¨I’ve got stuff about airline mergers, which just shows that my stand-up is getting more insane by the minute.¨
For the last six years, many passengers who bought tickets months in advance find their itineraries getting switched to different flights.
The changes, cancellations, and re-bookings are often not a problem. (Many times the difference is a matter of a few minutes). However, sometimes airlines alter schedules by 10 to 12 hours or force consumers to take connecting flights when they bought non-stop tickets (my pet peeve).
These changes can create all kinds of problems for customers, including:
- Rental-car reservations, and sometimes hotels need to 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; and
- 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 bought their tickets for the following reasons. (Note: before 2012, these changes were rare):
- Mergers often result in airlines closing or expending hubs resulting in massive changes in airline schedules. Also, competitors add or reduce flights to address these flight charges. (For example, after American closed its Saint Louis hub, other airlines added flights to Saint Louis).
- Market changes. Planes get pulled out of weak markets and sent to stronger 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 better 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-performance ratings to a time 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 trips each day, changing the time of one flight may force adjusting ten other flights a day. Changing ten flight schedules, in turn, can results in changes to connections for thousands of passengers.
- Airplane equipment changes. Some airplanes take longer to turnaround 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 of more fuel to fill up, and many more bags to process. All this extra work results in longer turnaround time at the airport and thus changed flight departure times.
- Changes in personnel availability.
- Flight connections. By changing flight times, airlines can better accommodate connecting passengers. If an airline finds that a flight is routinely delayed, they change the flight time to ensure smoother connections.
- Weather. A harsher than expected winter on the East Coast of the US may result in slower turnaround times for flights.
- Special events. Special events or even the arrival/departure of a dignitary’s airplane cause 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 have to 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 passengers who are bumped off a flight).
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 or
- increase the total flight time by more than an hour
You can learn more details about your rights in my post about schedule changes–