The Brancatelli File



December 15, 1993 -- Here are this month's questions from you and answers from me.

I was recently "bumped" from a flight for which I held a valid ticket and boarding pass. Do I even have any rights in such a circumstance?

If you are involuntarily denied boarding for a flight on which you hold a confirmed reservation, government regulations require the airline to transport you to your final destination within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time. If the airline cannot accommodate you within one hour, you also are eligible for as much as $400 in cash compensation.

That seemed skimpy to a Montana traveler who was bumped from a Northwest flight in 1986. So he refused the airline's alternate transportation arrangements and the cash compensation and sued instead. In June, a federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld the traveler's right to sue, but his case has yet to come to trial.

The last time I tried to rent a car in Florida, the clerk at the rental counter refused to honor my reservation because she said my driving record indicated I was a bad risk? How did she get my driving record and what gave her the right to deny me a car?

Battered by a number of huge personal-liability insurance settlements, some major rental firms are trying to cut their losses by refusing to rent cars to travelers who may have poor driving records.

When a traveler presents his license at rental stations in some popular tourist destinations and many large Eastern cities, the counter agent now runs an instantaneous, computerized check of his driving record. The check is processed by third-party service bureaus which have access to a variety of public and private records. If the check turns up negative information, the rental agent is alerted with a "don't rent" computer code.

The system is new and dogged with a number of thorny logistical and legal questions, but there have yet to be any successful court challenges mounted by a traveler who has been denied a rental car.

Is there any way I can find out whether my flights have historically operated on a timely basis?

Every scheduled flight that operated in the last 30 days has an on-time percentage rating compiled by the U.S. Transportation Department. The ratings are available in the computer reservation systems used by the nation's airlines and travel agents. And airline reservation clerk or travel agent is required to disclose the on-time percentage of any flight on request.

On a recent flight I carried on my attaché case, my purse, a garment bag and two small suitcases. On the return flight, however, the flight attendant insisted that was too much carry-on luggage and forced me to check a bag. How much is too much?

Theoretically, passengers are allowed only one piece of carry-on luggage. Practically speaking, however, the rule is rarely enforced.

Exactly how much carry-on luggage you'll be allowed depends on a variety of factors. If a flight is relatively empty, flight attendants will be more lenient than if the plane is expected to be fully booked. Some aircraft have more closets and overhead storage space than others. First-class passengers and elite members of the airline's frequent flyer program always get more leeway than coach flyers. And the smaller your bags, the more likely a flight attendant will allow them to be carried on.

The best rule of thumb is limit your carry-ons to a suitcase that fits under your seat, a garment bag that fits in the overhead bin, and a briefcase or purse. Anything more and you'll be relying on the kindness of strangers.

My travel agent recently constructed an itinerary that required connections using two different airlines. She issued a separate ticket for each flight and I had to collect my luggage after the first flight and check it again with the second airline. I thought airlines all worked together. What happened?

Most carriers do have "interline" agreements that allow joint fares and ticketing, integrated luggage handling and other small amenities that make a multi-airline trip convenient. But interlining is not required by law and some carriers, most notably Southwest Airlines, do not sign interline agreements. When an airline doesn't interline, passengers are required to handle all the small details like double checking of luggage.

I drive to sales calls more frequently than I fly. Is there a good, simple system for keeping my records straight?

Letts of London, the diary makers, produces a 3x7-inch book called the Auto Record Log. It provides entry spaces for mileage, tips, tolls and other information required for tax reporting. The $9 ledger also offers a list of applicable government regulations, maps and mileage distances. There's even a pocket to store receipts. For more information, call 1-800-DIARIES.

This column originally appeared in Selling magazine.

Copyright © 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.