Why are airlines redefining national borders?


Is Aruba part of the United States? I’m not the one asking. Hank Roden, a fine art photographer from Urbanna, Va., is, and it’s more of a rhetorical question.

When he tried to check a bag on a recent US Airways flight from Aruba to Miami, a gate agent charged him $25.

But hang on — aren’t checked bags on international flights included in the price of your US Airways ticket? Yes, they are.

“This is not an international flight,” the ticket agent deadpanned as she scanned his passport.

The experience was a little “weird,” Roden said. Why would an airline classify a flight as domestic when it’s obviously not? Could be the money.

Redrawing the map can benefit a travel company in several unseen ways, from giving it a competitive edge to allowing it to collect more fees from unsuspecting passengers.

US Airways has a perfectly logical explanation for what happened to Roden. Airlines classify their international operations differently when it comes to fees. Oddly, the Caribbean is regarded as a domestic operation, which may come as a little bit of a surprise to the good citizens of Aruba. Roden flew there on American Airlines, which has a different bag policy than US Airways, and which may have added to the passenger’s confusion. The two airlines are currently merging operations.

“He was charged correctly,” says John McDonald, a spokesman for both airlines.

If you think that’s odd, then pay attention to your next credit card bill. If you’ve booked a trip with a company based outside the United States — say, an international airline or a hotel based outside of the country — you might find an unpleasant surprise on your statement. It’s a foreign exchange fee, arbitrarily charged if you’re doing business with a company outside the States, even if you’re buying it at home and paying in dollars.

Does it cost the company anything extra? Nope. They define your U.S. purchase as being international, slapping an extra 3% on your bill.

Why? Because they can.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to snag an upgrade on a flight from Atlanta to Honolulu with my family. I spent the first few hours of the flight in the front of the plane. But when I tried to yield my business class seat to my better half, who was in economy class with the kids, a flight attendant blocked my way.

“You can’t do that on an international flight,” she says.

“Hawaii is part of the United States,” I reminded her.

She allowed me to downgrade.

“It’s a semantic game,” says Skip Miller, who’s had an identical conversation with a flight attendant in the past. Now retired from the Air Force, he recalls the U.S. military does the same thing, categorizing assignments in Alaska and Hawaii as “overseas” because they are not physically connected to the lower 48 states.

In talking with travelers, though, it seems this kind of gerrymandering — redrawing national borders to suit a company — usually benefits the company more than the customer.

Pat Volovnik, for example, was recently flying from Philadelphia to Cancun, Mexico, in first class. She decided to stop by the US Airways lounge, since you get access to the lounge when you’re flying first class internationally.

But no. “I was told that unless I paid for a day pass, I would not be able to enter,” says Volovnik, a real estate agent from Philadelphia. “Mexico is considered a domestic flight.”

How can they get away with calling something domestic when it’s not? Stephen Pickford, a travel agent who hosts a Canadian radio show about travel, explains that the practice dates to the days before the current “Open Skies” agreements, when you could clear U.S. immigration in Canada and Mexico.

“Once cleared,” he explains, “they were technically considered to be in the United States.”

It is also clear that travel companies, notably airlines, have exploited the ability to call Aruba or Mexico part of the United States.

Should that be allowed? Of course not. If you buy something with your credit card in the United States, and pay in dollars, you shouldn’t have to shell out a foreign exchange fee — any more than an airline should redraw national boundaries.

Where’s the border patrol when you need it?

Should airlines be allowed to redefine national borders?

View Results

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Plan ahead to dodge charges

1. Avoid foreign currency fees.

Some credit cards, notably, Capital One, and credit unions offer cards with no exchange fees. You’ll avoid gerrymandering your card purchases.

2. Look at the airline’s route map.

Many airlines consider Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean “domestic” destinations. Don’t look at the map to determine which policies apply — look at the airline’s route map, and call if you have questions.

3. Argue your case.

John McDonald, a US Airways-American representative, says policies are being “harmonized,” which is a reminder that airlines sometimes redefine their redefined borders. You may be able to argue your way out of paying some fees — but be polite.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • $16635417

    Not sure of the point. Looking at USAirways’ webpage for bag fees they make a clear distinction between Domestic and Caribbean, even though the bag fee for the first bag is the same. Sounds like the agent just did a poor job of communicating this.

