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airport baggage claimYou’re a lucky traveler if you’ve never experienced an air travel glitch. Whether you’ve been bumped from an overbooked flight, had a bag lost or experienced a delay, airline hiccups are a fact of life. A lesser-known fact, however, is that the law might entitle you to compensation if your flight doesn’t go as planned — and we don’t mean just in the form of a better seat or a credit for a future booking. But the airlines’ convoluted policies make it intimidating for most travelers to pursue claims.

Cue AirHelp. Popular in Europe, the company officially brought its services to the U.S. market earlier this month, helping displaced air travelers to seek retribution. As we note in our story on bumping and overbooking, you could be eligible for a refund of up to $1,300 if you’re bumped from an overbooked flight. But who has time to research, file and follow up on claims?

AirHelp does. While we haven’t gone through the entire claim reporting process, it seems easy enough. The initial five-step system asks you to 1) choose whether you were delayed, canceled or bumped; 2) list your departure and arrival cities; 3) tell AirHelp whether your flight was direct or had connections; 4) enter the flight number and the date of the flight; and 5) provide information like your name, email address, reservation number, total time of delay and reason given by the airline.

Airport Delays: 6 Ways to Cope

After you submit your claim, AirHelp will determine whether you’re entitled to some sort of refund and, if so, follow up with the airline on your behalf (for which you give your permission by signing a power of attorney document).

The upside? If you’re not paid, you owe nothing for AirHelp’s services. If they score you some cash, they keep 25 percent. It seems like a lot at first, but without AirHelp’s assistance, it’s unlikely you’d be seeing anything at all.

The downside? If the service catches on, there’s no telling whether already struggling airlines might reflect their losses in the form of higher ticket prices. (AirHelp claims that 98 percent of eligible passengers don’t currently apply for compensation.)

What are your thoughts? Would you try AirHelp?

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

hotel front deskA San Francisco-based frequent flier is fed up with reclining passengers and, quite frankly, so am I. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been unable to use my laptop or read a book without having to hold it up to my face because the person in front of me had pushed his or her seat back as far as it would go.

But although an October 2013 poll by flight search website Skyscanner found that just under 50 percent of fliers would like reclining seats to be removed from all airlines, IndependentTraveler.com readers are not so inclined.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

In fact, when we recently asked our Facebook followers their thoughts on the subject, the majority of respondents reported that they always recline their seats, though most said they do so as politely as they can.

Wynne Gavin wrote, “I have a bad back and need to be slightly reclined. Since I am cognizant of the person behind me, I do so very slowly, carefully and just enough to be comfortable. I’ve never had it fully reclined.”

Ron Buckles and Trisha Hynes agreed. Recline slowly and just enough to be comfortable.

Clyde Roberts said he always reclines on long flights “for a while,” but never during refreshment service — and he eyes the person behind him first. “I check to see if the traveler behind me has reclined and if so I think he/she must be ok with me doing the same.”

And Randi Weiner said that although she understands there are issues with reclining seats “in this day and age when airlines are building planes with more and more seats jammed together,” she believes that if she paid for the seat and it has the ability to recline, then she will do so.

But even reclining passengers have had issues with other recliners.

“On a flight to JFK from Europe, the girl in [front] of me did a fast, full recline and I screamed, ‘Ouch!!’ when the [seat] hit my body,” Wynne Gavin wrote. “I simply pushed the seat forward a bit so I had some more room. She said, ‘I want to be comfortable.’ I said, ‘So do I.’ She had no choice but to compromise, as each time she reclined fully, I simply pushed it back up.”

10 Annoying Habits of Our Fellow Travelers

But Gavin added she does not think banning reclined seats is the answer. “Airlines removing a few rows and creating more space is.”

Since that won’t be happening any time soon, I’d like the airlines to take a look at Sue Armstrong’s response.

“How about a reclining section on the plane — spaced to accommodate it and part of seat selection and priced accordingly.”

What’s your preference — to recline or not to recline?

– written by Dori Saltzman

airport plane woman gate suitcase United Airlines generated a collective groan from travelers over the weekend by saying it will be strictly enforcing its carry-on baggage requirements, which limit each passenger to one personal item (like a purse, laptop or briefcase) and one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 9 x 14 x 22 inches.

The issue, however, isn’t with the size of the carry-on luggage allowed; other major carriers, including Delta and American Airlines/US Airways, have the same dimension restrictions. Instead, what’s upsetting is that United will now be charging checked-bag fees for any carry-ons that must be gate-checked due to noncompliance — even if passengers have used their carry-ons for years with no trouble fitting them in the overhead bins.

Of course it’s annoying when you see fellow flyers waddling onboard under the weight of a purse, a backpack, a computer bag and a carry-on that you can just tell exceeds regulation. But instead of making the boarding more efficient, charging for gate-checked bags is certain to slow down the process.

