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Air: Plane's Rear (Photo: Shutterstock/Ilja Masik)

The Department of Justice is investigating whether the big airlines are colluding to keep capacity down and thereby to keep fares high. So says a document obtained by the Associated Press and later confirmed by a DoJ spokesperson.

Certainly the current airline marketplace is ripe for collusion. More than 80 percent of the market is controlled by just four airlines—American, Delta, Southwest, and United—probably the highest degree of concentration since deregulation. Moreover, most have been bragging to Wall Street analysts about how "capacity discipline" has helped them accrue record profits.

It's highly unlikely that the DoJ will find anything remotely as incriminating as the infamous Bob Crandall to Harding Lawrence phone call, with its explicit message, "If you raise fares today, I'll match you tomorrow." Instead, it will probably look at the various "signaling" methods competitors in a monopoly market can use to make their intentions clear without openly exchanging messages. Among the most promising: the presentations airline financial types make to those Wall Street analysts. Wall Street may actually be the driving force here: pressuring the airlines to act in the same way. ... read more»

Air: Woman in Airport Looking Out at Plane (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

A reader recently wrote to me and reported the following series of events (edited for length): "Spirit Airlines had me removed from an airplane against my will by armed police. I was seated and talking to a fellow passenger at the time. I was then interrogated in the terminal by police. Some of my possessions were confiscated temporarily. After about 40 minutes, I was told that I had shone a light into the flight attendant's eyes and interfered with the completion of her duties. This is untrue. I did not even have a light with me.

"Nevertheless, the police then forced me either to go to an ER, because I had a high pulse rate (not unexpected; I was a bit panicked) or be jailed. The ER said I was perfectly fine and released me into a strange city at midnight with nowhere to go and no idea where I was. I slept in a bus station. Spirit refused to give me transportation to my final destination."

The reader wanted to know: "Does Spirit have to inform me why I am being forced off a plane? Does the airline have any obligation to prove that the alleged light shining incident actually occurred? Do they have any obligation to refund my ticket or pay damages, which were substantial due to ER and ambulance fees? Can the flight attendant be my judge, jury, and jailer? Does the airline have any obligation to prove its accusations?"

The short answer to a traveler's question is that Spirit Airlines was within its contractual rights when it removed her from a flight. But her over-the-top treatment certainly seems to have been excessively and unnecessarily punitive. ... read more»

Photo: iStockphoto

Colluding to keep prices high? The U.S. airlines? Shocking!

Well, maybe not so shocking to the millions of travelers who find themselves paying more and getting less. But apparently it's news to the DOJ, which this week issued formal requests to four airlines—American, Delta, Southwest, United—for copies of correspondence regarding their past and future plans to increase the number of seats available for sale.

Restraining capacity growth is an easy way to keep prices high, by tipping the supply-demand equation in favor of the supplier. Airlines are free to unilaterally manage their flights and seats however they choose. But when they do it in concert with other companies, it's anti-competitive. It's collusion.

... read more»

What is it: A toiletries bag full of 1 oz. sized products.

Price and Where to Buy: Available on Gilchrist & Soames' website.

Pros:

  • Comes in a clear, waterproof bag that's great for airport security
  • All products meet the 3-1-1 rule
  • Shampoos and shower gels are sulfate-free
  • Includes a skincare bar and a cleansing bar
  • Paraben and phthalates free
  • No artificial colors
  • Not tested on animals

Cons:

One ounce size bottles won't be enough for longer trips

... read more»

White House (Photo: Index Open)

Visitors to the White House who would feel reality-deprived if they were unable to photo-document their tours of the leader of the free world's inner sanctum can now rest easy. Cameras and photography are once again permitted on public White House tours.

The news was announced this morning in a tweet by @FLOTUS, First Lady Michelle Obama, on Twitter and Instagram. Her tweet: "Big news! Excited to announce we're lifting the ban on cameras and photos on public tours at the @WhiteHouse!"

