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Airline seating price alerts are real

Q: I use Orbitz frequently for researching airfares. I often see fares with warnings on them saying that there are only "three seats left at this price" or two seats left or whatever the case may be. Are these real alerts or are they pure marketing to get you to buy now instead of waiting?

A: They're probably real warnings. Airlines offer a small number of seats in each "fare bucket." However, airlines adjust the number at each price level throughout the day and week, so if you search again, you may find a different story. By the way, I can see why people search on Orbitz and then book on the airlines' sites directly, but often online travel agencies such as Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity will alert you that the best deal is flying out on one airline and returning or connecting on a second airline. Airline websites might show you higher fares because they want to keep you on their planes for the entire trip.

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Q: I flew a Montreal-Albuquerque trip via Chicago and United. At Montreal I learned that the Montreal-Chicago segment was actually flown by Air Canada, connecting to United in Chicago. This was the first I had heard of this.

In Montreal, we boarded for an 11:17 a.m. departure and sat at the gate for about 40 minutes. Then we were told that there was a mechanical problem that could not be fixed, so they let us all off and brought another plane up for us. This one took off about two hours later, and I missed my Chicago connecting flight. The next flight available was on American, leaving in several hours. I got to Albuquerque over five hours later than I had originally been scheduled to arrive, at 10 p.m.

At Chicago, between flights, I went to the United counter to inquire about compensation, as this was a mechanical issue. United said that it was Air Canada's problem and Air Canada said that they got me on a flight that left two hours later, so they didn't feel it was a big deal. They offered me a $10 food voucher.

The way I see it, I booked my flight with United. I think they are responsible for getting me to my final destination on time. Getting me home over five hours late is not something that I had counted on, and I was greatly inconvenienced as a result. Am I entitled to any sort of compensation from United under their rules of carriage?

A: Actually, we think Air Canada should compensate you, since the mechanical problem was with their aircraft. At least United put you on another airline (American) rather than making you wait for the next United flight. We suggest you contact Air Canada and United customer service again and ask them both to consider.

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Q: I was booked on a nonstop flight, which was canceled, and instead put on a connecting flight on the same airline. Because it connected, I was charged an additional passenger facility fee of $10. Can the airlines do this? Is it fair?

A: This is simply ludicrous. But yes they can, and no it is not. The money goes to the airport, not the airline.

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