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Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

Air travel questions answered

September 16, 2001

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— Here are some answers to questions on travel arising from last week's attacks. Because the situation is constantly changing, contact airlines before leaving home. Also, check pertinent Web sites for updated information.

I was scheduled to fly when the airports were closed and all flights were canceled. Can I get a refund?

The government's decision to stop all air traffic is what is called a force majeure event. As a result, the airlines must provide another acceptable flight or refund your ticket, even if it is nonrefundable.

The issue becomes fuzzier during the interim period when airports are open and limited flights are operating, and airline policies are in flux. At press time Friday, United had offered to refund with no penalty any tickets for travel through Sept. 25; American is doing likewise through Sept. 18.

I was stranded in another city when my flight had to land. I found my own hotel room and paid for it myself, along with meals and phone calls. Will the airline reimburse me?

Airlines were generous last week to passengers diverted to other cities. But in this type of situation, the only legal requirement is to provide travelers with accommodations whenever a flight is diverted to an unscheduled stop, with the delay exceeding four hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Many airlines, including United and American, also state in their rules that, under "extraordinary circumstances," they will provide amenities "as are necessary to maintain the safety and/or welfare" of passengers. Send copies (not originals) of your receipts and ticket to the airline with a letter explaining the situation.

How are the online booking sites dealing with refunds and changes?

Because the sites (including Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Priceline) are basically electronic travel agents, refund and reissue procedures will vary depending on the airline-and the agreement that the booking site has with each carrier.

Most sites have posted the policies of each airline, and how to get a refund or reissue.

Is arrival at the airport an hour ahead of time for a domestic flight enough? What about international flights?

The consensus among airline reps, airport officials and travel agents is that while new airport security procedures are being implemented during the next few weeks, you will need to arrive at least two hours beforehand for domestic flights and three hours for international.

Can I still use electronic tickets?

Yes, although you must bring some proof of purchase if you want to check in at the gate. The exact requirements will depend on the airlines and airports. Call ahead to be sure.

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