  • backprop

    I’m surprised they let you switch between business and economy halfway through the flight to Hawaii.

  • TonyA_says

    The tax man redefined boundaries a long time ago.

  • MarkKelling

    Why? You paid for the seat, if you want to swap what difference does it make to the airline? I see it happen all the time on UA when one member of the family gets to sit up front and the others are in econ. It’s usually a husband/wife pair who switch. I guess one gets tired of handling the kids and needs a break. ;-)

  • sirwired

    I suspect it mostly has to do with the length of the flight. When they say “international” I think they really mean “transoceanic”.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe next time someone asks the agent something, the agent will simply say “please check the website, I don’t want to misinform you in any way”. This will end the string of complaints based on misquotes.

  • backprop

    That and, how they classify the cabin configuration. Usually First to the Caribbean is configured like domestic first and not to ‘international’ standard.

  • omgstfualready

    It does cost domestic banks money to process transactions in local versus base currency. That ‘point’ had nothing to do with the overall story in the first place.

  • backprop

    Usually they don’t let you mid-flight. Maybe they think you’re both trying to take advantage of the drink service :)

  • MarkKelling

    Banks get charged 1% extra by the credit card networks for cross border transactions (even if the transaction is billed in the bank’s home currency). But many banks bump up that fee to 3% or even 5% before passing it on to the customer. I feel that is price gouging because the bank doesn’t have to do anything more than they do for a domestic transaction to get that fee.

  • MarkKelling

    That was the only reason I could think of too. But most of the swaps I see usually are non drinkers coming up after the drinker has had a fill. ;-)

  • omgstfualready

    Yes there is more they have to do. And yes many charge an additional fee for doing that service for you. Although it is a consistent fee (based on % of spending). Why does TravelEx at the airport charge a sliding fee for exchanging funds, you pay less for exchanging more. Why? They aren’t doing any more for exchanging $1000 or $100. Is that 15 seconds worth that extra money? And they waive the return exchange fee if you exchange a sufficient amount. So banks are still the bad guy. Uh, sure.

  • bodega3

    If a passport is needed, that is an International flight and the rules for International travel should then apply to those flights.

  • $16635417

    Had I been given that response, yes, I would been puzzled. But then I would have verified it on the website later, seen how Caribbean and Domestic flights were two distinct regions with the same charge, and realized the agent misspoke (but WAS correct in the charge).

    I would NOT have written a consumer advocate claiming some sort of conspiracy theory on how USAirways has redefined borders.

  • Alan Gore

    So they have it both ways, once again, annexing Aruba one day and declaring Hawaii a foreign country the next. This is typical.

  • TonyA_says

    This makes me wonder who are all these people that write Elliott.
    They remind me of the kids in grade school who cry and moan to the teachers when they do not get what they want.
    Maybe such is the irony in being an ombudsman.
    You try to get the maximum compensation for your LWs even beyond what they will normally be entitled to.
    You send a message to the rest of the world. Go do whatever you want when you don’t get what you want from the travel supplier.
    Delayed flight, missed connections, records not found, oh that’s easy. Just buy another ticket and we (and our cheering squad) will pressure the OTA or airline to refund you.
    I thought publishing a guide book (hopefully online) that makes one aspire to be the World’s Smartest Traveler is a fantastic idea since it would provide knowledge about how to prevent disasters from happening or spiraling out of control in the first place.
    But everyday we see a new low here.
    Today we have folks that do not even bother to read the airline’s website for baggage disclosures and expect ticket agents to educate them (while serving hundreds of other travelers all in a hurry).
    Definitely the wrong message is being sent. Sorry.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Get a Capital One card. Problem solved.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The FA story doesn’t really surprise me. You don’t exactly have to be a brainiac to push a drink cart.

  • Rick Cricow

    I’ve been allowed to take a glass of wine to Economy, in the nice wine glass, to my wife. That trip, also a cheese plate. Other trips, had half & half delivered to me when I was in the back.

