Air travel blues

Given that BLTN began as a travel weblog, I have to write about today’s experience.

Late this fall we’re traveling to Norway, chasing the Northern Lights aboard the Queen Mary 2. I’ve been stressing about nailing down the US-Europe tickets, given the crazy economy and fuel prices. Today I got that done after 4-5 hours (!!) of hard work and frustration. Lessons learned:

  • COVID has broken air travel as we used to know it. Nothing is certain. Assume nothing.
  • Travel agents or flight consolidators aren’t trustworthy. You think you have a good deal and suddenly the deal changes, within minutes. A pox on Momondo and Crystal Travel.
  • A lot of the flight comparators/consolidators options are silly, 2-3 stop options that take you 30 hours to travel an otherwise 11 hour nonstop. I realize that some folks are willing to trade time for money (and I am, up to a point), but many of the options advertised are just stupid. I’m not spending 30 hours to get across the Atlantic on a plane.
  • Even dealing directly with airlines on their websites, things get flaky. Prices change, seats disappear, new charges are revealed as you get closer to paying for the flight. United’s website went completely wonky on me as I tried different scenarios. And British Air’s website was well behaved but wanted to charge me a shitload of money to select seats in business class, after telling me what the business class fare would be. Not nice.
  • There are no refunds. You can get a flight credit if you change your mind (I did), but no refunds. And if you book a flight through a third party agent, the agent has to be involved in getting your refund. I’ve got a couple of thousand dollars locked up in that little unadvertised mess.
  • Unlike Southwest in the US, buying a Europe trip as two one-way transactions/journeys is complicated. Dangerous. What costs you $1000 one direction might be 2-3X the other direction.
  • Traveling to and from London is about the priciest option available to get to Europe. I ended up taking us in and out of Amsterdam, a city I love to visit. And better fares.

I’ve landed on KLM as our carrier of choice for this trip. Easy to use website, great fares, a solid reputation, and the best thing ever – a feature to lock in seats and a fare for 36 hours while you do your homework. It cost me $36 to lock things in with KLM and I couldn’t be happier. Every airline should do this.

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