Last modified: 2018/06/10
There's an enormous amount of information available on the Web about airlines and aviation. This web site concentrates on two things: schedules, fares, reservations, and tickets for commercial airlines, and on-line travel agents. We list both airline-sponsored and independent information.
The first parts of this web site discuss on-line sources of airline schedules and fares, of which there are several general-purpose services.
After that it lists airlines that have any of online schedules, fares, reservations, ticket sales, and flight status.
Next comes a listing of on-line specials, sources of special fares and other deals available over the net. Many airlines have short-notice specials which are worth checking out.
The rest of the web site lists travel agents that offer service over the net and have indicated that they'd like to be listed. I am not a travel agent (I consult and write computer books which you can find out about here, and the agent listings are provided free to any agent that asks and sends in a short description of what he or she offers.
It's on the web at http://airinfo.travel or http://airinfo.aero. There are, unfortunately, a certain number of out of date copies of this site floating around the net; the only one that's up to date is the one at http://airinfo.travel or http://airinfo.aero.
This FAQ is also posted in text form on the usenet groups rec.travel.air, rec.answers, and news.answers every Sunday.
Four giant airline computer systems in the United States handle nearly all the airline reservations in the country. (They're known as CRSs, for computer reservations systems, or more often now GDS for global distribution systems.) Although each airline has a ``home'' CRS, the systems are all interlinked so that you can, with few exceptions, buy tickets for any airline from any CRS. The dominant systems in the U.S. are Sabre (home to American and US Airways), Galileo (home to United), Worldspan (home to Delta, Northwest), and Amadeus (many European lines.) The company that owned Galileo and Orbitz recently bought Worldspan, so the two GDS will presumably be merged. Many of the low-price start-up airlines don't participate in any of these systems but have their own Web sites where you can check flights and buy tickets. Southwest, the largest and oldest of the low-price airlines, doesn't participate, either. Southwest's web site gets car and hotel info from Galileo, but the info seems not to flow the other way. Orbitz one of the big three online travel agencies, runs its own system which is "direct connect" linked directly to many of the airlines.
In theory, all the systems show the same data; in practice, however, they get a little out of sync with each other. If you're looking for seats on a sold-out flight, an airline's home system is most likely to have that last, elusive seat. If you're looking for the lowest fare to somewhere, check all four systems because a fare that's marked as sold out on one system often mysteriously reappears on another system. Some airlines have rules about flight segments that are not supposed to be sold together even though they're all available, and at least once I got a cheap US Airways ticket on Expedia, which didn't know about all the US Airways rules even though I couldn't get it on their own site or Travelocity which did know about them. On the other hand, many airlines have available some special deals that are only on their own Web sites and maybe a few of the online agencies. Confused? You should be. We are.
The confusion is even worse if you want to fly internationally. Official fares to most countries are set via a treaty organization called the IATA, so most computer systems list only IATA fares for international flights. It's easy to find entirely legal ``consolidator'' tickets sold for considerably less than the official price, however, so an online or offline agent is extremely useful for getting the best price. The airlines also can have some impressive online offers on their web sites.
Here's our distilled wisdom about buying tickets online:
Check the online systems to see what flights are available and for an idea of the price ranges. Check more than one CRS. For tickets within the U.S. and Canada, the prices in the CRS are for the most part the real prices that people are paying. See the big online agencies for some good places to start.
After you have found a likely airline, check that airline's site to see whether it has any special Web-only deals. If a low-fare airline has the route, be sure to check that one too, since most low-fare airlines don't appear in CRS listings.
You can also talk to travel agents, particularly if it's a route where you aren't eligible for the lowest CRS fares, but remember that agents get no commission on fares visible on the CRS, so you can expect an agent to charge you for ticking them.
For international tickets, do all the steps above in this list, and then check both online and with your agent for consolidator tickets. This is particularly important if you don't qualify for the lowest published fare. See Edward Hasbrouck's Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ for much more detailed information on consolidator tickets.