  • TonyA_says

    Is there a bit of hypocrisy here?
    If I remember correctly, every consumer travel advocate hailed the US DOT’s work in – 14 CFR 399.85 – Notice of baggage fees and other fees.
    In a nutshell, that required vendors to disclose baggage allowance and fees as early as the time they provide a price quote and again when the ticket is issued.
    Of course consumers need to do their part, too. They have to READ.
    If they don’t read, then they do not have the right to get surprised in the airport :-)
    So why entertain such BS here about domestic vs international definitions.
    There is no law requiring that baggage be free for domestic or international travel, is there?
    The law simply requires that whatever it is, it must be disclosed properly.
    By writing about the Aruba passenger, all we are doing is giving more attention to people who do not read and want to blame others for their ignorance.

  • TonyA_says

    Good advice.

  • omgstfualready

    Agreed, but Chris’ article was a slam out of the blue, and an incorrect one at that. Unnecessary.

  • TonyA_says

    Good but not all airline employees understand this.
    Try checking baggage from an inland airport to SEAsia.
    Example: Delta MCO-DTW-NRT-SE Asia.
    Expect to get hassled on the MCO-DTW leg because they assume you are on a domestic flight baggage allocation.

  • Gerry Pong

    At the time of this comment, there are 6 NO votes…do they work for the airlines?

  • TonyA_says

    USAIrways does not even use the word INTERNATIONAL.

    Very misleading article and poll.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    To be fair, I think that @elliottc:disqus publishes the most striking stories here, rather than the stories of the average person he and his team help. The shocking, the unusual, the heart-strings-tugging all get more page views. And, as Monday’s story shows, “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder. You and I certainly beheld that story very differently. :)

  • TonyA_says

    I truly wish we can emphasize the theme of “how can travelers help themselves” instead of blaming the airline, OTA, hotel, etc.
    Anyone who travels outside the USA, and especially in the Third World, knows this is the preferred way with dealing with problems :-)

    If I was checking in in ARUBA, I really do not plan to argue with that agent (most probably outsourced worker doing several airlines) the meaning of international and luggage allowance.

  • TonyA_says

    I am not sure what you mean? Is it NO or YES?

  • Gerry Pong

    Gee, TonyA. I could mean YES, I could mean NO. You decide.

  • IGoEverywhere

    You have hit the nail on the head! Each airline defines their baggage rules differently. Domestic, International, Caribbean, Mexico, etc. I was shocked to death yesterday when delivering documents. I stated that Delta would charge $25.00 per bag for their flight to Punta Cana. The web-site is clear – $25.00; nope move down – free, nope move down again. Delta did not even know when we called them an talked to oursourse land. Bag fees have nothing to do with borders.
    Now as far as moving seats between F and coach. Shame on you Chris for believing an attendant re: the “international” rule meaning anything at all. I’m not even sure that the rule exists. If I purchase a super saver and a first class ticket, I obviously save huge money over 2 first class tickets. (Upgrade or not) Then we change seats in the middle of the flight to each have 1/2 times of comfort. Airline loses. It is all about $$$

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Agreed that CE could have done a little more on the consumer education part of this article, like, “Be sure to research bag fees BEFORE your trip by reading the airline’s website”. Kinda like this particular website:

    http://www dot usairways dot com/en-US/traveltools/baggage/baggagepolicies.html

    EDITED: I see you already posted the version of that website that showed ticketing for prior to April 22, 2014. Sorry for not having read your post.

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    I can always do a better job with a story. I do appreciate all of the comments, which are usually better than the story. You guys make me look good. I’m grateful.

  • $16635417

    In paragraph 3 Chris states:

    “But hang on — aren’t checked bags on international flights included in the price of your US Airways ticket? Yes, they are.”

    I find his statement more misleading than the chart. ;)

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    To be fair to you, your book says, in many places, READ EVERYTHING. The problem is that many people don’t read books anymore, they just read bullet points or headlines or the first few phrases that pop up on a Google search. If you had included absolutely every thing in your book that pops up in these articles, it would have been as thick as a phone book!

    This isn’t a problem unique to the travel industry. I could go on, at great and horrible length, about the unpreparedness of most college freshmen to do anything but skim a a textbook for bullet points. This was long enough. :)

    Thanks for wearing the cape!

  • MarkKelling

    What more do they have to do if we are talking debit or credit cards?

    I worked for a bank and then for a credit card company. The settlement from the card networks appears daily in the bank’s accounts. Banks do nothing different for international than they do for domestic. It just happens.

    Now if you’re talking cash transactions then there is a lot to do. Most banks would prefer not to deal with that.

