At this point, travelers are pretty much resigned to paying change fees when they change any sort of discount airline tickets. Even on Southwest, which has no fees, you can end up paying a much higher fare when your plans change.
And fair enough, as the airlines say, they DO sell refundable and changeable (albeit expensive) tickets. Or, you could buy travel insurance. Except that when things are reversed, and it’s the airline that changes a schedule, then it’s tough luck — and, no compensation.
As a travel agent I regularly have to call airlines when a schedule change results in misconnecting flights, or an impossible arrival time, or any of a number of other problems.
Often we can work out a good solution. But, sometimes there just aren’t any good solutions.
In a recent case, a family with young children booked tickets in May on United from San Francisco to Ft. Lauderdale in late December for a resort vacation. They chose nonstop flights and upgraded with mileage. United originally changed an 8:30 a.m. nonstop to a 2:20 p.m. nonstop, which was bad enough with a late arrival. Then, United changed the only nonstop to a 10 p.m. redeye flight, which they not only did not want with children, but also it would have cost them a night’s vacation.
The only daytime options remaining are connecting flights, which take two to four hours longer. And, the best connections remaining are sold out in first class. United would refund the tickets if we insisted, but, at this point, the other airlines on that date are pretty much sold out for any decent fares and seat assignments. So, options are fairly limited.
I understand, stuff happens. However, United would charge $200, plus any fare difference, if my clients voluntarily changed their flights. Why shouldn’t they pay $200 for a major schedule change; at least in a travel voucher?
This problem isn’t confined to one airline, either. These days airlines send out a steady stream of schedule changes — some minor, some major. American put a client who had planned a day flight to the Caribbean on a red-eye and JetBlue gave one traveler a 17-hour schedule change. The list goes on.
Admittedly, I’m dreaming here. Although I am not talking about compensation for small changes, under an hour or two. But a major schedule change can seriously affect people’s plans. While business travelers may be able to get their companies to cover the higher fares on an alternate carrier, vacation travelers often can’t afford it, especially around busy times, and especially when the changes are on tickets booked well in advance on discount fares.
It is always possible to contact an airline’s consumer relations department to ask for compensation, but it would be nice to have a set policy in these situations.
What do you think, Consumer Traveler readers? Does paying travelers the same fee an airline charges for a change in the event when an airline makes significant changes to a schedule make sense? Do you have any stories to share?