The ban on White House photography has been in place for more than 40 years, for reasons no one can recall. Maybe "photo-bombing" had a different meaning back then...?

Oh, and in case you were wondering: no selfie sticks. Other no-no's: video cameras, cameras with detachable lenses or fixed lenses longer than three inches, tablets, tripods, flash photos, and live streaming. Even a liberal agenda has its limits. ... read more»

JetBlue Airplane in Sunset (Photo: JetBlue Airlines)

In a move that was widely anticipated, JetBlue this week abandoned its policy of one free checked bag. Now, JetBlue travelers will have to pay at least $15 for a first checked bag. The new policy is actually part of a completely new fare structure, in which the airline will offer four different fare levels:

  • Blue, a basic bare-bones fare that allows only one carry-on bag and one personal item. Change fees depend on ticket price, ranging from $70 on fares up to $99 to $135 on fares of $149 or over; same-day changes cost $50. Blue fares earn three points per dollar plus another three points for online booking at JetBlue.com.
  • Blue Plus is almost the same, except you get one checked bag at no additional charge. Blue Plus also earns an extra point per dollar for online booking, and ticket change fees are $10 to $15 lower than Blue. Blue Plus costs $15 more each way than Blue.
  • Blue Flex includes two no-additional-charge checked bags, no ticket change fees, admission to an expedited security line where available, and still another point for online booking. Blue Plus adds $100 to Blue.
  • Mint, JetBlue's premium long-haul service, includes lie-flat seats and other premium options to compete with the giant airlines' transcon services. Fares are almost triple Blue fares on transcon flights.

... read more»

Travelers packing up convertible

Wondering what to expect on your July 4th trip? Think 2014.

At least as far as the numbers go, this July 4th weekend will look a lot like last year's. According to AAA, 41.9 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles from home, between July 1, Wednesday, and July 5, Sunday. That would be the highest number since 2007, but a negligible 0.7 percent increase from last year.

The great majority of July 4th trips, 85 percent, will be by car. Good news there: "Independence Day gas prices are expected to be the lowest in at least five years," predicts AAA. ... read more»

JetBlue Airplane in Sunset (Photo: JetBlue Airlines)

Remember when checked bags were free on JetBlue? Cherish the memory, because as of today it's just that, a memory.

JetBlue announced late last year that, under pressure from Wall Street to boost profits, it would impose new fees and pack more passengers onto its planes. So while the checked-bag fees are a disappointment to JetBlue loyalists, they're no surprise.

The fees are integrated into JetBlue's new fare scheme, which takes effect today. Flights with no Mint service will feature three fare types, Blue, Blue Plus, and Blue Flex, with prices that vary according to the number of restrictions. In other words, JetBlue has adopted a version of the pricing model that is pretty much standard industry-wide, with lower-priced fares available for those willing to live with some restrictions (discounted coach) and pricier fares for those who require more flexibility (full coach).

When it comes to fees for checked bags, for instance, those booking the cheapest Blue fares—the great majority of JetBlue customers, presumably—They will henceforth pay $20 or $25 to check the first bag, depending on whether it's checked online or at the counter. Travelers paying the mid-priced Blue Plus fare can check the first bag for free, but will be charged $35 for the second bag. And flyers who splurge for a Blue Flex fare can check two bags for free.

... read more»

With a 20x optical zoom and built-in Wi-Fi to upload your pics, this new Nikon is sharp and easy to use. ... read more»

For the budget traveler—and you're a budget traveler even if expenses are an afterthought—a handy metric for comparing trip costs among various cities is the CSI. And with the release of CSI 2.0, it's even handier.

In this case, CSI stands for club sandwich index. That's a quick indicator, developed by hotel-booking site Hotels.com, of the average hotel-dining costs in many of the world's most popular tourist and business cities. And what makes the new version rather more useful is the inclusion of several additional dining variables in the equation. ... read more»