification is to shorten the distance flown on routes to Cancun, Mexico. But FAA approval would allow Alaska to fly non-stop from PDX to Hawaii.

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Today, Horizon Air celebrates its 25th anniversary. The airline started flying on September 1, 1981, on a route between Seattle and Yakima. It has since become one of the largest regional airlines in the US, owned now by Alaska Airlines. Horizon has grown to operate 597 departures a day. Horizon is Portland's largest carrier, in terms of the number of daily flights, with 234 flights a day.

Got a news tip for me? E-mail me at jpenning@kgw.com.

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