December 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December 1998 Current Issue
December 1998 On TravelPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

On Travel


Day in Court...Charting Fares...Train Trips

A Seattle lawyer takes on an airline for its no-refund policy

Airline tickets on trial. Those nonrefundable tickets issued for air travel have caused many passenger headaches, but Alaska Airlines may be sorry it sold several to a lawyer in Seattle. Lembhard Howell, Esq., bought the tickets for a group of witnesses to travel from Seattle to Fairbanks, Alaska. The case was settled before they traveled and Howell was stuck with eight tickets in other people’s names. He explained the situation to the airline, which refused his request for a refund. So Howell filed a class-action suit in Seattle’s King County Superior Court in June.

“If a ticket is not used and the airline sells your seat to another passenger, then you should be able to get a refund of your money( be able to sell it to someone else,” says Howell.

While Alaska Airlines was quick to call the suit “baseless,” nonetheless it has gone forward. According to Howell, even before the airline was served with the suit, its lawyers had the action removed to federal court and made a motion to dismiss. Howell made a counter motion to remand the case back to state court, which was granted. He has since amended the suit by adding plaintiffs to represent the class action. At press time, Alaska had not yet answered the amended complaint.

Howell believes he might be successful because Alaska is a regional airline serving a small number of destinations. Someone left holding a ticket doesn’t have a lot of options when trying to use it within the next 12 months if there’s no longer a reason to fly to the original destination. “I’ve been getting complaints about other airlines and I don’t know how I’m going to resolve that,” he says. “It raises a lot of other issues. But if people were listened to and someone tried to accommodate them, then there would be no need for any of this. It’s when customers come up against a brick wall that something needs to be done.”

Airfare report card. For those who want to know how much they should be paying to fly from point A to point B, the Department of Transportation has examined more than 1,000 city-pairs in the 48 contiguous states, detailing the highest and lowest fares for each market and charting fare distributions. For each city-pair, the report includes the average one-way fare, the number of one-way passenger trips per day and the nonstop distance. Fare and market information for the airline with the largest market share also is covered, along with information on the airline with the lowest average fare. Access the whole report at the Web site ( you’ll need Acrobat Reader software to view it.

Riding the rails. While the Eurail Pass is often the preferred ticket students use to see Europe, it’s also a great way to travel around the Continent from one business appointment to another or to tack fun onto the end of a business trip. To qualify, you have to live outside of Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet Union), Turkey, Morocco, Algeria and Tunesia.

The traditional Eurail Pass, a first-class ticket, costs from $554 for 15 consecutive days to $1,558 for three months; groups of two to five people pay from $470 each for 15 days to $1,324 for three months. Use it to go anywhere, anytime in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

For those who want to jaunt around one or two countries, a number of passes cover smaller areas, like the Balkan Flexipass (for travel in Bulgaria, Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Turkey). For more information, hit the Railpass Express Web site ( or call (800) 722-7151; it also offers Britrail passes for travel around Great Britain. EuropeanVacation Tours and Groups offers incentive trips and custom itineraries (888-TOUR-404;

We’re moving to Brazil. Rumors abound about the chunks of vacation Europeans get each year. What’s the global reality? According to Hewitt Associates, the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based human resources consulting firm, employees in the United States with one year of service get an average of 10 days, compared with 30 days in Brazil and 25 in Sweden. Workers in Denmark get more than a month 33 days but that’s based on a six-day work week.

Another Hewitt study indicates more companies are allowing employees to buy or sell vacation time. In 1997, 24 percent of large companies offered the option, up from 15 percent in 1994. Interestingly, only 6 percent of workers sell vacation days, while 24 percent buy more time off.

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