Travel Rights — Airline Schedule Changes to Booked Flights

Passengers can’t change the weather, but what happens when there are airline schedule changes to a traveler’s schedule months or weeks before take-off?

When the weather forces a change in a flight or Air traffic operations mean flight cancellations, passengers are normally left holding the bag. But, in some flight cancellation situations, the passenger can be in command of their own fate if they know that they have options provided through the contract of carriage.

When there are airline schedule changes to a passenger’s itinerary after the tickets have been issued and before the flight has departed, in most cases, the passenger can decide whether or not to accept those changes. Plus, some airlines spell out their rules in case of delays during travel. Of course, at the last minute getting an advanced purchase airfare refunded and then paying a full, last-minute airfare is not a real option. But, for some, it may be the only option depending on flight availability on your original airline.

A recent flight from Washington, DC, to Barcelona, Spain, was changed by British Airways. The airline via the travel agent requested that the passenger accept the airline schedule changes.

When the passenger refused to accept the airline schedule changes, the travel agent came back and said that the passenger “does not qualify for a full refund as there are alternate flights that he can be protected on and the schedule change is less than 120 minutes. Our tickets are sold as non-refundable, however, the airline will permit a cancellation of the complete booking for a fee. The cancellation fee is $450.00 per person.”

Knowing enough to look at the contract of carriage clauses noted below, the passenger upon petition to British Airways via the travel agent, prevailed and the airline approved the cancellation.

British Airways agreed to a full refund.

We have cancelled his booking and have submitted the ticket to British Airways for a full refund due to the unacceptable airline schedule change.

Refunds can take between 6 to 8 weeks to be completed, and will be refunded back onto the original form of payment.

If an airline faces a delay of their making, passengers have the option of getting their money back from the airline and making their own plans. Not all airlines have the same rules. However, most airlines, when schedules are changed after booking is completed have rules that put passengers in charge.

AA International Contract of Carriage
4. CANCELLATION AND REFUNDS

  • (A)UNLESS OTHERWISE AMENDED BY THE PROVISIONS IN THE INDIVIDUAL FARE RULES, RULE 80 (REVISED ROUTINGS, FAILURE TO CARRY AND MISSED CONNECTIONS) AND 90 (REFUNDS) ARE APPLICABLE TO FARES GOVERNED BY THIS RULE.
  • (C)SCHEDULE CHANGE IN THE EVENT, AFTER TICKET ISSUANCE, SCHEDULE CHANGES ARE MADE BY AA THAT:
      • (I)AFFECT A PASSENGER’S DEPARTURE AND/OR ARRIVAL BY 2 OR MORE HOURS;
      • (II) RESULT IN THE ADDITION OF AN INTERMEDIATE STOP ON THE PASSENGER’S ITINERARY;
      • (III) RESULT IN A SUBSTITUTION OF EQUIPMENT NOT ACCEPTABLE TO THE PASSENGER; OR
      • (IV) IF A CANCELLATION OR A CHANGE IN EITHER AIR OR TOUR ITINERARY IS INITIATED EITHER BY AA OR ITS TOUR OPERATORS WHICH IS UNACCEPTABLE TO THE PASSENGER, THE PASSENGER WILL HAVE THE OPTION OF CANCELLING WITHOUT PENALTY, OR REROUTING ON DIFFERENT FLIGHTS TO/FROM THE SAME OR DIFFERENT DESTINATION.HOWEVER, THE PASSENGER MUST PAY ANY ADDITIONAL AMOUNTS RESULTING FROM THE REROUTING.

British Airways General Conditions of Carriage
If, after you buy your ticket:

  • we make a significant change to the scheduled departure time of your flight;
  • you find this change unacceptable; and
  • we or our authorized agents cannot book you on another flight which you are prepared to accept; we will give you an involuntary fare refund.
  • you find this change unacceptable; and
  • we or our authorized agents cannot book you on another flight which you are prepared to accept; we will give you an involuntary fare refund.

Here is the paragraph from the Delta Air Lines Contract of Carriage that deals with delay liability for Delta Air Lines. Of course, acts of God, war, riots, strikes, and other force majeure causes are not covered.

B. Delta’s Liability in the Event of Schedule Changes, Delays and Flight Cancellations
In the event of flight cancellation, diversion, delays of greater than 90 minutes, or delays that will cause a passenger to miss connections, Delta will (at passenger’s request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket and unused ancillary fees in the original form of payment in accordance with Rule 260 of these conditions of carriage. If the passenger does not request a refund and cancellation of the ticket, Delta will transport the passenger to the destination on Delta’s next flight on which seats are available in the class of service originally purchased. At Delta’s sole discretion and if acceptable to the passenger, Delta may arrange for the passenger to travel on another carrier or via ground transportation. If acceptable to the passenger, Delta will provide transportation in a lower class of service, in which case the passenger may be entitled to a partial refund. If space on the next available flight is available only in a higher class of service than purchased, Delta will transport the passenger on the flight, although Delta reserves the right to upgrade other passengers on the flight according to its upgrade priority policy to make space in the class of service originally purchased.

If the airlines make a change to a reservation before the flight and it results in more than a 90-minute change in schedule, passengers can, normally, cancel that reservation. In the case of code-share flights (as this flight used in this article was) check both airline contracts of carriage.

When passengers know their flight cancellation rights and when they write to travel agencies quoting the airline contracts of carriage, they normally will prevail after the agency forwards the request for cancellation to the airline.
Travelers United 3/29/2018