Maybe they should blame your next flight delay on space aliens

Fred Rotgers’ recent flight from San Juan to Newark was canceled because of the weather. At least, that’s what United Airlines claims.

Rotgers doesn’t believe it.

“The weather at both the origin and destination was just fine from the time of cancellation until two days later,” he says. “United called this a pre-emptive cancellation.”

Question is, what was United pre-empting? Like many passengers, Rotgers suspects it had other reasons for canceling the flight. Maybe it was having plane trouble or maybe they failed to sell enough seats on the plane.
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How travelers can challenge the industry’s “act of God” excuses

It’s the time of year when the travel industry likes to play the weather card. Couldn’t check into your hotel? Blame it on that distant tornado. Flight canceled? It’s the hurricane’s fault, even though it’s hundreds of miles away. A big repair bill for your rental car? Thank last week’s hailstorm.

Usually, the weather — often referred to as an “act of God” in a ticket contract — is a perfectly legitimate reason for a delay or a service interruption. But not always.

Shannon Duane remembers a recent US Airways flight from Jacksonville, Fla., to Charlotte on a holiday weekend. As she prepared to board, she saw a bolt of lightning across the airfield. The airline announced that it would delay boarding for another 15 minutes because of the thunderstorm.
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Are airlines bending the truth about weather delays?

snow stormA few minutes after Michele Loftin’s recent commuter flight from Sacramento to San Francisco pushed back from the gate, it made an abrupt U-turn and returned to the terminal. A United Airlines crew member told passengers that the aircraft’s de-icer test had failed, and the airline eventually canceled the flight.
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Tarmac delay hall of shame: holiday edition

Anyone who thinks tarmac delays are dead was in for a little shock this week. Hundreds of flights were delayed in a series of powerful blizzards, and a few sat between the runway and the terminal for hours, waiting for the weather to clear.

The Transportation Department, which hasn’t fined a single airline for a tarmac delay since instituting its three-hour rule last spring, will almost certainly have to take some enforcement action this time. And, of course, there’s a big loophole: International flights remain exempt from the turnback rule.

More than two dozen international flights waited more than three hours from Monday to Wednesday to get to an open gate in New York, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The worst delay appears to be a Cathay Pacific flight from Bangkok that arrived Monday evening and got to a gate 12 hours later at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday.
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It’s cold out there — don’t you wish you were here?

If you live on the East Coast of the United States — and most folks reading this site do — then you’re probably thinking about the weather this weekend. Complaining about it, to be exact.

Yeah, it’s cold and snowy. And winter’s just getting started.

Since this blog is all about solutions, and since I’m kind of in the same predicament (there’s a freeze warning for Central Florida tonight) I thought I’d mention a few places that you might rather be.
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Driving home for the holidays? You’ll get there — eventually

There’s good news and bad news for motorists this holiday season.

America’s roads have never been safer, statistics show. But, depending where you live, they may never be slower.

“The big new trend this year is the construction,” said Carol White, co-author of “Live Your Road Trip Dream.” “With all the TARP funds rolling out on highway projects, last summer was a mess, and I think it is going to continue into the winter months in areas where weather permits.”

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal government has spent $27 billion for highway and bridge construction in the last two years.
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When should hotels refund non-refundable rooms? Survey says …

When it’s unable to operate the property safely. In a multiple-choice survey about hotel  room refundability, 83 percent of readers voted “yes” on that option. There were 678 responses to the poll.

Another 65 percent said rooms should be given their money back when a guest has a verified emergency, such as a death in the family. Roughly half of the respondents said refunds should be given when a guest can’t make it because of an Act of God, like bad weather.

Only seven percent said hotels should never refund a room.
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When should travel companies waive their change fees during bad weather? Survey says …

More often than they do.

A majority of travelers (69 percent) said change fees and penalties should be suspended when bad weather prevented “a significant number” of travelers from from reaching the airport, hotel or port. Slightly fewer (62 percent) also said they should put the rules on “hold” when bad weather prevents the travel company from operating safely.

More than one-third (35 percent) said the rules should be waived when bad weather prevents an individual traveler from reaching the airport, hotel or port. And only 3 percent said a weather-related exception should never be made.

Your comments reflected the responses on the survey. Reader Jim Johansen said rules should be bent on a case-by-case basis.
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Weekend survey: When should a travel company bend its rules because of bad weather?

Should a travel company waive its change fees or offer refunds when bad weather strikes? Should it ever bend its rules to accommodate passengers who are delayed because of a storm?

With a dangerous hurricane approaching the mainland this Labor Day weekend, it’s a question worth asking.

Here are the results.

Meantime, if you’re in the United States, have a great Labor Day weekend. If not, then consider yourself lucky — the storm probably aren’t heading your way.

Flying in the snow: 6 lessons for coping with winter-weather delays

Last weekend’s blizzard was a warning to air travelers: Winter is only starting, and when bad weather moves in, your flight schedule isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Nicholas Holland learned that when he tried to fly from Reagan National Airport in Washington to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for a Christmas party on Dec. 18. US Airways canceled his original flight and rescheduled him with a connection through Cleveland. But when a record snowstorm slammed Washington on Saturday, US Airways canceled the new flight, too.
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Missed your flight? Your airline may help — if you know what to ask for

If you’re delayed on your way to the airport because of a summer thunderstorm, you might think you’re out of luck. Most airlines now gladly charge you a full walk-up fare for the next flight when you don’t get to the gate on time — even if it’s for a reason beyond your control.

Here’s a secret: The so-called “flat tire” rule still exists in some places, notably Southwest Airlines. You just have to remind the ticket agent that it’s still there. And in some cases, you need to know what it’s called.

For example, at US Airways, it isn’t called a “flat tire” rule. It’s referred to as the “two-hour” rule.

This is from a US Airways insider, who retrieved the text of the two-hour policy from its reservation system:

A passenger who has missed their schedule flight based on unforeseen causes ie. flat tire, accident, traffic delays may standby without penalty or charges provided:

1. The passenger arrives at airport no later than two hours after departure of their confirmed flight, except if it’s the last flight of the day, in which case, they can standby on first flight next morning.
2. The passenger must standby on flights of same airline as their ticketed flight

The 2-hour rule is not to be solicited or referred as part of fare rule to circumvent voluntary changes. In-house exception made only when passenger has made an attempt to make originally scheduled flight.

In other words, US Airways employees must not advertise the rule to their customers. But they can, at their discretion, waive the fare rules and rebook a passenger on the next flight at no charge.

At a time like now, when summer thunderstorms are likely to cause massive flight delays, it’s good to know that airlines will cut you a little slack.

What’s not so good is that you need to know the secret password. Otherwise, you may have to pay for a new ticket.