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Are Airlines Tracking Your Flight Search … and Raising Prices?

SmarterTravel

Let us investigate, in our advice column Check Your Baggage, whether or not searching for airfare makes the price go up. Also: perfume on a plane, tipping when gratuities are included, who can sit in an exit row, and more.

Are the Airlines Tracking My Flight Search?

Q. “My wife thinks that checking airfare on a certain site will somehow alert that airline and will drive the price up. So the more you look, the more the airline sees demand … and raises the prices. Is there any truth whatsoever to this?” —TJ

A. I’ve wondered this question myself, so I reached out to the airfare tracking experts at Airfarewatchdog, our sister site. The verdict? It’s an urban myth. Airfare Analyst Ricky Radka weighs in: “I literally look up airfare all day long and it stays the same—or sometimes goes down. What happens to make people think the airlines are tracking the search, is that the closer it gets to the departure date, the more people look—which is when airfare will increase.”

Hopefully that puts your wife’s mind at ease, and you can go back to arguing over where to fly to next rather than how often to check prices.

Perfume on a Plane

Q. “I am really sensitive to strong perfumes/fragrances. So much so, they often trigger debilitating migraine headaches. Every so often, I get a seatmate who lacked restraint in applying their favorite scent. Because I travel frequently, I am often sitting in an upgraded seat (either comfort or first class). I know I have the option to ask for another seat, but I don’t want to go back to the main cabin. What options do I have that won’t put me in the back of the plane or embarrass the pungent passenger?” —RLC

A. This is a tough question, as you can’t exactly force your seatmate to quickly go shower. But even if the plane is full, or your only option is to move to an inferior seat, there are still a few things you can do. According to Dr. Alan Goldsobel, Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, “The first tenet in dealing with allergies and asthma is to decrease one’s exposure to allergens (i.e., a pet) or an irritant (i.e., perfume or strong odors). If they can’t change their seat or location, an N95 mask could help.

“Having rescue medication available is important, either a rescue asthma inhaler or an antihistamine oral medication. There are some prescription nasal sprays that work fairly quickly and could help. (The usual over-the-counter nasal sprays, such as fluticasone, don’t give much quick relief.) Also, antihistamine eye drops (over-the-counter or prescription) can be helpful.”

Gratuities Included

Q. “Many all-inclusive resorts say ‘gratuities included.’ How much of what we pay to the resort actually goes towards gratuities to the employees who are providing day-to-day services to guests?” —JK

A. Tipping while traveling can already be confusing, so it’s tempting to take the “gratuities included” message at face value. But it is likely that employees are not receiving extra tips on top of their salary unless you’re giving them gratuities directly.

I reached out to a number of all-inclusive resorts, and most of them declined to discuss how the included gratuities are distributed. However, a representative for Club Med commented: “As part of the all-inclusive package, gratuities and taxes are already added to the set price of all Club Med vacations. The gratuities are built into each employee’s salary and pay, pending their role and level. Additional tipping is not required and is up to the discretion of the guest, but we find many guests tip additional amounts for select activities and services (i.e., the spa).”

So if you truly want to show appreciation for workers who’ve helped you to have an amazing vacation, you should pack some cash for your all-inclusive vacation—even if gratuities are technically included.

Who Can Sit in the Exit Row?

Q. “I was on a flight several months ago when a very obese (not large, obese) person sat in the exit row. I was alarmed and concerned that this person would not be capable of assistance during an emergency.

Many European airlines have weight restrictions regarding who can sit in an exit row. When will U.S. airlines do something similar?” —RG

A. It’s unfortunate that airlines now sell exit row seats as premium seating, as this can lead some people who shouldn’t be sitting in the exit row to book the space (and not want to move).

The FAA has an extensive list of the requirements a person must meet to sit in the exit row, including:

  • The ability to follow instructions given by a crewmember and impart those directions (in English) to other passengers
  • Sufficient mobility and strength to open the emergency exit (which weighs about 35-45 pounds)
  • Be 15 years of age or older

As to your specific question, some airlines, including Southwest and Alaska, have additional rules as to who may sit in an exit row—including a rule excluding passengers who require a seat belt extension.

However, it’s important to remember that you can’t judge a person’s strength or mobility simply by looking at them, so don’t immediately assume that the flyer you saw wasn’t capable of meeting the exit row requirements. Flight attendants are fully knowledgeable of the requirements for sitting in an exit row, and check the seats before takeoff to make sure that everything is in order.

Free Checked Bags for Military?

Q. “I was told that some airlines let veterans check bags for free. Is this true?” – MS

A. Unfortunately, most airlines aren’t that nice, MS. I only found one airline, Allegiant, that offers free checked bags to military veterans. (Allegiant has some pretty great perks for veterans and active duty military—click here to see the full list.) The rest of the major airlines in the U.S. all offer free checked bags to active duty military only. It varies by airline if the perk is offered for personal travel, or only to those traveling on orders.

Buying an Extra Seat

Q. “My husband is a pretty big guy and is very uncomfortable in tiny plane seats. On our last flight [with United], I paid for an additional seat. At the last minute, the airline sold the “empty” seat to a stand-by passenger. Did we have any recourse at all?” —SW

A. Seats shouldn’t be given away, but it definitely happens in this era of oversold flights. I reached out to United to find out what happened. According to a spokesperson for the airline, when you buy an extra seat, you should make sure that you receive two boarding passes. When you are boarding the plane, make sure you scan both passes—otherwise the system will show one of the seats as a no-show, and could be given away to a standby passenger.

If your seat is accidentally given away, or another passenger decides to re-seat themselves there, you should talk to a flight attendant to let them know that both seats were purchased and are already taken.

Got a burning travel question you want to see answered in next month’s column? Do you vehemently disagree with my answers to this month’s questions? Comment below or send me an e-mail at editor@smartertravel.com with the subject line: Check Your Baggage.

Editor’s Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and length.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world. 

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