THANKSGIVING

Hey airlines, thanks for nothing!

Aaron Kohr/Shutterstock
Aaron Kohr/Shutterstock
What annoys you the most about air travel?

Is it the chaos that awaits when you pull up to the curb at the airport terminal this time of year? How about the indignity of being screened by the TSA? Or maybe just knowing that you’re paying more but getting so much less?

Now take a deep breath and say it with me: “Thank you.”

As we approach Thanksgiving, I, for one, am feeling grateful.

So is Mary Jo Baas, a consultant from Milwaukee. She sees the upside in the deep cuts in services and amenities, particularly in economy class.
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TSA Watch: Pistole tries to soothe holiday travelers as agency silences gun talk

TSA Administrator John Pistole was busy making the rounds during Thanksgiving week, trying to assure holiday air travelers that their screening experience would be better than last year.

Which it was, thankfully.

That’s probably because the agency backed off some of its more absurd practices, like forcing children to take off their shoes. (Ever heard of a two-year-old shoe bomber? Neither have I. Richard Reid was 29 when he tried to take down an American Airlines flight to Miami.)
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Thanksgiving air travel disaster!

Flying somewhere this Thanksgiving? You might want to read this first.

This probably isn’t going to be like past Thanksgivings.

• The full-body scanners issue hit a critical mass this morning when a technology blog released images taken from one of the machines in Orlando and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. People are upset about the pictures.

• The controversy over the new pat-down procedures for those who refuse to be scanned also climaxed this morning when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a newspaper, “if people want to travel by some other means,” they have that right. In other words, don’t fly if you don’t want to be patted down or scanned.

• TSA didn’t exactly help when it announced it will formally investigate John Tyner, the San Diego-area passenger who who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan. TSA says the investigation could lead to prosecution and civil penalties of up to $11,000.

• AAA added fuel to the fire when it predicted a double-digit increase in the number of Thanksgiving travelers. It projects the number of Americans traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday will increase 11.4 percent from 2009, with approximately 42.2 million travelers taking a trip at least 50 miles away from home. (Fortunately, 94 percent of these trips will be by car.) Separately, the Air Transport Association has said it expects 24 million air travelers this Thanksgiving, up 3.5 percent from a year ago.

I’ve also just learned that several consumer rights activists, including Ralph Nader, have taken a stand against the new body scans and pat-downs, raising the possibility that even more air travelers will participate in Opt-Out Day on Nov. 24, when passengers are being asked to refuse to walk through the machines.

If even a small number of air travelers turn down the scans on Nov. 24, which is one of the busiest travel days of the year, it could significantly slow an already overburdened air transportation system — maybe even bring it to a standstill.

What to do?
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Can this trip be saved? My 17-year-old booked a ticket on Orbitz — actually, two tickets

Booking a flight online may be convenient, but it’s far from problem-free. Just ask Charles Bornheim, whose son is holding an extra airline ticket he booked through Orbitz.

Bornheim is trying to get a refund, but is having no luck. Airlines can be pretty unforgiving with their refund policies, and at some point when you’re booking online, you have to take responsibility for your own actions.

But is this a case where no one is really to blame — and should I try to help him secure a refund?
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Thank you! United fixes “last vacation” for terminal cancer patient

baliHere’s a heart-warming story for the Thanksgiving holiday: James Thomson and a longtime friend, who is suffering from terminal cancer, ran into trouble with their flights from San Francisco to Bali. One leg of Thompson’s flight was canceled, which threatened to end his friend’s final vacation.

Despite repeated efforts to contact United Airlines, he was getting nowhere.

Would Thompson’s friend miss his last trip?
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Thanksgiving on Treasure Island

Beach

Thanksgiving evokes memories of cold weather and warm Turkey dinner, but here in Florida it’s a great time to go to the beach.

We spent the weekend before Turkey Day at Sunset Vista Beachfront Suites in Treasure Island, just north of St. Pete Beach. (My daughter Erysse shows me some of the sugary-white sand, with the hotel in the background.)
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It’s holiday travel time! You heard it here first!

snowy roadTake your car in for a tuneup. Give yourself extra time if you’re flying. Oh, and it’s going to be one for the record books.

You’ve read that before, haven’t you?

When it comes to the travel tips you see just before every major holiday, you can count on paint-by-numbers reporting: a AAA prediction followed by a sound bite from one of three travel “experts” (always the same three) followed by that familiar advice, dispensed in easy-to-read bullet points.

But which tips are cliches that should be ignored, and which are bona fide, you-must-do-this advice? If you’ve been reading these stories as long as I have, you must be wondering.
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What’s 1.4 percent, really? A second look at the Thanksgiving forecast

snow at airportAfter a sharp drop last year, more Americans are expected to travel for the 2009 Thanksgiving holiday, although travel by air will decline. That’s how the play-it-straight AP played the just-released AAA Thanksgiving forecast.

How many more Americans? 1.4 percent, which is statistically insignificant. Oh well.

What is statistically significant is the number of air travelers who say they won’t fly — down 6.7 percent. (AAA wasn’t the first to forecast a drop. The Air Transport Association predicted a more hopeful 4 percent decline a few weeks ago.

But do any of these numbers mean anything to you?
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Bad Spirit? Airline reschedules Thanksgiving flight, offers useless vouchers

spirit planeDebbie Gitlan’s Thanksgiving flights, which she booked last March on Spirit Airlines, kept getting rescheduled to the point where she couldn’t take the trip anymore.

Some airlines would offer a full refund under those circumstances. But not Spirit.

The carrier issued a credit that ended up being as difficult to use as her original tickets. Which is when she contacted me.
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