Six Air Travel Myths: True Stories Revealed

So many myths, so little time. Here are six of my favorites (and I’d love to hear about yours on Facebook).

1. MYTH: Watch out for passengers who open jet doors

There have been a lot of incidents lately, where so-called unruly passengers have tried to open aircraft doors in mid-flight. The most recent occurred on a Continental flight from Houston to Chicago earlier this month; fortunately, the fellow who tried to open the jet’s door did not succeed.

TRUTH: It can’t be done

He couldn’t succeed, due to the cabin pressure of a commercial jet in mid-flight. It essentially seals aircraft doors shut, and the “plug-type” design of the doors helps, too.

2. MYTH: Lost bag? The airline will pay for your loss

Yes, starting in August, you will get your baggage fee refunded if the airline loses your suitcase, and you could get some compensation for the contents. But there’s a ‘but’ -isn’t there always?

TRUTH: Not necessarily

Do not pack “valuables” in your luggage – items such as electronics and jewelry – because if they are lost, most airlines will not pay for those things because most airlines say you cannot pack such valuables. Leave the “good stuff” at home or carried on your person. The smartest thing you could do is use a carryon and not worry about this.

3. MYTH: Big dollars await passengers bumped from planes

It’s possible you could receive fairly hefty compensation in cash from the airline, but there are some conditions.

TRUTH: Not always

If the airline gets you on a substitute flight that will arrive within an hour of your original flight, you won’t get a dime.

4. MYTH: Airlines must house and feed you when flights are canceled

Your flight is delayed or canceled but no big deal because the airline will give you vouchers for a hotel and meals, right?

TRUTH: Don’t hold your breath

It’s possible but unlikely. When thousands of flyers were stranded during the Iceland volcano eruptions of 2010, European discount airline Ryanair – a notorious cheapskate – eventually broke down and offered to reimburse its passengers for their hotel stays and such, but this was a highly unusual event.

Some carriers will try to help if the delay or cancelation is their fault, but note the hedged language in American Airlines conditions of carriage: “[If] we do not get you to your final destination on the expected arrival day, we will provide reasonable overnight accommodations, subject to availability” [emphasis mine]. Not slamming American here, since plenty of other airlines use similar language, but – do not expect special treatment or freebies from any airline and you will not be disappointed.

5. MYTH: Planes crash if cell phones are used

I’m no scientist, but the FAA continues to ban the use of cell phones on planes because “signals may unintentionally affect aircraft communications”.

TRUTH: Probably not, but let’s not test it

Some international airlines do allow the use of cell phones on planes. Don’t be tempted to try it on U.S. carriers, though; disobeying a flight crew member could lead to an arrest. No phone call is worth that.

6. MYTH: Book flights on Sat. or Sun. for cheapest airfare

If you believe this, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you might want to buy.

TRUTH: Not true for most U.S. domestic flights

The best day to shop to get the cheapest airfare is Tuesday and I’ll be even more specific: Tuesday at about 3pm eastern time. Typically, weekends are the worst times to shop, as airfare prices will be at their zenith.

Learn more about FareCompare and the cheapest days to fly and best times to buy airline tickets for year-round savings.

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Published: May 25, 2011