Want better airline service? Power up your smartphone

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Liz Owen needed help, and she needed it fast.

She had rescheduled a flight from Washington to Los Angeles on Virgin America to avoid superstorm Sandy, which was about to slam into the East Coast. But she’d forgotten to order a wheelchair.

Owen, who works for a nonprofit organization in Washington, had recently broken her foot, which was in a cast. “I had been on the phone on hold with Virgin America for well over an hour,” she remembers. Halfway to the airport, she decided to send Virgin America a tweet — a message on the microblogging service Twitter.
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Do you trust GPS directions?

If you have a driver’s license, chances are that you also have an amusing story about GPS directions.

Here’s mine: A few weeks ago, my family and I were driving from Cayucos, Calif., to Prescott, Ariz., when I noticed that the needle on the fuel gauge was pointing to “empty.” Not a problem, I thought. There must be plenty of service stations between here and Bakersfield.
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Google’s little flight search problem

If you haven’t Googled a flight itinerary recently, you should try it.

Google’s Flight Search, the fledgling search engine that lets you find a ticket and book it directly through an airline, is getting better. Much better.

In recent weeks, the new service has quietly expanded the number of U.S. cities it covers. (It won’t say how many destinations are being served, except that the number has doubled.) Google has also integrated flight searches into its authoritative search results, making them easier to find and use.
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Need a flight? Just Google it

When Brittany Laughlin needed to fly from Chicago to San Francisco last month, she tried something new. Instead of visiting an online travel agency or an airline Web site, she headed over to Google Flight Search, the newest and most controversial travel site to launch since Orbitz opened its doors a decade ago.

Within a few seconds, Google showed her the perfect flight on American Airlines. She clicked on the link, which took her to the airline’s page to book a ticket. “It was really clear and instantly showed results,” says Laughlin, who runs a social media company in Chicago.
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Is the travel industry thinking small or just being small-minded?

True story: US Airways, which has been in the news this week for announcing it will add first class service to its smallest planes, sent frequent flier Margery Wilson the following apology late yesterday.

Earlier this week, we inadvertently delivered an email message to many of our Dividend Miles members’ email accounts. Unfortunately, one of those accounts was yours. Worse, this email incorrectly stated that we posted 1,000 Dividend Miles into your account. This was not accurate and the email message was sent in error.

We apologize for any inconvenience this might have caused you and appreciate your understanding.

Wilson thought it was a belated April Fool’s joke. “If it wasn’t such a paltry amount I might be upset,” she said.
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Need an airline ticket? Surprisingly, “meta” search is where most travelers start

Conventional wisdom says most airfare searches start at an online travel agency or airline website.

But the conventional wisdom could be wrong.

Asked where they begin a ticket query, a new survey points to so-called “meta” search sites such as, and, which cull fares from multiple airlines and online agencies and then display the choices.

A slim plurality of travelers polled in a new Consumer Travel Alliance survey (37 percent) say they click on a meta-search site first. Another 35 percent begin with the airlines’ own websites, such as and

About 1 in 5 travelers go directly to an online agency, while only 7 percent call a travel agent and 2 percent visit a search engine like Google or Bing.
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What autocomplete says about your airline preferences

Don’t you just love Google’s “autocomplete” — the feature that tries to guess what you want while you’re typing?

Autocomplete’s algorithm offers searches that might be similar to the one you’re entering. Here’s an explanation.

After seeing this clever map of autocompleted states, I wondered: What does it say about travel?

A lot, actually.

For airlines, the results are telling. Hotels and car rental companies? Not so much. The algorithm tries to pair you with a location in your own area, which makes it difficult to tell what others are typing.
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