    And Travelex more than makes up for the waived exchange fee in the crappy rate they give you. ;-)

  • VoR61

    What you write here often falls into two categories: being smart and what is fair. This article, at least to me, read as the latter from the get go.

    Sure, it’s wise to check the rules beforehand, but it’s also appropriate to challenge the fairness or logic of those rules (which you do a lot). In this case they’ve hijacked the meaning of international.

    I have no issue with this article as written …

  • bodega3

    Yes, I have one and now my UA card no longer has foreign transaction fees, too.

  • jerryatric

    Hurrah for you. I AGREE! Talk about the “me” generation. Book a non refundable ticket, & something goes wrong, cry & complain likes it’s the other company’s fault. Didn’t buy insurance & got sick & couldn’t travel let’s appeal to a consumer advocate & pressure the company.
    No one wants to take responsibility for their own failures.

  • Bill___A

    I think phone companies started this sort of thing long before airlines. Not verbatim but the jest of it is: “Call anywhere in North America for one monthly fee”. ** **includes only the lower 48 states and excludes some northern parts of Canada. Last time I checked, ALL of Canada, Mexico, Alaska and several islands are all part of North America. The airlines did many things, but they were not the first ones in my opinion that altered geography in order to serve their advertising purposes.,

    FURTHERMORE, I’ve seen many an American phone company say you can call “Anywhere, anytime” on a plan and it actually only includes 48 states.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Among those petulant children running to teacher Chris, there are those who are simply frustrated by organizations which seem to have turned against them.

    There are a certain class of organizations which create rules which are complicated, confusing, and often designed to catch people to their disadvantage.

    Having to study a chart to determine whether the ticket you just bought includes a checked bag? That is pretty ridiculous. If an airline decides that it wants to charge for a checked bag, fine, whatever… but then when that transforms into charts and tables and list of exceptions and proviso:

    Between which regions of the world are you flying? Which fare did you purchase? Are you an elite member of our program, our alliance, or some other partner, the list of which will regularly change? Do you hold an affinity credit card? Traveling on military orders? Is someone in your traveling party elite, affinity, military, or pregnant? (Oh, wait, they aren’t on the same ticket… let me check the chart.) Is your luggage medical?

    Sometimes, you get an extra free bag, unless your first bag is already free, then you get nothing, unless you are elite, except if you are flying to Brazil or India, in which case everyone gets bags, unless you are coming from a different carrier.

    These rules may each have legitimate business purpose, rewarding certain types of customers or discouraging luggage on certain routes… but all combined they create a tangled web of conditions which a gate agent or travel agent may not find offensive, but are will confound many travelers, particularly if they fall into one of the weird corners where simple interpretations no longer apply.

    I would say that if they are not deliberately designed to confuse people, they are at least deliberately not improved in anticipation of that extra revenue at the check-in desk when the customer has no other choice but to suck it up…. and then come running to Chris when they get safely to their destination.

  • Marcin Jeske

    When else but mid-flight?

    During boarding airlines want to have everyone in their seats as quickly as possible (no time to swap seats or let the FA know). I guarantee you if a flight attendant see you sitting down in first class after showing an economy ticket, there will be words. (And I am sure boarding with someone else’s boarding pass would be frowned upon.)

    Taxi, take-off, and gaining altitude…. your call if that is the right time to swap. That may be followed by the rush of people to the bathrooms and maybe the first beverage service.

    You may be a ways into flight before there is a calm moment where you can switch seats (and let the first class FA know).

    Also consider the reasons people switch. One person may need the comfort and legroom, but doesn’t care for the meal (on a diet, doesn’t eat meat, filled up on cheese in the lounge). There is also the appearance of fairness… people do notice if one parent is stuck in the back with the kids while the other sips champagne in front… regardless of whatever post-flight arrangements have been made to “make it up to you honey”.

  • Poley King

    I’m not voting as the wording choice is poor. Cut the crap, no one is redefining national borders. I don’t see a problem with airlines lumping all of North America together. (note Canada is not part of the USA but is still North America) and Canada is treated the same for baggage fee purposes.

  • TonyA_says

    I purposely did not want to bring up the complexity of the current airline baggage rules environment because I have 3 world cup games to watch each day :-)

    But you bring up a good point that everyone must understand.
    Today, your free baggage allowance (FBA) and baggage fees are defined like fares and other service fees. They are very complicated.

