The New Dulles Drill
Attention, Dulles travelers: Your check-in routine will change, effective tomorrow. Domestic flight passengers with carry-on luggage who used e-tickets or printed itineraries to bypass the ticket counter crowds and go directly to the gate now have to get a boarding pass before passing through security.
But you don't have to get in line with the mob. You have three other options:
* Obtain a boarding pass at curbside check-in.
* If you're traveling domestically on Delta, Northwest or Airtran, print your boarding pass through the Internet before leaving for the airport. Use the pass to go directly through security, and to the plane. Northwest also offers the service to international travelers.
* If you're on United, US Airways, Delta or Continental, get your boarding pass from an electronic kiosk, usually near ticket counters. American will install kiosks this week, Northwest next month.
The new boarding system is designed to streamline security, drastically reducing the number of people subjected to unpopular gate searches, according to Scott McHugh, the Transportation Security Administration's federal security director for the Dulles region. But until everyone gets used to it, the new drill may also cause longer lines. No word yet on when the new boarding pass system will go into effect at Reagan National or BWI.
Allow at least 15 minutes extra travel time if you're departing from Dulles early this week. And check with your airline and the TSA (www.tsa.gov) for details on alternative check-in procedures.
UPRIGHT AND LOCKED
United and You
United Airlines' bankruptcy has passengers in a tizzy, but don't worry about holiday flights.
"It will be business as usual for United's Christmas travelers," says Josh Romanow, an aviation attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop, in an outlook echoed by other experts.
Experts say United is unlikely to eliminate routes, but in the next year may trim up to 13 percent of flights and put smaller planes on some routes. Call ahead even during the holidays to make sure your flight hasn't been changed.
United's problems do "create another incentive for a fare war," or at least lures like bonus frequent-flier points, says Romanow. United has promised that it won't mess with frequent-flier programs.
Many experts say United will likely emerge from bankruptcy and that customers have little to worry about in the "short term." But how long is that?
"No one can say," says Darryl Jenkins, head of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University. "If United begins to have labor problems, and that begins disrupting service, people will book other airlines and United will go the way of Eastern. Up until then, they're perfectly good."
As always, CoGo recommends buying travel services with a credit card; if the service isn't delivered, you can get your money back if you file within 60 days of making the charge. And if a carrier goes bankrupt, other carriers are required to accept your ticket for flying standby.
REPORT FROM ELECTROLAND
Et Tu, Travelocity?
In the increasingly cutthroat world of online travel, Expedia has begun charging a $5 fee for airline tickets. Following suit, Travelocity announced that it will impose a $5 surcharge on tickets starting early next year.
The two join ranks with Orbitz, which has been charging a $5 fee for about a year. But Orbitz displays its surcharge openly as a $5 add-on. On Expedia, a $356 ticket is first displayed as costing $361; only later does the consumer learn that $5 of the fare is Expedia's fee.
Storefront agencies typically charge $15 or more to reserve and process an airline ticket, but then, they do all the work -- searching for fares, handling refunds, helping with problems. Avoid surcharges altogether by going to an airline's site.
Bargain of the Week
Costa Rica Bound?
American Airlines is offering sale fares from Washington to Costa Rica for March and April travel. Round trip from Reagan National or Washington Dulles to San Jose is $409 including taxes. Purchase by Dec. 22.
Reporting: Cindy Loose, Michael Shapiro, Carol Sottili.
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