The U.S. airline industry is chronically in dreadful shape, with Aloha, ATA, Skybus, Eos, Silverjet, Maxjet, and now Zoom having shut down. Midwest merged into Frontier. American went bankrupt and the corpse merged into US Airways, although the surviving company is still called American. Sun Country went bankrupt but is still flying, Frontier went bankrupt but seems to be surviving as part of regional carrier Republic, and most of the remaining airlines are hanging on with a combination of somewhat higher fares (much higer for trans-Atlantic) and very full planes. The weak economy has kept them from raising fares as much as they want, but they're not passing on the recent lower fuel prices. Southwest and Airtran, two relatively healthy low-fare carriers have merged, with the surviving airline Southwest with more east coast and international routes.
Lufthansa has bought and probably will absorb bmi, which will give them a substantial Heathrow hub, and French all-business carrier l'Avion was absorbed into British Airways' Openskies subsidiary, which is looking kind of iffy itself.
Airlines cut back schedules as the recession hits their customers, so there are fewer seats on more crowded planes. In some cases small several regional jet flights have been replaced by one larger jet, but the overall trend is down.
Airlines are scrambling for revenue anywhere they can find it. Fuel surcharges are now common across the industry, and can be several hundred dollars on overseas flights. Most US lines other than Southwest charge for all checked bags on domestic flights. Many now charge for picking your own seat, and charge more if you pick a decent seat by an exit row or bulkhead. (The kindest way to think of it is that the prices have increased, but you get a discount if you're willing to fly with no checked bag, sit in a lousy seat, and bring your own lunch.) Nobody includes meals on domestic flights any more, although I have to say that the $7 salads and sandwiches are often a lot better than the former free gray-green glop.
The airlines that aren't bankrupt have shrunk themselves and tried to raise fares but and are sporadically profitable, largely depending on fuel prices. Beyond the ones that have shut down, Sun Country's options to emerge from bankruptcy are not promising.
A major effect of all of the bankruptcies and downsizing is that airlines are much more thinly staffed than they used to be. That means that problems tend to have worse effects and last longer than they used to be.
Low-cost Canadian airline JetsGo turned out to be so low cost that it ran out of cash and died, Canjet retreated back to charters, and surviving low cost competitor Westjet and Air Canada aren't competing very hard, so Canadian airfare prices are not low other than on Air Transat's vacation routes.
Passengers are subject to much more extensive screening than in the past, including screening of checked baggage at check-in time, and, according to news reports pat downs that approach groping. Airlines recommend arriving at least an hour earlier than before. In my experience the extra delay is rarely more than 15 minutes, even with the extra baggage screening, although I usually fly out of smaller airports, not big hubs where you can get the killer two hour lines. The TSA has handed back screening at a surprising number of airports to private contractors, all of whom wear outfits intended to look like TSA uniforms. There is remarkable inconsistency in procedures from one airport to another, particularly with respect to your shoes, is worse than ever. Don't put your shoes in a bin, do put your shoes in a bin, and they all insist very loudly that whatever their rule is has always been the rule everywhere. A variety of extra cost "trusted traveller" plans may allow people to get through the screening faster, or may just involve waiting in a different line. The TSA makes no promises. If you don't want to go through the X-ray machines, whose safety is nowhere near as clear as the TSA would like you to believe, you can get a light body massage instead. They have a web site with estimated wait times based on averages in previous months, not real time numbers.
Anyone who flies very often should join TSA Pre-Check, which returns the security process to what it was before 9/11, fast and relatively painless. It's included with the various international low-risk traveler programs such as Global Entry and NEXUS, or you can apply directly on the TSA web site.
Other changes include: some airports have stopped curb-side baggage check, anything vaguely resembling a knife or lighter may or may not be confiscated (although lighters suddenly stopped being dangerous a year ago), you're sometimes only allowed one carry-on plus a purse, briefcase, diaper bag or the like, non-passengers aren't allowed past security, all passengers must have a document that looks like a boarding pass at most airports to get past security, you may have to put your toothpaste and shampoo in a baggie that may have to be a one quart size, some parking areas close to terminals are closed. But check-in clerks no longer ask you whether you packed your own suitcase.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a travel agent, just an interested traveller. Everything I know about on-line travel info is in this FAQ. Don't write or call me asking for fare quotes, packages, or any other travel agent info, because I don't have it.
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