    Baggage Allowance and fees are based on:
    (a) each airline (considering Most Significant Carrier and deferrals)
    Note: US DOT rules are not the same as IATA convention.

    (b) a portion of or the whole journey between 2 locations.
    Edited: I forgot the FLIGHT NUMBER !

    (c) date of travel
    (d) Class
    (e) Fare Basis
    (d) Passenger Type
    (e) Frequent Flyer (Elite) Levels (up to 9)
    (f) Tour codes
    (e) etc.

    But US law and DOT rules require that your airline or vendor disclose baggage allowance and fees (if your trip is from/to the USA) when they quote a fare and when the issue you a ticket. DEMAND TO SEE THEM when you buy a ticket. (I always include them on the ETRs for my clients.)
    Keep a copy so just in case the fees or allocations change before your depart, you have proof of what you were entitled to when you bought your tickets. In other words PRINT them with the e-ticket receipt. It is that simple.

  • Marcin Jeske

    It is a combination of tradition, practicality, laws, and what the competition is doing.

    Brazil, for one, has a Civil Aviation regulation essentially requiring 2 check bags (up to 32 kilos or 70 pounds each!) to be included in all tickets to/from Brazil.

    US Domestic used to always include checked bags, but then competitors started charging, and that tradition has changed…. and European Union “domestic” flights are now following that process as well.

    If you look at any airline’s baggage rules, there will be a whole host of country-pair specific rules. On United, two bags fly free to Panama, while Costa Rica charges. Hawaii is definitely transoceanic, but usually charged like continental flights.

    If you Google Lufthansa “Special free baggage regulations for Economy Class” (with quotes), you will find the one result to be a page listing 12 country and even city specific rules of exceptions, with 8 additional annotations, including a definition of “West and Central Africa”, a list of sixteen US cities where the rules are different for certain flights, and some rules are not even symmetrical (2 free bags Canada to Egypt, but not Egypt to Canada).

  • Marcin Jeske

    I’ve noticed that United doesn’t even seem to use a chart on its website anymore… instead pointing folks to a “baggage calculator” which asks specifically for your confirmation code or the departure and destination airport, the cabin, membership status, marketing carrier, date ticketed, and date of departure! It then spits out an answer.

    Clearly, United has finally recognized that their baggage chart and rules had become too complicated and confusing for mere mortals to witness with their own eyes, and need a calculating intermediary.

  • TonyA_says

    Have you seen the ATPCO Service 5 and 7 Records for Fees? – this is where baggage allowance and fees are defined.
    Unless you use ATPCO’s baggage calculator then good luck figuring out what the FBA and fees are :-)
    So the trend now is for airlines to subscribe to this service.

    Personally, I use a GDS that shows me the FBAs and fee for my itineraries. I have to use a GDS otherwise I find it too complicated.

    That said, it should behoove lay people to simply print a copy of the baggage allocation and fees for their tickets. There really isn’t any better way. This thing has gotten too complex already.

  • Marcin Jeske

    That’s because the rules used to be simpler like that… and simpler rules are easier to remember.

    Plus, if Chris had to replace “Yes, they are.” with:

    “Yes, they are, unless you are traveling to the following countries: Canada, (list of Caribbean and Central American countries to be inserted later), Greenland (Denmark), Bermuda (UK), unless your destination is (I kid you not, I pasted this from US Air’s website) Leon/Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico; Port Au Prince, Haiti; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Santo Domingo and Santiago, Dominican Republic; Kingston, Jamaica; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Managua, Nicaragua; San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Panama City, Panama; San Salvador, El Salvador.”

    … that would have made a very unwieldy paragraph 3. And that’s the point… besides laws in some countries (which usually guarantee a minimum), why can’t the rules be simple. The most obvious explanation is that simple rules would lead to most people understanding them, and planning for them, whether that’s packing to limit the fee, or choosing to fly a different airline. And that means less revenue for the airline…

  • Marcin Jeske

    No, anyone other than a travel agent or other industry professional should not have to be at all familiar with “ATPCO Service 5 and 7 Records for Fees”. If the baggage allowance charts can confuse a normal traveler, do you really want them wandering around in a GDS for information?

