Question: What type of documentation does a grandparent need to take her grandchild on a plane trip? Also, what type of documentation would be needed if only one parent is flying with a child when the parents aren't married? Is this regulated by the airline or does it matter? I always insist on a letter from the other parent and I make sure that it is notarized. The kids tell me I am going overboard, but I would hate to get them there but unable to get them back without the proper documents. I also make them fill out a medical form in case of emergencies.
Answer: You should always travel with a notarized letter of parental consent, when traveling with children who are not accompanied by both their birth parents, especially when traveling to a foreign destination. In this day and age it can save you lots of grief and prevent the trip from being a no-go situation.
Q: Are airlines able to change your flight without your permission? I purchased a ticket to fly out at 6 a.m. and the airline changed it to 4 p.m. If I had wanted to leave at 4 p.m., then I would have bought my ticket for that time.
A: Airlines state in their contracts of carriage that schedules are not guaranteed, but you can ask to cancel your booking and get a refund without penalty, even on a non-refundable fare, i f they won't reseat you on the original flight you booked. That's also in their contracts of carriage.
Q: I have been tracking fares from Chicago to Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey for the last few months. While I frequently see great deals to New York and New Jersey, in fact some amazing deals, I have yet to see an actual deal on flights to Philadelphia. I don't understand the discrepancy. The airports are only a couple hours apart and I could easily fly into Newark or New York instead of Philly, so why is it so much more expensive to fly there? This is driving me a little nuts!
A: Part of the reason is that Philadelphia is a US Airways "fortress hub," meaning that US Airways is a predominate carrier there. True, Southwest now serves Philadelphia, and that has helped a bit, but New York's two major airports (LaGuardia and JFK) are served by almost every U.S.-based airline. Newark is a Continental Airlines hub, but Southwest recently started flying there and introduced some amazingly low airfares. One workaround is to fly into Newark and hop on the train to get to Philadelphia. The trip takes about an hour. You can also take one of the many discount bu s services, such as Bolt Bus, between the two cities.
Q: I use Orbitz frequently for researching airfares (but then book direct on the carrier site — shame on me!). I often see fares with warnings on them saying that there are only "three seat s left at this price" or two seats left or whatever the case may be. Are these real alerts, or are they pure marketing to get you to buy now instead of waiting?
A: They're probably real warnings. Airlines offer a small number of seats in each "fare bucket" (they are often over a dozen different fare levels on each route on any given day). However, airlines adjust the number at each price level throughout the day and week, so if you search again, you may find a different story. By the way, I can see why people search on Orbitz and then book o n the airlines' sites directly, but often online travel agencies such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity will alert you that the best deal is flying out on one airline and returning or connecting on a second airline. Airline websites might show you higher fares because they want to keep you on their own planes for the entire trip.
Q: I just returned to Seattle from Reno and my flight back on Saturday night on Alaska Air/Horizon was cancelled. The airline was unable to get me on another plane until Monday morning. Alaska Airlines put me up in a hotel and covered meals, but shouldn't I also get compensation — at least reimbursement for my ticket since they definitely didn't get me home within 24 hours? I'm a little irritated because I have a sneaking suspicion that they didn't get me on another plane because I wasn't complaining loudly and being unpleasant — I didn't see anyone else from that plane at the hotel after Sunday morning.
A: That is a long time to be spending away from home. I'm surprised they couldn't re-route you, even if through Chicago, Atlanta, or another major hub. Alaska is one of the few airlines that still has a Rule 240 in its contract of carriage (Google it), meaning that they will put you on another airline if there is a flight irregularity within their control. I would definitely ask for a voucher good for future travel ... maybe $200? Also, there's no law or rule saying that the airline is even required to put you up in a hotel or provide meals, and many won't step to the plate. S o Alaska at least did that for you. By the way, those who complain in an unpleasant manner are usually the ones who get the least compensation. Maybe you didn't see the other "loud" passengers at t he hotel because Alaska didn't give them hotel rooms.
Follow up: This reader did indeed ask for compensation, and Alaska apologized and gave her a travel voucher for $300. So it's always a good idea to ask.
Q: Yesterday I got back from a Montreal-Albuquerque trip via Chicago and United. At Montreal I learned that the Montreal-Chicago segment was actually flown by Air Canada, connecting to United in Chicago. This was the first I had heard of this.
In Montreal, we boarded for an 11:17 a.m. departure and sat at the gate for about 40 minutes. Then we were told that there was a mechanical problem that could not be fixed, so they let us all off and brought another plane up for us. This one took off about two hours later, and I missed my Chicago connecting flight. The next flight available was on American, leaving in several hours. I got to Albuquerque over five hours later than I had originally been scheduled to arrive, at 10 p.m.
At Chicago, between flights, I went to the United counter to inquire about compensation, as this was a mechanical issue. United said that it was Air Canada's problem and Air Canada said that they got me on a flight that left two hours later, so they didn't feel it was a big deal. They offered me a $10 food voucher.
The way I see it, I booked my flight with United. I think they are responsible for getting me to my final destination on time. Getting me home over five hours late is not something that I h ad counted on, and I was greatly inconvenienced as a result. Am I entitled to any sort of compensation from United under their rules of carriage?
A: Actually, we think Air Canada should compensate you, since the mechanical problem was with their aircraft. At least United put you on another airline (American) rather than making you wait for the next United flight (United, like Alaska, is one of the few airlines that still stipulate, under Rule 240 in their contract of carriage, that they'll put you on another airline in such circumstances). We suggest you contact Air Canada and United customer service again and ask them both to consider.