Category Archives: Travel

Should You Know About Surprising Airline Rules

Unless all your devices have been on airplane mode, you’ve seen the video of a passenger being dragged off a United Airlines flight so his seat could be given to one of the carrier’s employees.

United’s CEO initially defended the forced — and bloody — removal, saying the airline has a right to bump passengers even though they paid for their tickets and were already seated. For many consumers, this was a shocking education on passenger rights — or lack of them.

“There are hundreds of rules that are listed in different documents that nobody reads,” says Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, a travel information website. “It’s like your Apple phone. It asks you, ‘Do you agree to the terms?’ and it’s a 60-page document. Who is going to read that before they press ‘yes’?”

You’ll find the rules are spelled out in each airline’s “contract of carriage” or “conditions of carriage.” They vary from carrier to carrier. Here are some of them:

Overselling and bumping The practice of selling more tickets than there are available seats is legal. Airlines have been allowed to overbook to financially protect themselves against passengers who don’t show up and then claim a refund. Empty seats cost airlines money. Carriers also are permitted to bump passengers if too many of them show up.

In this recent case, the flight was fully booked — not oversold — when four United crew members tried to get to their destination by bumping passengers. Typically, airlines will first offer a financial incentive. They can offer any amount to people who voluntarily give up their seat, starting, say, with a $100 voucher for a future flight.

Under federal requirements, domestic passengers who are involuntarily bumped can receive up to $1,350 — and get it in cash. (You are most likely to be involuntarily bumped if you’re not part of the airline’s loyalty program, you purchased a cheap ticket and checked in close to takeoff, Seaney says.)

But this overselling practice is no longer needed, Seaney says. Years of experience and computer technology help airlines forecast cancellations, he says. Plus, now that some airlines charge a $200 fee to change a flight — about the cost of many tickets — it’s rare for passengers not to show up, he says.

United’s offer didn’t receive any takers, so the airline said it randomly selected seated passengers to be involuntarily bumped. One man balked and was dragged off.

“Once a pilot, flight attendant or gate agent says you are going to be removed from a plane, there is zero tolerance for [resistance] in the age of terrorism,” Seaney says.

“It should have never got to that situation,” he adds, saying the airline could have made a more generous offer before anyone boarded. It may have cost United a couple thousand dollars, but it would have saved the airline tens of millions of dollars in bad PR, he says.

“You’re wearing that?”: Airlines can prevent you from traveling on their planes if what you are wearing is deemed inappropriate. United, again, made headlines last month when it stopped two teens from embarking because the girls wore leggings. The girls were flying on a type of ticket for United employees and their dependents, but the airline told the New York Times that a dress code applies to all travelers.

The rules are vague, and it’s up to individual airline employees to decide whether you violate them, Seaney says. “They are the judge and jury. Definitely, certain people have different moral codes than others,” he says.

Size matters: As with attire, airline staffers have discretion on whether you’re taking up too much room and must buy another seat. (Some airlines, though, will seat “passengers of size” next to an empty seat if it’s available without charging them extra, Seaney says.)

Pay up front: Make a purchase through a retailer, say Amazon, and the retailer won’t charge it to your credit card until the item is shipped. But airplane tickets are considered contracts, Seaney says, so the charge will appear on your credit card at the time of booking — even though your flight may be months away.

And what if you are entitled to a refund for a canceled flight? Instead of crediting your account immediately, airlines can wait up until two billing cycles to refund your money, Seaney says.

Broken items: If you place electronics or other valuable items in your checked luggage and they break in transit, you’re out of luck. They aren’t covered by the baggage insurance, and you won’t be compensated.

Lost luggage: You are entitled to compensation if your luggage is lost or damaged. But you’ll get much more if this luggage problem occurs on a domestic flight — which comes under federal regulations — than on an overseas flight that’s governed by international law, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, a travel information website.

If you are traveling overseas and concerned about not being adequately compensated for lost luggage, consider purchasing insurance for checked bags from the airlines, Hobica says.

No guarantees: Transportation is not guaranteed — and neither are many other features of flying, Hobica says. “Most contracts say, ‘We don’t guarantee to get you there on time. We don’t guarantee that you will have a particular seat on the plane. We are not obligated to serve you,’” he says.

Of course, there are many more rules on air rights that would be useful for travelers to know. Hobica suggests that consumers at least once in their lives read an airline’s “contract of carriage.”

“Do it while they’re not listening to the safety demo,” he says.

Great Travel Deal Before It Vanishes

The clock is ticking on one of the best travel deals around for seniors: On Aug. 28, the cost of a lifetime pass to our national parks for those 62 and older will jump from $10 to $80.

That means you only have a few weeks remaining to lock in your $10 lifetime pass to more than 2,000 sites and parks across the country that are managed by the National Park Service. Those who purchase the passes before Aug. 27 will never have to pay an additional fee to visit any of the national parks, according to the NPS.

Passes can be purchased online for an additional service fee of $10 or at any of the parks without the extra charge. Passes also can be purchased through the mail, though applications must be postmarked by Aug. 27 to secure the $10 price.

The park service has offered the lifetime senior pass for $10 since 1994. It covers all entrance, day-use and vehicle fees, and provides discounts for things such as tours and campsites. At a site that charges per-person fees, pass holders can bring along three other adults for free. The price increase is part of a larger move to pay for major projects and enhanced services.

Seniors can still opt to buy an annual pass for $20. Those who purchase an annual pass for four straight years can convert their pass to a lifetime senior pass.

Even with the 700 percent price increase, the park service says the lifetime pass is still quite a bargain for those who purchase one. Single park-admission fees to the most popular sites — which include the Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemitenational parks — can run as much as $30.

