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Not So Friendly Skies: 13 Problems and Solutions for Frequent Fliers

$5 for damp pretzels...$20-plus for leg room...$25 to check a bag (one way): Will airlines soon charge to use emergency oxygen masks?

Granted rising fuel costs and falling ticket sales have forced airlines to pad their bottom line with obnoxious add-ons, but it seems the more we pay the more we lose.

Here are 13 common airline practices that have travelers calling for passenger trains.

1. How Much is That Doggy?
PROBLEM: Pets don't earn frequent-flier miles, but they sure cost a lot. Prices vary, but on an average you'll pay $300/round trip for "Winnie The Pooch" or "Kat Vonnegut" to fly in the cabin and $550 to ride in cargo. Some airlines also charge an extra double-jeopardy baggage fee for checked pets.

SOLUTION: Pet Airways, a pet-friendly airline, offers an alternative to help your cat, dog or hamster have a happy flight.

2. Thumbs on the Scale
PROBLEM: Does your luggage gain weight on the way to the airport? Some passengers report bag weights increased when placed on airport scales, leading to hefty overweight fees. For example, some fliers say lost bags later delivered via Fed Ex lost extra pounds on the delivery service's scales, as opposed to the carrier's scales.

SOLUTION: The U.S. General Services Administration website lists baggage allowances and fees for the major airlines.

3. The Two-Hour Window
PROBLEM: Carriers say passengers need to arrive at airports at least two hours ahead of their flights. Problem is, counter service isn't always available when you arrive two hours early and flight delays can lead to long waits in uncomfortable airport seating. Thus, early birds hoping to avoid lines and secure a decent seat are plum out of luck.

SOLUTION: Check your flight's arrival time on FlightView to ascertain when you need to arrive at the airport.

4. Infrequent Fliers
PROBLEM: Remember when using your frequent flier miles was free? Some airlines now charge a hefty $75 to $100 fee if you book without "sufficient' notice (from three to six days, depending on the airline). Endless rules and limits make it nearly impossible to really take advantage of all those miles you've accumulated. Now that's what I call a Disloyalty Plan.

SOLUTION: WebFlyer helps frequent fliers stay abreast of changes in programs, mileage conversion and much more.

5. Your Flight Has Been Canceled
PROBLEM: Are there any more dreaded words in the English language than "Your flight has been canceled."

SOLUTION: Avoid airlines that frequently cancel flights often by checking out FlightStats carrier scorecards.

6. Pilot Fatigue
PROBLEM: Major airlines used to attract the best pilots, but many pilots have tired of shabby treatment and are switching over to corporate work or retiring early. A Federal Aviation Administration report revealed many airlines are reducing payroll by building pilot flight schedules with the maximum allowable hours per month. The remaining underpaid pilots are flying while exhausted and highly stressed.

SOLUTION: According to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, fatigue has been associated with 250 air-carrier accident fatalities in the last 19 years. Check the NTSB website for a database of airline safety records.

7. Loose Screws
PROBLEM: According to Consumer Reports, airlines increasingly are outsourcing airplane maintenance to non-licensed mechanics where the FAA usually has less control. Perhaps this is why the FAA fined 25 passenger airlines $28.2 million in February for violating maintenance and repair regulations.

The agency's research revealed many flights — thousands, in some instances — take off when they shouldn't and possibly endanger passengers' lives. Considering about 90 percent of maintenance violations only result in warning letters or reprimands, you have to wonder just how safe you are in the air.

SOLUTION: AirSafe is your resource for critical information on airline safety, to help you choose the safest carrier and plane.

8. Orange is Such a Pretty Threat Level
PROBLEM: Will the terrorists really win if we don't remove our shoes? Some say airport security is less about public safety and more about CYA. While passengers pack liquids in miniature bottles, submit to body pat-downs and try to figure out how they landed on the TSA Watch List, luggage and cargo receive the briefest -- if any -- scrutiny.

SOLUTION: The Transportation Security Administration provides tips on getting through security lines faster. While waiting in line, keep bordum at bay with Persuasive Games cell-phone app based on actual airport insecurity experiences.

9. Shrinking Seats
PROBLEM: Airplane seats are very comfortable, if you're less than 5-foot 5-inches tall and rail thin. However, passengers of normal proportions can anticipate hip-bone piercing arm rests and flying with knees up to their ears. Seats with extra leg room, such as those in the emergency row, now cost an extra $20. What the airlines lack in leg room they make up in chutzpah.

SOLUTION: The increase in seat-size problems is so prevalent SeatGuru has compiled an extensive database on the best seats for all airlines, including reviews and seat maps for each carrier.

10. Fly the Hungry Skies
PROBLEM: Airline food wasn't exactly gourmet quality when it was free, but at least they offered a break during long flights. Airlines now charge for everything from tiny bags of fake nuts to a rubber-chicken dinner.

SOLUTION: You can actually see photos of meals by carrier, along with reviews and prices, at AirlineMeals.

11. Tarmac Time
PROBLEM: More than 100,000 passengers per year are treated to the joy of non-flying for more than three hours at a pop. Starting this spring, airlines will be penalized $27,500 per passenger if an airline doesn't provide food and water after two hours on the tarmac, or an opportunity to disembark after three hours. Known as the "Passenger Bill of Rights," the legislation was instigated by the founder of FlyersRights.org after she and her family were stuck for nine hours on a diverted plane. Can you imagine nine hours of trying to calm a crying baby?

SOLUTION: The Bureau of Transportation Statistics allows you to know before you go, with a searchable database of on-time statistics by carrier, airport and time period.

12. Lost Luggage
PROBLEM: Airlines worldwide lose about 3,000 pieces of luggage per hour. That's a lot of bags for which we've paid a  checking fee of anywhere from $15 to $35 -- each way. According to Wikipedia, that translates to "an average of one out of 150 people who have their checked baggage misdirected or left behind each year."

SOLUTION: The Independent Traveler offers excellent advice on passenger baggage rights and resources when your luggage takes a side trip.

13. Listen Up
PROBLEM: Perhaps the final indignity is paying $5 for those cruddy airline headphones you can't use anywhere else. Unless you've brought plenty of cash to cover drinks, food, blankets, pillows and headphones, you'll have to take a miss on the silken tones of Mariah Carey or watching "Snakes on a Plane."

SOLUTION: If you're a frequent traveler, you might consider buying an headphone adapter that allows you to use your own headphones on any airplane.

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