    It is true that airlines have been doing a better job of identifying your baggage allowance post-purchase… thought even then I have seen mistakes where certain elite status or alliance benefits don’t get applied even when your FF number is in the record.

    But that ignores the pre-purchase need for a consumer to be informed about how much expense they will incur on their trip. If I am flying from LA to Mexico with two bags, bag fees can easily be more than the cost of the basic ticket. Before choosing which airline to fly, or even if it’s better to fly into Mexico City (where US Airways waives some bag fees), I need to be able to identify the overall cost of travel.

    Yes, I can hope that my travel agent (and I include, apologies, online TAs) is kind enough to run the “calculation” when I am shown my options. I can wander from airline website to airline website reading rules, caveats, exceptions, and plugging various options into their new-fangled calculators…

    But that is crazy, it is time consuming, and it seems a lot of effort to paper over the fact that airlines benefit by making baggage fees difficult to understand because it makes prices look lower and makes comparison with competitors harder.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Sorry, I really am trying to stop writing so you can enjoy your World Cup, but one more nit to pick… as per your screen capture, they don’t say domestic (on the rules that expired April 22nd).

    But if you look at the fresh new rules starting April 23rd, you will notice that Canada is now in the “Domestic” region. Further, while the Mexico/Caribbean/Central America region is listed with bag fees ($25 and $40), there is a list 15 cities which waive some or all of these fees, covering almost every major capital or city in the region.

    I realize this is probably part of the realignment with AA, which has a huge commitment to Central and South America (no more bag fees to South America, for one), and it is better that the customer think they have to pay a fee and then find out they don’t than the other way around. But what is the motivation for having a bag fee to a region then waiving it for pretty much every major destination you have in the region?

  • TonyA_says

    No. Your ticket is normally issued using a GDS and therefore it should have baggage info on it. I am not asking you or anyone to use a GDS. I am merely telling you all this is done by a GDS so you need to demand it be printed (since the law requires its disclosure).

    Repeat: Baggage rules are now too complicated. Therefore the GDS automates them. There really is no easier way.

  • TonyA_says

    A simple autoprice of an itinerary in GDS displays baggage info.
    If your TA does not give you this info, then you need a better TA.

    Answer continued in my other comment below ….

  • Marcin Jeske

    I had a phone agent once try to explain it to me as a fee covering the increased risk of foreign transactions.

    The idea being that charges from another country were more likely to be fraudulent, that recovery of funds could be more difficult due to the security situation, legal system, or business standards of the foreign country. Essentially, a fraud insurance surcharge for those “risky” purchases outside the golden gates of America.

    Back when the card networks were primarily US-focused, with acceptance in other countries rare and catering to American visitors, I might have bought those arguments. Now, with the main payment networks being central to the economies of most North American and European countries (and down under), and making massive inroad in South America, Asia, and even Africa (though there, cellular networks are first), that reasoning does not pass the smell test.

    As for TravelEx… they are already charging you a fee in the spread between buy and sell prices. Those exchange fees are just icing on the cake, to make people feel they are paying much less for the service then they actually are.

    And they are actually doing more work to exchange $1000. From counting to transport, it’s ten times as much work and ten times the risk. In reality, since I bet they have a lot of fixed costs (staff and locale), the small transaction are probably being subsidized by the larger transactions. If they had to charge everyone by the minute, those small transactions would become very expensive.

  • LFH0

    Chris Elliott’s report that “the U.S. military . . . categoriz[es] assignments in Alaska and Hawaii as ‘overseas’ because they are not physically connected to the lower 48 states” also caught my eye and started me to think. In addition to Alaska, there are two other states for which a portion requires people to go through Canada in order to travel there overland: Minnesota and Washington. It seems to me that if the military were to fly someone to the Northwest Angle Airport in Angle Inlet, Minnesota, then that, too, would constitute an “overseas” assignment.

  • Marcin Jeske

    They are in proud company in declaring Hawaii foreign soil: I seem to recall some folks looking through birth certificates. Not to mention the poor native Hawaiians, who didn’t expect a military coup would lead to the end of a 100-year old kingdom and more than a thousand years of independent living “off the world grid”.

    And really, who hasn’t annexed Aruba yet? First Spain, then the Netherlands, even the British and the US have had their turn.

