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Why did our flight stop twice even though the airline said we'd only have one stopover?

Dear Anita,

Last May, my wife and I flew from Las Vegas to Columbus with our one-year-old son. I made the reservations over the Southwest Internet site and chose a particular flight, in part, because it said that it would have only one stopover (the least number possible that day). However, as we were boarding at the stopover for the last leg of our trip, the departure gate said St. Louis/Columbus. When we asked about this, they said that because we would not be getting off the plane in St. Louis, that it did not count as a stop. Why is this practice allowed, and is there anything we can do about it?

Mike B.
Connellsville, PA
 

Dear Mike,

Your dilemma is an issue of understanding the difference between a nonstop and a direct flight—a big problem for fliers. A nonstop flight is just that, a flight with no stops. A direct flight, however, is a flight with same-plane service between the origin and destination points with scheduled stops at one or more intermediate points. I've seen as many as four stops on one direct flight. The second leg of your trip was a direct flight.

The answer to your question, "Why is this practice allowed?," is more an issue of the airline communicating the number of stops to the consumer rather than one of outright deception by the airline. In Southwest's case, their website doesn't clearly identify stops on flights, especially when it comes to direct flights.

When I went on their Internet reservations page, I was confused by the way flights and number of stops were displayed. Listed next to the flight number and times, there is an airport code, a slash mark, and then a number. According to Southwest's customer service department, the airport code refers to the connecting flight city, and the number, to the amount of stops.

The agent I spoke with admitted that Southwest's timetable layout on their website (and Pocket Guide) has been a source of customer complaints because it doesn't clarify stopovers very well. I contacted Southwest Airlines on your behalf, and here's what they had to say regarding your concerns:

" Southwest Airlines has always been a high frequency, low-fare air carrier with emphasis placed on shorthaul markets. A series of shorthaul routes often makes up a longhaul route, by Customer demand, so we began offering schedules for those longer routes involving a number of stops and/or flight connections.

When confirming reservations through 1-800-I-FLY-SWA, our Reservations Sales Agents are trained to quote the number of stops without naming cities or times so the Customer does not confuse these brief stops with an actual change of planes (we don't want anyone getting off the plane if they don't have to). Of course, the time needed for the stops is built into the overall departure and arrival times given to the Customer.

We recognize that Customers who book their reservations through southwest.com will need the same information to help them choose an itinerary that is the most conducive to their travel needs. As such, we have included a STOPS column on the SELECT FLIGHT page of our web site to advise how many stops or connections, if any, are scheduled for a particular flight. Flights with a "N/S" have no stops or are "nonstop flights." Flights with a "1" will make one stop between the departure and destination cities. Flights with a "2" under the STOPS column will make two stops—and so on. These flights are called "direct flights" (requiring no change of planes but making one or more intermediate stops). Finally, a flight that shows the three-letter identifier for a particular city includes a connecting flight. Please note that a "connecting flight" may be scheduled to connect with a "direct flight." In those cases, such as your return flight, you will see the connecting city followed by a slash and a number indicating the total number of stops included in the itinerary. We are sorry that this was not clear to the Customer.

Again, please encourage Mr. B. to contact us directly. Our address for this Customer is Customer Relations, Southwest Airlines Co., 2702 Love Field Drive, Dallas, TX 75235. We would be happy to work through this with him so that he can again enjoy the benefits of booking online at southwest.com without any misunderstanding.

Sincerely,

Beth Harbin
Project Manager - Public Relations
Southwest Airlines Co.

"


So, what can you do about it? This is one case where I would call reservations to clarify the situation. Furthermore, flights can change from the time when you book them. Always call reservations several days prior to departure to confirm your reservations and flight times.


I hope I've been helpful. Happy travels!

Anita Dunham-Potter

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