Q I'd like to know how the airline industry gets away with not allowing passengers to change the name on a ticket. No other industry has anything in place like this. They use "security" as an excuse for this policy.

A You're right, this probably has nothing to do with security. Some airlines, present and past, have allowed name changes, but for a fee or in some cases for free.

Mexican airline Interjet, which flies from the United States to Mexico and beyond, allows name changes for $25 plus tax. Frontier Airlines now allows name changes for between free and $100, depending on the fare type bought and frequent-flier status, assuming there is no itinerary change. Now-defunct Midwest Airlines used to allow name changes for a fee, too.

Frontier Airlines is one of the few that will allow a name change on a ticket, usually for a fee. (Staff archives)
Frontier Airlines is one of the few that will allow a name change on a ticket, usually for a fee. (Staff archives) ( Richard Koci Hernandez )

Perhaps we will see other airlines allow name changes in order to raise ancillary revenue or to further reward their premium fliers.

Q What's the best airfare search website for a retired couple like us who can fly anytime it's inexpensive? In other words, we are looking for a site that makes it easier to find the least expensive airfare without worrying about specific dates of travel.

A There are several good ones that allow you to specify a departure day, a length of stay, and then search over successive 30- or 60-day periods. Among them: Hotwire.com, Kayak.com, and Cheapair.com (although this last one charges a $9.95 booking fee, it shows fares over a 330-day period). United.com also has this feature, as does the Southwest.com site at www.southwest.com/cgi-bin/lowFareFinderEntry. Many other airline sites only search over a week at a time (or show results week-by-week only, or allow just a 1- to 3-day search before and after a specific date). Orbitz has hidden its flexible date search; to find it, search for "Orbitz flex search."

Q How I can assist my elderly parents (ages 88 and 91) when they fly? I watched recently as it took 30 minutes for them to go through security in Portland, Ore. My parents could have used assistance getting their things through the scanner and collecting them afterward, and I wish I could have been with them to help. Is it possible for me to get a pass to assist them to the gate? Would I need a doctor's note to do that? Or should I get a wheelchair for one -- would they get assistance then?

A Although airline regulations vary, and are subject to the interpretation of personnel, you should be able to get a gate pass to accompany your parents. Just ask at a customer service desk.

Wheelchair assistance is also an option, although it won't get you past security.

If for some reason you should be refused, buy a fully refundable ticket to anywhere; that way, you can go through security with your parents. Immediately apply for a full refund after you see your parents off.

Today's column comes from George Hobica of Airfarewatchdog.com.