    I bet that part of the switch to “transatlantic” and “transpacific” is due to the ever complicating situation of the European territory in the Caribbean. Although Miami-Aruba may not be a flight to Europe even though Aruba is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, there are a handful of airports in our hemisphere which are by law in the European Union, both Aruban-neighbor Bonaire and Saint Martin joining them in the past 10 years.

    I get a kick out of getting sent to the International Terminal in SFO on some Alaska Airlines flights to Portland and Seattle… no the Pacific Northwest hasn’t seceded to form the Republic of Cascadia… those Alaska planes flew in from Mexico.

  • Marcin Jeske

    There’s that old lawyer trick (though anyone can play): if disclosure is required, over-disclose and bury them with paperwork.

    I may have the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but if I bury it in 342 pages of rhetoric and exposition, you may never notice it. The spirit of the law would result result in:

    Your flight SFO-NYC: $300 fare, $25 first bag* and $50 second bag* each way, $200 change fee*

    The asterisks could jump to those lovely charts or calculators to see if your elite status or Costco card or beer-of-the-month club gets those fees waived. I have not seen a single airline implement it so cleanly (SW and JB don’t count).

    I am sure Chris hailed the new regs, but it is not hypocritical to ask that what is disclosed not be obfuscated. There is good reason why most people had simplified the pages of rules into a domestic and international litmus test … it made sense and it was simple. I think the gripe is that not only is it still not disclosed very transparently, but that the rules are designed in such a way that there is no way to easily disclose them.

    Of course, Spirit would require an entire chart just to display one fare quote because I can’t think of a clean way to organize all their fees.

  • Marcin Jeske

    “overlakes” assignment? “oversounds” for scrap of land south of Vancouver BC?

    Disregard the vast number of US territories which are actually overseas… well, “overoceans” really… ever more confounding the meaning of overseas as foreign vs. literally on the other side of a large body of water.

    Assuming Canada doesn’t want US troops transiting, the only way to get to both Alaska and Hawaii from “the mainland” is over an ocean, so there is logic there. But that would make Puerto Rico, USVI and many Caribbean islands “overseas”.

    Is getting posted in the Arctic an “overseas” assignment? I would hope so, what with the actual Arctic Sea being under you in some form pretty much everywhere.

    This is how TSA inspections look in the Artic, by the way: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polar_bears_near_north_pole.jpg

  • Marcin Jeske

    This is of course the drawback of almost always buying direct from airline web site or by OTA (yes, Expedia is my choice of poison). There is no one to demand this information from… and it looks like most airlines and OTAs have failed to live up the Spirit of disclosing those fees, no matter what the GDS may give them.

    To take a wild sample – American: As of today, pre-purchase but with your flight segments selected and ready to enter traveller and payment info, AA dot com does not show you the baggage fees for your flight. At several places on the page, right below “Your Trip Price: $123.45 USD”, it does have a link to “Baggage and Optional Charges”….

    … which is a 7-page table of various fees in chart form, about a third of them pertaining to baggage allowance, with most entries linking to another page of exceptions. And not specific to the flight you have just selected and are about to buy.

    And while the obvious answer would be to use a RealLive(tm) TA… I guarantee that if people tried to use your services as a TA in the same manner they query Expedia or airline websites (I am not alone!), after the tenth time someone called you or wandered into your office asking you to price the same ten flights to different European cities, oh and could you check three days before and after… hmmm… I’ll come back around 1 am to check again…

    … you would ban them from your office, hire thugs to chase them off, get restraining orders against them, put out hits, … and beg Expedia to take those customers back.

    Because they would really cut into your World Cup time, more so than even I, despite trying. :)

  • $16635417

    Regardless, the paragraph is factually incorrect and misleading. How about:

    But hang on — aren’t checked bags on international flights included in the price of your US Airways ticket? In some cases, they are.

  • TonyA_says

    Simple, agressively enforce the US DOT regulation.
    Make every vendor print/display FBA and fee to the selectedd itinerary beside the price.

  • bodega3

    Fare rules are written the same for every fare and for every carrier world wide. Now that the internet allows you to book online, you want the rules written so you don’t have to do what every TA and airline agent has to do…read them. The only fees listed in fare rules are change/cancel fees. Baggage, meals, onboard entertainment, upgrade costs, all are additional costs, not part of a fare rule. A benefit of using a certain credit card is your responsibility to know, not the carriers responsibility to tell you.