The Carry-On Challenge: How to Pack Light Every Time

United also charges for the first checked bag for each passenger, so it’s understandable that many would attempt to bring slightly larger carry-ons to avoid baggage fees. (Meanwhile, two popular U.S.-based airlines — JetBlue and Southwest Airlines — allow each passenger to check at least one checked bag at no charge. To boot, the carry-on dimensions for both lines exceed those of United and the other major carriers at 10 x 16 x 24 inches.)

Ultimately, United’s decision to charge for the gate-checking of carry-ons reminds us quite a bit of the policy of ultra-discounter Spirit Airlines: one personal item can be brought for free, but passengers are charged as much as $100 per bag — each way! — for the privilege of boarding with a carry-on that won’t fit under the seat in front of them.

At this point, it wouldn’t surprise us one bit if United eventually starts charging for things like bathroom privileges (don’t laugh — this was proposed a few years ago by European discounter Ryanair) and oxygen.

4 Signs You Have a Packing Problem

– written by Ashley Kosciolek

cartoon man in pillory I’m fed up. Sick of it. And I haven’t even experienced the worst of it. But I’ve had enough of self-important air travelers believing they’re above the rules and then becoming incensed and unruly when a flight attendant, or worse yet, another passenger, points out they are in the wrong.

In the latest incident of “unruly” airplane behavior, an American Airlines flight actually had to make an unscheduled stop to boot a guy off the plane. While the airline did not give specific details about the man’s behavior, Fox News reports he refused to listen to the crew’s instructions and had to be handed over to authorities in Canada.

Flying is frustrating enough without our fellow passengers making things worse for us. And yet, such incidents are becoming more commonplace. While Alec Baldwin famously refused to turn off a game of Words with Friends on his cell phone, he’s far from alone in such disruptive behavior. More recently, the niece of fashion designer Ralph Lauren was kicked off a plane after she had too much to drink and began threatening and verbally abusing the crew.

The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines

According to CBS News, the reports of passenger misconduct skyrocketed from 500 in 2007 to more than 6,000 in 2011 on international flights. And while I don’t hold the airlines completely blameless for the frustrations that often drive these angry passengers to lash out, I do believe it’s time to do something about such behavior.

In March 2014, CBS reports, the International Air Transport Association will propose changes to global laws against unruly passengers to bring them more in line with the stricter laws that apply to domestic flights. (In the U.S., passengers are subject to fines and even jail time for acting out in the air.)

In the meantime, I believe it’s time to bring back the pillory as a form of punishment. I propose every plane be outfitted with an onboard pillory. Passengers who carry on too much luggage, refuse to turn off their cell phones, yell at flight attendants or in any other way disrupt the travel of the majority of people on the plane should be placed in the pillory and forced to stand in front of everyone until it’s time for the plane to land.

But, because I’m a nice person and don’t want anyone to suffer unnecessarily, unruly passengers should have the option of getting out of the pillory by instead personally apologizing to everyone else on the plane for their bad behavior.

The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room

Have you been on a plane disrupted by an angry passenger? How would you like to see unruly passengers punished?

– written by Dori Saltzman

google glass virgin atlanticThe travel industry doesn’t tend to win many kudos for its customer service (see our Airlines Behaving Badly series for evidence), but one airline is hoping to change that through the introduction of cutting-edge technology.

Virgin Atlantic announced yesterday that staff members in its Upper Class Wing at London‘s Heathrow Airport will be using Google Glass — a wearable mini-computer that’s not yet broadly available to the public — to check in passengers and perform other personalized customer service tasks. This includes things like giving flight status updates, translating information in foreign languages and providing a weather forecast for the passenger’s destination.

For now, Virgin Atlantic’s economy-class passengers are out of luck; the pilot test of this program affects only those in the Upper Class cabin. The test will go on for six weeks, with the possibility of expansion in the future. Eventually the technology could also be used to identify passengers’ inflight preferences (such as special dietary needs or preferred drinks).

Does Your Flight Attendant Hate You?

Would you find it appealing to be greeted with such personalized service at the airport? Let us know in the comments below.

– written by Sarah Schlichter

We’ve seen some fun in-flight safety videos in our day, guest starring such notables as Betty White, Richard Simmons, a bunch of hobbits and even a dancing nun. But for this Gen X’er, Delta’s newest air safety video, like, totally takes the cake.

It’s got women in side ponytails with neon nail polish and lace gloves, and men with mullets or more hair than Crystal Gayle. There’s even an Atari game console, a Teddy Ruxpin doll and a man inchworminghis way down the aisle. All of it, plus way more(!), had this 80s gal laughing and, more importantly, paying attention.

My favorite moment? The guy trying to fix his cassette tape with his pinky.

So grab the keys to your time traveling DeLorean and take a peek below as heavy metal rockers, Valley girls, Alf and a special guest pilot take you through the ABCs of airline safety.



More In-Flight Fun:
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video
FAA: Harlem Shake in the Sky Might Not Fly

– written by Dori Saltzman

A few months ago, Virgin America jazzed up its in-flight safety presentation with an up-tempo music video featuring a young, limber cast of flight attendants, businesspeople and even a nun(!) singing and dancing their way around a virtual aircraft cabin. But one Virgin America flight attendant thought that just wasn’t quite entertaining enough — and added a live performance to go along with the video on a recent flight.