“If a senior visits three of the $30 parks, she or he has already saved money,” NPS spokesperson Kathy Kupper said last month. “Plus, the pass allows those traveling with seniors to enter the park with them.”

In late 2016, Congress approved legislation, the National Park Service Centennial Act, that raises fees and sets up an endowment to help pay for projects and visitor services.

The price increase is intended to generate additional revenue, improve the visitor experience and provide more volunteer opportunities in parks across the country.

Know More About A Taste of Ireland

For a few weeks each year, I live in a little stone farmhouse in West Cork, Ireland. My view is of rock-fenced fields stretching down to the distant Atlantic Ocean.

As much as I love the scenery, what draws me here each September is the Taste of West Cork Food Festival. It’s a 10-day celebration of the local bounty in Ireland’s southwest corner — the Wild Atlantic Way, as it is known — a rich farming area where the people are fiercely proud of their seafood, meat and other products. (The dairy is “the best in the world,” one local says, adding, “This isn’t just hyperbole. This is fact!”)

The festival, which runs this year from Sept. 8 to 17, is increasingly known as a must-do for foodies, yet it’s also an opportunity for any visitor to dive into local culture in a unique (and tasty) way. Events are spread out through eight islands and 33 towns and villages. They include walking tours and street fairs in the charming towns; boat trips for seafood meals on nearby islands; and cooking lessons and food tastings combined with biking, music, history and hiking. You can get your hands dirty, too: In an event called the West Cork Cast, Catch and Cook Experience, you’ll fish for pollack, cod and mackerel, then learn to fillet and prepare your catch before — the best part — savoring it. I once did a kayak tour where we picked and ate different kinds of seaweed; another time, I went to a “wild fermentation” workshop and learned how to cultivate starters for sauerkrauts and sourdough breads.

You can, of course, just eat. You’ll have endless opportunities to indulge in area specialties, including mussels and langoustines; a fantastic range of white fish (cod, hake, haddock, halibut); pork; beef from grass-fed cattle; and lamb. Then there are the puffy scones piled with jam and big dollops of scrumptious clotted cream that are served at almost every stop. The only requirement for this fun festival? An appetite.

Best Apps for Traveling

| Tollsmart: Calculates toll costs across all tunnels, bridges and toll roads on your route anywhere in the United States and Canada; for motorcycles, RVs and cars. $2.99 per month.

iExit: A must-download for interstate driving, this app will tell you what you’ll find at each upcoming exit — restaurants, gas stations, hotels — so you can plan your pit stops, rather than wing it (and end up at yet another Applebee’s). Free.

Flush Toilet Finder: Useful on a road trip as well as when you reach your destination, this app pinpoints any public bathroom in your vicinity and has more than 190,000 restrooms around the world in its database. Free.

Glympse: This app allows you to share your location with fellow travelers, which can be handy if you’re driving caravan-style or have family or friends eager for your arrival. You can select contacts and give them permission to view your location for a set amount of time. Free.

GasBuddy: Use this not only to locate the closest gas stations, with customer reviews, but to find out the gas prices at each. It’s billed as “the world’s largest community-based fuel app,” with 60 million downloads worldwide. Free.

HotelTonight: Use this hugely popular app to search for last-minute hotel deals while you’re on the road or still at home (you can search as early as a week ahead). Hotels want heads in beds, so they’re willing to slash rates rather than leave a room empty. Free.

Roadtrippers: A handy route-planning app, it enables you to mark your beginning and end points, then figure out how you want to noodle around in between. You can search for all the places to eat and stay, as well as top-rated attractions along the way, and note them on your personalized map. Free.

See also: Road trips throughout America

Waze: This app is super useful for both commuters and vacationers, allowing drivers to steer clear of traffic tie-ups. It aggregates user-generated traffic and road-condition information to identify the fastest route, and it sends alerts about accidents or other snags down the road. Free.

RepairPal: Use this one at home as well as on the road if car trouble hits. You plug in the make of your car and the problem (or your best guess), and the app provides you with area mechanics and an estimate for repair. Free.

Podcast Addict (Android) and Podcasts (Apple): The hours can fly by when you’re listening to a wonderful story, and there are plenty these days in the form of podcasts — about sports, politics, true crime, even old-school-style dramas (see our slideshow of recommendations). These apps connect you to thousands of options, as well as to your favorite radio shows. Free.

Know More About

Journeying by rail to explore parts of the United States brings you views you won’t see any other way. From snow-covered peaks to valleys, vineyards and the Pacific Ocean, there are so many sights to observe along the West Coast. Now, Amtrak is making it easier and cheaper to explore the region by welcoming passengers aboard with $97 fares for its Coast Starlight route from Seattle to Los Angeles and vice versa. The 35-hour trip takes you through Portland, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay area and Santa Barbara.

The low fare, under Amtrak’s saver option, will get you an upper or lower seat in coach, and you can check two bags for free. The ticket is nonrefundable. The train also has sleeper cabins, but the price is significantly higher.

While it may not always be the quickest way to travel, the train has its benefits. Besides being the most scenic mode of transport, it’s usually less stressful than air travel, and you avoid aggravating traffic. Plus, depending on the route, it can be educational. Case in point: For the Coast Starlight journey from Seattle to Los Angeles, Amtrak has partnered with the National Park Service to provide information during the trip about the natural and cultural heritage of different areas.

Whether you want to plan a West Coast train ride or a trip to somewhere else, now might be the right time to book. AARP previously reported on 12 U.S. train trips you should take in the fall. Also check out this list of 12 breathtaking train trips from around the world.