  • bodega3

    Good to point it out Tony! What you pay is based on the date of purchase, not the date of travel.

  • bodega3

    They would be charged a research fee. But what takes you hours we find in minutes. Also if you are asking for this type of information, why would you expect them to drop what they are dong, without you paying upfront? Just because you walk in a door and are greeted, doesn’t mean you get priority over those who are ahead of you.

  • omgstfualready

    I’m fairly certain the phone agent does not know about, or fully understand, the infrastructure to handle how things run.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    My Sapphire Preferred card also waives the fees. I think the same for my United credit card.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    there’s a saying in the travel industry: HUCA Hang Up and Call Again.

    If some bureaucrat has the rules they’re following, they’re not going to risk their job to help a total stranger and who can blame them? Would you leave your job in the middle of work to help a traveler you met at the bus stop make his flight? (Actually, this really happened. A co-worker of mine met Miss Ukraine at the bus stop and then just took off his day of work to help her around town without telling his boss. His boss ultimately fired him for not calling in.)

    So hang up and call again. Call the 800 number. Or go to the lounge and see if the concierge can help there. Or twitter. Or go to another desk.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    There’s a funny South Park episode: Cent-I-Pad about the hilarious and tragic consequences of not fully reading the usage agreement before downloading software.

    “You promised me it could learn to read!” — Steve Jobs

    But honestly, I don’t have the time to spend 15 minutes waddling through legalese before I download the latest copy of Safari or activate my google account. This means that Apple probably scans all my emails for marketing purposes. So be it.

  • Taylor Michie

    We can debate the merits of foreign transaction fees all day long, but they’re disclosed and standardized for all purchases on a certain card, so it shouldn’t be a shock to the consumer.

    Not saying that I disagree with your point, but it’s really neither here nor there.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    You’re being scanned. Right. Now. {cue evil laughter}

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Not only baggage fees, but also whether to serve alcohol for free on flights. :-)

  • PolishKnightUSA

    I wouldn’t mind if they said something such as “call almost anywhere” which is accurate and still provides the context that for most people, it does equate to “anywhere.”

    I’ve had arguments with Carver on this forum before about this, but it’s useful to keep in mind that judges are lawyers and politicians are also usually lawyers so they typically write the law not in a manner that is convenient for consumers or their electorate, but first and foremost to keep judges and lawyers in business quibbling over the law and their big corporate clients ready to pay for the privilege of misdirection. I don’t blame them. It’s self-interest like the real estate industry and Realtors paid to keep prices inflated.

  • Bill___A

    Truth in advertising does not seem to apply in this case. Changing definitions for marketing purposes is not acceptable in my mind. Kind of like sensationalist irrelevant headlines on websites…come to think of it, this is probably not the right forum for this considering Mr. Elliott is the king of misleading sensationalist headlines.

  • LFH0

    Be it the military or the airlines, each should should language and geography correctly. Several years ago there was a frequent flyer promotion by Eastern Airlines: fly seven segments, get a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in North America. I selected a round-trip to Panama because it is geographically part of North America. Although I was concerned that Eastern might use some made-up geography (e.g., only Canada and the United States are part of North America), the airline followed geography correctly and provided me with the award ticket. Kudos to Eastern Airlines.

  • malbarda

    Delta Airlines actively advertises that they offer multi-channel inflight video throughout the plane, electrical outlets in business and economy comfort and lie flat beds in business class on all international flights (and minus the lie-flat beds, the same if offered on most domestic flights). Not the case when you fly NY – Mexico, which – as stated in this article – for some bizarre and random reason is classed as a domestic flight. To make matters worse, on the 5 hour flight you’re treated to some of the oldest planes in the Delta network. On both the outbound and return flight I was on a 20+ year old Boeing 757 in business with in seat flight entertainment on the outbound only. On the return flight there was not even that, there was only overhead projectors throughout the whole plane. On both flights there were no plug points anywhere on the plane and no flat beds in business. Bizarly, both flights offered wifi. You get better DL hardware when flying to LA, San Francisco or Seattle nowadays. I have actually had better on most domestic flights within the US. It feels like DL is treating its Central American customers as second class citizens.