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Alex McWhirterOur consumer editor Alex McWhirter answers your travel queries.

Simply email editorial@businesstraveller.com. Please note that due to the popularity of Alex's advice, we cannot guarantee a reply to every query.


Why won't Indonesian airline Merpati refund my money? 30/06/2014

Last year, I was supposed to fly Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Denpasar, Bali, with my family of four and then on to an Indonesian airfield called Tambolaka. I booked the latter flight separately with Indonesian airline Merpati.

Several weeks before we were due to fly, the resort near Tambolaka had to close suddenly because of earthquake damage – it cancelled our holiday and refunded our money.

I then cancelled the flights. Cathay Pacific duly refunded our money (minus an administration fee) but while Merpati promised a refund (less a 50 per cent cancellation fee) after 90 days, it has not done so.

I have tried to call and have emailed Merpati several times but to no avail. This airline does not appear to have an office in Hong Kong. Has Merpati stopped operating? How can I get my money back?

Andrew Hockings, Hong Kong

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Does BA's paid for upgrades policy apply to long-haul flights? 30/06/2014

I just read the April issue with the letter “Paying the price” [about BA’s practice of offering paid-for upgrades during and after the booking process]. Does this situation apply to all long-haul flights?

Can one get an upgrade from premium economy to business class at a reduced rate?

Eric Walmsley, Kent

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How do you get 29 extra people into business class on an Embraer 190? 29/05/2014

How do you get 29 extra people into business class on an Embraer 190? These days, travelling business in Europe is an uninspiring experience given the narrow seating. There is little value in it other than there may be some peace and quiet.

In March, I took Finnair’s AY2934 on a three-hour flight between Manchester and Helsinki. The business cabin of this E190 was small, with economy seating, but at least there was a curtain divider, although it was never deployed.

No fewer than 29 people walked through business class to use the front toilet. The crew didn’t suggest to any of these passengers that they may care to use the toilets in their own cabin, but they were able to muster the effort to pull the curtain to give themselves privacy in the galley while they ate or chatted.

I fail to understand why cabin crew cannot keep business class exclusive to those who have paid a very high fare.

Roger Norwich, Sark, Channel Islands

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Missing a football match due to a flight delay caused by bad weather 29/05/2014

I flew from Doha to Newcastle via Heathrow in early April. I took Qatar Airways flight QR9 with a connection to BA as I planned to attend an English Premier League match the same day at 1400.

Because of bad weather at Heathrow, flight QR9 was diverted to Manchester with a delay of several hours. By the time it flew back to Heathrow, my Newcastle flight was long gone.

BA rebooked me on its next flight (I was using a through ticket) but by the time I reached Newcastle I’d missed the match. Is this acceptable?

Ray Toh, Doha

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Are any new airlines planning to serve St Peterburg from the EU? 29/05/2014

Now that St Petersburg’s Pulkovo airport has a new, larger terminal, do you know of any new airlines that are planning to serve the city from the EU?

St Petersburg is Russia’s most beautiful city, with so many opportunities for business and leisure travellers alike, so it amazes me that so few European airlines fly here.

Robert Kelner, Brussels

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Will Etihad move Alitalia towards a higher standard of competitiveness? 30/04/2014

Will the new Arab partner move Italy’s national airline towards a higher standard of competitiveness? [Editor’s note: Etihad Airways has been in talks about investing in Alitalia.] I ask because as a “top frequent flyer” with Alitalia, I received a promotion for four first class upgrades. I tried to use this promotion for my next business trip to Salt Lake City.

First, I discovered the upgrade was not usable with airline partners. Second, I discovered that two vouchers were needed for intercontinental flights, which meant I used all four vouchers for Milan-New York-Milan.

I then found that if a customer changes the date then he or she loses the upgrade. Yet this is a business trip and normally subject to changes.

We have a lot of discussion in Italy right now about Alitalia’s competitiveness in the global market, and here it is proposing an offer that does not take into consideration the needs of the business client.

Gabriele Ghiringhelli, Milan

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Why does BA offer upgrades when it can’t provide sufficient food? 30/04/2014

I accompanied my husband on a recent British Airways Budapest-London flight. He was booked in Club Europe, while I was booked in economy. I was offered a last-minute [paid-for] upgrade to Club Europe, which I accepted. I’m a Oneworld Emerald (Qantas Platinum) member.

In the lounge I was called forward and advised that I would have to go without a business class meal as insufficient catering had been loaded. I could either accept a refund and be downgraded back to economy, or sit with my husband (who holds the same frequent flyer status as myself) in business class and staff would bring me a sandwich from the economy cabin.

Why does BA offer last-minute upgrades when it can’t provide sufficient food?

Donna Lee, Sydney

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Qatar Airways refuses compensation for weather delay 30/04/2014

Last January, I flew Qatar Airways with my two young children from London to Jeddah via Doha. Unfortunately, we left London late and were unable to regain time en route. This meant we missed our connection in Doha.

Qatar Airways put us up in a hotel for 12 hours until the next flight. I lodged a complaint with the airline. It claimed the delay was down to “extraordinary circumstances”. However, I cannot remember London being sunnier in January than it was on that day.

I lodged a complaint with the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) in London seeking compensation according to EC261/2004. But both the CAA and later, EU Claim, have been unable to help. How can Qatar Airways get away with it?

Bader Al Omar, Jeddah

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Why does BA charge a credit card fee in the UK but not in Greece? 31/03/2014

I have just booked separate tickets to and from Athens, departing both the UK and Greece, with ba.com.

Why does BA charge a £4.50 credit card fee in the UK but not in Greece?

Anuj Anand, London

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Why won't Virgin Atlantic fly B787-9s to Sydney? 31/03/2014

I was sorry to read that Virgin Atlantic will cease flying to Sydney from next month. But the carrier is ordering B787-9s.

Rather than quitting Australia, why doesn’t Virgin use these long-range planes to fly non-stop?

Andy Chalmers, London

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