Your New Year’s travel resolution? Don’t be a jerk

Here’s a New Year’s resolution we can probably all agree on: Don’t be a jerk when you’re on the road.

There’s something about travel — whether you’re flying, driving or sailing — that brings out the jerk in all of us. Like the guy in seat 26B just in front of me right now on a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, who is probably a nice guy on the ground. But put him on a plane, and shortly after takeoff, he jams his seat into my knees without so much as an apology.

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Oops! Wrong inaugural rate at the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.

Faith James likes to think of herself as a “pretty savvy traveler” but when she planned to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington next month, she couldn’t have foreseen the trouble with the Capitol Hill Hotel Washington D.C.

I couldn’t have, either.

James is taking her 78-year-old mother up to DC to attend the festivities. They were lucky enough to get tickets from their congressman, but accommodations proved to be a little more difficult.
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Uh-oh! My Expedia coupon had a little accident

Question: Maybe you can help me with this little dilemma. I booked a trip for my nephew to Reno, Nevada, through Expedia. I made the reservation by phone. The trip went well, but I was promised a $50 gas card.

When I received the card, it was damaged and there were no instructions on how to activate it. Expedia said I could use the card anywhere, but when I tried, no one would honor it.
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Is DirecTV guilty of “false advertising”?

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Question: We recently ordered DirectTV service based on information received from the company’s sales team that turned out to be wrong. We think DirecTV is guilty of false advertising.

A representative told us our reception would be good, if not better, than Comcast Cable. This is not true. We had Comcast before we got DirectTV, so we know this for sure. We have a high-end television for which we paid $5,000. Our picture quality was greatly reduced with DirectTV.

I was also told we would have all the same HD channels I had with cable. Not true. We couldn’t get certain channels, including WCCO.
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Guests who want it all and the hotels that pander to them

From time to time, I get an email from one of you that makes me want to say, “That’s ridiculous!”

The one I received from a guest at a budget motel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was one of them. Problem is, I can’t figure out who is being more ridiculous — the hotel or the guest.

As this column makes its curtain call, I’ve critiqued air travelers, car renters and cruise passengers. But this week it’s time to talk about hotel guests.

Specifically, the person booking the room at the bargain hotel in South Florida. In addition to expecting all the creature comforts of an American hotel, and getting the benefit of a super-low rate, they were upset when they found a $4.50 per night “hotel shuttle/parking service fee.”
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Help! United left my 13-year-old daughter in Syracuse

What does United Airlines’ unaccompanied minor fee cover? Katrina Cichosz wants to know, and after reviewing her case, I’m kind of curious, too.

Let’s go right to the textbook definition, which is on United’s website. When her 13-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, flew home for Thanksgiving on Nov. 21, she had the option of paying the $99 fee to cover “the extra handling required” for managing a child’s travel, but technically, she didn’t have to.
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7 things you’ll love about the TSA

Carolina K. Smith MD/

It’s been almost three years to the day since Special Agent Robert Flaherty knocked on my front door and handed me a subpoena.

The Department of Homeland Security order — which would have forced me to reveal the name of a source who had sent me a “secret” TSA security directive — was dropped a few days later after I told the feds I’d see them in court. It also turned me from an aviation security skeptic into one of the TSA’s most vocal critics. Every week I take the agency to task on my consumer advocacy site.

So you’d think that when it comes to the subject of airport safety, I wouldn’t have one nice thing to say. But that would be wrong.
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A long, bumpy ride to denied-boarding compensation

Tom Posch missed a weekend trip to Cleveland last summer after United Airlines overbooked his flight. Normally, travelers in Posch’s shoes would quietly accept the flight vouchers the airline offered as compensation.

But Posch is an Air Force attorney, and he decided to dig into federal regulations to see what the law requires of United.

What he found led him to file a lawsuit in a Virginia district court last month and it reveals that passenger rights are never a sure thing — even when it comes to something as seemingly certain as involuntarily denied boarding compensation.
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Delta’s Ausband: “Customer service is very important to the bottom line”

Allison Ausband/Delta

Here’s part two of my interview with Allison Ausband, Delta Air Lines’ vice president for reservations sales and customer care. You can read part one here.

Whatever happened to First Point of Contact? Does it still exist?

Absolutely. We’ve told our people either to fix it, or find someone who can, which is what First Point of Contact was all about. So, if you can’t solve a problem, raise your hand and talk to a leader.

We just started a program with our customer support supervisors in reservations. If they get to an impasse with a customer, they offer to end the call and then call or email the customer back after a short break. It gives the supervisor the chance to review the situation and consider some options that perhaps they hadn’t considered.
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Should airlines charge a change fee even if they can resell the seat?

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Question: We recently booked a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Virgin America to get us home after our trip from Tahiti. But about a month later, our travel agent informed us that our return flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles had been canceled.

I called Virgin America and was told that it would cost us $180 to change the flight to the next day, when our new flight was scheduled.

There are more than four months between now and then to resell those two seats. If those four seats were not rebooked in the next four months, I would be OK with getting charged or losing my money.
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Delta’s Ausband: When it comes to customer service, “we want to be even better”

Allison Ausband/Delta Air Lines

Allison Ausband is Delta Air Lines’ vice president for reservation sales and customer care. I met with her last week to discuss the progress since our last interview in 2010.

It’s nice to see you again. And you’re still here. Before you came along, this position was like watching a game of musical chairs. (Here’s my 2009 interview with Ausband’s predecessor.)

Thank you. I liken it to solving world peace on some days. I try to fix everything. But I’ve never been more excited about our momentum.
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My honeymoon photos are ruined — thanks a lot, Target!

Alexey Laputin/Shutterstock
Question: I attempted to exchange a camera we purchased for our honeymoon, which turned out to be defective and ruined all of our honeymoon photos. We were told that because the camera had been on sale, and the item has since returned to its regular price that we would need to pay an additional $100 to exchange the defective item with the exact same model.

The guest services representative, loss prevention person and the team leader (who continuously told us she was the store manager) were extremely rude and condescending while informing us of this fact.
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