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You can submit your own question to us at askgeorge@airfarewatchdog.com. We will try to answer as many as possible.

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Anytime Tickets?

Q. Is it possible to buy "anytime" tickets between two destinations? I would like to buy a ticket between PDX and LAX that I can use anytime I want...but none of the websites seem to sell anything like this.

A. It is, sort of.

What you'd do is buy a fare on Southwest Airlines. If you decide not to use it on the original dates booked, you can cancel it without penalty. Then Southwest will give you a flight credit good for a year from the original date booked that you can apply to the route. If the fare has gone up or down from your purchased fare, you'll either pay more or keep the fare difference in your account.

The other way to go about this, of course, is to buy a full fare, fully refundable ticket, and those don't come cheap.

Above image via Shutterstock

Allergies & Service Animals

Q. I flew recently and there were two "service animal" pets in the cabin and they were not in their cages. I seriously doubt they were service animals. Anyone can now buy a service animal "vest" online, and in fact I have a friend who has done this (actually, an ex-friend) even though she has no "disability" other than being a nervious wreck who should probably just take Xanax instead. I am severely allergic to pet dander and had a horrible asthma attack. Delta tried to buy me off with a form letter and a $50 credit. What are my rights?

A. Unfortunately, there's no federal or other certification process to prove that people have disabilities that would prevent people from scamming the service animal policies of the airlines (or indeed, of any common carrier--the same thing applies to trains, subways, and buses). And yes, people do scam the system. You basically have no rights at all, other than to ask the airline to put you on a pet-free flight, but that's often unworkable or inconvenient. You should certainly ask the airline to note in your record that you're allergic to pet dander and hope that they will alert you to any pets that have been confirmed on your flight.

Navigating Ireland in Fall

Q. I am trying to decide the best month to fly to Ireland this fall. Is September or October a better month? Is the train a practical and enjoyable way to see the country? Does the rail system also include Northern Ireland?

A. Both September and October will offer lower airfares than peak summer, and Ireland is one of the cheapest airfare destinations in Europe. Irish Rail, with over 1,491 miles of track, does serve Northern Ireland, and certainly rail travel is more relaxing than driving. I will say that finding fare information on the Irish Rail site is quite baffling. They do offer tourist rail passes, however, which might be an option if you are planning on using the rail system extensively.

Above image via Shutterstock

Tight Connections

Q. Whenever I ask about tight connection times, either from the airlines or tour companies, I'm told "they" state that time is sufficient to go from your plane to the next. Recently I was told that two hours is a sufficient amount of time at Heathrow to get off my plane in the international terminal, find the shuttle and proceed to my next terminal, have my hand baggage check, then go through a security screening, and then proceed to my gate. The Heathrow site states that you need a "minimum" of 90 minutes to accomplish this and that's once you are off the plane, which sometimes can take more than 15-20 minutes. Heaven forbid the plane is even a little late. Who is the "they" that come up with these times?

A. 90 minutes really isn’t enough time to do a connection at Heathrow. Even if you’re in the same terminal, you’ll need to go through security again, get on a people mover if you’re in Terminal 5, and walk to the gate; and if you’re changing terminals that takes extra time. Two hours is pushing it, too, if your flight is late. It’s sometimes possible to ask the airline or your travel agent to build in a longer layover (taking the next flight out) without incurring a higher fare. That said, British Airways is pretty good at monitoring tight connections so when you leave your inbound flight you’ll often be met by employees who can help facilitate your transfer.

Medical Devices & Baggage Allowances

Q. I plan to travel with my pocketbook, carry-on luggage, and a sleep apnea machine. The machine is a medical device but will it put me over the two piece carry-on rule?

A. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your medical device will not count against carry on limitations and can be brought along with both your carry-on and pocketbook. To be absolutely thorough, you might consider bringing along a doctor's note in the event anyone should question you about it. 

Lost and Found

Q. I left my iPad on my last flight. Is it a total lost cause to attempt to retrieve it or even entertain any thoughts of it ever being returned?

A. Although it may seem that most items left on planes do not get reunited with the rightful owner, there are a few steps you can take to increase your chances of getting your lost item back. First and foremost, we suggest to never put anything of value in the seatback pocket. Those are the blackholes of airplanes. It is just too easy to forget something in there during the rush to exit the aircraft. Another good idea is to label your valuables with contact information allowing the good samaratain who finds your item to contact you.

After realizing you have forgotten something, it is best to contact someone in person at the airport baggage office as soon as possible. If you have already left the airport far behind, we have compiled a list of links to report lost items on airline websites. Check out how to get your items back here.

Changing Schedules Eat Into Vacation

Q. I booked a flight several weeks ago with American Airlines. Since my initial booking, American Airlines has changed my flight times so drastically (for both my departing and returning flights) that I now have lost 2 days of my vacation. So, for example, my departing flight is now leaving 8 hours later than originally booked, and my return flight is leaving 6 hours earlier than originally booked. I am entitled to some sort of compensation, or new flight, from American Airlines? I have tried calling their customer service department to ask; however, there's only so long I can sit on hold for.

A. You can ask for a full refund and rebook on another airline, but other than that there’s not much they will do for you sadly. Are your original flights still available or are there other AA flights available? If so, you can insist that they rebook you. It may take several tries and escalation but if seats are still available on your original or early flights, fight for it!

A Jump in Price

Q. How do the airlines set their prices? After seeing airfare for a particular schedule jump 100% from the time I started my search to when I actually tried to book it 3 minutes later, I was given the old "supply and demand...someone somewhere must have booked a seat in that span, and that caused the jump." How is that legal or even possible? 

A. We've heard this story time and again. Airlines only sell a certain small number of seats at their lowest fares. A flight might have a dozen different economy class fares, with a certain number of seats available at each fare. The price of each fare class can be set throughout the day, plus the airlines employ dozens of airfare analysts who do nothing all day but adjust the number of seats available in each fare class. That's why it's so important to check fares many times throughout the day and over a number of days if you can't find what you believe to be a reasonable fare. A fare might be $300 one minute, and the next it could be $200. Since airlines were deregulated in 1978, they are free to set whatever prices they wish.

Discounts for Group Travel

Q. We are having a family reunion of over 25 people all flying from New York/Newark to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Do the airlines give any type of discount for groups? Our trip is in late fall. Should we book now?

A. As to your first question, yes indeed, airlines have group travel desks that arrange travel and give discounts. Call your airline's toll-free number to see if your group qualifies. As to when to buy, fares to Puerto Vallarta aren't the cheapest, compared to other cities in Mexico, but you'll save money if you fly midweek. If you see a fare under $400 round-trip from Newark, you might want to jump on it.

Seat Selection Trickery

Q. While booking two different flights on American many weeks in advance, I noticed that when I got to the phase of selecting seats that virtually all seats shown to me were the so-called “preferred” seats.

Is American purposely hiding or holding back normal economy seats in an attempt to force customers to buy higher priced but not necessarily better seats? I don't mind paying for cabin extra, but really, am I being baited and up-sold for a normal seat in row 12?

A. Yes, they are trying to persuade consumers to pay for the extra legroom seats. I advise people to buy the fare without choosing a seat and then recheck frequently, either by phone or online, to see if basic economy seats become available. If none become available, they’ll get one of the extra legroom seats for free or they’ll be assigned a seat in basic economy eventually. As frequent fliers with status get upgraded to extra legroom seats more basic economy seats will open up, usually starting at 72 hours before flight time. Bottom line: as long as you can buy the regular economy airfare you will get a seat, unless you’re bumped from the flight in which case you’ll get cash compensation for denied boarding.

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