Ask the Experts
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Our travel experts are here to answer your questions – by email, post or fax. Here are some typical questions and answers, any one of which could repay the cost of your annual subscription many times over. Here are some recent examples:
Q. I need to travel with my 85-year-old mother from Glasgow to Auckland in October. Obviously, this is a long flight and I am concerned to make the journey as stress-free as possible. I have seen a number of fares including from Emirates and Qantas, which are both a little cheaper than Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand. Though the price gap is not big enough to make a difference do you think they would be significantly better. What do you suggest?
A. There are a number of different things to consider here. Purely based on the quality of the airline and its service, we would suggest Air New Zealand is significantly ahead of the others. It gives around two inches of extra legroom in Economy and has a reputation for genuinely friendly service – something you both might appreciate. Another issue is the length of the actual flight. We checked the times of the most obvious connections from Glasgow with the four airlines and they vary from about 26 hours with Air New Zealand to 36 with Emirates and Singapore Airlines (which would require a stop in Singapore on the return). Of course, the actual times are not so important if you decide to stop en route. Some people prefer to get the whole journey done in one go, while others would never contemplate such a trip without a stop. This is very much an individual choice but we do think that if you are going to make a stop you should plan on staying a couple of nights and enjoy seeing somewhere different. Just getting off and going to bed in an airport hotel may be more hassle than it is worth. Of course, if you do want to make a stop, then this will influence your choice of airline and route because you may have a preference as to where you want to stay.
The other factor we think is very important, especially in view of your mother’s age, is the ease of transfer at the airports along the route. Dubai can involve some very long walks and queues, Singapore is an easy place to transfer, as is Hong Kong, but Los Angeles is not. That means if you choose Air New Zealand you should take its flights via Hong Kong and not via Los Angeles. Transferring at London from bmi on to Air New Zealand is within the same terminal, whereas there is a short transfer if flying with bmi and Singapore Airlines or BA and Qantas. Whichever airline you fly with, it could be worth asking for wheelchair assistance for your mother. This needs to be done in advance and will apply to the whole booking. Assuming your mother is reasonably fit and can manage most distances, you can politely decline the offer at most airports where the distances are short, but the extra help could be invaluable if you are faced with a very long walk or have to board by the aircraft steps. In these circumstances, you cannot suddenly summon help.
On balance, and assuming the price difference is not too great, we would say that Air New Zealand would be our first choice, followed by Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates as last owing, largely, to the very busy transfer area at Dubai and the variable cabin service.
Q. I was given a £100 Miscellaneous Charges Order by Swiss following some problems on a flight I took with them. Whilst it is obviously nice to have the money, I am having difficulty working out how I can use it. I spoke to their Call Centre and was told that the procedure involves making a telephone booking, paying the amount less the MCO and mailing the MCO to them in Switzerland. This means I would need to book around three weeks before travel to allow for the MCO to be received and the booking finally confirmed. There is also the option of booking at an airport desk which would be immediate but would involve an ‘off-line’ booking fee of €15 – I am not sure if this fee would also apply to a telephone booking. To be honest, both methods seem rather cumbersome and I also wonder whether it makes good sense for them to give me £100 and then take back €15 because of their booking systems. Have you any thoughts?
A. First, we think that any decent airline will behave sensibly with a client who is not able to complete a booking on the Internet and has to call telephone reservations. For example, if the system simply cannot handle a complex booking that may involve a difficult route, mixture of classes or other special cases, such as unaccompanied minors or use of foreign credit cards, then we would expect the airline to waive any fee it makes for telephone bookings. Of course, if you have not used the site correctly or have made a mistake, the airline is entitled to charge the fee. Most airlines will agree to this but you may have to remind them or ask for a supervisor if they appear reluctant.
The use of Miscellaneous Charge Orders has reduced considerably over the years and yet they are likely to remain with us for some time. It has to be said, a paper MCO is a nuisance to both airlines and passengers in a world of e-tickets. MCOs are normally given in cases where the airline is not required to make a cash refund but a genuine financial gesture is necessary. For smaller sums, it is easier for all concerned if compensation is paid in Miles, because it does not cost the airline very much and it is easier for the customer to redeem. Swiss does not mention MCOs anywhere on its website but we see it has just started to sell electronic gift vouchers and there is a space on the booking form to enter a gift voucher code. Hopefully, the airline will now send MCOs electronically as well, so this problem can be avoided in the future. A number of other airlines are also selling vouchers. All we can suggest is that you go along with the suggestion from Swiss and book by phone sufficiently well in advance so that you can send the MCO by post. It is a hassle but there seems no way to avoid it. However, you should politely insist on not paying any extra fee for a telephone booking.