published Friday, June 1st, 2012

BBB: Cutting turbulence out of air travel

Jim Winsett

Q: As my family plans for our summer vacation, air travel is a hassle today. Does BBB have advice and travel tips to ensure a safe and timely flight?

A: Airlines are currently under more scrutiny as they charge more fees for routine services. The Memorial Day holiday marked the beginning of summer vacation as kids are out of school and consumers are planning their vacation getaway. While dreaming of island sun and far-away places, many travelers fail to factor in the uncertainties that come with flying. Factors such as unpredictable weather patterns, aviation system issues, maintenance or crew problems. Flexibility should be included in travel plans. BBB, along with the U.S. Department of Transportation, are advising vacationers to plan ahead when traveling this summer to ensure safety and timeliness.

To avoid troubles in your travel plans and schedule, it is important for travelers to be aware of their flight options if problems occur. With the burden and chaos that can come from a delayed or canceled flight, be an informed traveler who knows their options.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) advises consumers to be proactive when it comes to planning a getaway trip. According to the Bureau of Transportation's 2011 Statistics, 25.5 percent of all flights were reported to be not on time.

BBB and the U.S. Department of Transportation advise travelers to do the following when booking and securing their flights this summer:

1) The early bird gets the flight. When booking your flight, remember that a departure early in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, due in part to the "ripple" effects of delays throughout the day. Also, if an early flight does get delayed or canceled, you may have more rerouting options. If you book the last flight of the day and it is canceled, you could get stuck overnight.

2) Know your rights with a canceled flight. If your flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook you on their next flight to your destination where space is available, at no additional charge. If this involves a significant delay, find out if another carrier has seats and ask the first airline to endorse your ticket to that carrier. Unfortunately, compensation is required by law only when you are "bumped" from a flight that is oversold. Airlines almost always refuse to pay passengers for financial losses resulting from a delayed flight.

3) Secure your payment. Travelers are advised to consider paying by credit card, which provides certain protections under Federal credit regulations. For example, in all recent airline bankruptcies passengers who had charged their fare and were not provided service were able to have their credit card company credit their account for the amount of the fare.

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at dflessner@ timesfreepress.com.

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