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Coming & Going: JetBlue new reservation system; trains vs. planes in Europe

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

JetBlue's wait and switch

JetBlue's switch to a new reservations system Jan. 29 wreaked a bit of havoc on customers last week, and the confusion could continue through Presidents' Day weekend. The airline's Web site shut down for 27 hours last weekend, preventing travelers from booking or changing tickets online. In response, many irked folks took to cyberspace to air such complaints as long hold times on the phone and endless waits at the airport.

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JetBlue anticipated the glitches, removing 56 flights from last weekend's schedule and under-booking the remainder. It also deployed additional staff at almost every airport.

The carrier is asking customers to arrive at the airport two hours ahead of time for domestic flights and three hours for international flights. There are no long wait times to book new tickets by phone (800-JET-BLUE), a company statement said, but there were some delays in changing existing reservations. Some reservations booked under the old system can only be changed by phone.

"This was a major change, and we did expect some issues," said Mateo Lleras, an airline spokesman. "So far we're satisfied, but we still have some issues we're working on trying to resolve."

Trains vs. planes

In the fare arena, if you were to pit air against rail, which would win? Ask Momondo.com, the Copenhagen-based aggregator, which searches 800 airline Web sites, 4,800 high-speed train routes and the largest online travel agents for the best price.

Unlike similar sites, such as Kayak and SideStep, Momondo displays train fares with air prices on European searches, an especially important comparison in a destination where the two modes of travel are competitive. The four-year-old company added this feature in November. "High-speed rail can be cheaper than flying," said co-founder Martin Lumbye. "We want to show travelers that they have an alternative."

As an example, Lumbye pointed to the Paris-Brussels route, which recently added high-speed rail. For March travel, the site came up with a nonstop fare of $94 round trip on TGV-Europe.com, as well as options on Thalys and Eurostar. For air, the cheapest ticket was $286 on Flybe (booked through TravelPartner.fr), with one stop. Rail wins.

Travel tickers

Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail has added seven new sites to its statewide route. The trail, which now has 33 attractions, also has a new Web site, http://www.astorylikenoother.com, with an interactive map, pictures, a blog and audio vignettes. An iPhone application is in the works. . . . Last week, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed claims by the city of Anaheim that online travel companies (Expedia, Orbitz, etc.) owe $21 million in back taxes. "Because online travel companies do not own, manage or operate hotels, they are not liable for hotel occupancy taxes," Darrel Hieber, a Skadden Arps partner who argued the case, said in a statement.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs and Nancy Trejos. Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071


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