¨Travel is glamorous only in retrospect¨
When I started my Fifty-Plus Nomad adventures in 2011, airlines began frequently changing their schedules after I purchased the ticket. By 2020, somewhere around 33% of all my flights were changed.
I can’t think of 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/or price).
When Do Airlines Change Flight Schedules?
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.
- This is my pet peeve, eliminated a non-stop flight, and re-booked you on a connecting flight.
Airlines sell tickets as much as 11 months in advance but rarely end up flying the same schedules they sold. (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 waiting to buy a ticket until a couple of months in advance if you want 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 every day (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 is changed by more than an hour (two hours in the case of Delta Airlines) and/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).
I find that when an airline reschedules my flight, I can usually find a better alternative flight on another airline. (Note: It usually takes a week or so to receive the refund). However, there is always a chance that the flights will be more expensive when you re-book the flight.
Therefore, I would suggest that you check the costs of alternative flights 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 re-book you on a plane that they operate).
My Airline Rescheduling Pet Peeve
Sadly, I have learned that I cannot ensure that I will get a nonstop flight even if I paid more for that privilege. Living in Merida, Mexico, I have bought three non-stop flights from Merida to the US (Atlanta and Miami). The airline canceled all three of these flights and forced me to make a connection in Mexico City. Flying to Mexico City changed the flight and connection time from one to two hours to ten to twelve hours.
As a result, I only choose non-stop flights if I know several flights a day on the same route. That way, if the airline decides to cancel the trip, they will re-book me on another non-stop 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 my nonstop flight, I will easily find a non-stop alternative).
Top Tip: Always Double Check to Make Sure Your Flight Has Not Changed
I highly recommend checking to make sure the flight has not changed at least a couple of days ahead of the flight. (The easiest way to do this is to check your passenger record on the airlines’ website. The passenger record number is six digits composed of both 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 changed the flight schedule a couple of months earlier. The flight left three hours before I arrived at the airport.
The airline rebooked me on 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 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 make sure that you get to the ship or the event even if the airlines reschedule your flight.
Want More Tips About Addressing Flight Schedule Changes?
This article was written 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 as part of my Travel Economics 101 post explaining why airlines change their routes so frequently.
Some Additional Air Travel-Related Posts
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- The Internet Has Changed the Face of the Travel Industry More than Any Other Major IndustryThe internet has changed the travel industry probably more than another industry. This article discusses how these changes affect the consumer.
- Travel Industry Cost Saving Techniques: The Good, the Bad, and the UglyThe travel industry has made several changes to save costs in recent times. Some like using more fuel-efficient planes do not affect consumers that much. Others like reducing staff have made the experience worse for consumers.
- Business Travelers Versus Leisure TravelersThe travel industry gets most of its clients from leisure travelers. However, it makes more money from business than leisure passengers. The airlines put up with us leisure travelers because they couldn’t survive without us. However, they don’t hide their preference for business travelers.
- Why Are There So Many Connecting Flights? A Discussion of Why Airlines Love the Hub-Spoke Model More than ConsumersUnbeknownst to most consumers, the cause of most of our airline-related complaints is the hub-spoke model. Unfortunately, however, the hub-spoke model is also essential to the airline industry’s financial viability.
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