Below you can watch the flight attendant strutting down the aisle, lip-synching to the lyrics of the song and generally getting his groove on, much to the amusement of his passengers. Check it out:


Props to this flight attendant for pretty much guaranteeing that his passengers will pay attention to the safety demonstration!

More In-Flight Fun:
Betty White Stars in Latest Air New Zealand Safety Video
FAA: Harlem Shake in the Sky Might Not Fly

– written by Sarah Schlichter

2013 2014 beach new yearBefore we jump head first into 2014, we’re taking one last look back at the year that was. Of all the travel tips and trends we covered in 2013, there were a few that got our readers ranting, raving or simply laughing. Read on as we count down our 10 most popular blog posts of the past year.

10. Air New Zealand did it again. The airline known for its creative and hilarious in-flight safety videos came out with another winner in November, this time featuring the inimitable Betty White.

9. We reviewed and gave away dozens of travel products in 2013, but the biggest hit was the ultra-innovative Suitcase That Beats Bed Bugs.

8. When an Asiana Airlines plane crashed at San Francisco Airport in July, it spurred us to wonder: Where Are the Safest Seats on a Plane?

7. It isn’t often that we can bring readers good news from the travel industry, so when T-Mobile Eliminated Roaming Fees for Cell Phone Users Abroad, we and our fellow travelers rejoiced.

6. Few things get travelers more riled up than the topic of kids on planes. This year saw several Asian airlines introduce child-free zones on some of their flights — and while many of our readers were supportive of keeping kids as far away as possible, one parent took a different tack in her controversial Open Letter to People Who Hate Flying with Kids.

5. Turns out that even a so-called “travel expert” makes the occasional packing blunder. See what happens When a Travel Writer Ignores Her Own Advice.

4. A guest contributor from a currency exchange service shared his best practical tips in Buying Foreign Currency: Get More Bang for Your Buck.

3. Our post on 5 Signs You’re Not a True Traveler stirred up some strong emotions in the comments section. Reader Christy said our list was “spot on,” while Clare accused us of “imposing [a] very restrictive idea of what an experience must be.” What’s your take?

2. On a long, boring flight, leafing through the SkyMall catalog is always entertaining. Readers got a good laugh from our list of 9 Useless Items You Can Buy at 35,000 Feet, ranging from a mounted squirrel head to a porch potty for dogs.

1. Catching Zs while crammed into a tiny airplane seat is always a struggle. Could the perfect travel pillow help the cause? We reviewed four of them in Travel Pillow Challenge: The Quest for Good Airplane Sleep.

The Weirdest Travel News of 2013

– written by Sarah Schlichter

“Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, exercise guru Richard Simmons and Bear Grylls of “Man vs. Wild” are just a few of the celebs who’ve made appearances in Air New Zealand’s always entertaining in-flight safety videos — and now it’s Betty White’s turn. Along with Gavin MacLeod of “Love Boat” fame, the nonagenarian actress has taken to the seatback screen with a humorous take on “Safety Old School Style.”

Set in a retirement community, the video plays up the senior citizen jokes — so if you’re sensitive to cracks about hearing aids and oxygen tanks, you might want to give it a miss. But the mostly elderly cast is clearly having such fun that it’s hard to take offense. Give it a watch:



Note: The part about turning off electronic devices for take-off and landing may soon be outdated, following the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent announcement permitting the use of such devices at altitudes under 10,000 feet for all approved aircraft.

For more laughs, check out Air New Zealand’s past safety videos below.

- Bear “Man vs. Wild” Grylls Takes On In-Flight Safety
- Airline Safety Briefing: Middle Earth-Style
- President Obama Makes Cameo in Air New Zealand Safety Video
- Richard Simmons Sweats to a New Flight Safety Video

– written by Sarah Schlichter

airplane tabletThe days of having to stow your Kindle, cell phone or iPod at the very beginning and end of a flight will soon be coming to an end. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced today that “airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight.”

The decision comes after the FAA consulted with a panel of pilots, aviation manufacturers, airline representatives and other experts, who determined that devices being used in airplane mode should not interfere with the safe operation of most commercial aircraft.

This doesn’t mean you can whip out your laptop during takeoff on a flight this weekend. The new policy will be implemented on an airline-by-airline basis, with each carrier having to assess its own fleet and present evidence to the FAA that its planes won’t be affected by radio interference from PEDs. The FAA expects that many airlines will be approved for PED use by the end of the year.

Taking Photos on Planes: On the No-Fly List?

A few things to note:

- You still won’t be able to use your cell phone for voice calls, and other devices must be kept in airplane mode.

- You may only use Wi-Fi on your device if the plane has installed a Wi-Fi system and the airline allows it to be used.

- Heavier devices should still be stowed during takeoff and landing.

- Finally, says the FAA, “In some instances of low visibility — about one percent of flights — some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.”

How to Fix the TSA

Personally, we think it’s about time — what’s your take?

– written by Sarah Schlichter