“I’ve got stuff about airline mergers, which just shows that my stand-up is getting more insane by the minute.”
This blog was written before the COVID Pandemic. The COVID epidemics played havoc on the travel business. In 2022, Fifty Plus Nomad decided to focus on traveling and living in Mexico and language learning posts. We will only update these long-term travel-related posts on a time-permitting basis. We would appreciate your comments and updates on these posts.
Why Are Airline Schedule Changes So Common Nowadays?
For the last six years, many passengers have bought tickets months in advance only to receive notification of airline schedule changes, even months later.
About 60% of the time, in my experience, the airline schedule changes were minor. (Often, the difference is a matter of a few minutes). However, frequent airline schedule changes have dramatically changed my plans. (Some flights have left as much as 10 to 12 hours later, or airlines have forced me to take connecting flights after I deliberately bought a non-stop ticket (my pet peeve).
These changes can create all kinds of problems for customers, including:
- Rental-car reservations and sometimes hotels must be rebooked, often at higher rates.
- Travelers have to leave work earlier or lose time from vacations.
- Travelers miss connections to tours or cruises or arrive late at significant family events.
- The sheer frustration of increased travel times, delays, etc.
Why Do Airlines Change Schedules?
Industry experts report that airlines increasingly make schedule changes after customers buy their tickets for the following reasons. (Note: before 2012, these changes were rare):
- Mergers often result in airlines closing or expanding hubs resulting in massive changes in airline schedules. Also, competitors add or reduce flights to address these flight charges. (For example, after American Airlines closed its Saint Louis hub, other airlines added flights to Saint Louis).
- Market changes. Planes get pulled out of weak markets and sent to more robust routes in response to economic changes.
- Governments revoke the rights of an airline to fly a specific route.
Improved Airline Performance
- Flight rescheduling. Airlines change times to coordinate other routes operated by the same planes and crews.
- Improved on-time performance. Poor on-time performance ratings cause problems with regulators and public relations. Airlines may change times (though airlines deny doing this) on flights with bad on-time performance ratings to when it is easier to ensure that flights arrive on time. (Experts maintain that airlines extend their flight time by 20-30 minutes to make it appear that the flights arrive on time).
- The chain effect. Since airplanes fly multiple daily trips, changing the time of one flight may force readjusting ten other flights a day. Changing ten flight schedules, in turn, can result in changes to connections for thousands of passengers.
- Airplane equipment changes. Some airplanes take longer to turn around due to the size of the plane or mechanical design. For example, swapping out a 737 for a 777 means that there are now 100+ more seats to clean, hundreds of gallons more fuel to fill up, and many more bags to process. All this extra work results in a longer turnaround time at the airport, thus changing flight departure times.
- Changes in personnel availability.
- Flight connections. By changing flight times, airlines can better accommodate connecting passengers. If an airline finds a flight is routinely delayed, they change the flight time to ensure smoother connections.
- Weather. A harsher than expected winter on the US East Coast may result in slower flight turnaround times.
- Special events or even the arrival/departure of a dignitary’s airplane caused multiple flight delays. (Particularly special events that do not occur regularly, i.e., the Olympics, World Cup, etc.)
What Can You Do About Schedule Changes?
Consumer advocates argue that airlines should compensate travelers when airlines make substantial route changes after passengers have booked a flight. They say that these changes can cause significant passenger delays and problems. These advocates want the airline to have to provide compensation. (Similar to the compensation airlines have to pay bumped passengers).
I doubt these advocates will ever be successful. Thankfully, though, you can get your money back or book a different flight without any additional fees if airlines either:
- Change the flight’s departure time by more than one hour.
- Increase the total flight time by more than an hour.
Learn more about what to do if an airline changes your flight.
You can also find helpful advice from NBC Miami.