travel advice

Airlines waive change fees for mid-winter break


Hurricane Sandy is still causing problems for a lot of people, including families who had planned vacations around the mid-winter public school breaks in New York and New Jersey.

Many schools closed for a few days around the storm and, as a result, have canceled the mid-winter break or changed the dates, leaving those with plane tickets and hotel reservations in a bit of a pickle.

To help out, several airlines, including JetBlue, American Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and others, are offering to waive change fees for customers whose travel plans have been affected.

Hawaiian Airlines customers ticketed by November 29 for travel between New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Hawai’i from February 15–24, 2013 will be allowed to change their reservations without charge, although refund and cancellation rules will apply.

JetBlue is waiving the change fee for customers traveling Thursday February 14 through Monday February 25th, to/from the New York City area (EWR, HPN, JFK, LGA & SWF). Airfare differences will still apply for the new dates, but travelers may also cancel their trips and receive travel bank credit without a fee.

United Airlines and American Airlines also have exception policies in effect for the New York City area for those with tickets for mid-winter break travel. American’s waivers covers February 15 – 24; United’s waiver covers February 14- 25th.

The change fee policy has also been relaxed on US Airways and, while I don’t see it on the their website, word is Delta Air Lines will be waiving change fees as well.

It’s a nice gesture on behalf of the airlines, but keep in mind that while the airlines are waiving the change fees, you’ll still get dinged for any differences in airfares, so check the details.

When your hotel is hip – and too loud

Each Friday on’s Overhead Bin travel blog, I have the pleasure of answering a reader’s travel-related question.

This week I got to answer a question based on my own experience:
What can you do if your hotel is hip – and too loud?

Frequent travelers are no strangers to hotel rooms with rattling heat and air conditioning units or soundproofing so poor it’s easy to listen to, and occasionally chime in on, the conversation next door.

And while noise topped the list of irritants cited by respondents to a 2011 J.D. Power and Associates North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study, most travelers soon learn to tune out the most common sources of hotel room noise.

But my tune-out skills failed me during a recent midweek stay at the Aloft Brooklyn, a recently opened property in Starwood’s chain of hotels positioned as a hip, “affordable alternative for the tech-savvy, design forward crowd.”

The décor, the desk staff and the guests hanging out at the pool table and at the bright lobby bar were indeed very hip. And in my room, I enjoyed amenities such as Wired magazine, free Wi-Fi and a 42” LCD flat panel TV. But late at night, with the TV turned off, my room filled with loud music coming from what I assumed was a night club next door.

The soundtrack proved impossible to sleep through, and I called the front desk to find out when the club closed down. “There’s no night club,” the desk clerk informed me. “That music is coming from inside the hotel.” And even though it was already 3:30 a.m., there was no plan — or offer — to turn the volume down. “That’s just how loud we play it here,” he said.

A few days later, Paige Francis, vice president of marketing for the Aloft brand, told me that while “music is definitely part of the DNA of the brand,” the Brooklyn Aloft property was still fairly new (it opened in June 2011) so “it may still be working on getting the music levels right.”

Still, I’m left wondering if a hotel can be too hip — and too loud.

“The answer is yes,” said Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. “While the role of the hotel lobby has changed dramatically in recent years, with hotels adding elements such as entertainment and hangout areas where guests can snack and listen to live or recorded music … the music should not follow you to the room.”

There are some basic hotel attributes valued by all travelers without regard to age (hipness) or other demographics, Hanson explained, adding that “a quiet hotel room is among the most valued.”

To make sure you get an acceptable room, quiet or otherwise, Hanson offered this advice: “When arriving in a hotel room, open the door and explore. Does the TV work? Can you access the high-speed Internet? Is there an odor? Do an inspection, which should include listening for sounds. If there’s something wrong, speak up so the problem can be taken care of right away.”

Wait too long to say something, said Hanson, and the hotel might not have staff on hand to fix a problem or another room to move you into.

As to the music level in your hotel room, Hanson added that “a guest with time to spend can find out about the noise level at a hotel via or some other social media. But that burden shouldn’t be placed on a guest.

“Because even the hippest travelers do need to sleep sometime,” said Hanson.

What are your rights regarding the Overhead Bin?

At’s Overhead Bin blog, I’ve been tracking down answers to a big question each week. This week: What to do about Overhead Bin hogs.

We’ve all seen them on airplanes: Fellow passengers who put their stuff in an overhead bin toward the front of the plane before sneaking off to an assigned seat way in the back.

When that happens, some passengers seated up front end up having to store their bags in the rear of the plane.

“Do I have any recourse about what is in the overhead bin over my head?” writes Barbara, a nurse from Elizabeth City, N.C.

“I’ve ended up with my bag being placed all the way in the back and it delays my deplaning ’til the very end. I actually once missed my connection because I had to wait so long to get my carry on.”

“This is a huge flight attendant pet peeve,” said Sara Keagle, a flight attendant who writes the The Flying Pinto blog. “Most flight attendants I know close the first few rows of overhead bins at the start of boarding because of this issue.”

Keagle says that when she and other flight attendants are on duty as the aisle flight attendants, they’ll try to police the situation. But Heather Poole, a flight attendant who writes the Galley Gossip column for, noted that passengers can’t always rely on bin space being saved. “Because we are usually staffed with FAA minimum crew, there aren’t enough of us on board to direct passengers to other bins.”

Bottom line: It can be irritating, but the overhead bins are first come, first serve. “You don’t have any recourse or right to the bin above your seat,” said Poole, who pointed out that one way to get first dibs on the overhead bins is to pay the extra fee most airlines now charge to passengers who wish to board early.

And bin hogs, beware. Overhead Bin has heard from flight attendants who make note of bin abusers − and then quietly gate-check those bags right before departure.