“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.”
Paul Theroux

When Do Flight Schedule Changes Happen?

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.

When I started my Fifty Plus Nomad adventures in 2011, airlines frequently changed their schedules after purchasing the ticket. By 2020, somewhere around 33% of all my flights were changed. 

I can’t remember a single incidence when the flight schedule change was better for me. (However, I sometimes got a refund and rebooked my flight on another airline with a better schedule and price).

Airlines sell tickets as much as 11 months in advance but rarely end up flying the exact schedules they sold. Don’t be surprised if, after you purchase your ticket, you receive an email from the airline announcing that they have either changed:

  • The departure time for the flight by several hours. 
  • Extended or even sometimes reduced how long your trip lasts. 
  • Eliminated a nonstop flight and rebooked you on a connecting flight.

(Note: Most of these changes are relatively minor, like a ten-minute change in departure time). 

Airlines tend to make wide-scale schedule changes every couple of months. As a result, you may want to consider buying a ticket a couple of months in advance to ensure that you will fly the same flight as the one you purchased. You are also less likely to see significant flight changes on a route with many flights daily (i.e., Miami-New York, Chicago-Los Angeles, etc.).

What To Do If the Flight Schedule Changes Don’t Work for You?

If the departure time or flight duration changes by more than an hour (two hours in the case of Delta Airlines) or the routing is changed, you:

  • Can cancel the ticket and get a full refund. (It took me a lot of patience and effort to get Delta to issue me a refund. It has been easy with American and United Airlines). 
  • Get the airline to reschedule you on a different flight without charging any additional fare (even if the new flight is more expensive than the cost of the ticket you booked).

When an airline reschedules my flight, I can usually find a better alternative flight on another airline. However, there is always a chance that the flights will be more expensive when you rebook the flight. (Note: It usually takes a week to receive the refund).

Therefore, I suggest you check alternative flight costs before you call the airline to ask for a refund. If you find that the flights are more expensive, ask the airline to book you an alternative flight instead of issuing a refund. (Unfortunately, airlines will only rebook you on a plane they operate). 

My Flight Schedule Changes Pet Peeve 

Sadly, I have learned that I cannot ensure I will get a nonstop flight even if I paid more for that privilege. As a result, I only choose nonstop flights if I know there are several flights a day on the same route. If the airline cancels the trip, they will rebook me on another nonstop flight. For this reason, I make most of my flight arrangements from Cancun (instead of Merida) to the US. (There are multiple flights from Cancun to most destinations in the US. That way, if the airlines reschedule a nonstop flight, I will quickly find a nonstop alternative).

Living in Merida, Mexico, I have bought three nonstop flights from Merida to the US (Atlanta and Miami). The airline canceled all three of these flights and forced me to connect in Mexico City. Flying to Mexico City changed the flight and connection time from one to two hours to ten to twelve hours.

Top Tip: Always Double-Check for Flight Schedule Changes

I highly recommend checking to ensure the flight has not changed at least a couple of days ahead of the flight. (The easiest way is to check your passenger record on the airline’s website. The passenger record number is six digits composed of letters and numbers). 

Airlines will usually send you an email with changes. However, the email can easily get lost. Besides, if you booked the flight with a third-party search engine, you may not receive emails with updated flight info. 

I learned this the hard way when I checked in for a flight from Montreal to Halifax on Porter Airways. When I arrived about two hours before what I thought was the right flight time, I discovered the airline had changed the flight schedule a couple of months earlier. The flight left three hours before I arrived at the airport.

The airline rebooked the same trip the next day, but I lost a tour day. I also had to travel six hours by shuttle to meet the group. (By the way, the tour company, Caravan Tours, did an excellent job of helping me deal with the problem). 

A Final Flight Schedule Changes Note

Based on the airlines’ fondness for making schedule changes,  consider booking flights one day before any of the following events:

  • The starting date for a cruise or tour. 
  • An important business or personal event (like a wedding).

That way, you can ensure you get to the ship or the event even if the airlines reschedule your flight.

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Want More Tips About Addressing Flight Schedule Changes?

I wrote this article before the Coronavirus Pandemic. Initially, airlines dealt with these changes by denying refunds. The DOT (Department of Transportation) came down hard on the airlines, and the current situation doesn’t seem much different than when I wrote this post. Check out this article from the Points Guy for more details.

I also wrote a post explaining why airlines frequently change their routes.

Paul Heller has been a lifelong avid traveler and language learner and teacher, Even as a child, he told Santa Claus that he wanted to visit all the children worldwide. At seven years old, Paul wanted to retire to Mexico. At eight, he memorized the name, capital, location, and some facts about every country worldwide. At twelve, he found a book "Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" and started developing his own itinerary for a future round-the-world trip. He remained obsessed with travel; after getting a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and working as an administrator, He spent his vacations going to different countries around the globe studying language, touring, and volunteering. In 1994, he quit his job and lived in Russia as a volunteer English instructor. He discovered that he loved teaching languages. In 2004, he decided to make a living out of his travels and founded a community of people who love to travel just like him. He developed 5 three-hour classes about living and traveling long-term worldwide which he taught in over 50 adult education programs throughout the US. After his parents passed, he realized his dream of traveling around the world; cruising and touring some of the most remote places like the North Atlantic, Patagonia, and Oceania; and learning new languages (he knows Spanish, Italian, French, and Russian). Paul encourages everyone to learn foreign languages. He knows that it can be frustrating and slow but that anyone can learn a language if they put in the work and, most importantly, learning a language is well worth the time and effort because it opens up a whole new set of people, ideas, and cultures. He is currently spending the next chapter of his life in Mérida, México. He is excited about using this blog and his classes and workshops to inspire and equip fellow Fifty Plus Nomads with the language, cultural, and psychological skills necessary to be successful and happy long-term travelers and expats over 50.

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